In the work of reaching out to those in the cults, occult and new age, or indeed in speaking to any who do not accept the gospel as taught in the Evangelical tradition of the Church, Christians need touseapologetics. We feel that this is a vital tool in the armoury of the Christian and over the next months we will be adding articles giving a practical demonstration of apologetics concerning the Bible, Trinity, salvation and other major issues.
In this first article however, we want to introduce the subject and define what we mean in general terms.
Apologetics is all about making a reasoned defence. Indeed the Greek word is a legal term and means that we need to present an intelligent case that shows that something is true. It is like the Defence Lawyer, putting together a clear presentation of all the facts about his client’s whereabouts and actions. He does it so carefully that the jury cannot but come to one conclusion – his story is true and not the prosecution’s.
A jury could be swayed by doubt that the accused did not commit the crime. Doubts could arise about the colour of the hair or the height of the robber, which may not match the accused. This however is dealing with it from a negative standpoint and may not be convincing. Yet, if you present a cast iron alibi as to where the accused was at the time of the robbery that is positive and must be accepted.
For us, this preparation does not have to take hours and the presentation need not be overly complicate, indeed the simpler the better. What will happen, however, is that we will present several pieces of evidence that can be checked out and proven to make our case acceptable. Future articles will show the practicalities of this.
We also need to be aware of what our aim is. Can we really prove conclusively our case? Probably not but, continuing to use our courtroom analogy, I believe we can do this beyond reasonable doubt. Dennis McCallum deals with this issue in his article An Approach to Christian Apologetics.
The next question that must be settled in the mind of the apologist is that of burden of proof. The Christian communicator must decide what the goal of apologetics is. As already stated in an earlier paper, I think that Geisler errs when he asserts that the Christian (or any other) world view must have an “adequate truth test” in the sense that it is an undeniable (or inescapable) proof. The actual situation, in my view, is that no world view can really offer such a proof. If we feel that we must offer an undeniable test for the truth claims of Christianity, we are accepting the full burden of proof for our view, even though no other view can offer such proof either. If this position is accepted, it may lead, I think, to misdirection in our communication, as well as a combative type of apologetic approach. Misdirection, because we will offer confusing and unpersuasive arguments, and combative, because we will be intent on proving our point instead of simply presenting Christianity as a world view that is worthy of serious consideration.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary definition of apologetics underlines this case, “Reasoned defence, esp. of Christianity.” The New Testament Greek word is apologia, of which we read,
A verbal defence, a speech in defence, is sometimes translated “answer,” in the AV., Acts 25:16; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Tim. 4:16, all which the R.V. corrects to “defence.” See Acts 22:1; Phil. 1:7,16; 2 Cor. 7:11, “clearing.” Once it signifies an “answer,” 1 Pet. 3:15. – Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. 1., p.61.
It is interesting to look at the places in the New Testament where the word apologia appears and how it is used. For instance in Acts 22:1, 1 Corinthians 9:3 and 2 Timothy 4:16 the word is used to describe making a reasoned defence refuting accusations of spiritual misconduct to those in the church (or certainly those who were religious) and those outside the church. In Philippians 1:7 and 16 Paul uses it to refer to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, 1 Peter 3:15 is perhaps the key verse for us here because it gives us the clear instruction that we should always be ready to make the apologia. Being ready signifies that time has been taken beforehand to get into such a state of readiness. Would we be wrong in thinking that many Christians have not taken that time? Do many of us simply say, “But the Bible tells us and we should believe it”? For the agnostic, atheist or cultist we are talking to that means nothing, but a reasoned defence could make them think.
A good example from which we can learn a great deal is Paul’s defence before King Agrippa in Acts 26. Acts 25:16 tells us that Paul asked Agrippa if he could make an apologia and so what follows is an illustration of what the Bible means by a reasoned defence. Lessons from this include:
26:2-3 Paul knows the person he is talking to and therefore all that he says will be relevant.
26:4-5 Paul makes sure that his listeners also understand where he has been – he was once like them an unbeliever, and beyond that a persecutor.
26:12ff He explains clearly and in simple to understand terms exactly what happened to him. No religious jargon but a factual story.
26:21ff He shows why he is accused – it is a false accusation by those who were opposed to Paul.
The end of this apologia is that King Agrippa is fully persuaded by Paul but is not prepared at that time to do anything about it. This, of course, may be the case with people we talk to.
What we do is one thing but how we do it is vital, as underlined by Douglas Groothius in his article Apologetics, Truth and Humility
Christian truth is best defended when it is held both firmly and humbly — in the manner one would hold a newborn child. It is infinitely precious and therefore worth defending; but it is a gift not of our own making. We lay no claim to its greatness or even to the fact that we recognize it as truth (Eph. 2:8-9). We know by grace that grace may be known. If we speak of ‘our faith’ we should emphasize that the truth is not our possession; rather the truth possesses us. No one put it better than G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy who confessed concerning Christianity: “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”
In another article Groothius goes on to highlight six enemies of apologetics. The two that stand out to me are indifference and ignorance but I hope that the information we bring in these articles will definitely deal with the latter and they may so inspire you to deal with the first.
We can never guarantee salvation or even a willingness to understand through making a reasoned defence but we can be sure that the person will know the truth and have the facts on which they can make their own decision.
We will finish with the conclusion from Norman L. Geisler’s article, The Need for Defending the Faith;
Christianity is under attack today and must be defended against attacks from within by cults and from without from skeptics and other religions. We have a reasonable Faith, and the Bible has commanded that we give reasons for it. As perhaps the greatest apologists of the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis, said: “To be ignorant and simple now–not to be able to meet the enemies on their ground–would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered” (The Weight of Glory, 50). The reason we need to defend the true religion is because there are false religions. The reason we need to stand for authentic Christianity is that there are counterfeit forms of Christianity.