An Apologetic for Apologetics
Western society is engaged in a war of ideas against Christianity. The enemy seeks to undermine the faith by attacking the credibility of its intellectual foundations. The educational system is notably militant in its pursuit to topple the Judeo-Christian worldview that has guided Western civilization for two millennia. Secular and atheistic humanism is gaining ground in the public square: challenging the faith of many, and overturning the faith of some.
Intellectual attacks against Christianity have been particularly ravaging among the young. In their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, sociologists of religion, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, report that 32% of those who abandon the Christian faith of their youth (which is about 3 in 4 teens) cite intellectual skepticism about the veracity of Christianity as the primary reason for their decision. Such skepticism often begins in college when their faith comes under assault by a host of anti-Christian philosophies at the helm of leftist professors. Some manage to maintain their faith, but are secretly haunted by the seemingly unanswerable arguments assailed against Christianity.
What is the Christian response to these attacks? How do we speak to a society in which the Bible is no longer viewed as a reliable authority? How are we to answer the arguments being raised against Christianity in the public square? Are there even answers out there, or do we have to accept Christianity on blind faith?
The nature of Biblical faith is often misunderstood as just that: blind. Faith is thought to be psychological confidence without corresponding evidence-a commitment of the will in the absence of reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Biblical notion of faith involves placing our trust in what we have reason to believe is true; a persuasion based on reasonable evidence. And reasonable evidence there is! Our faith is not blind, ignorant, irrational, or mere religious wishful thinking. Good reasons exist to accept the Christian worldview as true, and reject non-Christian worldviews as false. The field of study dedicated to exploring these reasons is called apologetics.
What is Apologetics?
Apologetics is "a ministry designed to help unbelievers to overcome intellectual obstacles to conversion, and believers to remove doubts that hinder spiritual growth." (J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind, 131.) Apologetics explore the rational credibility of Christianity over and against other worldviews. Apologetics demonstrate the veracity of Christian claims on the one hand, and defend those persuasions from outside attacks on the other. As such, it is vital to spiritual growth and our task of evangelism.
Apologetics as a Biblical Mandate and Evangelistic Tool
Evangelism involves both the proclamation and defense of the faith (Matthew 28:19; Philippians 1:7, 17). Paul told the Corinthians, "The weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4, NET Bible). He charged the Colossians to "be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:5-6). Similarly, Peter commanded his readers to "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer [Greek apologia, from whence we get the word "apologetics"] to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).
Three major points can be gleaned from these passages: (1) Formidable intellectual challenges will be raised against the Christian religion; (2) We must be prepared to defend Christianity against those challenges in a persuasive, charitable manner; (3) Providing answers to these challenges presents us with an evangelistic opportunity. Obtaining this knowledge, and conveying it to unbelievers is the task of apologetics.
In an educated, thinking culture like ours, people are seeking a religion of the heart as well as a religion of the mind. They are looking for a genuine religious experience, but they also want to know their religious beliefs are intellectually credible. While some people accept Christ based solely on the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, others have closed themselves off to the Holy Spirit's work because they do not think Christianity is intellectually credible, and thus are not open to consider it a valid religious option. Apologetics serve to remove the intellectual barriers that have hindered them from coming to faith, and give them assurance that a decision to follow Christ is not a blind leap of faith into the absurd, but a reasoned judgment in reality.
What about Experience?
Some will ask, "But isn't our religious experience proof positive that Christianity is true?" It may be proof positive for us, but not for those who lack our experience. How do we persuade those who do not share our experience with the risen Christ that Christianity is true? How do we move them from their skepticism, to a place where they are open to the same experience? Something more than our experience is needed.
Christians are not alone in their appeal to a religious experience as veridical confirmation of their religious views. Many non-Christian faiths do as well. Given the fact that different experiences are used to justify different religious views, experience alone is not sufficient to ground belief. An arbiter is needed to adjudicate which of the competing religious views is valid. That arbiter cannot be another experience lest we find ourselves arguing in a circle. It must be something that is public and objective, not private and subjective. The arbiter is none other than reasonable evidence.
William Lane Craig notes that there is a difference between knowing the truth, and showing it to be the truth. While our personal experience may be enough to bring us psychological confidence that Christianity is true, it is unlikely to convince those who lack that same experience. They need reasons to believe Christianity is true. Belief that always precedes belief in, and to believe that something is so requires justification. If the only evangelistic tool we have at our disposal to persuade the non-believer is our personal experience, we are going to stunt our ability to reach a lot of people that might otherwise be reachable.
Apologetics Benefit Believers
Apologetics benefit believers as well by removing doubts about the veracity of the Christian faith-doubts that hinder their spiritual growth. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us have experienced "pockets of agnosticism" from time to time. These are times when we question the veracity of what we believe to be true: How do I know God exists? How do I know a man named Jesus ever lived, yet alone was resurrected from the dead? How do I know the Bible is the Word of God, as opposed to the Koran or some other religious text? And the list goes on. Apologetics provide the epistemic justification necessary to ground our religious beliefs, increasing our confidence that what we have believed in our heart is also defensible in the real world. As Greg Koukl wrote, "The objective reasons are important to show that our subjective confidence has not been misplaced, that what we've believed with our hearts can be confirmed with our minds." (Stand to Reason, Moments of Truth pastoral letter, February 2007)
My own confidence in the faith has been greatly enhanced by my studies in apologetics. I found Christianity to be both experientially and emotionally satisfying, and rationally compelling. No other worldview more adequately explains the human experience, has more evidence in its favor, and can better withstand the scrutiny of outside attacks. That's why I think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it takes to be a Christian.
We must be equipped to engage our world with a Christianity worth thinking about.
To do so requires that we be educated in apologetics, both to strengthen our personal faith in Christ, and to defend the faith in the public square. Apologetics can increase our confidence in Christianity as the one true religion, and embolden us to proclaim and defend the truth in a persuasive, tactful, and gracious manner. If you would like to be transformed into a confident and competent ambassador for Jesus Christ who persuasively proclaims the truth of God's Word to a skeptical world, consider studying apologetics today.
An Appeal for Preparation
God is an Apologist
Biblical Examples of Apologetics
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