When I was young I played basketball. I was not very good. But my team always was. We were undefeated every year I played, until my teammates finally left the league to play for the high school team. About halfway through one of our seasons we were scheduled to play another really good team. We were undefeated. So were they. Their star player was the son of a well-known college basketball coach. You would probably recognize his name, but it is not important.
My coach that year, perhaps thinking I had finally perfected the art of warming the bench, thought of a new way for me to contribute to the team. He told me his plan, and I doubted it would work. But he knew better. For at least three practices, and probably more, all I did was stand on my toes, knees bent, legs spread, body forward, arms out, head up in the traditional defensive stance. Well, I did more than stand. I moved. I moved a lot. I moved for hours. My job was to follow the coach, no matter where he went, and no matter how fast or slow.
In baseball you learn to keep your eyes on the ball. My coach explained that in basketball that was not going to work. The key to sticking with my coach, no matter where he moved or how quickly, was to keep my eyes on his midsection. It did not matter where the ball moved, or where my coach’s arms moved, or his feet, or his eyes. All of those things can move while the body is stationary. My eyes stayed glued to his midsection. The midsection is the center of the body. You cannot move your body without moving your midsection. That year I learned to play defense. Good defense. Not only did my coach and I practice as described above, but we did so until he could not shake me anymore. Not even a spin would work. Then once I had that down, we practiced some more.
The big night came, and every time the star player for the other team clocked in, I clocked in. I got a lot more playing time than usual that night. He probably got a lot less. There is not much use in giving playing time to someone who cannot shake a defender. And he could not shake me. My coach’s plan was not as crazy as I had thought. Before that night, the star player for the other team had averaged 24 points a game. That night he scored 4. We won the game and finished the season undefeated.
That night the benchwarmer was our secret weapon. What a heartwarming story. What does it have to do with covenantal apologetics?
Well, like my coach, and like the star player for the other team, the non-Christian cannot move anywhere without moving his midsection. Oh, he is going to pump fake, he is going to pass behind his back, he is going to point at your shoe and tell you it’s untied, but as long as you keep on your toes and stay focused on his midsection, he is not going anywhere. He will not be able to leave you. It does not matter at that point if you are a star player for your own team, or just a benchwarmer.
Every person has the same ultimate questions to answer. And every person holds to a worldview. And every worldview is an attempt at a collective answer to the aforementioned questions. But people who hold to a worldview that is not a Christian worldview will ultimately find themselves unable to answer such questions. The covenant apologist’s job is not to track down every argument the non-Christian throws out there. It is not to get distracted by concerns that clearly distract from the transcendental clash of worldviews. It is to stay focused on the core of that non-Christian’s worldview and point out that in principle, the unbeliever cannot get anywhere without borrowing from the Christian’s worldview.
Ask questions. Questions give non-Christians the opportunity to speak freely about their positions. They will feel less threatened. They will think harder. They will believe themselves to be in control of the conversation.
Note assumptions. The non-Christian will be providing answers that are full of assumptions about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Think about whether or not all of these assumptions can be accounted for, whether or not all of these assumptions are consistent with one another, and how your own assumptions differ.
Tack it down. Stop to repeat and emphasize any principles, claims, concessions, and the like that the non-Christian may make. You may be surprised how often you need to remind the non-Christian what he or she has already said about a topic, whether it is because of getting lost in the conversation, or because the unbeliever is starting to recognize that there is an inconsistency in his or her own view.
Stay faithful. Do not grant the unbeliever the opportunity to shake you from your Christian worldview in terms of answering the same sort of questions you asked of him or her. There are no neutral facts, and the problems with a non-Christian worldview are not your own. Make it clear that you are not denying logic, science, morality, and the like, but that the unbeliever has to if he or she is going to remain faithful to his or her own worldview. Do not conflate internal and external critiques or Christian and non-Christian worldviews. Rather, push the antithesis.
You don’t have to be a highfalutin philosopher to be an apologist. You just have to keep focused on what your Bible tells you, and how foolish things become as soon as someone ignores it.