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.

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