Doing Apologetics “within” the Church

wolf in sheepGuest Post by Jeff Mindler

[Jeff graduated from Lancaster Bible College in 2014 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies, as well as an M.A. in Counseling. He currently works as the Event Coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in Lancaster, PA. His wife, Joe’l, and he worship at Grace Baptist Church of Millersville in Millersville, PA where they both serve as members. He enjoys studying several different disciplines including Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Church History, and Practical Theology, while having a keen and passionate love for Apologetics and Systematic Theology in particular.]

“Doing apologetics within the Church” – this statement may sound strange at first, particularly to the reader who says, “I thought apologetics was done with unbelievers or those of differing religions?” While that is certainly true that we are called to practice apologetics to those of differing religions and unbelievers, there is another setting in which apologetics is to take place and that is within the Church. That’s right; apologetics is also to be done in the body of Christ. What do I mean by this? Read on, it’s in here.

To help us understand this topic, perhaps it is best to give a Biblical example of defending the faith within the Church, but before I do so, allow me to briefly define what apologetics is. Biblical apologetics is at its most basic level a defense of the Christian faith, giving a reason for the hope that is within us, just as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:15. This in its most basic form is what apologetics is. Now, let us consider the book of Jude, in which we see an example of defending the faith within the Church. Jude 1:3 states, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

This is one of the classic passages on practicing apologetics. Jude is directly commanding the Church to do apologetics, but to whom are we to contend for the faith in this passage? The very next verse Jude addresses the reason why we are to contend for the faith. Verse 4 states, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” It is interesting to note, then, that the purpose and intent of this book is an encouragement to do apologetics. Scott Oliphant makes an astute observation on this point when he writes, “Jude writes to a church, or group of churches, to help them defend themselves against a specific attack on the gospel, an attack that is taking place within the church itself.” [1]

While these people are not exactly identified, Jude does give us many useful descriptions of these people, saying that they have “crept in unnoticed.” This is something we should take seriously today and must recognize the deceptiveness of sin, we should be on high alert for those who are amongst us but nevertheless pervert the grace of God. Jude also describes these people as those who “pervert the grace of our God” and “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These people are false teachers to the core. This is why we must defend the faith within the Church, to protect the body of Christ from false teachers who would pervert the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jude’s exhortations to defend the faith against those inside the Church who would attempt to pervert the Gospel is an exhortation to believers everywhere to stand firm and to fight the good fight for the faith once for all delivered to us. With this exhortation, we are to wage a battle, to practice apologetics not only to unbelievers outside of the Church, but also to those inside the Church. In the process we seek to apply biblical truth to unbelief, including the unbelief within our own hearts. An example of this is found in Titus 1:9 where Titus outlines one of the duties of an elder. Titus writes, “9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sounddoctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

To rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine is to engage in apologetics, the defending of the faith against those who would seek to undermine it. Elders must be ready to engage in apologetics and to lead others in the defending of their faith as well, and by so doing, they will protect those in the congregation against others who would seek to teach what does not accord with sound doctrine.

May we as the Church be strengthened daily, may we continue to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day, and may we engage in battle against unbelief while doing so with gentleness and respect. And finally, may our prayer continue to be “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

 

1.         Oliphint, K.S., The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith. 2003: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company

Distinguishing between Academic and Practical Apologetics (and Why You Should Start with the Practical)

PracticalThe distinction between academic and practical is not a formal one recognized by most people, but there is a definite difference between apologetics that is designed for an academic environment and that which is focused on engaging people in a one-on-one conversation about the gospel.

Academic apologetics refers to arguments for the Christian faith using high-level disciplines such as philosophy, science, history, linguistics, and more. Debates between scholars using reasoning that is beyond the average person’s grasp are helpful for demonstrating that Christianity can stand up to any legitimate challenges raised against it. Some of the best academic apologists in the world today include philosophers, Bible scholars, and theologians, such as William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Alvin Plantinga, Dan Wallace, Scott Oliphint, Vern Poythress, Vince Vitale, Richard Bauckham, Simon Gathercole, Peter Williams, and Darrell Bock, to name a few. These and others are wonderful gifts to the church by pursuing expertise in fields of study that few Christians have the opportunity to pursue. They are able to contend with the top critical scholars in the world and demonstrate the rationality of the Christian faith.

What we might call practical apologetics is rooted in all the knowledge and wisdom of academic apologetics, but is focused on the practical application of these truths to real life encounters with unbelievers. References to philosophy and science beyond the basics are avoided to keep the average Christian from despairing that defending and sharing the faith is beyond their ability. Practical apologetics provides simple strategies that can be easily learned and implemented in conversations about the gospel. It does not discourage growth in learning or challenging topics, but it is designed for the average Christian to witness about Christ effectively to the average unbeliever. Sometimes a Christian might encounter a particularly well-read skeptic or faithful adherent of a religion. In this case, the resources of academic apologetics are available to deal with the more difficult challenges. But the truth is, encountering someone like this is the exception rather than the rule in most places.

The reason we need more focus on the practical is that one of the major problems with apologetics in our day is a lack of actual engagement with unbelievers face-to-face. That is, many Christians study apologetics while not actually ever attempting to share the gospel with anyone. They go to conferences and read books and watch videos, and even debate with others online. Yet, when it comes to approaching real live people with the gospel, they are all talk and no action. They accumulate ever more knowledge without using it, and as a result, they often grow arrogant and puffed up. They tend to talk only with other like-minded people and consider unbelievers to be stupid for not believing. They lose their love for the lost and instead regard them with disdain. They are like the Dead Sea, constantly taking in, but never giving out. As a result, they are lifeless and cold to the sake of the gospel.

Part of the problem lies with the fact that academic apologetics is mistaken as the way everyone should defend the Christian faith. Debates and conferences at universities, however are staged events, pitting two people against one another. They are not a good model for evangelism at all. There is no attempt to show the love of Christ (usually), because that is not the purpose of them. They are necessarily combative. The participants have to plead their case to the audience, not one another. So, while these events are immensely valuable, they are not the way we should engage unbelievers with the gospel.

Practical apologetics, by contrast, teaches that we are to love the other person (Rom. 9:1-3), show genuine interest in them, treat them with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15), and take verbal abuse from them if need be (1 Pet. 2:15; 3:16). We should not see unbelievers as enemies, but as lost souls needing a Savior, just as we did before we were saved by Christ. Therefore, even in our contending for the truth with them, refuting lies, correcting misunderstandings, exposing suppression of the truth, and reasoning with them, we do it in a Christlike, loving fashion, urging them to repent and believe.

Practical apologetics ought to be emphasized more in the church for two reasons. First, if we will begin to engage unbelievers in actual conversations about the gospel, it will compel us to grow in our knowledge of the Christian faith and how to defend and share it. And this desire will arise with an eye to engaging the lost, and not merely accumulating knowledge. Second, while interest in apologetics has grown in recent years, attention on the strategy of using this accumulated knowledge has been lacking. We know more about the reasons why we believe truth of the Christian faith than perhaps we used to, but we don’t know how to communicate it effectively. This has resulted in many confrontational strategies that often feel to the unbeliever like being accosted on the street by a stranger. When such a thing happens to the average person, their only thought is to get away as quickly as possible.

An emphasis on practical apologetics, however, equips the average Christian with a  methodology that encourages conversation and that feels natural to the average person. It is rooted in the advanced truths of academic apologetics, and sometimes utilizes those resources, but it is more so rooted in Scripture itself. As we see time and time again, our primary source of effective gospel witness is Scripture, not philosophy, science, or other academic disciplines, as helpful as they may be.