What is Apologetics?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines apologetics as (1) the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrine, and (2) formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system. Formally, then, Christian apologetics is a specific area of study that is directly concerned with proving a defense for the Christian faith to those who are challenging the beliefs of Christianity. But apologetics is not just a field that should be left to trained theologians. Apologetics should be a concern for every believer who is interested in reaching the lost around them. While there will be those you may witness to who will not question the validity of Christian beliefs, you will find more and more who will ask some serious questions about one or more of our beliefs. Being able to provide at least a simple answer to them can potentially remove a distraction that might keep them from God. In a very real sense, apologetics and evangelism work hand in hand; with evangelism sharing the good news and apologetics knocking down the walls that can inhibit reception of the gospel.
Why do it?
As a Christian layman, why should you have any interest in apologetics, something that is generally considered a field for theologians? I have already mentioned one reason above; it can be used to remove roadblocks that keep people from being receptive to the gospel. But there are two other reasons that should concern every believer.
The first of these is because we are instructed to. 1 Peter 3:15-16 provides the most specific instruction for engaging in apologetics.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV
In this passage, Peter tells us to always be ready to explain to others why we have the hope in God that we do; to give a defense for our faith. This instruction was not just given to trained theologians who are able to give long involved book length defenses. But it was given to the persecuted believers scattered throughout the part of the world Peter is writing to. We should be able, not only to tell people what we believe, but also to share with them why we believe it.
And this really leads into the second reason why we should engage in apologetics. Being able to provide a reason for your faith requires you to first understand those reasons and then to be able to simply express those reasons. This, in turn, helps you to better understand what you believe and helps to move your faith from being something that was taught you, to something that is actually yours. This makes your faith much more personal and real. Philemon 6, while not addressing apologetics specifically, does express this motivation.
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Philemon 6 NIV
Faith and Reason
One of the challenges you may face with apologetics is an apparent conflict between faith and reason. I believe this comes primarily because of a misunderstanding of just what the two terms actually mean. To the rationalist, reason trumps all and faith has no place. For many Christians, faith is all that counts and reason has limited value. And between those two perspectives, there seems to be little chance of effective communication concerning Christianity. But I don’t believe either of these extremes is correct.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines reason as ‘To determine or conclude by logical thinking’. The implication to this is that rational conclusions are reached, not based on personal desires or feelings, but by an examination of available evidence using the rules of logic to arrive at the most reasonable conclusion. If the evidence used is comprehensive and accurate, and the rules of logic are rigorously applied, then a valid, or rational, conclusion is likely.
Among the definitions for faith in the American Heritage Dictionary is ‘Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.’ At first glance, this would indeed appear to be contrary to reason, since it is expressly not based on either logic or evidence; key attributes of reason. And this often times leads to the charge that faith is blind; that it requires the abandonment of reason. And it must be admitted that this is often times the case for some people, choosing to believe something in spite of all of the evidence being contrary to the belief.
But I would argue that this is not always the case, nor should it ever be. When evidence is sufficient, reason can provide a conclusion. But what happens when evidence is not sufficient. You can choose to not reach a conclusion or you can make the best one you can, based on the available evidence. Many will claim that they choose not to reach a conclusion if the evidence is insufficient, and at times that is true for all of us. But I seriously doubt that there is anyone who will never reach conclusions that are not based solely on reason. It is just not practical for our day to day lives.
I have faith in God. And many would say that that faith is blind, that it is a belief based solely on desire and with no supporting evidence. But I would argue that there is sufficient evidence to support a belief in God, particularly the Christian God. This is the role of apologetics; the application of reason, a logical examination of the evidence, to the Christian faith, and will be what the other posts in this series will attempt to do.
Human Understanding Without the Holy Spirit
There is another very important issue to consider when addressing apologetics, applying to evangelism as well. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence within the life of believers. The Holy Spirit gives us assurance of God’s presence as well as guiding us into the truth. This is something that is missing in the life of the unbeliever. Both of these roles are important in the area of apologetics.
God’s presence within is, to the believer, proof of the existence of God. As a believer, faith in God is not just an unfounded wish. Rather it is based upon the reality of his presence. We don’t just hope that there is a God. We are able to walk with him and talk with him; we can know him. But to the person without the Holy Spirit, the thought of him within us is just nonsense. Trying to describe the Holy Spirit to one who is spiritually dead is like trying to describe the color red to one who was born blind. In a very real way, that person is handicapped, although they do not recognize the handicap and will take offense at the thought.
The other advantage of the Holy Spirit’s presence concerns the assistance he gives us in understanding spiritual truths. With God’s presence within, there are many things we can know that would not be possible otherwise.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit”
1 Corinthians 2:10b-14
This passage, among others, makes it clear that the person without the Spirit of God will be unwilling, or unable, to accept spiritual truth. And observation bears that out as well. It is easy to make the charge that the unbeliever is being purposefully contrary when we are providing a defense for our faith. But a significant part of the problem is that they are not really capable of understanding. We should not take that as an excuse to not bother. Rather, it should encourage us to not become discouraged and just write them off. Remember, that at one time, all of us were in the same position of unbelief.
Trust the Holy Spirit’s presence within and the understanding that he brings. It is the most powerful tool you have in living as a follower of Jesus and in giving a defense for your faith. But don’t be surprised or offended when those you share with are incredulous or take offense when you talk with them. Remember the great handicap they are operating under. They deserve your pity more than your scorn.
Being an Apologist