Years ago a friend told me what I was. Most of us have had that experience at one time or another. If not who we are, at least where we can go. My friend told me that I was an apologist. I would have been flattered if I’d known what that meant. It was somewhat later I encountered one of the greatest of Christian apologists, C. S. Lewis. And then recently I came across a quotation from C. S. Lewis that explained a vague disquiet that follows me around.
Apologists can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments into the reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. Lewis was remarkable in this regard. He was an intelligent, highly educated, well-read man who also had the good sense to doubt himself, to examine himself, which one cannot do without self-doubt. Lewis understood the spiritual dangers of vanity and he also understood what a thin web is woven by a good argument. He said
No doctrine is dimmer to the eye of faith than that which a man has just successfully defended. Now, doctrine and apologetics are essential otherwise you would never know where you are, you would never know what you should do next. But there is also a temptation to vanity. This was never more clear to me than when I read that quotation from the dean of apologists.
There’s a fairly well-known denomination that believes no one is going to be saved except members of their own church. I remember there was a time in my past—I had been baptized by a Baptist church and I was struggling at that time with certain things—and I remember distinctly having a picnic with some friends of ours who are members of this other denomination which shall remain unnamed. Once they realized that I was a little bit at loose ends, they became very urgent about getting me baptized into their church. They wanted to take me down to their church that day, that hour, and get me under the water. They were very concerned that if didn’t get baptized and something happened to me, I would go to hell. I would go straight to hell. think those people will be profoundly surprised when they find me standing right next to them on the sea of glass before the Lamb of God in the resurrection. In fact, I might be as surprised as they are.
I’ve been too far down that road myself. Now think about this just for a moment. Imagine that you have made it, you’ve been raised from the dead, you’re standing there before him—the judge of all the earth—you can see him as he is, and there standing along side of you are two figures you recognize immediately who come from differently separate religious backgrounds. They are Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II. Now if you know very much about Catholic and Baptist doctrine, you have to ask yourself,
Now how on earth can that be possible? Well, I think I finally understand. They will not owe their presence there to the fact that they had a correct set of doctrines. They will not be there because they kept this or that law, or followed that particular rite or ritual. But, then you see, you won’t be there for that reason either. What makes it possible for you or anyone else to stand before God is the grace of God. And that grace, if it can’t transcend our doctrinal differences, if it can’t transcend our little picky arguments, doesn’t amount to much. And what makes that grace possible is Christ Himself. Let’s take a look at an illustration of this in John, chapter 13.