Apologetics 1: What, Why, How?
What is apologetics? How is it done? Why do we need it?
As the first in our class on Apologetics, this lecture will seek to answer these questions.
This lecture was delivered at Wellspring School of the Kingdom in Sherbrooke, Quebec in September 2016. The video is coming, and will be posted soon
Click here to read the syllabus. For a limited time, you can take this course for a fee of $100, by correspondence, for credit.
Click here to download the first class notes in pdf: scroll down to read them.
Click below to listen to my lecture.
—- what is apologetics? —–
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” – 1 Peter 3:15
Apologetics is being ready with an answer when skeptics ask.
1 Peter 3:15
- If you don’t know what to say when someone asks, you are doing it wrong.
- Necessarily includes time spent BEFOREHAND thinking through:
o Potential questions
o Good responses
“to make a defense” = ἀπολογίαν (apologia)
- 1) verbal defense, speech in defense
- 2) a reasoned statement or argument (Thayer)
- Acts 22:1
Apologetics is using reason, debates and arguments to convince someone of the truth of Christianity.
- Acts 6:9-10
- Acts 9:21-22
Whereas many form of evangelism appeal to people’s emotions, apologetics normally appeals to one’s intellect.
Like Paul and Stephen, our “reasoned defense” can and should be compelling enough to push people to change their beliefs. Those who are unwilling will either turn away or resort to ad hominem attacks.
Apologetics is explaining Christianity to a foreign culture, using their words, concepts and sources to explain Biblical concepts.
- Acts 17:16-33
Points to notice from Paul’s address to the Greek philosophers:
- Although explaining Biblical concepts, nowhere does he quote Scriptures
- He begins by doing “cultural exegesis” (v. 16-17)
- He starts his address by finding common ground (the “Altar to an unknown god) in their religion (v. 23)
- He proceeds by uses a poet (cultural reference) to make an important point (v. 28)
- When he arrived at a point, which his audience rejected (the resurrection from the dead) many turned away, but some believed. (v. 31-34)
In this way, apologetics is like a bridge, where one plants one foot in the foreign culture, and one foot in the Bible. One attempts to understand both the Bible and culture well enough to create a solid bridge, and then one attempts to draw people across the bridge to Christ and a Biblical worldview. (This mental picture will be important as we move forwards)
In this way, Apologetics is the opposite of preaching “Christianese” to people. Instead of saying, for example, “Are you, my brother, a Lamb of God, washed in the blood and sanctified for heavenly bliss by the Heaven-sent Son of Man?” … we could communicate the same idea by saying, “I am a Christian. Would you like to hear what my religion teaches about how to find God?”
Another way to say this is that apologetics is missions.
- Before leaving for exotic locations, missionaries are trained to observe their host cultures and learn to translate Christianity into the language and world-view of their audiences
- In our increasingly secular context, many are realizing that we need to do similar work in order to communicate effectively in our own cultures
Apologetics is a systematic presentation and defense of the basic ideas (doctrines) of Christianity, for Christian and non alike
- Acts 19:9, 1 Peter 3:15
- It is speaking words “with our minds,” in addition to our hearts/spirits. Cf. 1 Cor. 14:18-19
If we are to “be ready with a defense” for “the hope that is in us,” (1 Peter 3:15) we will need to spend serious time in study and contemplation about the nature and inter-relation of the ideas (doctrines) of our faith. This work is called “theology” and the most popular form of theology today is “Systematic Theology.” Systematic Theology is simply examining the important doctrines of Christianity one at a time, in an orderly and “systematic” manner. There is much overlap between theology and apologetics because one cannot go very far in apologetics without engaging seriously in theology: and one should not go too far into theology without apologetics.
Apologetics is re-casting the myths and cultural stories by which a culture defines itself.
– Integral to one’s Worldview* are certain cultural stories, myths and ideas
- g. America – the story of freedom, independence, of heroism, etc. stemming from the War of Independence, and the Frontier mentality
- g. Quebec – “I remember” a story of defeat, oppression, “but we will rise again!” a story of country values, religious abuse, liberty and independence
- g. WWII, “Lest we forget” – our society remembers the dangers of: fascism, dictatorship, science to an extreme, the horrors of war, and especially racism
– At times, these stories can directly conflict with the gospel message
- g. “Religion just causes war” – based on the 30-years war, and the Peace of Westphalia (now forgotten, but the lessons are not)
- g. “Evolution has disproven Christianity” – based on the Scopes “Monkey Trials”
– The task of the apologist is to re-cast these stories
- Sometimes, we simply need to repent of the sins of our fathers
- Often we need to distinguish between the message of Jesus/the Bible, and the actual practice of Christians (e.g. Divorce, crusades)
- Very often, stories are based on real historical events, but are distorted in the retelling. The apologist must learn some of the real history that lies behind such events as the Scopes Trial, Galileo’s imprisonment, the Crusades & Inquisitions, the Nicene Creed, and Jesus’ earthly life in order to educate people who ask questions about the faith
Apologetics is war
Apologetics is an intellectual war, fought on the battlefield of ideas, against Satan, his demons, and people they have deceived. At stake are the souls of humans, as well as the future direction of society.
