Introduction to Apologetics

OBJECTIVES

  • Introducton
    Defining Apologetics
  • The History Apologetics
    The first uses of the term ‘apologetics’.
  • The Bible or Evidence
    Presuppositional Apologetics & Evidential Apologetics
  • Polemics
    Determining when it is appropriate to charge opposing worldviews
  • The Endgame
    The Purpose of Christian Apologetics

Key Words

  1. APOLOGETICS (CHRISTIAN)
  2. APOLOGY
  3. CLASSICAL APOLOGETICS
  4. EVIDENTIAL APOLOGETICS
  5. KATEGORIA
  6. PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS
  7. PRESUPPOSITIONALISM

What is Apologetics?

C. S. Lewis argued that specific words in the English language, among other languages, have become overly “spiritualized” and “useless,” drawing from intention rather than description and have consequently lost their meaning.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said—so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully—”Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should?… To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object.[1]

Lewis predicted that, though well-intentioned, words would lose their meaning and become spoiled and useless the more they took on a more spiritualized and subjective nature. Some might say that they were “deepening” the sense of words, but he argued that these newly refined words won’t be agreed upon by all, and rather than give description about something, they would only reveal a speaker’s attitude of something.

In modern times, an apology has come to mean something of an expression of regret, or an admittance to guilt in hopes of a pardon. But an apology originally meant something altogether different. An apology is a formal and well-reasoned defense or reply to an accusation made. This is altogether different than extenuating fault and regret for wrong done. It comes from the Greek preposition apo- (ἀπό) and the word logos (λόγος) which means “from” or “away from” and “conclusive speech”, respectively. Together, they make up the word apologia (ἀπολογία), or “a well-reasoned reply… to adequately address an issue that is raised”.[2]

Christian apologetics is best represented in 1 Peter 3:15:

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account [apologia] for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…”


References

[1] Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. London, U.K.: Geoffry Bles. p. 6. Web: Link

[2] Harper, Douglas (2019). apology. Online Etymology Dictionary. Web: Link

History of Apologetics

It has been rightly proposed to treat apologia in a speech set with kategoria.[3] Kategoria (κατηγορία) is an accusation or criminal charge given, usually in a formal setting such as a court or council.[4] These charges were expected to be met by the apologia – the defense intended to exonerate the defendant from the charges accused of him. But the defense of an apologia seeks more than an expulsion of it’s speaker’s alleged guilt; it is often an established affirmative argument of its own arguing for a policy or one’s character.

One of first known uses of the word apology is found in Plato’s record of a trial accusing his master, Socrates in 399 BC. Socrates was charged for impiety against the pantheon (temple) of Athens and for corrupting the minds of young men into not believing in the gods in whom the city worshiped.[5] His failure to acknowledge the same gods of his culture and instead introduce new gods landed him a trial held to determine his guilt. After the charges were listed, Socrates presented an apology in defense of his actions stating that it is the duty of “wise” men to expose false wisdom as ignorance.[6] It was this kind of thinking that earned him much admiration amongst the Athenian youth, and contempt from the older and “wiser” traditionalists.

Nearly four centuries after the trial of Socrates and after the crucifixion of Jesus, the apostle Paul was arrested while preaching the resurrection of Christ at the temple in Jerusalem. He was confronted by many before being presented to King Agrippa to make his defense. [7] Again, we find the word apologeomai (ἀπολογέομαι) used, the root being the familiar compound of apo- and logos, or apologia (Acts 28:1). He begins to explain why he went from a pharisee persecuting Christians to death to a Christian being persecuted with the threat of death on him that very moment. Paul was a very learned man and his words were heard by many “small and great.” Some who heard even shouted that his great education had made him mad, but King Agrippa was not so sure. “In a short time,” he said, “you will persuade me to become Christian” (Acts 26:28).

Christian Apologetics

Apologetics is the formal art and science of assertions systematically established through well-reasoned arguments. Christian Apologetics is the theological discipline of forming systematic arguments in defense of the Christian Faith. The field is interdisciplinary and apologists are found throughout all areas of academia, including politics, media and film, law, medicine, and IT.

Christian apologetics, imposes confrontation of personally held beliefs more than the beliefs of others. Remember, an apologetic should not just serve to vindicate the accused, but to establish that a better right was committed in the perceived wrong. This requires that one know what they believe, but more importantly why they believe it so that they defend themselves and the thing they believe more effectively. The apostles and the ante-Nicene church were willing and successful in their charge to advance the faith throughout the world even unto their deaths because they lived what they declared. It is important for Christians to understand that we are not given the charge to defend the faith to free us from the chains of prison or the sentence of death, but that even in those events, we will have presented the best defense of Christ in hopes that even our accusers turn to Him, repent, and become saved by grace though reasonable faith.

