{1}           Apologetics: Defending Christianity

1.                 Why do Christians need apologetics?

A.  Definition: Apologetics is the clarification and defense of biblical Christianity. “Apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning defense. Therefore, apologetics is completely unrelated to “apology”; it is never an acknowledgment of fault. In contrast, it is a declaration that what Christians believe is truth.

B.  Use inside the church:

(1)  to know the rationality (reasonableness) of our faith in order to stand firm in faith (Col 2:8; Eph 4:14)

(2)  to correct mistaken views and impressions of someone leaning toward apostasy (Jude 1:3,22-23)

(3)  to silence unbiblical positions by responding to false ideas and by clarifying true position, including refutation and encouragement (Titus 1:9-11)

C.  Use outside the church (facing non-believers):

(4)  to defend in response to charges or challenges (Ac 26:1-2; 2Co 10:3-5)

(5)  to witness (1Pe 3:15)

(6)  to evangelize (Ac 17:17-18)

     Defending our faith does not normally lead people to Christ. But it would at least overcome obstacles and dispel unfounded prejudice against Christianity and may later lead to faith.

D.  Dealing with doubt about our faith:

     Doubt may be the single most widespread problem among Christians today. If not confronted, doubt can be debilitating in the life of a Christian. It robs us of our peace and joy and hinders our relationship with God.

     When doubt drives us to earnest inquiry for truth, it can actually lead us to deeper faith. It can motivate us to reexamine our faith foundation to make sure it is not faulty; it can be a doorway to new insights. The result is that our faith will be founded on safer, more secure ground.

     When doubt strikes, we need to:

(a)  Prayerfully identify the source of doubt. It could come from: [1] different forms of irrationality, including prejudice, passion, propaganda, or ideology; [2] the lack of knowledge, including ignorance, incomprehension, or misunderstanding.

(b)  Remind yourself why you believe and ask yourself if this doubt might seriously change your faith. [Remember that this doubt must have come across many Christians in the past but they still maintain their faith. There will be a satisfactory answer to this doubt.]

(c)  If the answer is no, make a conscious decision to affirm your belief, even as you attempt to find answers to your doubt.

(d)  If the answer is yes, ask yourself what you need to do to resolve the doubt — and then do it, including asking God’s guidance, consulting other Christians, and studying.

2.                 What is the role of reasoning in building up our faith?

A.  Truth: There is only one truth; it is the description of reality. Only falsehood can contradict truth. Since Christianity is truth, there is no contradicition between faith and reason.

B.  Relationship between faith and reason:

     Faith is the confidence or belief in the truthfulness of the Christian position. Reason is the process of logical analysis; unbiased reasoning leads to truth. Faith is itself subjective but can be strengthened by objective reasoning. Reasoning can help us change from irrationality to rationality. Some describe apologetics as getting at the heart through the head.

     Christianity is based on evidence that can be understood by the mind. It is reasonable faith. We are not required to believe blindly. Faith transcends reason and is sometimes beyond logical reasoning, but faith does not oppose reason. In fact, faith and reason are allies.

     If someone seeks the truth, in the long run it will take more faith not to believe because the proofs are so strong. The fact that many of the greatest minds in history (such as Newton and Pascal) were Christians show that Christianity is a rational faith.

C.  Reasoning encouraged in the Bible:

     Some people use Col 2:8 to prove that Christianity does not need to be rational. [Paul was warning against heresies in his time.] But Christianity is an intelligent faith. The Bible encourages us to use our minds and our reasoning to understand our faith. Paul asks believers to “prove all things” (1Th 5:21; Php 1:9-10).

     The Bible emphasizes knowledge, wisdom, discernment, and understanding in our growth to spiritual maturity (Eph 1:17-19; 3:14-19; Php 1:9-11; Col 1:9-10; 2Pe 1:5).