- 2 Cor. 10:5
As warfare, we must be prepared for spiritual attack.
- We must “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:10-18).
- We must stay close to God in all aspects of our lives (family, work, sex, play, entertainment, exercise, devotions, friendships, money). Attempts to compartmentalize and allow God only into certain areas of our lives will make us weak and vulnerable
- We must avoid, at all costs, putting ourselves in positions of isolation, sin, weakness and vulnerability. Satan is like a roaring lion, which takes full advantage of such opportunities. (1 Peter 5:8)
o (example: Wandering into an atheist chat-room at 1:30 AM when you are bored, half-asleep and perhaps already somewhat out of fellowship with God…is asking for disaster! Rather, be alert, prepared, and calculating in your apologetics.)
As spiritual warfare, apologetics is like the “queen of the sciences”
- Just as a general must dabble in virtually all of the sciences (philosophy, history, mathematics, trigonometry, biology, etc.) in order to win, so apologetics branches out to most of the major branches of science, including:
o Archaeology, history, ethics, philosophy, anthropology, astrophysics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, etc.
o One cannot master everything: but our class will take us into and out of various disciplines, and provide a basic understanding of each, and how they relate to the question of defending the Christian religion
APOLOGETICS: WHY NOT?
Some will object that apologetics is unnecessary or even dangerous. Here is a summary of some of the critiques of Apologetics, and some responses.
- Apologetics makes people smug and arrogant
- Apologetics is not spiritual enough
- We should preach Christ, not philosophy!
- Apologetics is dangerous
- (Academic) Natural Theology is impossible
- (Academic) Systematic Theology is “Modern” and thus Outdated
Throughout this section, we will notice that these objections come rom very real dangers. Behind every critique of Apologetics is a valid pit-fall that we must be aware of and guard against.
- Apologetics makes people smug and arrogant
- This is a real danger! Especially online where social media and chat-rooms tend to bring out the worst in us
- 1 Peter 3:15 concludes, “…yet with gentleness and meekness.”
o Gentleness/meekness = πραΰ́της (prautes)
- Mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness (Thayer)
- mildness, that is, (by implication) humility: – meekness. (Strong’s)
o Respect = φόβος (phobos)
- (to be put in fear); alarm or fright: – be afraid, + exceedingly, fear, terror. (Strongs): by implication, can mean “respect”
- Commentators are divided as to the precise meaning of this word: some see it as a command to Fear God, others see it as motivating us with a fear of failure.
- I prefer the NASB translation: respect.
ú Respect people’s stories, their journeys, their struggles, their hearts
ú Treat with holy reverence the vulnerability they give, when they ask you why you have hope
- Elders aught not to be argumentative (1 Tim. 3:3, Tit. 1:7)
o It is a fact often overlooked that one of the essential qualifications of an elder is that they be, “…not argumentative…”
- πλήκτης (plektes)
- 1) bruiser, ready for a blow
- 2) a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person (Thayer)
- We aught to be ready to give gentle, respectful, intellectual response when people ask us about our faith: but we must guard against an argumentative spirit, which is a sign of spiritual brokenness (cf. “…he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions…” 1 Tim. 6:3-5)
- On a Christian-atheist website one day, I noticed that one of the atheists had chosen as his tag-line a paraphrased quote by Maya Angelou, “I will probably forget most of what you say. But I will never forget how you made me feel.” That really stuck with me!
- In our text, William Lane Craig points out that being prepared with good answers when people ask often allows us to have a calm, reasoned answer: it is when we are flustered, confused and unprepared that conversations tend to get heated.
- (segway) “But isn’t Apologetics just an argument about words (2 Tim. 2:14, tit. 3:9), rather than “spiritual talk” about the Bible and the Spirit?
- Apologetics is not spiritual enough
- TRUTH: like theology, and any other mental discipline, it is possible to retreat from one’s heart, from relationships, from the world, and even from God into an unbalanced pursuit of truth.
o While such devotion in mathematics, biology, etc. may produce very good fruit, such one-sidedness in Theology, Apologetics and related disciplines has a long history of creating a dry, dusty, academic and soul-killing faith
o This is a real danger to avoid!
o However, one does not avoid an extreme by being extreme in the opposite direction: rather, we must find and work out of a holistic place of balance, connection and vitality.
