Monday, May 1, 2017

A Short Q and A About the Matter of Apologetics Today

Last week we finished our semester meetings with Ratio Christi at Germanna. As many of you know, Ratio Christi is a campus apologetics alliance equipping students to give reasonable answers to their Christian faith. But as Christian clubs go, there is always someone who has questions about apologetics or has an opinion about what the nature and understanding of apologetics.  

What is apologetics and is there only one way of understanding of apologetics? This posting is going to take a question and answer approach to this subject and answer some questions that pertain to the essence of apologetics and the "Why" questions for its necessity.

The only question we will not answer in this posting will be one that is focussed in a particular methodology ("doing apologetics").

1.  What is Apologetics and Why Do We Need It?

I have posted a definition of how this ministry answers the first part of this question. Looking at the top of our page, you can find that definition.  Before getting into the definition, let me state that believe apologetics is SCRIPTURALLY mandated. Let me see if I can sustain this for us. To answer the first question, 

Apologetics may be simply defined as the defense of the Christian faith. The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which was originally used as a speech of defense or an answer given in reply. In ancient Athens it referred to a defense made in the courtroom as part of the normal judicial procedure. After the accusation, the defendant was allowed to refute the charges with a defense or reply (apologia). The word appears 17 times in noun or verb form in the New Testament, and both the noun (apologia) and verb form (apologeomai) can be translated “defense” or “vindication” in every case.

To take this a little deeper, the Greek word for the task known as apologetics is the word apologia; is also used to mean an informal explanation or defense of one’s position (c.f. 1 Cor 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11) and the word would aptly describe giving an answer to the skeptical, abusive, or derisive inquiries of ill-disposed neighbors.  This passage (1 Peter 3:15) is one of 19 times in the New Testament  is where the word apologia, or its verb form (in the participle), is found.  The late F. F. Bruce cited that 47% of the New Testament deals with defense of the faith.  And this is where I would have to say that apologetics is a divine command.

2.  Was Apologetics Part Of The Early Apostolic Church's Example To Us?

Yes, without question.  Not only do we see apologetic discourse in both the Old and New Testaments, but the duty of the apologist did not die.  Many of the early Church Fathers were engaged in apologetic debate with those who were opposed to the true nature of Christ, the nature of the Godhead, and the issues regarding salvation by grace through faith.  When you look at these issues, we can see that we have a responsibility to uphold. 

Thankfully the Church Fathers boldly contended for the faith, but they have passed the baton to the succeeding generations of Christians who would follow, even to this day.  If we don’t carry this torch that has been passed on to us, then their labor was in vain.  This is why I like the passage:  “Join with others in following my example brothers and take note of those living according to the pattern we gave you....for many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” – the Apostle Paul In Philippians 3:17

3.  Can You Provide One Example of Someone Engaged in Apologetics in the Bible?

When I think of apologetics in the New Testament, aside of the example we see from Jesus' responses to the Pharisees and Sadducees in (a) matters of taxes, (b) the adulterous woman, and (c) marriage in the resurrection, I see the Apostle Paul following the example of the Master.

The master passage that many apologist turns to is Acts 17, Paul’s sermon or discourse at Mars Hill in Athens.  It includes reasoning with and persuading everyone he could in the marketplace, as well as in religious gatherings in the synagogues about the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  This, alongside the example of Jesus, is the very heart of apologetics dialogue. 

4.  Why Do We Need To Challenge And Contradict Others?

Let me risk transparency here. We are all human and sometimes folks might think that we seem to be argumentative (i.e.,  trying to win an argument).  But let me say that if there has been anytime where this is perceived, it has been clearly in the realm of truth being under attack by a hostile worldview.
But to answer this question Scripturally, allow me restate the question this way:  why should we not challenge others? Do we not think that Christianity is true, and all other worldviews are false?  If you really want to think of it this way, Christianity is exclusive by its very truth claims.