     John Stott’s book Your Mind Matters lists 4 areas where reasoning is required:

(a)  Creation: God created us to think and understand; the Bible asks us to reason (Isa 1:18; Lk 12:54-57).

(b)  Revelation: God’s revelation is rational, both in general revelation in nature, and special revelation in the Scripture and in Christ (Ro 1:18-21).

(c)  Redemption: God’s plan of salvation is given for us to understand (Col 3:10; 1Co 10:15).

(d)  Judgment: Our final judgment will be based on our knowledge and our response to God’s revelation (Jn 12:48).

D.  Examples in the Bible:

     Each time doubters came to Jesus, He gave them real evidence to dispel their doubts. To John the Baptist, He gave the evidence of His miracles (Mt 11:2-3). To Thomas, He gave the evidence of the nail scars (Jn 20:27).

     There are examples in the early church defending the faith:

        the resurrection of Jesus (Ac 4:33; 1Co 15:1-8)

        the work of God in nature (Ac 14:15-17; Ro 1:20)

        the witness of changed lives (Ac 26:9-22; 1Ti 1:12-16)

E.  Reasoning as part of faith: Faith involves 3 facets. It is more than subjective belief (emotional element). It involves also objective understanding (rational or intellectual element) and a will to live what we believe (volitional element) (Dt 6:5; Mk 12:30). Further, if our faith cannot withstand challenges from non-believers or from self-doubt, subjective belief may fail leading to a fall from faith.

3.                 What are the proper attitudes when defending Christianity?

A.  Main Bible verses: Based on how the word apologia is used in the Bible, we can learn about our proper attitudes.

(1)  The most quoted verse is 1Pe 3:15. “Apologia” here means “answer” which is characterized by:

(a)  being ready: at any time

(b)  preparation: knowledge of the position defended and the attacks brought against it

(c)  gentleness: with patience, not emotional

(d)  respect: not with pride, arrogance or self-sufficiency; not an aggressive attack on the other person’s will or prejudice, but a logical account or reasoned explanation of our hope

 (2) Ac 22:1-21: the speech manifested an attitude of dignity, and a forthright response to the issues.

(3)  2Ti 4:16; Php 1:7,16: defense of the gospel in response to charges.

B.  Important elements:

     The defender’s tone, sincerity, care, concern, listening, and respect are as important as the logic used. The goal of apologetics is not obtaining victory but understanding truth. If the discussion leads to the understanding of truth, then both sides are winners.

     Questions of honest inquiry should be answered. However, we are not required to answer against hostile attack as John Stott says: “We cannot pander to a man’s intellectual arrogance, but we must cater to his intellectual integrity.” (Mt 7:6)

4.                 What are the techniques when defending Christianity?

A.  Principles (4 C’s found in Col 2:20–3:4):

(1)  Contrast (2:20-22, exposure of false ideas in light of truth)

(2)  Comprehension (2:23, of the false system)

(3)  Clarification (3:3-4, explanation of Christian truth)

(4)  Confirmation (3:1-2, encouragement of believers in truth)

B.  Use common ground and the Bible:

(1)  Common ground is the common understanding that Christians and non-Christians have about truth and life, including general revelation (facts in the natural world), laws of logic, rules of procedure in science, historical facts.

(2)  The Bible (special revelation, the Word of God): Some non-believers refuse to accept anything from the Bible. In those cases, it may be wise to limit the use of the Bible. But it should always be remembered that the Bible has unimaginable power that can break any resistance. (Heb 4:12)

C.  Recognize and dispel presuppositions:

     Sometimes, an argument that is in itself perfectly rational and valid will often fall on ears deafened by presuppositions originated from irrational sources such as prejudice and ignorance. These invalid presuppositions need to be pointed out and dispelled. One such example is the irrational rejection of supernatural occurrences by non-Christians.

5.                 What are the major approaches when defending Christianity?

     Illustration: how to defend the reality of Christian re-birth?

