The New Testament Basis for Apologetics

In a previous post we looked at Old Testament precedence for God’s defense of his glory. In this post we look at the primary New Testament support for the Christian’s call to defend the faith.

The New Testament’s Primary Instruction on Apologetics—1 Peter 3:15-16

A number of New Testament passages speak directly to the practice of apologetics. Some of these will be developed in greater depth in the lessons to come, so this section will focus exclusively on the locus classicus (the best known or most authoritative passage on the topic) of apologetics in the New Testament.
1 Peter 3:15-16

This is the primary passage in the New Testament laying out the responsibility of every Christian to practice apologetics. 1 Peter is written in the context of suffering and persecution. The audience of the book is a combination of Jewish and Gentile Christians who have been scattered by persecution and are struggling to know how to live in a hostile world. Their former place of inclusion in pagan culture before conversion has been replaced with antagonistic exclusion from society. They have been marginalized as members of society who don’t count, and therefore, could be exploited.

Yet, Peter calls them to live boldly and triumphantly, knowing that the opposition they face has already been doomed by the victorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As a result, he calls them to engage those who persecute them. Ultimately no one can harm the Christian, even though temporarily believers can suffer great tribulation (John 16:33). Peter encourages his readers to resist the fear that results from the threats of their persecutors (3:13-14).

Rather than fear, Peter commands them to turn the table on their persecutors when they are questioned about their faith and challenged to explain themselves. He admonishes every believer, not simply pastors or scholars, to prepare themselves for this inevitable event. The apologetic task includes several elements:

  1. Begin with a settled assurance that Jesus is the Lord (v. 15a)

Peter’s first concern is for the believer’s own heart. The command is a Greek word that is variously translated “sanctify,” “set apart,” or “consider to be holy.” The idea is that the Christian must begin with both a knowledge of his faith and a confidence that it is true. Unless you believe firmly that Jesus is the true King over all the earth, that his Word is true, and that He is what every person needs most, you will not possess the confidence needed to engage unbelievers effectively.

As Peter is writing his epistle, his audience is suffering under the oppressive Roman Empire that declared that Caesar was Lord. Therefore, Peter’s words stand in opposition to the political powers of the day. Regardless of what men may declare concerning their own power, only Jesus is the true Lord.

This personal declaration of the truth of Jesus must be something settled in the believer’s heart. In other words, when the Word of God is fully accepted as the authoritative revelation given from God, Jesus will be held as the one and only Lord.

  1. Prepare yourself to make a defense of the faith (v. 15b)

After settling Christ’s Lordship in their hearts, Christians are to prepare themselves for challenges to their faith leveled by unbelievers. The word translated “prepared” is used in the context of outfitting a ship for a voyage. Just as a ship’s captain would carefully load a ship with food, water, sails, medicine, and other supplies before a long voyage, so a Christian ought to prepare himself for any number of challenges raised against the faith.

How does a Christian prepare? As mentioned above, the first thing a Christian must do is to learn the Christian faith thoroughly. This means knowing the Scriptures thoroughly and having a firm grasp of Christian theology. Many believers try to defend the faith without knowing what they believe. This results in an ineffective apologetic, which has to continually concede ground to unbelief. Those who are well-schooled in theology, however, find many more resources at their disposal in the apologetic task.

Believers should also know as much as they reasonably can about their conversation partner’s beliefs. This isn’t always possible, but if you are having a second or third discussion about the Christian faith with someone, it is helpful to know at least a little about what that person believes.

Preparation requires an investment of time, effort, and sometimes money. It takes careful thought, reading, studying, and conversations to become an experienced apologist. There are many good books that contribute to the Christian’s preparation, and investing money in them is an important element of being ready when the time comes.

  1. Defend the faith in a way that encourages conversation (v. 15c)

Peter calls us to prepare so we can “give an answer” or “make a defense.” The Greek word is apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics.” This is a legal term that means to defend a position in a court of law against charges. Many of the objections raised against Christianity are accusations that call for an answer. All Christians should be able to defend the faith against these accusations.

