The Need for Apologetics and the Biblical Concept of God Defending His Glory

Caged LionIt is important for the Christian to see clearly that defending the glory of God is a biblical idea. Apologetics could be mistaken for a philosophical intrusion into Christianity, or an ill-advised invention to counter Enlightenment modernism. Even luminaries such as British Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, and the Prime Minister of Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, made disparaging remarks about apologetics.

Spurgeon’s famous jibe is well-known: “There is no need for you to defend a lion when he is being attacked. All you need to do is to open the gate and let him out.” Many use this oft-repeated line of Spurgeon to argue that we don’t need apologetics. Kuyper was a theologian, journalist, and statesman, and was the founder of the Free University of Amsterdam at the beginning of the 20th century. He wrote, “Apologetics has advanced us not one single step. Apologists have invariably begun by abandoning the assailed breastwork, in order to entrench themselves cowardly in a ravelin behind it.”[1]

Both of these quotes are taken out of context, however. Spurgeon was talking about the need to proclaim the Word of God, instead of endlessly arguing about it. His point was that proclaiming the words of Scripture is powerful enough to win people to the truth. Likewise, Kuyper was not speaking against all apologetics, but rather against that approach that concedes unregenerate man’s ability to reason objectively to the truth of the gospel, and places reason in the place of judgment over Scripture.

A negative reaction to apologetics is unfortunately all too common. I asked a Christian college professor one time how he would answer someone who challenged the Christian faith. His response stunned me. “I wouldn’t,” he replied. I assumed that he misunderstood my question, so I rephrased it. “How would you defend the resurrection if someone challenged it?” His response was the same: “I wouldn’t defend it. I would just state it and be done.”

This might sound spiritual, but it is nothing more than a repudiation of our calling in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to prepare ourselves to give an answer. Rather than abandoning apologetics, we need to see it as a critical part of evangelism. If we abandon apologetics, we abandon evangelism. Scott Oliphint reminds us, “Apologetics is premeditated evangelism.” By preparing ourselves beforehand we can be ready for any opportunity that comes our way to share the gospel.

The real question, however, is whether there is a biblical precedent for defending the Christian faith, and its related themes, such as the glory of God, the truth, and the gospel. This lesson focuses on the biblical teaching about the theme of defense throughout the Old Testament and the specific instruction about apologetics in the New Testament.

 

The Old Testament Theme of God’s Defense of His Own Glory

The Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9-24)

Right from the very first chapters of the Bible we see that God sets a precedent in defending his glory. In response to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God confronts the violation of his glory and the error that Satan perpetrated among those made in his image. God does this, not from a distance, but by condescending and coming near to Adam and Eve. The adversarial nature of Satan’s temptation and corruption of the garden and the first pair is matched and overcome by God’s determination to restore what was ruined. In the midst of curses leveled against all involved, God promises ultimate deliverance and restoration through the seed of the woman.

The fall introduced enmity to God’s world and so God defends his glory by banning Adam and Eve from the Garden. God is the defender and he sets the example for us to defend the truth when it is challenged. God does not overlook sin or the corruption of his world. He confronts directly through his sovereign rule over the universe, and indirectly through our witness to the truth.

The Exodus

In God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the primary concern was not the deliverance of Israel, but rather their deliverance in a way that showed God’s power over the Egyptian gods. The Exodus was an apologetic against the weakness of Egyptian deities. When God called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, it was for the express purpose of manifesting his glory and supremacy (Exod. 3:15; 6:7; 7:3, 5; 8:18-19; 9:16; 10:1-2; 11:9).

God confronts Pharaoh who thought he was a god who held power over the Israelites. By confronting Egypt by means of the plagues, God clearly shows the world that He is the true God. His deliverance of Israel from Egypt becomes a testimony to the world that there is only one God to fear—Israel’s God. By obeying God’s call to lead Israel, even though he felt inadequate, Moses became the spokesman for God’s declarations against Egypt and for the power and supremacy of the true God.