- We must preach Christ, not philosophy
- 1 Corinthians 1:18, Colossians 2:8
TRUTH: Philosophy and worldly wisdom is a continual, seductive danger for the Church, especially those in academia
Some of the most pernicious strains of heresy (Arianism, Modernity, Liberalism) were incubated in academic circles, often with the explicit intention of reaching the lost for Christ. Q. How do we avoid following this same pattern?
- In every preaching of the gospel, there will always be a “stumbling-stone,” or a point of offense. This will be in a different place for each culture and sub-culture. We aught to be wise about how we approach such “friction points” between Christ and culture. We need to carefully build a “bridge” from where people are to where God is. But we can never hide from the offense of presenting the full Gospel. This will usually cause ridicule, rejection and even persecution.
Remember, Jesus sends us out like sheep in the midst of wolves, instructing us to be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves. (Mat. 10:16)
This discipline is what is meant by, “Sanctifying Christ as Lord in your heart.” (1 Peter 3:15)
BUT: right thinking is not incompatible with spiritual vitality
We are commanded to love the Lord with our minds, as well as our hearts and bodies (Mat. 22:37, Mk. 12:30, Lk. 10:27)
We are commanded to be “mature” in our thinking, as opposed to infantile (Eph. 4:14)
Right thinking is much more necessary, in our intellectually advanced society, where so many objections and religious alternatives exist
Why do we need apologetics?
- Because we are living on a mission field
As North America follows Europe in it’s rapid secularization, we can no longer assume that people have a Judeo-Christian framework to understand our words
Our culture has a very powerful, distinct, and diverse culture
Those raised in church culture are often quite disconnected from contemporary cultures and sub-cultures
It is thus no exaggeration to say that the voyage across the street to share the gospel may at times represent as much of a cross-cultural experience as a voyage overseas: in some cases, the cultural differences will be even more striking at home
Thus, in the same way that we need “Cultural Hermeneutics” and missions training in order to understand a culture, and contextualize the gospel overseas, we need the same process and tools at home
- Because Christianity is under attack
With forces such as New Atheism, Liberalism, and other religions at work, Christianity receives an almost constant barrage of critiques and objections.
- To reach men, students & professionals, and to keep our youth
I want to assure readers that this section does not represent a sexist bias on the part of the teacher.
It is a statistically determined fact that certain genders and demographics find church less interesting. Many church-growth experts (yes, there is such a thing) have written extensively on the problem of how to keep men (especially young, single males) in church. Other problem demographics include students and professionals.
It has been observed that apologetics:
- Often attracts many of these demographics
- May have a positive effect on keeping these demographics from leaving churches.
Many churches invest a lot of resources into outreach – as well they should. But they aught also to consider that as much as 70% of their youth will at some point leave church. Some will never return. In fact, tomorrow’s “lost” are sitting in the pews today. If we can answer some of their questions now, they may never leave.
Note: in a high-level class on apologetics, definitions like this would be very important. Don’t worry – this information won’t be on “the exam”! (There is no exam) However, it will be helpful to you, just to know what is out there.
Directions of Apologetics
In professional debates (e.g. in a legal situation, in a debater’s club, or in presenting and defending a thesis in education), there is a “positive” and a “negative” stance. Stated differently, there is an “offence” and a “defense.”
The positive stance
– A person defending a “positive stance” in debate is making a claim.
- g. “Pepsi is better than Coke.”
– (Normally, the person presenting a positive case goes first in a professional debate)
– Now, being in the positive stance is hard work. Why? Because in the positive stance, one “bears the burden of proof.” In other words, one must prove the assertion they have made.
The negative stance
– A person presenting a negative stance will attempt to disprove a positive statement. (E.g. “What do you mean Pepsi is better than Coke?”)
– The person presenting a negative argument does not bear the burden of proof. Rather, their job is to push the burden of proof back onto the person in the positive position, and to attempt to disprove his assertion (E.g. “Who says Pepsi is better than Coke? Prove it!”) The person in the positive position must now back up his assertion with evidence, or admit that he was wrong.
– If it helps, you can think of the positive as the “prosecution” and the negative as the “defense” in a legal situation
– It is very important to remember that when in the negative/defensive role, one does not bear the burden of proof. It is up to the other party to prove their claim. If they do not succeed in proving their claim, they lose the argument. Similar to “innocent until proven guilty.”
– If a person in a negative/defensive position makes a claim of their own, then they have taken on a burden of proof of their own. (e.g. “No, I think that Coke is better than Pepsi!”) Now they too must bear the burden of proof.
– A skilled debater can sometimes shift the burden of proof. (e.g. “Well, everyone knows Pepsi is better than Coke. What? You don’t think so? Why not?”)