An important truth should be emphasized here: The Christian faith can stand up to any legitimate challenge raised against it. In other words, believers do not need to fear that objections exist for which there is no answer. They do not need to worry that someone may someday discover an objection that Christianity cannot answer. Since the days of the apostles Christians have been faced with challenges and have been developing answers.

While the challenges we encounter may at times be hostile or antagonistic, we should never respond in kind. Peter describes the proper demeanor of the apologist—gentleness and respect. First, when engaged in conversation with an unbeliever, the Christian should speak and act in a way that is humble, approachable, and winsome. The goal is not to argue with or shame the non-Christian, but rather to help him see the light of truth. Gentleness speaks to our tone of voice, our understanding of God’s love for the person, and our refusal to be aggressive or antagonistic.

Second, Peter describes our demeanor with the Greek word phobos, from which we get “phobia,” or fear. This word is also translated “respect.” He never explains this concept further, so it can have one of three possible meanings:

1) Peter could be encouraging believers to fear God when engaging unbelievers. In other words, rather than be overcome by the fear of man, which paralyzes and silences the apologist, we should fear God, which brings boldness.

2) The word could be referring to the fact that apologetic encounters always involve fear. This choice means that when we feel fear we should remind ourselves that this is normal. Fear should be expected, and therefore, should not deter us from continuing the conversation. Rather than running away from the situation, which we naturally do when afraid, Peter could be encouraging us to continue the conversation with the unbeliever, even in the presence of fear.

3) Peter could be using this word in its other sense, to be “respectful.” In a number of passages phobos has the sense of treating someone with dignity or respect (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:16, 3:2). It means to remember that the unbeliever is made in the image of God and is loved by God, even while they are estranged from him. Jesus never demeaned anyone in his conversations with them, but rather treated them with kindness and dignity, even while he confronted their unbelief. In John 4, Jesus rejected every reason culture afforded him to treat the woman at the well with disdain. Instead he spoke to her with kindness, offering hope and redemption.

In the same way we must treat even the most antagonistic person with kindness, knowing that they are ultimately opposing God, not us. We do so to break down the barriers of hostility that have been built up against the gospel. Even when we have to engage in firm confrontation of falsehood in a person’s worldview, we do so seeking to draw that person to the beauty and glory of Christ. As the old saying goes, “You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar!”

  1. Practice regular repentance (v. 16)

The final point Peter makes deals with the Christian’s heart condition and lifestyle. Too many Christians today are trying to defend the Christian faith when their own lives do not in any way demonstrate an attitude of humble repentance concerning their own sin. They are quick to point out the sin of others, but their consciences are guilty with hidden sin, arrogant and self-righteous behavior, and other unconfessed sins.

Peter emphasizes that a Christian with a clear conscience is a powerful apologetic, because his life cannot be impeached by accusations of hypocrisy. Instead, when he is indicted for violating the very life-transforming gospel that he proclaims, and the charges are investigated, he is found innocent. The enemies of the gospel find they have nothing bad to say about the lives of Christians, whom they oppose. So even a believer’s life is a legal defense against objections to the gospel. This is important because many people reject the Christian faith for the very reason that they know professing Christians who are immoral, dishonest, or cruel and judgmental.

By living a humble and repentant life the Christian puts to silence the foolish charges of ignorant people who oppose Christianity for no good reason (1 Pet. 2:15). The believer can share his faith confidently because he has nothing to hide and can invite the unbeliever to examine his life to see that there is no hypocrisy.

Conclusion

It should be clear by now that apologetics has a solid biblical basis. It is rooted in God’s consistent confrontation of man’s sin and unbelief, and his jealous defense of his glory in the face of false belief and idolatry. We defend the Christian faith because the glory of God is at stake. We do so as God’s emissaries, shining the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ into a world blinded by sin and darkness (2 Cor. 4:3-6)

In addition we ought to settle the matter of Christ’s lordship in our own hearts by having a thorough knowledge of Scripture and sound doctrine. This preparation will enable us to defend the truth and glory of the gospel in the face of challenges raised against it. We do so with a Christ-like demeanor, combined with a life of integrity. This biblical description of apologetics will result in a powerful impact on the world. We will see a renaissance of churches full of evangelists and apologists. The church will once again stand as a shining light piercing the darkness with the good news of the risen Christ (Luke 11:33).

