I recently picked up a copy of my book, Apologetics for the Rest of Us: A Beginner’s Guide, for no reason in particular. I thought I’d refresh my memory on the things I’d written since it’s been several years. Not having authored many books I wanted to take a look to see if I still found it relevant.
After reading a few chapters I thought this would make good blog posts. So here we go. If you’ve read the book, thanks! If you haven’t, here’s a way to get it down piece by piece.
My contention with a lot of apologetics books as they’re similar to books on philosophy, that is, apologetics books are written for other apologists. Sorry, most philosophy books are written to other philosophers. I believe I understand the motives which I won’t discuss here. I’d like to see more apologetics books written to the rank and file, the person in the pew, the average church attender. I know what it’s like to take complex subjects and try to break them down so the rank and file can understand what you’re talking about. We feel like we’re doing the information a disservice to do something like that. Plus, it takes a lot more work.
However, if we don’t translate the information into readable language we will never get the church on board, so to speak. We’ll keep preaching to the choir, hashing out the finer points of argumentation. I know there’s a need for that, but not as much as goes on. So here goes my first offering. This is not even a complete chapter.
Feedback is appreciated!
I felt about as helpless as a fish without fins. Because I am a Vietnam Vet, the feelings of uneasiness and helplessness were not new to me. However, I wasn’t in a war zone—at least not one that I recognized. I was across the table from a young college student, and I found myself with little to say.
The college student was someone I knew, someone I had known for a long time. In fact, I had known him from his childhood and had watched him grow and develop a relationship with the Lord. Now, He was asking me questions I had no answers for. I realized he was thinking of jettisoning his faith in favor of atheism if he didn’t get reasonable answers. I had none. He questioned the reliability of the New Testament documents, biological evolution, and absolute morals. Admittedly, I was stumped. My first reaction was simply to say, “Just believe; you know Jesus is real,” but I knew that would be the end of the conversation. The only answer I could muster was, “I don’t know how to answer these questions, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll find answers to all these questions.”
This situation was one of many used by God to get me to study apologetics. I have since learned I was in a war zone, only this was a battle for ideas.
My desire to defend the historic Christian faith is matched only by my desire to build the Church of Jesus. As I mentioned in the Introduction, Christian apologetics, defending the historic Christian faith, is a subject and discipline the Church sorely needs. As American Christians who believe in the essentials of Christianity, including but not limited to the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His vicarious death and bodily resurrection, His ascension, and His promise to return,1 we find ourselves in hostile territory. These days, we cannot bring the name of Jesus into a conversation without facing mockery, disinterest, or disbelieving questions about whether we really “believe that.” Our culture has marginalized the Church, making our influence trivial. According to trending opinion, our faith is only valid in a private setting and has no place in the public square.
If morality is discussed, the Christian view is not considered, and Christians are held at arm’s length. Society does not believe that the Christian Church has anything to offer by way of morality. As we have stated already, the default position is that Darwin was right and that life exists without God. If we want to believe in God, we are told to keep it to ourselves because society, not God, is the judge of what is acceptable and not acceptable. As a result, relativism, the idea that there are no absolute truths or morals ruling the world of conduct, has won the day. No one believes in universal right behaviors or a code of conduct anymore. Since we have no final authority, society has become the final authority that determines what is permissible.
A Word about Apologetics
Apologetics, like any other subject, does not exist in a vacuum. This is true in at least two ways. The first way is that apologetics is part of evangelism. Second, apologetics is part of rhetoric, which is a manner of arguing, expressing a point, or clearly presenting evidence to persuade. Let’s look at these two more closely.
Some have called apologetics pre-evangelism because it helps people see the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is also post-evangelism in that the evidence given by apologists helps to strengthen believers’ faith; they are comforted and bolstered by the reasons or proof for the validity of what they believe.
In pre-evangelism, some have described apologetics as the means to removing mental obstacles that may prohibit people from considering the truth of Christianity. Others have described it as a vehicle that removes roadblocks on the road to salvation. People cannot reach the place of salvation with these roadblocks in place, so apologetics helps to get rid of the roadblocks. Another way to express this concept is that apologetics removes the camouflage. In this analogy, the camouflage is any idea that prohibits a person from seeing the truth of the gospel. As camouflage disguises animals or hunters, divergent ideas hide the truth of Jesus. Apologetics reveals the true nature of the gospel that has been hidden by so many divergent ideas. As pre-evangelism, apologetics prepares people to hear and consider the unique truthfulness of Jesus Christ and allows the Holy Spirit to convict people concerning their lives.
