We Don’t Need Apologetics, We Just Need to ‘Experience’ Jesus

This is a guest post by Greg West, the curator of a helpful apologetics web site called The Poached Egg.

Experience“We don’t need apologetics, we just need to ‘experience’ Jesus!” Unfortunately, this is something I hear from fellow believers quite often and it never fails to set off the warning sirens in my head; not because I think that ‘experiencing’ Jesus is bad—in fact, I think it’s a good thing, but if you’re basing your faith on experience alone to the exclusion of reason and knowledge, then you’re building your house not on solid rock, but on sand—and when the rains come down, the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat against your house it will fall with a mighty crash (Matthew 7:24-27).

We need to stop teaching people to ‘experience’ Jesus and teach them to know Jesus. Let me explain what I mean: In his post titled, High School Students and Apologetics, teacher Dan Gehrke said,

“I’ve observed that kids have changed over the last seven years since I last taught apologetics. All of the evidential facts that I used to put in front of them to give evidence to the reliability of Scripture and the resurrection was exciting! The notion that they didn’t have to throw their brains away to be Christians was life-altering for many of them.

While this was still true for some this year, I discovered that “facts” and evidence seem to be met with more and more apathy.

So one day I asked, “Would you rather have me make an air-tight case for Jesus, or would you rather ‘experience’ Him – even if I can’t define what that means?” They almost all chose the second. Interesting.”

Why is this so alarming? Because apologetics involves discerning between what is true and what is false. Emergent church leader John Crowder said in this post, “I honestly believe that the age of apologetics is over, and the age of activation has come. Experience is more important than explanation.” If you read the quote in the full context, I think what you’ll find that Mr. Crowder doesn’t want to have to defend his beliefs, because outside of his personal experience, on which his abhorrent theology is based, I seriously doubt that he can—and if you, members of your congregation, or especially if your kids can’t either, then if they happen to remain in church at all, their theology might end up being as bad as Mr. Crowder’s—or worse (if that’s even possible).

Apologetics has several useful and necessary applications including evangelism, defending against attacks on Christianity in the public square, discerning false doctrine, and edifying believers. Examples of each of these can be found in scripture. If we deny the need for apologetics then we are denying what scripture actually teaches and are simply inventing our own gospel—much like John Crowder’s pathetic parody of the gospel, which is becoming all too common these days–just as Paul said it would in his second letter to Timothy:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4

I’m not just simply passing on what I’ve learned from observation but also what I’ve lived out in my own life. I was raised in a good church and as a young teenager I was an enthusiastic believer. I had experienced Jesus. I experienced him during worship, I experienced him when testifying in front of the congregation. When I preached my first sermon at age 16 it was because I had experienced Jesus. When I was filling out my application for Bible College it was because I had experienced Jesus—but by the time I was in my early twenties I was no longer experiencing Jesus, I was experiencing doubt—and before I’d turned twenty-five I identified myself as an agnostic.

My agnosticism continued for nearly ten years before I eventually discovered that Christianity is not a ‘blind faith’ that requires belief without evidence. I came back to the fold but most do not. By my best estimation, out of the many adults that I knew as kids growing up in church, only about 40% of the ones that I know of still identify themselves as Christians. That’s about 10% better than today’s average.

Do we want ourselves and others to be those who believe that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10), or will we let ourselves and others become those, who like John Crowder, claim to be wise but are instead fools (Romans 1:22)?

Do I want to ‘experience’ Jesus? Absolutely I do. But even more so, I want to know him—and I want others to know him too.

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Greg West About Greg West

Greg is the curator of The Poached Egg. He believes that in today’s modern, post-modern, and relativistic culture, where truth is sacrificed on the altar of tolerance, and indifference and skepticism are on the rise, that “apologetics is vital for every believer; to help equip them not just in defending their faith, but in sharing it as well.”


  1. Commenter Duane Carter has it right. Apologetics is very important in maturing a believer, but very few initially come to Christ via reason like C. S. Lewis. Experiencing the touch of the Holy Spirit in conviction, comfort, healing, etc. are far more effective in causing repentance than university level study. Knowing Him and knowing about Him are two very different things. I know quite a lot about Abraham Lincoln because I have chosen to study his life and legacy…. However, I never knew the man.
    Again, I would say that apologetics is absolutely necessary in maturing a believer in his faith. I believe it is a necessary part in the admonition to “…study to show yourself approved…” God is the master at combining mind and emotion in just the right amounts and times for each person to initially come to believing and then have the will to pursue knowledge about the One to whom he/she has come to believe in.

  2. There’s a difference between “knowing” and “knowing about.” I can know facts about my wife, but that doesn’t mean I “know” her. We need both. And though your article does do a good job of expressing that, some of these comments above are about as far away as what the real Jesus would reply. I can tell you from experience that as a youth one of the things that drove me from Christianity was the division and scoffing and mocking of Christians by other Christians. If we’re going to do apologetics here, then WHY is Mr. Crowder’s theology bad? Yes, he’s a different guy, but the church better wake up and realize that there are many parts to the body of Christ and we need them all. The exclusivity that makes up many churches based on “head knowledge (apologetics)” vs. heart knowledge (experience) is completely and totally based in a religious spirit that is meant to destroy unity and keep our focus on who is right instead of our true focus which should be staying in relationship. God is more often a “both-and” God, not an “either-or” God. I’m not talking about the obvious bedrock foundations, but some of the things being spoken of above (like healing for example) are not doctrinal things to be argued. Read the Bible. Healing is the children’s bread (Psalms). It is our inheritance. So what if some people exaggerate it. That doesn’t mean we throw it out. The Bible is a book that records supernatural experiences. We can’t throw those out. I think I’ve made my point. We need BOTH knowledge of the word and experience of the Word.