Diagoras of Melos openly declared in the fifth century of ancient Greece that there was no God.[8] He proved this by turning a statue Herakles into a cookfire and preparing turnips over it without divine judgment cast upon him.[9] Many have asked why religion still holds immense prestige within an evolved postmodern society. The American atheist and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, wondered in his Letter to a Christian Nation why religion seems to be the only area in society allowed to be so strongly believed without evidence and not considered a mark of madness.[10] Throughout the world, laws are enacted in opposition to values rooted in the objective and moral nature of God. The world seems to shout loudly and proudly that God doesn’t exist.  Christian apologtics does not leave that accusation unanswered.


References

[3] Ryan, H. R. (1982). Kategoria and Apologia: On their Rhetorical Criticism as a Speech Set. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 68(3), p. 254-261. PDF: Link

[4] Strong, James (1996). G2724 – katēgoria. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Web: Link

[5] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2014). Socrates. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University. Web: Link

[6] Plato (translated by Benjamin Jowett) (2012). Apology. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Kindle ASIN: B0082S32T8

[7] Strong, James (1996). G626 – apologeomai. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Web: Link

[8] Robertson, J. M. (2001). A History of Freethought: Ancient and Modern to the period of the French Revolution. Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Press.

[9] Schaff, Philip (2009). Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Web: Link

[10] Harris, Sam (2006). Letter to a Christian Nation. Knopf. p. 67

The Bible or Evidence?

There are two general strategies in apologetics. Members of different Christian sects have different opinions about which strategy should be used, and some even believe that only one of these strategies should be used exclusively.

Presuppositional Apologetics

The first of these strategies is called presuppositional apologeticsPresuppositional Apologetics, or presuppositionalism, is the approach which primarily presents the bible as the authority for faith, life, and even reason.[11] Proponents of this strategy include Jeff Durbin, James White, Greg Bahnsen, and Douglas Wilson. Some advocates for presuppositionalism, such as Westminster Theological Seminary, admit that “presuppositionalism… implies circular reasoning,” and instead use the term “covenantal apologetics”.[12] The covenantal apologist begins by acknowledging the authority of divine revelation, that God is a three-in-one unity and is the standard of truth and reason. Cornelius Van Til was a Dutch-American Christian philosopher and credited by most presuppositional proponents as the originator of modern presuppositional apologetics. His approach to apologetics affirms that it is impossible for an unregenerate unbeliever to know something of God without also presupposing specific truths of Christianity.[13]

Everyone accepts certain presuppositions and behaves in like manner and these presuppositions may be towards the Bible, the Qur’an, science, or the uniformity in nature. Presuppositionalism relies on axioms, such as those in logic and mathematics. An axiom is an unprovable rule or first principle accepted as true because it is self-evident or particularly useful.[14] This is well represented, for instance, in the three laws of logic. The self-evident nature of an axiom is particularly useful in addressing well-known concerns and criticisms against presuppositionalism. Is the truthfulness of the bible the first principle to the truthfulness of Christianity? In other words, is there any other axioms which are necessary to support the fact that the bible is true?

Many proponents of exclusive presuppositionalism argue that since everyone already possesses an inherent understanding of the Creator through His creation as declared by Paul (Romans 1:18-33), this approach to unbelievers should be the only method worth using.[15] They also argue that since it is the Holy Spirit Who lays the seed of regeneration and belief, we need not worry how harshly the structure to our evangelistic approach may be. Nearly anyone we approach with this strategy will dismiss the claims as appeal to authority fallacy and that they don’t believe the bible is true and has changed. The presuppositionalist may respond by quoting that the bible is the Word of God and the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). “You wouldn’t put your sword away if your enemy suddenly didn’t believe it exists, would you,” they say. True enough; a sword will still pierce its victim even if he didn’t believe in it’s sting.

But this is apathetic and lazy reasoning, and it perverts the purpose for which we are commissioned. Further, the presuppositionalist faces the problem of circularity – where the bible is true because God said so, and we know God said so in the bible we claim is true. Don’t think that this is a criticism intended to encourage anyone against the presuppositional approach, by any means. On the one hand, the bible is necessary in understanding the ontology of the Godhead and the covenant of salvation and so may be argued as the first principle for Christianity. On the other hand, some argue that the truthfulness of the bible relies on knowable categorical truth and its compliance with the laws of logic.

Evidential Apologetics

There is the second strategy of apologetics and it seems to be an adequate response to this challenge. Evidential Apologetics argues for the existence and authority of God and his covenant of salvation emphasizing on evidence from miracles (such as the resurrection), biblical historicity, philosophy, and science. It is often interchangeable with Classical Apologetics, an apologetic approach appealing to reason and evidence.[16] Proponents of these approaches include Augustine, Saint Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and more recently, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, and Ravi Zacharias.