What does that mean?  Simply stated I believe that Christianity alone is true.  If we were to compare or contrast Christianity with the other great (in the quantitative sense) religions known to man we could defend this and provide with refutation why those other religious systems fail.  Without a doubt, Christianity is true.  That is why we are to,

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” – 2 Timothy 4:2-4

If the secular culture challenges Christians to stand up for what they believe, then we need to respond to that and do it responsibly and respectfully.  It is only right to challenge what others believe, for an unexamined faith is one not worth believing.

5.  Is Apologetics Just Limited To Jesus' and Paul's Teachings?
This is a great question, for it answers the misconception that apologetics is only a New Testament task or something that is only found in the New Testament.  Not only did Peter agree that apologetic reason was warranted:  “Always be prepared to give to every man who asks you a reasoned defense (apologia) for the hope that lies within you but do this with gentleness and respect.” – Apostle Peter In 1 Peter 3:15, so did Jude when he said:  “Earnestly contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.” – Jude 3

However, many may not realize that apologetic engagement is not just limited to the New Testament.  The Old Testament has an apologetic fervor to it.  Moses in the opening verse of Genesis 1 confronts the mythical accounts of creation known in his day.  We also have the classical passage in 1 Kings 18, where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal in a debate to the death over who had the true God.  

There are also admonitions in handling false truth claims and approaching the fool with sound reasoning (Proverbs 21:2226:4, 5).  Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiastes are within the corpus of Wisdom Literature in the Bible.  The Psalms also have an apologetic flavor (e.g., Psalm 19:1).

What about the Prophetic writings?  In the classic passage where GOD through the Prophet Isaiah calls us to the following , “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18) 

6. Is Apologetics Important Today in the Church?  

I would say that apologetics could not more important today than any time in history. It was important in the ancient church confronting a primitively pagan culture. Our culture is more sophisticated in its pagan ideas and we need, now more than ever Christians who will be willing to be "case makers" for their faith (apologists).

I really don't care if anyone, be they a layperson or a pastor, thinks that apologetics is not for everyone. But if one works a job in the marketplace of ideas of the workforce, their Christian faith cannot help be confronted or even come under fire.

Some might think that apologetics might be for the intellectually rigorous, but they forget that Peter was written to displaced Christians who were under persecution. We are not too far from facing persecution for holding to views of pro-life and pro-family and pro-traditional marriage.

That being said, I believe that people in the pew cannot do without apologetics and that every pastor should teach his congregation apologetics because of these two benefits.  I cannot tell you how many Christians have come to me over the years, at my workplace asking me for reasons to hold on to their faith. Why is the church not seeing this? Allow me to finish this posting with a couple of good reasons for the church today to be involved in equipping and training our saints to defend their faith.

First, studying Christian apologetics protects believers against the ideologies of culture. Our culture is decidedly non-Christian and is slowly becoming anti-Christian. The message from almost every source is that only idiots would believe the Christian story. At best there may be a grudging admittance that religion can help as long as you are not too fanatical about it. By marrying faith and reason, apologetics offers confidence. When people in the pew learn more about the reasons for faith, the problems with naturalism, the evidence for every aspect of Christianity, it offers tools for defense against the message that only people who refuse to think believe in God.

Second, studying Christian apologetics provides a context for evangelism. Every pastor wishes his people were more active in sharing their faith. Studying apologetics may take away one of those barriers to sharing. Many times people are concerned that when they witness they will be embarrassed or feel stupid in light of the objections of unbelievers. Apologetics provides confident responses to most of those objections. Also, studying apologetics from a worldview angle helps believers to discern where non-believers are coming from.

For these reasons I would say apologetics cannot be neglected in the church of this age.

If you have other questions about apologetics or doing apologetics, or if you are looking for apologetics resources, contact us by email or by phone (540.424.2305).

More Posts on the Subject of Apologetics from The Real Issue 

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