An Apologetic for Apologetics
In the first post of this series Richard Lewis reflects on ‘What is Apologetics’ and why it is integral to the Church today.
What is Apologetics?
“Apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, appearing seventeen times in the New Testament, translated as giving “a defence”. Paul employs the term to describe his hearing in court, “at my first defence” (2 Tim. 4:16). Luke uses the word to describe Paul before Agrippa and Festus, “to make his defence concerning the charge laid against him” (Acts 25:16). In contemporary usage, Christian Philosopher and Apologist, William Lane Craig, succinctly defines the term:
“Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith. […] apologetics specifically serves to show to unbelievers the truth of the Christian faith, to confirm that faith to believers, and to reveal and explore the connections between Christian doctrine and other truths”.
Apologetics provides persuasive reasons to questions such as, “Why should I believe Christianity is true?” Christianity involves the whole person both mind and emotions (Mt. 22:37). Coming to faith, one must accept the central truth claims of Christianity. Apologetics explains these truth claims, provides compelling reasons to accept them as true, and dismantles arguments in the process. Some basic helpful terms can be found at the bottom of this post.
What is the purpose of Apologetics?
John Frame proposes three primary functions of apologetics. He delineates them as “Proof”, “Defence”, and “Offence”.
· Proof involves “presenting a rational basis for faith”.
· Defence engages by “answering the objections of unbelief”.
· Offence means, “attacking the foolishness of unbelieving thought”.
Apologetics presents a rational basis for faith. Through apologetics, one may argue from history, philosophy, logic, physics, or other disciplines. As a result, apologetics can help remove the significant doubts and intellectual barriers to the Christian worldview. Gordon R. Lewis states, “Apologetic argument may not create belief, but it creates the atmosphere in which belief can come to life”. Reasoned arguments might not lead one to Christ but, through intelligent discourse, may remove some of the barriers impeding one’s faith in God.
Apologetics answers objections to unbelief and attempts to “nullify” them. Writing to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul states that they are to partake in the “defence and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil 1:7; cf. v. 16). Paul emphasised the importance of defending and confirming the gospel to an unbelieving world, encouraging the believers to practice apologetics.
Apologetics tackles the claims against Christianity. Paul says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Christians are required to intellectually engage with objections one may have. Offensive Apologetics can strengthen and anchor the faith of the believer because it gives them profound and compelling reasons for their beliefs, allowing for a reasoned response.
The Biblical Mandate
The apostle Peter urges the believer to be equipped to defend the faith by always being prepared to give a reasoned response to others for the hope that resides within him (1 Pet. 3:15). Believers are to articulate Christian beliefs humbly and reasonably with respect. To be unprepared is the antithesis of this command and “to ignore the unbeliever’s questions or objections is therefore both unbalanced and unscriptural”. Christians must be prepared to respond and engage objections through logic and persuasive reasoning.
Jesus defends himself by using logic. In the gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Mt. 12:22-32). However, Jesus pointed out that this was a ludicrous idea, for why would Satan cast out Satan? This logical method is called “reductio ad absurdum,” which means showing that, “your opponent’s position leads to absurdity”.
Scripture tells us that it was Paul’s “custom” to go to the synagogue and “reason with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for Christ to suffer” (Acts 17:2-3; emphasis added). Persuasion was part of Paul’s evangelistic approach as he “reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade the Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
A Common Objection
A significant objection made against apologetics is that Christians do not need to defend the Bible. Theologians, such as Gordon R. Lewis, are correct to remind us that we do not need to defend the eternal truth of Scripture because it is forever unchanging (Mt. 24:35; 1 Pet. 1:25). But people’s perceptions of the Bible do change:
“If the Bible expresses God’s eternal truth, of course that needs no support from men. The question has to do with the image of the Bible in the minds […] who have heard the Bible’s authority questioned and its teachings challenged”.
If one does not accept the Bible to be objectively true, then you have no cause to submit to it. The discipline of apologetics helps us dismantle erroneous arguments against Scripture and make a positive case for the objective truth and authority of divine revelation.
Apologetics presents a rational basis for faith. It seeks to answer objections brought forward and attacks the foundations of unbelieving thought. Our reasoned arguments should be displayed through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and in the fruit of the Spirit. With the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit, believers are commanded to be ready to make an intellectual defence of the faith (1 Pet. 3:15) and to help other people’s unbelief (Mk. 9:24). As we all know, it is one thing to know the faith; it is another thing to live it. Often it is who you are rather than what you say that brings an unbeliever to Christ. Apologetics is a great Biblical discipline for Christians to explore but it must be accompanied by lives of discipleship which point evermore to Christ.
Arndt, W. et al., 2000. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, University of Chicago Press. p.117.
Boa, K. and Bowman, R. (2005). Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, pp.1-14
Craig, W. (2008). Reasonable Faith. 3rd ed. Wheaton: Crossway Books.
Frame, J. (2012). Presuppositional Apologetics. [online] Frame-poythress.org. Available at: https://frame-poythress.org/presuppositional-apologetics/.
Frame, J. (2015). Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, pp.1-10
Lewis, G. (1990). Testing Christianity's Truth Claims. Lanham, Md: University Press of America.
Morley, B. (2015). Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Defending your faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, pp.13-25
Sweis, K. and Meister, C. (2012). Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Taylor, J. (2013). Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, pp.30-49.
Whitcomb, Jr., j. (1977). “Contemporary Apologetics and the Christian Faith: Part III: Proof Texts for Semi-Rationalistic Apologetics,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 134(536), pp.291-298.