David and Goliath

When the Philistine giant cursed God and dared Israel to send him a suitable opponent, no soldier took up the challenge. But a teenage shepherd heard Goliath taunt Israel and curse God, and found that he could not ignore such a threat. David’s motivation was not for personal glory, nor was it to overcome “giants” in his life. What drove him to accept Goliath’s challenge was his jealousy for the glory of God’s name (1 Sam. 17:41-47). He wanted the whole world to know that there was a God in Israel and that the battle was the Lord’s.

David’s passion for God’s glory enabled him to see that the physical challenge of Goliath was more than a conflict of military forces. In the ancient world everybody believed that whichever side won the battle possessed a stronger god or gods than the losing side. Goliath taunted the Israelites because they were so weak, and this reflected on Yahweh, Israel’s God. This was why David could not refrain from confronting Goliath. Silence was the equivalent of consenting that the Philistine gods were more powerful than Yahweh. David’s great victory over Goliath manifested to Israelite and Philistine alike that Israel’s God was the true God.

God’s Declarations in Isaiah

In the later chapters of Isaiah God confronts the idolatry of Israel and reminds them that he is the only true God. He taunts the pagan gods that Israel prefers to worship, exposing them as powerless (Isa. 41:24), a delusion (41:29), and nothing more than empty wind (41:29). He states clearly that no god existed before Him, and none will exist after him either (43:10). These gods cannot save (45:20, 46:7). Over and over, God reminds Israel that there is no other God besides Him (44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 20-22; 46:7, 9).

Why does God go to so much trouble to discredit these false gods? He states plainly that He refuses to share his glory with any pretender (42:8). God is jealous for his glory, and he will not allow false deities to receive the glory that is due only to him. God’s jealousy, unlike ours, is an appropriate response to pagan worshipers ascribing to their idols what is only true of God. Only God is worthy to be praised. Only he is the Creator and Sustainer of the World. Only He has provided genuine salvation, unlike the false deliverance promised by false gods who do not answer or save when called upon (46:7).

Summary

In the Old Testament a pattern emerges of God confronting violations of his Word and His glory. God upholds and defends his glory, and his people are called upon to do the same. In the New Testament this pattern continues, with more specific instruction given regarding how Christians are to go about this task. In the next post we will look at the New Testament’s instruction regarding apologetics.

[1] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 11.

What I’m Reading Wednesdays-10/28/15

Gaining by LosingGaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send, J. D. Greear (Zondervan, 2015). 256 pages. $19.99

Frankly, I did not expect much from this book. I’m not a fan of the multi-site, megachurch pastor who writes books that become best-sellers simply by getting all his church members to buy the book. However, early in this book Greear says something that flies in the face of everything the multi-site megachurch has banked on for decades. He argues that “increasingly, in a ‘post-Christian’ society, unbelievers will simply not make their way into our churches, no matter how ‘attractive’ we make them.”

This is exactly what I have been increasingly talking about in my apologetics ministry. The days of the big “Come and See” events as the primary evangelism strategy is drawing to a close. As the culture becomes more hostile, people are simply not going to darken the doors of a church, no matter how “cool and relevant” we seek to become. Greear proceeds to say that “if we don’t equip our people to carry the gospel outside of our meetings, our events, our gatherings and programs, we are going to lose all audience with them. A few flashier and flashier megachurches will likely keep fighting for larger pieces of a shrinking pie.” His solution? We must teach our people to engage people outside the church. Exactly.

This book is worth the read and may serve as a kick in the pants to get pastors moving on equipping their people to confidently engage unbelievers in apologetic evangelism. Buy it!

Understanding the Various Views of Apologetics

Not all Christians approach the topic of apologetics in the same way. There are two main views regarding how we should go about defending the truth of the Christian faith.

Two Men in ConversationEvidentialism

The most well-known approach is often called evidentialism, although similar methods use names like “classical” or “cumulative case” apologetics. Evidentialism seeks to develop and counter challenges to the Christian faith with evidences for Christianity. And certainly there are strong evidences for every objection raise against the Christian faith. But there are drawbacks with this approach. Here are some of the main tenets of evidentialism and the problems that accompany them.

