So, it’s come to my attention that before writing about what I’m learning with regard to apologetics, I should probably define and explain the reasons for studying and using apologetics! As it turns out, the Academy’s professors were one step ahead of me, because that was a major part of today’s session. So in this post I’ll give you a summary of Professor Craig Parton’s case for apologetics, plus a little of my own opinion of why apologetics is necessary.
The word apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia,” or “defense,” and is probably most succinctly defined as the defense of the Christian faith. This can take many forms; the types of apologetics that are being covered at the Academy this year include Philosophical, Scientific, Historical, and Literary/Cultural apologetics, among others. That is, the objections to Christianity that are raised by non-Christians can be quite varied, but there are good answers to non-Christian objections in all of these categories and beyond. I’m sure I’ll go into more detail on each of these categories in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll give you a brief discussion of why apologetics matters.
First and foremost, apologetics is Biblical. Perhaps the most well known passage in support of apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” This makes it clear that the defense of the faith isn’t just for the apostle Paul, who is described many times in Acts as giving a defense of the faith. Yet Paul gives great examples of apologetics in action; Acts 17 contains the story of his presenting the defense of the faith to Greek philosophers, and Acts 26 describes Paul’s defense of the Gospel to King Agrippa, to whom he notably said, “This thing [the historical events of Christianity] has not been done in a corner.” That is, the Christian faith is based in history (we’ll come back to this later!). In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ, and most of them were still living at the time of his writing (implying that they could be questioned directly about the event). Even since the Old Testament, God hasn’t been afraid of giving proof that He is the true God; just take the example of the prophet Elijah “taking on” the prophets of Baal in the presence of the Israelites in 1 Kings 18 (if you don’t remember, that’s when God incinerated a soaking wet sacrifice in response to Elijah’s prayer, whereas the prophets of Baal couldn’t get so much as a bolt of lightning to come anywhere near their sacrifice, despite ceremonially cutting themselves). I could go on, but suffice it to say, apologetics is thoroughly Biblical.
Second, apologetics is not “in competition” with more familiar elements of Christianity, e.g. evangelism, preaching, the means of grace, etc. The intellectual nature of apologetics is not at odds with faith, either; remember that we are called to love God not only with our whole heart, but also with our whole mind. Professor Parton made the extremely important distinction that faith must have an object, and apologetics simply gives evidence that Christ is the only worthy object of faith. Apologetics does not purport to be able to intellectually convince anyone into faith, yet it does remove the misconceptions that people have picked up, which is always helpful before people come to faith – or maybe sometimes, while they’re coming to faith. Really, apologetics can even help people who are already Christian with the concerns that they have (e.g. the problem of evil, whether or not the Bible is reliable, etc.). Essentially, apologetics should be seen (as it used to be, I learned today!) as just another aspect of theology, not at odds with theology as we know it.
Third, apologetics is necessary in our secular world. As we talked about for most of the session today, the western world didn’t abandon Christianity overnight; secularization has been going on for a long time. Therefore presenting the case for Christianity usually isn’t just as easy as presenting what the Bible says; often people hold to misconceptions (e.g., that Christianity is based solely on emotion, not at all on reason) and arguments that prevent them from taking the Word seriously. The fact that some of the objections to Christianity have been around for hundreds of years makes it somewhat understandable that they seem legitimate to many people; after all, wouldn’t these objections have been answered by now if there were answers? Well, yes, as it turns out. There are great answers to at least the vast majority of objections to Christianity, and some of these answers were around for centuries even before they were raised again more recently (i.e. in the 18th and 19th centuries). The fact that these objections were not answered with sufficient force a few centuries ago is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that the answers don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean these answers can’t be used now to remove people’s barriers to faith in Christ.
Finally, apologetics is necessary in our increasingly pluralistic society. This isn’t something that we talked about explicitly in the Academy session today, but it is very closely tied in with the fact that I noted above, that Christianity is based on historical events. As many of the books written by the professors here have discussed, Christianity is very different from nearly all other religions in that it makes verifiable (or on the other hand, falsifiable) claims based on historical events, most especially the resurrection. As Paul says, if the resurrection didn’t happen, Christians are most to be pitied among all of humanity, because then Christianity isn’t true! Most other religions’ claims to legitimacy are based on the feeling of their being right or true, or on their “working for you” (to provide you with peace, happiness, etc.). In other words, these religions cannot be proved true or false; all that can be done is to experience them. And one can’t simply experience all religions to figure out which one “works for you”; there are far too many! Much less can one experience all religions in order to figure out which is objectively true (because they make contradictory claims, they cannot all be true, but that’s a topic for another post!). Christianity stands in stark contrast, claiming that it is objectively true based on historical facts that can be investigated with standard evidential methods. If this kind of apologetic is not used when presenting Christianity, it is easy for a non-Christian to ask what’s so different about Christianity that he should follow it. Why not Buddhism, Islam, or atheism? These belief systems “work” for countless people around the world, but their truthfulness cannot be verified, whereas Christianity’s truthfulness is supported by the most rigorous examination. Christian apologetics, therefore, gives an answer to the question of “why Christianity?” that is so central to the pluralistic society in which we live.
Well, I think this post has gotten long enough! Since today was a kind of introductory, overview day at the Academy, I touched on a lot of things in this post that will probably be expanded upon later. So if you’re particularly interested in anything that I talked about here, let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to give special attention to it when I write about it later, either in these two weeks, or maybe sometime later in a separate post. Thanks for reading! ^.^