A.  Subjective approach (Ro 8:7-8; Eph 2:3): stressing the uniqueness of subjective Christian experience. By my inner experience, I know rebirth is real. [faith without reason]

        stressing the uniqueness of subjective Christian experience

        sympathetic to existential philosophy: emphasis on the hiddenness of God

        strong belief in the blinding effects of sin: rejection of natural theology and theistic proofs

        Shortcomings: does not address existing beliefs of non-Christians; not all Biblical truths involve subjective experience (e.g. the fact of resurrection)

        Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), Danish existentialist philosopher, books include Fear and Trembling and Christian Discourses:

(a)   There is an absolute difference between God and man: God is transcendent and holy, while man is limited and sinful. God can never be known directly. Our reasoning can only help us to know the work of God but never God Himself. God can only be known by our subjectivity.

(b)   Analogy: What is the proof that one is in love? Answer: You know it in your heart, but not through rational analysis or arguments.

(c)   Faith is always venture, leap, risk.

B.  Objective approach (Ro 1:18-20): stressing rational powers of the mind to find the truth about religion. Visible evidences of changed lives of Christians shows that rebirth is real. [reason precedes faith]

        stressing natural theology as the starting point of apologetics

        having faith in the rational powers of the mind to find the truth about religion: the image of God in man was weakened but not seriously damaged by the Fall and sin; it may even be more dangerous if we rely only on our subjective feelings which are also damaged by sin.

        faith grounded in empirical foundations: religious propositions, like science, can be verified; faith is to think with assent and can be as rational as science

        Shortcomings: the derived conclusions are only probabilistic, not absolute; existing arguments may be invalidated by new discoveries or new arguments

        Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), Italian philosopher and theologian, major work Summa Theologica:

(a)   God’s existence is not self-evident and must be proved from the effects of God in creation (from effect back to cause, the First Cause).

(b)   Faith is not an irrational act but an act of the intellect and of the will.

(c)   Reason is an intellectual tool but cannot prove all truths of the Christian faith.

C.  Revelational approach (Eph 1:17-18): stressing divine revelation. The Bible teaches about the necessity and reality of rebirth in John 3. [faith precedes reason]

        stressing divine revelation as the foundation of apologetics

        personal experience of the gospel is anchored in the objective work of Christ, and the objective Word of God (the Bible)

        sin prevents general revelation from speaking the truth of God: special act of the Holy Spirit is indispensable for Christian faith and enlightenment

        Shortcomings: difficult to solely use Biblical authority in this anti-authoritarian age

        Augustine of Hippo (354–430), North African theologian and Church Father, major works City of God and Confessions:

(a)   All truth is an illumination of the mind by God.

(b)   Illumination as interior revelation enables the sinner to see the exterior revelation in the Scriptures.

(c)   Faith is based on the acceptance of credible authority of the Bible and the Church.

(d)   “first believe, later come to know” (“faith seeks understanding”)

        John Calvin (1509–1564), Swiss theologian, major work Institutes of the Christian Religion:

(a)   Knowledge of God can come from natural revelation; but it is not a true knowledge of God because of depravity of human being.

(b)   Word of God (Bible) is the special revelation. Man needs the witness of the Holy Spirit to establish it in the heart as the truth of God.

D.  Integrated (verification) approach: synthesis of the best features of the above 3 approaches: to show how [1] real-life experiences, [2] empirical facts, and [3] the Bible provide evidences supporting Christianity, to use logical analysis as well as the Bible. [reason supporting faith]

        It is the common approach used by modern apologists, such as Francis Schaeffer, Bernard Ramm, Edward Carnell.

        Factual aspect: to establish hypotheses and then show how real-life facts, experiences, and the Bible provide evidences supporting Christianity

        Experiential aspect: to use logical analysis as well as the Bible to: [1] illustrate what kinds of value can satisfy the needs of a person, and [2] emphasize the importance of love and human moral insufficiency