Although not often used in common parlance, the abbreviation QED is used in philosophical arguments, mathematical theorem proofs, and legal briefs. It is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase quod erat demonstrandum which literally means “which was to be demonstrated” or “thus it has been proven.” Charitably, it means I have successfully supported my argument or belief. In real life, it has an acerbic edge to it, which translates as, “See, I’m right. There, I showed you. I win. You lose.”
Have you ever watched a debate (i.e. a debate team, not political theater called “debate”)? Debaters (especially in high school) use their timed speaking opportunities to cite as many references as possible at a pace that approaches warp speed. They talk so fast the listener can barely make out anything they’re saying until they hit their concluding statement, spoken at the fortissimo level, which almost always goes something like, “Thus it is clear that the verdict must be awarded to the affirmative [or the negative if that is their assignment that day].” QED. Translated, that means I talked faster than you did. I cited more references than you did. My logic was flawless. I win. You lose.
Has your opinion on something or a conclusion ever been challenged? How did that make you feel? What was your response? As Christians in the 21st century, our truth claims are becoming less and less culturally plausible. We are being challenged more and more.
Do you respond with questions of curiosity—trying to understand the challenger’s position, or with an avalanche of polysyllabic prose in an attempt to bury your “discussion partner” and then end with an emphatic QED? I win. You lose.
Do you respond with humble confidence, willing to hear a different thought process, or are you so certain of your opinion that you lambast their ideas and then end with an emphatic QED? I win. You lose.
As I listen to and learn about matters of apologetics,1 I find that I need to guard my heart. I must confess a proclivity toward a less-than-charitable approach to those who disagree with me. When I listen to messages on apologetics, I need to be vigilant. I must work hard to avoid merely gathering “ammunition” to use against those who disagree with me.
This character flaw of mine has deep and long-standing roots. During the early stages of my spiritual exploration, I was fearful of being duped. I did not want to be intellectually weak. I wanted everything to fit together in an understandable, provable set of facts. I did not want to be wrong. Chemistry had its redox reactions that could be balanced. Physics had its formulae (both Newtonian and Einsteinian) which explained and predicted motion. Pythagoras had his mathematical theorems. And as I was exploring the claims of Christ, I wanted facts—repeatable, provable facts.
My imbalanced bias toward empiricism continued through high school and got much more intense in college. I struggled. Interestingly, it was a message on probability equations associated with fulfilled prophecy that was the triggering “hook” for my exploration. When I began my personal relationship with Jesus after my junior year in college, the campus ministry with whom I participated offered training in apologetics. I gobbled that up as fast as it was offered. That was good. I grew. I became more confident in the veracity of the biblical claims. While the spiritual growth was good, the training also fed my unhealthy bias toward proving others wrong. That bias did not result in a winsome approach to evangelism.
Although the Holy Spirit has softened some rough edges over the years, that (primarily) prideful desire to be “right” and that desire to “win” linger—just ask my wife.
I am not suggesting apologetics is bad, nor am I saying I no longer love apologetics. I love every minute of study and learning. While I still want to understand and I still want to be “right,” I pray my desire to be right is rooted in a desire to know more about Jesus. May it not be rooted in a desire to win a debate.
Watch Our Motives
May we engage both sides of our brain as we listen to the truths of the Scripture. Do not eschew the facts, but keep them balanced with the existential realities of a life with the person of Jesus.
Whether we are discussing what I call external issues (e.g. the exclusivity of Jesus, the age of the earth, or the existence of evil) or internal issues (e.g. eschatological timing, sovereignty/human agency, original sin), may we know what we study and read rather than reading what we “know.” May we learn so that we can grow in our worship. May we learn so that we can do what is right, not win a debate.
In his first letter, the apostle Peter summed it up well. He admonished us to always be ready to defend our hope that is rooted in our faith in Jesus.
“…[be] ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. YET [emphasis added] do this with gentleness and reverence….”
I Peter 3:15-16.
However, we need to be careful with that word translated as “defend” since it has potentially pejorative overtones in English. We need to continue reading to the next verse, as Peter describes how we are to defend—with gentleness and reverence.
As we absorb preaching and teaching and journey through the complex terrain of apologetics, may our pursuit of truth be guided not by a desire to win debates but by a gentle, reverent, and humble confidence rooted in a growing understanding of the God of Abraham.
1 The English word “apologetics” finds its roots in the Greek “apologia” which is best translated as “defense.” Combining the prefix “apo” [away from] with “logia” [speech], the word in this context contains no hint of asking forgiveness.