“My friend has intellectual objections to Christianity. How can I help her find answers to her questions so that she can come to faith in Jesus Christ?”
This is a common question which flows from a sincere motivation to have a meaningful evangelistic encounter with someone. It is avery good question, however, could be built upon a faulty premise. The Bible teaches that every worldview or philosophy that denies Christ is at root an issue of the heart—a love and commitment to something other than God. To address objections to Christianity, then, we must consider not just reason, but the heart.
In Romans, Paul diagnoses our rejection of Christ in terms of worship:
First, notice that all people are worshipers, but that there is a problem with our worship. We have exchanged the worship of God the Creator for things that are created. We worship idols. Second, notice how this worship or heart problem results in intellectual problems. Idolatry leads to futile thinking that factors out the Creator and intellectual objections which are futile.
In other words, behind every self-proclaimed intellectual objection to Christianity is a heart problem rooted in a prior commitment to deny God and worship something else.
How then should we respond to people’s objections?
Many turn to the field of Christian apologetics, which is the theological discipline which deals with reasonable defense of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). Unfortunately, much apologetics implicitly assumes that the path to faith and salvation is through reason. "If we can just help people to remove the intellectual barriers to Christianity," we thinks, "then people will come to faith."
But since the issue is primarily one of worship, our response must go beyond the intellect. Rational apologetics can serve to demonstrate that Christianity is indeed plausible and reasonable, but it is insufficient to change our hearts and what we worship.
The Importance of the Imagination
C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest writers and minds of the twentieth century, famously became a Christian only in his 30s. Interestingly, Lewis was not converted by mere rational argumentation. After reading George MacDonald’s Christian fantasy, Phantastes, Lewis said that some unique quality from this story captured his imagination in a way to drew him toward faith.
Lewis called the imagination “the organ of meaning.” In other words, while reason can help us analyze bits and pieces of truth, we only discern meaningful patterns through the imagination. Stories and metaphors helps us patterns and capture our imagination in a way no rational proposition or vague and fleeting emotion ever could.
Imagination operates on a different register, affecting and shaping our will, emotions, and mind. More than rational arguments, the core of our being—our heart and its worship—is more affected by the stories and metaphors we inhabit through the imagination.
That doesn’t mean reason has no role, only that it is insufficient. For Lewis, though he “still needed to confront certain rational objections to the Christian faith—and to finally submit his will to what he had discovered—his ‘baptism of the imagination’ was the starting point in his journey to faith.”
Reason alone does not have the power to bring us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). This power is God's alone, accomplished through the "word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18). This is nothing other than the gospel narrative, the biblical drama of redemption, the most powerful—and truest—story and metaphor there is.
As Kevin Vanhoozer says,
To those who rely on the wisdom of the world, we know that the message of the cross is foolishness. But for those whose believe, "it is the power of God." So we continue to preach it and to live it out, praying that, by God's grace, the story of the gospel of Christ will baptize imaginations, overcoming objections by capturing hearts.
We should be prepared to give reasons for our hope. We should be able to thoughtfully and with empathy engage people's objections to the Christian faith, or at least guide them to resources for finding answers. A few good resources for engaging non-Christians intellectually, especially those influenced by Western secular culture, include Timothy Keller's The Reason for God and Making Sense of God, C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, or John Stott's Basic Christianity
But before going on the "offensive" with our debate points, we should quick to listen. We need to make a sincere effort to see what heart issue is accompanying and under the intellectual objections. We need to see what story people find themselves in, what has captured their imagination. Then we will better able to respond with the gospel story, showing how the word of the cross of Christ is only way to ever solve a heart issue.