While presuppositional apologetics is challenged by its circular reasoning, evidential apologetics answers this challenge with a more epistemological approach. Some of these arguments include the Teleological Argument, Cosmological Argument, Argument from Prophecy, and others. Each of these arguments aim to prove God’s existence and authority through evidence outside of the bible. Dr. Jason Lisle, for instance – an astrophysicist and young-earth creationist for the Institute of Creation Research – argues that the order of mathematics and observations of the natural world obedient to an intelligent Being is evidence for God’s existence and authority.[17]

But evidential apologetics has a challenge of its own called the infinite regression argument. Critics of evidential apologists are quick to point this out and argue that a presupposition is an inevitable eventuality as the argument regresses to its foundational evidence, or first principle. They also show that a total regression of a debate can also regress the conversation so that the original intent is drowned within a point-counterpoint banter, and even if the debate is won by the believer, it is quite probable that it will not have won the unbeliever to belief. Eventually, the first principle will most likely end up at presupposing the existence of the laws of logic and the existence of categorical truth. This is an easy place to start as these are the easiest arguments to prove and support God as the Lawgiver.

An Effective Combination

Those who have been called to an apologist’s role have a heavy responsibility as an ambassador of the Savior. Each strategy has impact where the other does not. No argument is impenetrable no difference the subject matter. But we have found a dynamic combination of the two to be the most effective.


References

[11] Got Questions (2009). What is Presuppositional Apologetics?. Gotquestions.org. Web: Link

[12] Fides Quaerens Intellectum (2018). What is Presuppositionalism. West Minster Seminary. Web: Link

[13] Haines, David (2017). A Fundamental Problem With The Presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til. Southern Evangelical Seminary. Web: Link

[14] US Legal, Inc (2019). Axiom. Law and Legal Definition. Web: Link

[15] Dr. Bahnsen, G. (1995). Van Til’s “Presuppositionalism. Penpoint, 1(6), 1st ser. Web: Link

[16] Dr. Howe, R. (2018). Classical Apologetics. Southern Evangelical Seminary. Web: Link

[17] Dr. Lisle, J. (2014). The Secret Code of Creation. Institute of Christian Research.

Polemics

The Endgame

[1 Timothy 1:5-7, ESV] The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

There are two reasons why training the church in apologetics is of vital importance. The first is availability – to advance the kingdom in hope, faith and love that the Holy Spirit will inspire repentance in unbelievers. The second is integrity – to preserve the truth of the faith and to be prepared to deal with the current issues which threaten our culture. This is all done first and foremost by “sanctifying Christ in our hearts” (1Peter 3:15). This means that Christ is set apart in our hearts and is the central purpose for our apologetics. Second, this is revealed through critical thinking, properly structured arguments, and a consistency of our own worship.

Whether you are aware or not or feel or not that you’ve been called to apologetics, in some sense you are already an apologist. You have beliefs and you either support those beliefs through your behavior or through you word, and you are an example of those believes. In that sense, everyone is an apologist. The question, then, is in your efficiency in being able to defend those beliefs. Are they held through subjective evidences or emotional alliances? Are they held by empirical evidences? So what do you believe? Is it true, and more importantly, how do you know?

The Gospel

Ultimately, as believers our apologetics ought to be intended to advance the gospel even more than it is to defend the faith. And we do not do so ill-equipped, but as trained and armed soldiers with a very specific fight. The bible gives us both the equipment and the knowledge of our truth enemy.

The Armor of God

Paul poetically presents what makes us “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10-17). The each part to the armor has great meaning and purpose:

  1. Belt of Truth
    Truth is inflexible reality, assigned to universality, invariance, and necessity. And upon the belt is fastened the scabbard.
  2. Sword of the Spirit (The Word of God)
    The word of God is often thought of as the Scriptures alone. It is true that that Scriptures are the word of God (John 17:17; 1 Timothy 4:5; Revelation 1:2; Colossians 1:25), but the word is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Without deemphasizing the importance of the written word (logos), there is also the word of God in speech and action (rhema).
  3. Breastplate of Righteousness
    There is no one good (Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10); none but God (Psalm 145:9; Mark 10:18). Even the “filthy rags” of our good deeds are covered in the prefect righteousness of Christ; that is, His good works. And so, when we march into battle, it is His work we display, not our own. The two just simply don’t compare!
  4. Shield of Faith
    Faith is the substance or assurance and the evidence or conviction what things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1), and it comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). This does not mean that faith is believing in what we can’t see. Faith is how we are able to believe in what we can’t see – and that is by things we can see. Further, James concludes that with faith comes works according to one’s faith. This means that faith is evidence preceding and succeeding one’s belief. And this is how we defend ourselves against the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
  5. Helmet of Salvation
    The power of God unto salvation is the gospel (Romans 1:16).
  6. Grieves of the Gospel
    Here, our purpose of action comes into play, and here our endgame is established. We march in full confidence  and intent to advance the kingdom, but not as conquerors of regions or earthly kingdoms.