  1. A Rational Mind. Evidentialism assumes that the unbeliever’s intellect has not been damaged by original sin. When Adam disobeyed in the Garden of Eden, his sin—and the curse that resulted—passed to every human being born after him (with the exception of Jesus). All Christians believe that the will and emotions were corrupted by sin, but some, such as evidentialists, believe that man’s intellect remained (largely) untouched. As a result, evidentialists believe that the only thing holding unbelievers back from being saved is information—the facts. Therefore, this approach is focused on presenting the unbeliever with evidences whenever the unbeliever raises a challenge to the Christian faith. Evidentialists believe that if we could just present all the facts to unbelievers, then they will have to believe if they wanted to remain rational.

Problem: The Bible describes the mind of the unbeliever as futile, darkened, and ignorant (Eph. 4:17-19). This does not mean that non-Christians aren’t smart, or can’t be accomplished, but rather when it comes to the truth about God and the gospel, they close their minds to what is obviously true. We are also told that even when the unbeliever sees the truth, he refuses to acknowledge it as truth (Rom. 1:21-25), and accepts a lie in its place.

  1. The Mind as the Authority. For the evidentialist, what is rational or logical to the mind is true. The mind is the authority that determines truth and discerns it from error. Therefore, this approach focuses its attention on satisfying the demands of unbelievers for evidence that the unbeliever will accept.

Problem: If the mind is futile, darkened, and ignorant as we saw above, then it is unable to objectively determine truth because it is distorted in its thinking. Additionally, for Christians, the Scriptures are the ultimate authority for everything, and truth is what coincides with the Bible. The mind of the unbeliever is hostile to God and alienated from the truth (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21), so it cannot serve as the arbiter of truth.

  1. Truth as Neutral and Unbelievers as Objective. The evidentialist believes that truth is neutral and can be discovered objectively by unbelievers. Facts in the universe are brute facts and they will mean the same thing to the Christian and non-Christian. This is often packaged as “All truth is God’s truth”; and by this it is meant that whatever branch of human inquiry discovers facts, they are automatically true once they are called “facts.”

Problem: All data that can be discovered has to be interpreted. No fact carries its own interpretation. The unbeliever interprets all data from the standpoint of unbelief, and the Christian insists that every fact in the universe declares God’s glory (Psalm 19:1-2).

Although the evidentialist approach sounds good, it starts with a flawed theological basis. It assumes that logic and rationality are universally agreed upon (they are not), and that unbelievers will accept the truth if it is clearly shown to them. Some people even describe their conversion in such a way. Yet if the biblical description of the unsaved mind is true, no one is genuinely seeking God (Rom. 3: 11) unless God draws him (John 6:44). A biblical understanding of conversion, therefore, must begin with God’s drawing of the sinner to make the gospel clear.

The presuppositional approach takes the fallen state of the human intellect into consideration in its proposal for doing apologetics.

Presuppositionalism

The term “presuppositional” is derived from “presupposition,” which refers to a basic heart commitment, or a precondition for knowledge. While many presuppositionalists prefer other names for their approach, such as covenantal or transcendental, the name presuppositional is the most identifiable. Unfortunately, as New Testament scholar, Darrell Bock notes, some use this tern to describe an approach that answers every objection with “The Bible tells me so.” This view is actually more properly called fideism, which rejects the idea that any rational justification for our beliefs must be given. Fideism, however, contradicts the clear command in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us for the reasons for our faith. A true presuppositionalism, then, seeks to get to the heart of the unbelievers challenge to reveal its irrationality before presenting the truth of the Christian faith in all its glory and true rationality.

A presupposition is a belief that serves as a foundation for all other beliefs. For the Christian, the triune God and his revelation serve as the foundational beliefs. Unbelievers often have never considered what their most basic heart commitment is, and therefore, their foundational beliefs are unexamined. For example, they often believe that certain actions are right and good, and certain actions are wrong or evil. When pressed to tell why certain actions are good or evil, they often cannot provide an answer.