Planned Parenthood and the Banality of Evil

Hannah ArendtIt’s not that the Planned Parenthood videos, in which the body parts of infants are harvested and sold, show monstrously evil people. It’s the lack of conscience in ordinary people that makes them so horrific. Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher who wrote about Adolf Eichmann’s trial after the fall of the Third Reich, sheds light on the severity of evil and the ease with which it is accepted if we simply change the words we use to describe our actions. Mike Cosper summarizes Arendt’s insight in his article, The Banality of Abortion. Read it!

 

Make the Gospel of Grace a Daily Meditation in 2016

New Morning Mercies“When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding your attention, your awe, and your worship, other things in your life will capture your attention instead. When you quit celebrating grace, you begin to forget how much you need grace, and when you forget how much you need grace, you quit seeking the rescue and strength that only grace can give. This means you begin to see yourself as more righteous, strong, and wise than you actually are, and in so doing, you set yourself up for trouble.”

–Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, Introduction.

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.

The Failure of Philosophy and the SCOTUS Decision

nietzscheI was reading an interview with seven philosophers about the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, and in none of their short essays, save one, did the philosophers who responded actually apply any serious philosophy. Their answers are mostly opinion pieces lauding justice and dignity, with no attempt to define those terms philosophically, or to justify their importance. As K. Scott Oliphint says, Philosophy is largely well-articulated unbelief.

Only one philosopher, Cheshire Calhoun of Arizona State University, asks the right question. She notices that Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, referred several times to the “transcendent purpose of marriage.” As a non-Christian Calhoun questions where Kennedy gets the notion of the transcendent, and why that notion should be binding. The transcendent smacks of religion, and that cannot be tolerated, so she suggests that we do away with the concept and the vocabulary.

If any law is based on a concept of transcendence, there is a danger that transcendence may interfere with the next sexual taboo to fall, be it polygamy, incest, etc. Best to drop the language of transcendence, she advises, because it legitimizes marriage too much, and it’s high time we stopped considering marriage to be anything more than a misguided relic of the hateful past.

Calhoun is right about one thing. If there is a transcendent to which we can appeal, we are all in deep trouble. That transcendent may demand of us things we don’t want to do. It may hold the specter of future judgment. Like many of her philosophical peers, Calhoun is eager to jettison the notion. Also like many of her peers, she forgets the prescient words of one of her own comrades in the philosophical guild, albeit of a different century.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s parable of the madman confronts the hubris of those who discard the divine. He knew that ridding ourselves of the transcendent did not bring bondage, but a loss of the foundations of society, dignity, and rationality.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

What Calhoun celebrates, the idolization of desire, will not only be the destruction of her trade, philosophy, but civilization as a whole, the very thing she thinks has been saved by SCOTUS’s decision. If desire reigns, there is no need for philosophy, because each one’s own peccadillos are all that matters. Philosophy’s task is rendered irrelevant. There is no more room for the questions of universal good and justice. Such questions themselves become as oppressive as a transcendent idea of marriage.

The concept of civilization, too, will have to be redefined or discarded, once the most deviant in society realize that the holy grail of hedonism, consent, is nothing more than a preference. If there is no transcendent, there can be no argument that consent should be the guiding ethic of sexual expression. Once consent is lost, it’s a quick fall to chaos and destruction.

Bible believers know what happens when everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The biblical book of Joshua recounts the horrors of life without restraint. As one Puritan divine prayed, “O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate. This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.”

While those in favor of the SCOTUS decision praise it for its grant of justice and dignity, they pull the rug out from their own feet. Do away with the transcendent God, and terms like mercy and justice become meaningless. Only by beginning with the triune God of Scripture can the genuine dignity and justice in the world be possible.