Our True Enemy

New and seasoned apologists in specific camps of Christianity often turn to a militaristic or esoteric approach when presenting the gospel. They may attack an unbeliever for their unbelief and erringly believe themselves more favored or elected of God than the unbeliever. But to be clear, election is unknown to anyone. We cannot know the status of anyone else’s salvation but our own. We may judge the fruit of another, and we have a biblical and familial obligation to do so. But that judgement is reserved exclusively for within the church (1 Corinthians 5:12; c.f. Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37). Even so, the only thing which separates a believer from a nonbeliever is Christ, Himself. Therefore, truth must be seasoned with mercy. He who does not exhibit mercy to others has either forgotten or never known the mercy that was shown to him.

Besides that, in the same passage Paul tells us to arm up, our enemy is not flesh and blood, even though it may seem so at times. It is against rulers, powers, worldly forces and spiritual forces (Galatians 6:12). Daniel, for instance, prayed for three weeks but didn’t receive an answer until after those three weeks. An angel, however, was dispatched by God to deliver a message to Daniel the moment he prayed on the first day. He was detained for those three weeks by “the prince of Persia”, a spiritual entity (Daniel 10:13). The dispatched angel told Daniel that he had to return with archangel Michael to break through the enemies lines to complete the mission first given to him. This story helps us understand that there are forces at work against those of us who bear His name, forces that the unbeliever cannot understand (John 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

When we are confronted with questions, doubt, and/or skepticism from unbelievers, we should be excited and ready to answer knowing that this may be another prisoner to be freed from the shackles of ignorance and into salvific enlightenment. We should also be ready for the battle within ourselves in such a confrontation because the enemy is battling the mind and the heart of both in conversation, not just the unbeliever. The gospel is not something we graduate from, and if the gospel is the intend and at the forefront of the apologist’s mind, then it will show in his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – the fruit of the Spirit’s work within the believer (Galatians 5:22-24).

Conclusion

With the advancement of postmodernism in the western world, theology and religion have been dismissed for art, and pure science is being dismissed for social theory, and the forced schism between reason and religion is a prime suspect. When the world finds pure science against them on an issue, they reconcile by appealing to their unquantifiable imagination rewriting the laws of integral investigation in favor of more desired outcomes. Unbeknownst to them, they unintentionally create their very own religion complete with the inconsistency and hypocrisy they often charged against other religions. They can even torture the scriptures of science to appeal to their desires. Of course, it should be noted that this is encouraged by the virulence of intellectual apathy coming from the American church who continue to campaign for occult “faith” and demoralize sincere skepticism.

Today, Christians and Christianity serve as the platform for mockery and contempt among secularists and mainstream intellectuals. Now, this is hardly the persecution of the kind the apostles experienced. When objectively compared, one may say Christians give the appearance of relativism—their “faith” just as sound and valid as the “faith” of a westernized Muslim or devout Hindu. In fact, many practicing Christians don’t even know what the tenants of Christianity are and are steadily returning to worldly worldviews.

Postmodern philosophy has bereaved us of meaning where knowledge is no longer principle. It has imbued our culture with an absence of purpose, an erosion of thought, and has enshrined uncertainty. But what has begun to deteriorate the church’s integrity is not influences from the outside, but indifference and misplaced dogmatism from those within. When so many in the church are willing to assimilate to other worldviews contrary to Christianity, the church desperately needs to return to the rudiments of the faith and the fundamentals of truth. Once called the Pillar of Truth by Paul , the postmodern church has little effect on the world because the of the effect the world has had on the church. We need to relearn how to think critically and rationally about the structure of our faith if we intend to move beyond the four walls of the destined-to-fade church building.

The separation between reason and religion has been a hotly debated topic in recent history. But they are a misrepresented false dichotomy. Continuing to behave as if religion and reason are in opposition with one another lends deceptive credibility to criticisms against Christianity, and within the church, it advocates for esotericism, false worship, and heresies. Reason is and always has been juxtaposed with the Christian religion—just as it is with faith. Faith is reasonable; necessarily preceding belief with evidence and following that belief with appropriate responses, and it is exhibited within virtually every worldview—spiritual or irreligious. Apologetics is not only an appropriate response to faith, but that by having a structure to one’s faith strengthens belief in what cannot be naturally seen.

If we return to the language of reasoned faith, learn to train ourselves and the next generation to think critically, we will be far more effective in our charge to defend the gospel and advance the kingdom. And our apologetics must be intended for the advancement of the gospel even more than a defense of the faith.