As post-evangelism, apologetics strengthens believers. Doug Powell puts it this way:
The results of training in apologetics are boldness, security, and a lack of defensiveness. Apologetics enables the believer to engage the world without acquiescing to it and without compromise.2
According to Powell, knowing the evidence that supports Christianity emboldens believers and enables them to interact with the world in a secure (not defensive) manner. When challenges come and we are able to respond without being defensive, it begins to level the playing field. Removing the emotional element that so often results from being challenged causes the momentum of the argument to shift. We, as believers, are now able to frame3 the argument and present the solid evidence we have learned regarding the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus without compromising our faith.
The ability to resist compromising their faith is especially crucial for college students, who live in an environment hostile to Christianity. It is true for any Christian who lives and works in an environment that may be hostile to Christianity. However, the college environment is especially hostile toward Christianity. As one well-known apologist has said, “When you are in college, you’re in enemy territory.” Day after day, college students hear what seems to be evidence against Christianity, as well as deriding comments about Christians and the history of the Church. Many struggle to keep their faith at these times—unless they are equipped with the unique truthfulness of the Christian faith.
In a later blog, I explore the idea of certainty in knowing the exact truth. This is often overlooked as a necessary part of the Christian faith. We think that knowing prevents us from growing in faith. This is a serious problem. The truth is, our minds are not stumbling blocks to our faith. In fact, what our hearts believe our minds seek to know and understand. It is true that we cannot know everything about God, but that doesn’t mean we cannot know anything about God. Personally, I want to know as much as I can and to seek the wisdom and knowledge God. As the wise Solomon wrote, “Then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:5–6). Finding evidence for my faith only strengthens it.
Admittedly, it’s not just the Church that has become anti-intellectual. American culture in general has placed a decreasing value on diligent study and thorough knowledge. Consider this quote:
"Rhetoric faded in academia during the 1800s, when social scientists dismissed the notion
that an individual could stand up to the inexorable forces of history. Who wants to teach leadership when academia doesn’t believe in leaders? At the same time, English lit replaced the classics, and ancient thought fell out of vogue. Nonetheless, a few remarkable people continued to study the art. Daniel Webster picked up rhetoric at Dartmouth by joining a debating society, the United Fraternity, which had an impressive classical library and held weekly debates. Years later, the club changed its name to Alpha Delta and partied its way to immortality by inspiring the movie Animal House.4"
This is an extreme example, but it touches on the course of education in America. The classics have been replaced and rhetoric has been abandoned at the behest of social scientists. We’ll talk more about this later; for now, let’s look at the importance of rhetorical skills and how they relate to apologetics.
The second companion to apologetics is rhetoric, which is a way of speaking. Rhetoric as a term has been hijacked and given a pejorative meaning that wasn’t part of the original definition. Thus, to many, rhetoric is a style of speaking that twists truths and gives snide responses. In reality, rhetoric is a style of arguing designed to convince other people to change their position.
We find a good example of this in Acts 17:1–4, where we discover that it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue and reason with the Jews, explaining and giving evidence that Jesus was the Christ. Although Paul did this from the Scripture he was employing rhetorical skills that would have convinced those particular Jews who were born in the Greek culture. By birth they were Jews, but by culture they were Greek! They understood Greek thinking, Greek language, and Greek rhetoric. They are the Hellenist Jews of Acts 7. Knowing this, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead...” (Acts 17:2–3). In verse 4, we see that some of them were “persuaded” and joined Paul and Silas.
It is no accident that Luke used the word persuaded in conjunction with reasoned, explaining, and giving evidence. This is rhetoric at its finest. Paul moved these Jews to see his point and change their beliefs. Paul was doing the work of an apologist, defending the faith by using rhetorical skills. Thus we see that apologetics resides within the realm of rhetoric, which, unfortunately, is something the Church knows far too little about. And that, of course, is one of the purposes of this book. Let’s step up to the plate to learn.