Apologetics: Positive & Negative
The same categories apply in Apologetics, and are termed “positive” and “negative” apologetics. More commonly, they can be referred to as “offensive” and “defensive” apologetics.
– In our culture, people attack religion and Christianity all of the time: defensive apologetics is being ready to “defend” the faith against such ideas
– Most of this class will deal with defensive apologetics
– At times, it is appropriate for Christians to point out that the alternative worldviews (Atheism, Islam, New-Age, Secularism) are bankrupt, or inferior to Christianity
– This will entail “going on the offensive” to prove their insufficiency
– Presuppositional Apologetics (the subject of our next class) is offensive apologetics
– This sort of apologetics is much harder to do well, and should be avoided, if defensive apologetics can be used instead, or if one is not prepared to back up their beliefs: a failure to win one’s case often counts (in the minds of those who hear and debate) as a loss for God/the Gospel. Be careful what you claim, and don’t bite off more than you can chew!
In addition to the two basic stances – offensive & defensive – there are at least five major methods for doing apologetics. As mentioned before, definitions like this won’t be a major concern in this course: but it’s important to know what is out there, and how different people approach the same material.
There are five basic Apologetic Methods:
The Classical Method
The Evidential Method
The Cumulative Case Method
The Presuppositional Method
The Reformed Epistemology Approach
The Classical Method
– Classical Apologetics begins by using Natural Theology* to prove that God exists (against Atheism)
– Further proofs from science, history, the Bible, logic, etc. are then used to prove that Jesus exists, and that Christianity, rather than another religion, is the true one
– This is the basic methodology of William Lane Craig in our text, and it is the format we will be loosely following in our class
The Evidential Method
– Evidential Apologetics seeks to prove Christianity through a collection of proofs or evidences for Christianity
– Evidential Apologetics resembles the Classical Method, but is more eclectic and situation oriented
– I find this method helpful in conversation, as it follows more naturally the natural progression of dialogue and conversation
The Cumulative Case Method
– As Josh McDowell did in his famous, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” this method seeks to find a large amount of proofs for Christianity, and present them together to utilize the strength of a cumulative argument
The Presuppositional Method
Emphasizing that without God, no thought is possible (or, “All Truth is God’s Truth!”), presuppositionalists begin by stating:
- The Christian worldview works
- No other worldview really makes sense
After having established that Christianity is the only workable worldview, Presuppositionalists either:
- Conclude that the battle is won, or
- Move on to another method to further prove the rightness of Christianity
Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer are two famous examples
I find this method extremely useful in teaching Apologetics to Christians or to very dedicated seekers. It is a very powerful way of creating a solid foundation for thought. Lecture 2 will be a presuppositional presentation.
However, I find this method is limited in it’s usefulness, since:
- It involves an audaciously large claim (aka that only Christian Theism succeeds as a worldview)
- This claim is difficult to make in normal conversation, just due to time constraints
- This view is hard to present or to receive without some background in philosophy
- Many people in our culture will not even give it a hearing, since it comes across as so arrogant
The Reformed Epistemology Approach
– This approach believes that the other methods grant too much to skeptics: why should the Christians always build a positive case and thus bear the burden of proof*?
– The Apologists claim that the presence of the Holy Spirit within them gives them direct access to God. (In technical language, “The internal witness of the Holy Spirit gives them a ‘properly basic’ belief that God exists”) Thus, the burden of proof* is on anyone who claims that God does not exist.
– This view is newer in the scene of apologetics: it gets its name because proponents claim they see it at work in some of the Reformed writers.
– The beauty of this approach is that it shifts the burden of proof* onto critics of Christianity. By claiming that the existence of God is self-evident, and accessible to every person through the Holy Spirit, these apologists force critics to make a positive case against Christianity.
– This step is important because it is always easier to take a “negative” stance than a “positive” stance
More than a model, a system, I find this view extremely helpful as a reminder. No matter what ideas are presented to us in culture or science, we do have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit within us. Let us not let go of that. And in a storm, let’s hold tight to our anchor.
TALK ABOUT IT:
Anti-intellectualism. Have you experienced an anti-intellectual attitude in your faith tradition? In yourself? What was its motivation? What does the Bible say about this issue?
Questions: What are some of the most difficult questions nonbelievers have raised? What are some of the most common? Make a list. (This will help you for your major assignment) Have a look at the class outline to help you think of more questions.
Stumbling Stones: Where are the “friction points” between the Gospel and our culture? Where are people selling out? What is the cost to Christian doctrine, and to Christianity if people compromise on these issues?
Opponents: What are some of the major opponents of Christianity that you see? How have they touched you personally?