  3. Great job Mark! I see this as one of the biggest problems in the “Western” church, making us wimps in the world church, excuse my blunt expression. The prosperity gospel and word-faith gospel, which are not gospels have run rough-shod over the truth without shame and it’s “pastors” (cough) preach the lies without shame and rake in people’s money. ESPECIALLY the fake “healers” and we all know the top guy there who, although has been “outed” to be the fraud he is, continues to bring in record crowds, some spending their last dollar to get that long prayed for miracle healing. I say enough of the dancing around and walking on eggshells, PC treatment and call these guys out by name. But in our 21st century world, we are just all “too nice” worrying about hurting a brother or sister! Seriously? These guys are FALSE as the day is long and Paul certainly didn’t hesitate to call out his traitorous false “friends” who deserted him for the world. I understand loving our brothers and enemies, but these guys KNOW that WE won’t dare name them, some considered legit until you bother to REALLY look at their agenda. Isn’t protecting the innocent and ignorant more important than worrying about hurt feelings of the wolves when they are called out for being what they are? Just some things I’m wrestling with, wondering if I’m alone. Truth is becoming SO RARE and PRECIOUS, and the enemy seems to be more cunning if that’s possible, mixing like 99.9% “truth” with the .1% lie that throws the WHOLE THING OUT! And we’ve had this “easy believism” and “cheap grace” so that so-called Christians do not understand or acceot AT ALL the totally legit and crucial theology of suffering with Christ, that true faith, like true love, is NOT based on feelings, but on a committment, and gutting it out and picking up that cross, and dying to self, and man, it’s a daily battle, and we;re fighting our flesh and then add that daily spiritual battle that we can’t even see (though that’s probably a good thing), and our churches need to be hospitals for our hurting not gossip mills. This said from one who has suffered a chronic illness for 12 years and counting, plus a stroke. The FIRST thing I heard was “If I had enough faith, blah, blah, blah) Hey, my FAITH IS my victory! Anyway, sorry to go on and on, obviously I’ve thought a lot about this. I have a blog too, trying to build I SHOULD say, despite the illness…hard lately. But GO MARK! FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT BROTHER! If you ever want check my little blog (been too sick to post for a few weeks: michelle-wavesofgrace.blogspot.com
    God Bless Brother!

  4. “If we deny the need for apologetics then we are denying what scripture actually teaches and are simply inventing our own gospel…”

    This is a massive, and perhaps for some, slightly offensive statement, though I’m sure it’s well-meant.

    I used to be into classic Christian apologetics for a couple of decades. But in time I came to see it as a very imperfect tool to choose to defend the reality of Christ. It’s grown to be a bulky sub-structure within the Church, an acclaimed essential nailed awkwardly to Bible Truth.

    I’m one of those who has come to deny the need for apologetics, but I know no other Gospel than that offered in God’s inspired Word. This ‘denial’ isn’t a time-consuming issue for me. I’ve dealt with it and moved on. I’m not “anti-apologetic” — I’ve just learned to leave it alone.

    At times there IS a need to ‘defend’ the Truth in the context of religious false teaching, because even the elect can be led astray by it (Roman Catholicism is a demonstrable example). But in many other ways sincere Christian Apologetics is a carnal, intellectual response to spiritual problems and un-renewed minds. It’s equally wrong to spiritualise everything of course. However, what and Who do we need most, and how able is He to liberate, educate, insulate and enlighten?

  5. markluker says:

    amen Greg! more and more…(including some churches) the world is turning to the experience of “good, warm, feelings” leaving God’s church open to world interpretation of Jesus rather than a heavenly knowledge of him…. good read!

  6. For sure when the crap hits the fan in your life it doesn’t feel much like you are experiencing Jesus. This doctrine can also lead to gross sin as in as long it blesses me it must be from God I’m experiencing Jesus never mind if where this material blessing is wrought by unethical sometimes illegal actions I’m just saying……

  7. Great thoughts. I have taught apologetics to high school students for several years now. Time and time again I find that too much “experiential” and “highly emotional Christianity breeds a shallow view of the gospel. Experience is clearly important and useful in apologetics. William Lane Craig consistently uses it as part of his cumulative case approach. But it is absolutely vital that students, before going off to college, establish strong reasons to believe.

  8. I do not see why we have to choose between apologetics and a genuine experience of the real Jesus. Not only do I do both, but I find that my real experiences with Jesus enhance my understanding of the scriptures and the ways of God, which in turn improves my arguments.

    • I think that the point is not that it is one or the other, but that knowing what you believe and why is the foundation on which the experience should be laid. The problem is that experience can be a fleeting thing. There are times when my experience of Jesus leaves me flat. Have I lost my faith during those times? No, because I know whom I have believed. (2 Tim. 1:12)

  9. Lauren Davenport says:

    Great post :) I also want to experience Jesus; but even more I want to know him (and I want others to know him too).


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