Apologetics, Apologetic, and Apologists
Before we go too much farther, however, we need to clarify some terminology. Terms such as apologist, apologetic, and apologetics are new to many believers. They sound a lot like apology, which is what we say when we are sorry for something. Certainly, we are not saying we are sorry we are Christians!
Those who are familiar with the word apologetics, unfortunately, often think of it as winning an argument or an ideological fight. While it is true that some people study apologetics to “make points,” as if scoring more points than the opponent is winning, that is not the ultimate purpose of apologetics. As Americans, we live on one-liners. We love to believe that with a quick quip we can shut the opponent down. This is not Christian apologetics. Winning arguments and losing friends (or potential converts) is devastating to the Christian message, and it is not representative of Christian apologetics.
My apologetic ministry sponsors seminars called No Pat Answers. A pat answer is a trite, glib shot from the hip that is not well thought out. For those who inquire about the Christian faith or those who argue with the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, there ought to be no pat answers. Our answers must be clear, cogent, and compelling responses. We must learn what apologetics is before we can harness the strength of this art form.
Apologia, the Greek word we derive our word apology from, means “a defense.” Paul helps us to understand that with his usage of the word in Acts 22:1, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense….” The word for “defense” is apologia. This refers to a defense in the legal sense, as a lawyer would use in a court of law. It is not a military defense. When Peter tell us to always be ready “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,” he also tells us to do it with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). The emphasis on making a defense is modified by gentleness and reverence. In other words, the attitude of the apologist must take the listener into account. Gentleness is strength under control, and reverence is respect for the people we talk to. Apologetics is not about winning arguments and making the other person look bad. In the context of rhetoric, it is about winning people over or moving people to see our position in a favorable light. Thus, we can adopt the motto: Argue without being argumentative, and defend without being defensive.
Too many believers are turned off by “apologists” who seek only to win an argument by points or, worse, to show off how much they know. Instead, apologists ought to seek to win hearts and minds through the use of persuasion, explanation, and evidence.
In philosophy, apology is a rhetorical term that means “to move people, to persuade them, to help them change their view and to understand and accept yours.” When we are apologizing, we are giving an argument (another term that is too often misused and misunderstood). In rhetoric, as already stated, an argument is not a fight; it is not trying to score points and put the other person down. It is persuading through reasonable statements and offering evidence to prove our point and show our point’s validity. Apologists “argue” in order to persuade, to move other people and help them change their position. They should not argue to put other people down or simply win the argument. It is about hearts and minds. So the art of rhetoric is persuasion, and apologetics is the heart of that art. Apologia is the legal defense, but it is used to persuade.
Make no mistake; apologists seek to make their defense strong, cogent, and persuasive. Remember, Peter denied Jesus at Jesus’ trial and then cursed and swore when questioned about knowing Him (see Matt. 26:72–74). This same Peter tells us to always be ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope within our hearts, yet to do so with gentleness and reverence (see 1 Pet. 3:15). Blustering, spontaneous Peter, who was remorseful for his earlier actions, reminds us to be gentle and reverent when we are making a defense. So, apologists argue and seek to move people from an ignorant view of the Christian faith or to show that Christianity is reasonable and move it into a more favorable position in their opponents’ minds.
At one time, apologetics was not “the” sought after subject and did not draw large crowds. It still does not in some places, though the mood about apologetics is changing. Until recently, when I asked a congregation if anyone knew what apologetics is, very few would respond in the affirmative. Now, more and more people are becoming aware of and interested in apologetics. What was once reserved for the ivory tower of seminaries and higher education is now making its way to the “water cooler,” “lunch table,” and “kitchen counter.” It is becoming the interest of church-goers, Christian education teachers, and small groups. As a result, an increasing number of resources are becoming available through such stellar ministries such as Focus on the Family, Reasons to Believe, Faith and Reason, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and others. These ministries help to keep apologetics in a context, not in a vacuum that exists by itself. A good apologetic ministry understands both of the contexts of apologetics—the rhetorical and the evangelistic.
In summary, apologists are those who defend the historic Christian faith. This discipline or skill is called apologetics. There are many ways to defend our faith and several views on how apologetics ought to function. Those who use history support a historical apologetic. Others use science to defend their faith. Still others have a philosophical argument for apologetics. Then there are those who use all three—history, science, and philosophy.
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