Apologetics

All men were created by God, for God. Every human being is dependent on God for everything and there is nothing for which man does not depend on God. Every person who has ever lived ought to acknowledge this dependency on God in every way. All men should honor God with their thoughts, their lips, and their behavior, in every way. Every apologist must begin the project of defending the faith with this mindset.

First and foremost, I am skeptical that the basic thrust of Christian apologetics concerns the justification or warrant of the Christian claim or belief, that God exists. Even though this is precisely what those involved in Christian apologetics assume, I think a fresh look at the biblical mandate itself is overdue. Someone once said to me that they did not have to justify their Christian belief to anyone. Once I got over the shock of that blunt statement, which was not an easy thing to do, I had to admit that they might be on to something. And the more I study, and the more I learn, the more I think that Christians actually do not have an obligation to justify their beliefs to anyone. You may be thinking, does not the Bible itself command us to do apologetics? It does, but not without some qualification. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe I am. But I will leave you to do your homework on that question as you examine my perspective and draw your own conclusion. My basic thesis is that justifying belief that God exists is not the same as providing people with reasons for the hope that is in me. Moreover, the idea of justification to another seems to imply submission to the criteria of another. For the Christian, this is highly problematic.

My goal is to help you think biblically about apologetics. My aim is to strike a balance between the extremes that I see in the field of apologetics in modern Christianity. On the one hand, the presumption that excellence in Christian apologetics requires the highest degree of academic rigor combined with the incredible complexity of only the highest level of philosophical acumen is an outrageous overstatement put forth by men who, in my view, revel in intellectual narcissism. Those who have a bent for Christian apologetics, that is, a fondness for the field, must always remind themselves that knowledge puffs up. On the other hand, Christians must at all costs avoid the opposite extreme. That is to say, the complete, and utter neglect, on their part, to invest even an ounce of energy into becoming better thinkers, better students of Scripture, and as a result, better apologists. One extreme surfaces our intellectual arrogance by way of parading our intellectual skill. The other extreme surfaces our intellectual slothfulness. The greatest of all the commandments involves loving God with all our mind, or put differently, with ALL OUR BEING which includes the intellect. Both of these extremes are guilty of neglecting that commandment as it is clearly spelled out in Scripture.

Christian apologetics should, and in fact, must be informed and shaped by biblical theology. The epistemic authority of Christian apologetics must always only be Scripture alone. Moreover, it isn’t just the case that the content and method of apologetics should be informed by Scripture, but the “why” of apologetics must be informed by Scripture as well. The clearest text in Scripture on the subject of Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15:

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” [1 Peter 3:15, NAS]

This being the case, one of the most important skills that every Christian must develop is critical thinking.  This is most often understood as the art and skill of biblical discernment where Christian theology, philosophy, and apologetics are concerned. Critical thinking is essential for a mature understanding of Christian theology. Without a solid understanding of Christian theology, apologetic efficiency will always face challenges, and in some cases, insurmountable challenges.

I am going to briefly apply critical thinking to this text so that you understand the major task of every Christian where apologetics is concerned. I want to talk through the text of 1 Peter ever so briefly. We want to ask several questions of the text as we move along. Critical thinking beings with asking good questions and matures as those questions move from good to better to excellent. Asking questions forces us to think about the claim that is being made. And the Bible is brimming with one claim right after another. Bring your questions to the text and the text will bring questions to you!

First, the text tells us to place what or whom at the very center of our apologetic? “But sanctify Christ as Lord” Peter commands! Christ is Lord rings throughout our apologetic. Christian apologetics begins with the acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord. There is no domain over which Christ is not reigning Lord and King! This includes the domain of human reason. Second, Christians are to be in a constant state of readiness. The only way to do this is to adopt and maintain this attitude and to continue always to engage the culture. If you fail to do either of these, you become dull, inefficient, and unprepared. Third, Christians are to always be prepared to give an apologetic or make a defense to everyone who asks us. This includes the professor as well as the uneducated. It includes the Mormon as well as the Oneness Pentecostal, the Muslim as well as the Jew. Fourth, Christians are to always be prepared to give an answer for a reason for the hope that is in us. Apologetics is not just for the intellectuals. It is geared to all. All Christians must be prepared to answer all inquirers. The question is, what are we defending, or better, for what are giving an apologetic? We are commanded to provide an account for the hope that is in us!  We are not told that we must prove that God exists. We are not told that we must provide epistemic warrant for our Christian belief to critics, skeptics, cynics and everyone else that dares to challenge it. In other words, we do not have to give the critics evidence as they define evidence in order to obey Peter’s command. What Peter specifically tells us is that we are to provide a reason for the hope that resides within us. Contrary to some contemporary approaches, Christians are not under any obligation to study Aristotelian logic in order to obey Peter’s command. This does not mean that a Christian cannot benefit from a formal study of logic or critical thinking. I believe strongly that they can. But to claim that this is what Peter had in mind when he penned these words is patently false. Contrary to the claims of some apologists, Peter was not thinking that Christians need to master logical syllogisms in order to answer inquirers, opponents or detractors.

What is that hope that we have within us?

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 1 Peter 3:18 NAS

The hope that is in us is that Christ died for us, the just for the unjust so that we might have life! That is the hope that is in us for which we must always be prepared to give a reason. Many apologists think that the word “reason” means logical accounting because of the Greek word that Peter uses in this text. The word in question is logon, and in this context, it simply means, “a formal accounting of someone’s actions.” What it does not mean is that Christians have to engage in the formal study of logic in order to be obedient to the divine mandate given here to engage in apologetics. Such a reading of the text is wishful thinking on the part of some apologists who, in my opinion, have an inordinate fascination with achieving intellectual respectability before the academy and the world. Christian thought will never occupy pride-of-place to the unbelieving world or its philosophers regardless of the level of philosophical jargon or the sophistication of the arguments Christian apologists might employ. That does not mean that I decry Christians studying philosophy or philosophical systems. I do not. I study them myself as a matter of routine. I would encourage every Christian to study some philosophy, critical thinking, and logic if they can. It is very beneficial for the Christian to have a basic understanding of these fields. It is always helpful to be familiar with these fields, how they are used to support non-Christian worldviews, what some of the more mainstream philosophical systems claim, how to analyze their claims, how to identify and succinctly and effectively articulate their weaknesses. But to say that this is essential for Christian apologetics is simply saying too much. And to claim that this is the idea that Peter had in mind when he penned this text is dubious at best and that is being charitable.

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