Presuppositions, therefore, are very important, and everyone has them. The presuppositional approach to apologetics begins with biblical truth and seeks to get at the heart of the unbeliever’s rejection of the gospel. Here are some of the basic tenets of presuppositionalism:

1. God has revealed himself, and therefore every person knows him (Rom. 1:18-21). While the evidentialist says that every person has the capacity to know God, the presuppositionalist says, with Romans 1, that every person does indeed know God. The believer knows God in a relationship of grace, and the unbeliever knows God in a relationship of wrath. Because unbelievers know God, they are without excuse. Therefore, when I am sharing the truth of the Christian faith, I am speaking of a God who is already known by the unbeliever.

2. The Bible attests to its own authority. Because there is no authority higher than God, his Word is the highest court of appeals for any question of truth. We call this the self-attesting authority of Scripture. Most other systems of belief place reason as the highest authority or test of truth. While reason is a God-given capacity, it is not an authority. Rather, reason is a tool we use to know and understand the truth. Reason helps us to clarify our beliefs and avoid contradiction in our theology, but it does not stand over Scripture to judge what is “reasonable.”

3. Only the Christian worldview can adequately explain all aspects of the human experience in a way that is rational and provides meaning. The reason for this is that this is God’s world, and His description of our origin, purpose, and destiny, as well as what is wrong with this world, is the only one that works. In other words, non-Christian worldviews and belief systems are antithetical to the Christian faith. Because they do not accept the authority of Scripture, they oppose Christianity with their partial truths.

I am convinced of the presuppositional approach. It does not deny the importance of evidence, but begins with these Christian presuppositions. When encountering unbelief of any kind, this approach challenges the unbeliever’s presuppositions to show that they cannot rationally explain life and existence. I have found it to be easy to learn for the average Christian and very effective in conversations with unbelievers. It has the advantage of beginning with the same foundation as theology, and therefore allows us to be consistent in our approach.

The Relationship between Apologetics and Evangelism

EvangelismThe goal of evangelism is to lead a person to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The goal of apologetics should be the same. So what is the difference between the two? In summary, apologetics is a distinct but inseparable part of evangelism.

  1. Evangelism is concerned with the presentation of the gospel, and the methods used to do so. Apologetics is concerned with answering objections to the gospel, clearing away obstacles, and commending the Christian faith as the only legitimate answer to man’s predicament. Imagine an All Wheel Drive car. Usually the front tires do all the work, but when they begin to slip, the rear wheels kick into motion and stabilize the car. When you are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, you are evangelizing. However, when someone raises objections against the Christian faith, apologetics kicks in and answers the objections so that you can return to evangelizing.
  1. Apologetics is just as important for Christians as it is for unbelievers. It is not only for evangelism. It is also critical to strengthening the faith of believers, grounding them more deeply in doctrine, and answering their doubts. The end result of apologetics in the church is an increased confidence in the truth, power and reliability of the gospel, the Scriptures, and the body of Christian doctrine that comprises our faith. The lack of knowledge of apologetics is the primary reason many churches have ceased to be effective in their evangelistic efforts. If Christians doubt their own faith, or don’t know it very well, they will never share it with others.

3. Apologetics and evangelism, though distinct, are inseparable. Evangelism without apologetics is limited to monologue with unbelievers. Apologetics without evangelism is merely an intellectual exercise. They are designed to be complementary. To simply talk to an unbeliever until they interrupt you is not biblical evangelism. Evangelism should be a dialogue wherein you take the time to hear what the person believes and why he does not believe in Christ, and then give answers that reveal the truth of Christianity. By keeping the focus of apologetics on winning the lost to salvation (and not something like “proving God exists”), apologetics remains in its rightful place as a partner to evangelism.

Apologetics in the New Testament

Uses of the Word Apologia

The Greek word apologia is used several times in the New Testament, and each usage reflects the meaning of defending against an accusation.

In Acts 19:33 Alexander attempted to make a “defense” to a crowd that had erupted after Paul was charged with persuading and turning many people away from idol worship. Paul’s great offense was to say that the idols made the craftsmen in Ephesus were not real gods.

