Now that we’ve begun our series on apologetics (click here) with a look at how Scripture invites us to use “tradition,” we will look at a few other introductory questions, such as: Why? Who for? Who are some apologists?
What is the purpose of apologetics? Is it mainly so I can convince doubting atheists? No. Doubting agnostics? No. Doubting Christians, yes, mainly. And also for those genuinely searching for answers yet without professing agnosticism. Apologetics is useful in our own growth in the Christian faith, and specifically in times when you are interested in knowing whether there are reasonable answers to some of life’s most difficult questions.
Agnostics believe or feel like one cannot have answers, as though metaphysics (a lovely word, don’t cancel it) were all a ruse. If you are settled in that opinion, then you won’t see the answers, you are settled in your blindness. Jesus declared that He spoke parables so that those settled in such an opinion would hear Him but not understand His words.
I am writing this series of posts to encourage believers. But I am especially hoping to encourage those Christians who, like me, are mothering young children. Your children will grow up in a world far different from our childhood. The questions they face will be brutal. Apologetics is for you, and for your children; that as you live in this dark world you will be able to, in your own hearts, withstand the critique of the world. You withstand with Truth, with Knowledge, and with the steadfastness of Christ who is our endurance. Bear with me in this rather lengthy exploration of “why.”
Sidebar. Apologetics is not for entering into online debates, or posting on FB as a means to flaunt your faith. We are light and salt, never a clanging cymbal. We do not enter into arguments, we walk away if there is not civil dialogue. With word and deed, we do everything in love. Our reasoning is not in love when the other does not want to engage in dialogue.
In C.S. Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress, he describes how his own conversion story is hardly ever an experience shared by anyone. Most do not come to the faith, by examining the evidence while clinging to agnosticism, listening to apologetic lectures or reading such books. It may spark faith in some, as it did in him; yet most Apologetic scholars agree–their most important task is not showing the critics that our faith is in fact reasonable, historic, and sensible–though they do this quite well–but it is building up the church against the unreasonable attacks of the critics.
When we have answers to their statements, we do not crumble.
Contrast that with a person who has a shallow, rootless, fair weather faith. Not a childlike faith, but a childish faith, ignorant of God’s truth and beauty. When the waves and wind of the critics hit, their house of sand crumbles. An opponent merely asks a question, and that one will apostatize.
Who are Some Apologists?
The first Christian Apologist
He was a student under Plato, a professor of Philosophy, a man now known as Justin the Martyr. (Or St. Justin in the Roman Catholic church, celebrated on June 1) He was drawn by the beauty and truth of Christianity, realizing Christianity answered all the questions. In a conversation, a nameless man spoke to him of how the human mind could not have arrived at the concept of God unless revealed by God.
Justin converted to Christianity and spoke eloquently defending the faith amid much paganism and a pantheon of false gods. (I cannot wait to meet the man who challenged Justin! Imagine the joy up in heaven as that conversation and conversion was taking place… Also imagine all the seemingly small apologetic conversations we can take part in without knowing the true outcome of…)
Just like Justin, it is the truth and beauty that draw us and keep us; so it is the truth and beauty that we share as we describe the hope within us. He taught others that all the questions raised by philosophers were answerable by the One True God. And yes, he was martyred for it. So, apologetics is not merely quoting Scripture. Rather, we feast on Scripture, grow as described in 1 Corinthians 1-2, and converse with words seasoned with grace, listening to the questions around us and sharing the answers we find in Christ.
In later posts, we will discuss which passages to share, what, and how, and to whom. For now, we stick to “why should I study apologetics?”
In seasons of doubt–which most, if not all, Christians face, our apologetic studies begin to answer the questions that arise within us. Whether in times of despair, anxiety, or simply unanswered questions (usually raised by unbelievers in your sphere), apologetic studies can help you form a rebuttal.
A rebuttal that happens in your mind. In the book of Acts you’ll notice that Paul argued for the faith–it was his custom. He preached. He also taught in such a manner as to answer the questions of those who were embittered against Christianity, or who disbelieved and stirred up the minds of others against the faith (see Acts 14).
Spend some time this week in Acts 17. Paul was reasoning with people willing to listen and debate; the culture was such that meeting for such debates was common. Today, people are too glued to technology most of the time to engage in intellectual conversations, but you may happen upon an actual face to face conversation.
There may be times when these conversations happen in your own life, where you reason with others in a non-combative atmosphere. But most of the time the reasoning will remain in your mind. When you know the person raising a question is argumentative, you must walk away. We do not argue people into the Kingdom.
Professional Apologists Today
This is the job of apologists still today. If you are looking for some modern apologists to look at, to wonder “how do they do it, what do they do?” just google Dr. Gary Habermas, or Dr. William Lane Craig, or Dr. Norman Geisler (recently deceased) or Dr. Cornelius Van Til (also deceased). Others who have influenced this area are C.S. Lewis (who will get his own post) and Dr. Alvin Plantinga (who will also get his own post!). Many of their debates can be found online.
Many in this field hold academic debates, which are much different from any social media feud. These scholars have shown the critics that their critique of our faith does not stand. They have written books that will help you understand what the critics say, and how you can be sure that their critique does not diminish the truth that God has revealed.
We are not professionals, nor will we have time and money to earn degrees in this. Yet, reading or listening to these scholars will grow your faith, and help you to pass on the faith to future generations (see Deuteronomy 6 & 11; and Jude) as is the calling of all members in the church. Paul praised the Colossians for their steadfastness of faith, they were not crumbling in the face of all the worldly philosophies that surrounded them. (Read Colossians 2:5-10)
Today’s book recommendations
With each post I will recommend at least one book. These books are accessible, easy to read, and worth your time and money. If you are a Christian, and have never wandered into any of these sorts of books, I hope you’ll add at least one to your summer reading list.
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, by William Lane Craig
This book is the result of his many years of teaching Apologetics to Masters students. This material is the introductory material, and each chapter takes a particular theological truth, shows what the critics are saying to deny Christianity regarding this truth, and then makes practical application for the Christian. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I read it during my first year out of college, as I began my Master’s degree. His chapters on “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament” and “The Resurrection” are robust, enlightening and encouraging. You will learn how to respond to someone who says “Well of course modern scholarship has shown that Jesus probably never said that.” (page 228).
Cultural Apologetics, by Paul M. Gould
A different sort of apologetic, or defense of the faith, in that it leads the reader to understand that it is not only the veracity of Scripture we defend, but we must re-enchant the world to feel their need for and deep down soul desire for their Creator and Redeemer. Not just the reasonableness of the faith, but its desirability. After discussing the disenchanted world, and our call to re-enchanting, he looks at different aspects of our minds, and finally at the barriers that need to be addressed. He points out “four firmly held beliefs, that, if true, either refute Christianity or require Christians to significantly modify or jettison tradition.” Science disproving God, or that belief in Jesus as the only true God being intolerant, or that God is not good, or that Christianity is “archaic, repressive, and unloving ethic when it comes to human sexuality, marriage, the poor, race, and more…” He then discusses ways of addressing these four key issues.
Next post will look at ancient Christian creeds, and how we can respond when critics imply that the New Testament was written after Jesus died, and therefore is “most likely” unreliable. Not only is their theory filled with logical fallacies, it is easily put to rest.