In Acts 22:1 Paul gives his “defense” to the tribunal in Jerusalem who had arrested him after the mob attacked him. He was accused of teaching against the Mosaic law and temple worship (21:28) and of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (21:29). This happens again in 24:10 where he makes his defense against the accusations that he was a public enemy, one who stirs up riots, and a leader in the sect of the Nazarenes (a follower of Jesus). Note, two of these accusations are false and one is true. This word is used again in Acts 25:8, 16; 26:1-2, 24, and in each occurrence Paul defends his preaching of the resurrection of Messiah Jesus.

In Philippians 1:7, 16 Paul refers to these incidents in Acts, and describes them as a defense of the gospel. In other words, what Paul was defending was the good news of the risen Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:16 Paul recounts his first defense when no one was present with him, because they had deserted him, presumably in fear of their lives. But the Lord stood with Paul and strengthened him.

In addition to the actual uses of apologia, the concept of defending the truth of the gospel and the glory of God can be seen throughout Scripture. It is clear, then, that apologetics was the very essence of Paul’s ministry when dealing with unbelievers. He did not separate evangelism and apologetics. They are inseparable.

In the next post we will look at the relationship between evangelism and apologetics.

Intro to Apologetics

apologetics2The term apologetics was at one time only rarely heard in Christian churches. Despite the widespread popularity of apologists such as C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer in the 1960’s and 70’s and Josh McDowell in the 80’s and 90’s, the vast majority of evangelical Christians in America today are completely unfamiliar with the discipline of apologetics. They neither know how to defend their faith nor share it effectively. Many believers live with a quiet fear regarding challenges to the Christian faith. They hold firmly to the Bible, but don’t want to have to think hard about why they believe it. As a result, many Christians avoid conversations with non-Christians about anything spiritual, since they have no confidence that they could provide answers if asked.

Yet, thinking about our faith and knowing it well enough to defend it are exactly what we are commanded to do in 1 Peter 3:15-16. Here we are each commanded to prepare ourselves to give an answer, or defense, when your faith is challenged. This is a significant part of evangelism, as discussions about the gospel rarely occur without some objections being raised by the unbeliever. Additionally, this duty is for every Christian, not just for pastors or scholars. This is the missing element in many churches’ evangelism strategy. The average church member feels ill-equipped to know what to say when confronted with any of the myriad attacks on the faith.

At the same time we now live in a time where apologetics is everywhere. The last fifteen years has seen an explosion of good books, websites, and resources to help Christians defend the faith in an increasingly hostile world. The advent of YouTube has made available thousands of debates, lectures, and lectures on apologetics. This is a positive blessing to the body of Christ. Christians have more resources now to help them than at any other time in human history.

Definitions 

First Peter 3:15-16 tells us that every Christian is to be prepared to “give an answer” or “make a defense” when his faith is challenged. Apologetics, then, concerns the defense of the Christian faith against all forms of unbelief. The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word, apologia, in verse 15. This is a legal term meaning a defense against an accusation in a court of law.

One Greek Lexicon gives the range of meaning of this word: “to give an answer,” “to clear oneself of charges,” “to defend oneself in a court of law,” “to speak on behalf of oneself or of others against accusations presumed to be false” (Louw & Nida). In this context, when the Christian faith is falsely accused (“the Bible has errors” or “Jesus never rose from the dead”), the Christian is to give an answer that shows the accusation to be false.

Cornelius Van Til, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in the mid-20th century, and pioneer in the field, gave this simple definition: “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life” (Van Til, Christian Apologetics). This definition shows that a study of apologetics must include every kind of objection that may be raised up against the truth of Christianity.

A more recent definition includes the importance of showing the rationality and beauty of the Christian faith. William Edgar defines apologetics as “the art of persuasion, the discipline which considers ways to commend and defend the living God to those without faith.” (W. Edgar, “Christian Apologetics for a New Century: Where We Have Come From, Where We Are Going,” in NDCA, p. 3). The goal of defending the faith is to persuade the unbeliever that Jesus is the Messiah and he is in need of salvation. While defending the faith, however, we also ought to be commending it, that is, showing how the Christian faith answers the deepest needs of the human condition and makes sense of the world.

In the next post we’ll look at the examples in Scripture where apologetics was practiced.