Apologetics – Never Having to Say I’m Sorry

Posted: July 23, 2013 in Apologetics
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“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 (NASB) 

One of the greatest ills in Christendom of the recent era has been an abandonment of apologetics.  What was once a foundational skill – even if you didn’t call it by that name – seems to be relegated to professional theologians and philosophers.  For many of the laity the discipline of apologetics seems to be taken as indicative of having a lack of faith.

Nothing can be further from the truth.  In fact, to not engage in apologetics is patently unbiblical.  The 1 Peter 3:15 passage above is the most well known, but Paul not only encouraged apologetics, as with the Bereans

[10]  The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. [11] Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.  Acts 17:10-11 (NASB)

Paul also led by example; making skilled use of apologetics in both his presentation on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-34) as well as his defense before Festus (Acts 24-28).  Likewise he admonishes Timothy to be one guard against foolish and pointless doctrine.  In general, Paul makes it clear that our faith is reasonable and that we should be able to defend it.

Sadly I hear far too often that “The Bible says it.  God wrote it.  That settles it.”  Such an attitude takes our faith from reasoned to blind; something that God never intended.  That much is clear from Scripture.  Peter certainly practiced what he preached in his early sermons in the Temple as recorded in Acts.  He didn’t teach a blind faith.  He gave the reasons for his faith.  Peter taught, in those early sermons, a faith based in historical events and evidence that those hearing him could easily verify.

This is as true for today as it was 2000 years ago.

“The Bible says it,” you may say?  So tell me why can you trust it?  “It’s the word of God,” is one of the most common answers I hear.  When asked how they know that, they are quick to answer, “The Bible said so.”  Do you see the obvious weakness?  Do you really want to base your faith on such a soap bubble?  Is this not much the same argument that the Muslim would give in defending the Q’uran?

“But I feel its truth in my heart,” the conversation may continue.  I’m sorry, but that sounds uncomfortably like the Burning in the Bosom that is argued by the Mormon.  Why is the feeling in your heart any more reliable than theirs?

This addresses one of the most basic points of faith; how the Christian knows the Bible is accurate and reliable.  Yet the Christians I meet that can offer even a basic defense of the Bible – and it is easily defended – are few and far between.  If the Bible is lost as the reliable revelation of God, then what hope is there to defend the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?  Is not our primary source of these events the Bible?  What is the need for Jesus’ coming anyway, without the mirror that the Bible provides?  Why can’t man simply be his own “salvation,” if he even needs saving?

That’s only the Bible.  The very tip of the iceberg, as it were.  There are still the basic questions of our existence.  From where did we even come?  For that matter, from whence came God?  Is there even such a thing as God?  Or a need for a God?  If so, why the God of the Christian and Jews?  Why not the “god” of the Muslim or the many “gods” of the Hindu?  Who are you to dare say your “god” is true and the others are false?

Questions like these are the most basic of questions that the Christian encounters when engaging the world.  If you start you answer to these kinds of questions with “Well, the Bible says…” with an atheist, you are wasting their time, wasting your time and ignoring scripture.  Disengaging from the world is certainly not an answer.  From the Great Commission through Acts and the Epistles, we are commanded to engage.  How else are you going to make disciples?  It is true that we cannot replace the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation process, but it is also true that God has chosen to spread His truth through human agency.  Remember that Paul started his sermon on Mars Hill with the Greeks’ strong religious sentiment and their statue to the Unknown God.

Being grounded in apologetics has an additional benefit when engaging the unbeliever.  Well, at least it does if you take the study seriously.  It has been my observation that those who understand the reasons for their faith tend to be more Christ-like and charitable when engaging others in conversation.  Not only does it make you more confident, but that you are engaging in sincere dialog shows respect for the person to which you are witnessing.  As that conversation progresses, you are not only providing reasons to believe but are overcoming objections.  In other words, you are giving the Spirit the most fertile ground possible to work upon.  This is that “gentleness and respect” about which Peter admonishes us.

If completing the mission that God gives to all believers is not enough reason, there is also a strong personal reason to engage in apologetics.  A blind faith is one that is easily broken.  By establishing the reasons for your faith and understanding the evidence, you have taken a huge step forward in buttressing your belief against the inevitable challenges that both the world and Satan will send your way.

Even if you are fortunate enough to live in a location where you do not have to face serious challenges, if you have children their faith will have challenges and those challenges will be good ones.  Perhaps you can homeschool them and “shield” them from the world for awhile, but at some point they will have to face the doubts that the world has about Christianity.  If your children have been “protected” from the world in this regard, then you have done them a great disservice.  I would go even further and say that you have helped the Enemy.  The reasons of the world to doubt God and the Bible are many.  They will be challenged in the humanities.  The will be challenged in the sciences.  They will be challenged in literature and history.

The reasons to question the faith are good.  They are many.  They are well presented.  Not only will you find reasons for doubt in obvious areas like evolution with regards to the life and physical sciences, but within philosophy kids will encounter Hume and Kant.  Literature classes will invariably include humanistic readings, say Atwood.  History will certainly take a naturalistic direction.  There are very good reasons why 80% of Christian youth abandon their faith when they get to college.

Even if you attend a Christian University, you will not escape.  Often world influences have crept in there, as well, but there are other dangers in this environment.  Kids brought up to think of something like a Young Earth perspective or a King James Only perspective as a necessary condition of orthodoxy have had serious crises of faith when those perspectives are shattered.  Other secondary issues to the faith – form of baptism, spiritual gifts, eschatology, etc. – can have similar effects.

Apologetics can help here not only by clarifying the reasons for a particular belief, but also by helping to separate the truly necessary elements of sound doctrine from secondary issues.  They are more prepared to engage and to hopefully understand that true believers can differ on these secondary issues without being heretics.  More important, they will not be in the situation of asking themselves about what other pieces of doctrine have they been taught lies.

So let us assume for the moment that I’ve convinced you.  Apologetics is important.  “But Raul,” you say, “I’m not a preacher or professor.  I can’t learn this stuff!”

Wrong.  Sure, Paul was a highly educated intellectual, but Peter was a working class fisherman and he provided some of the most powerful defenses of the faith in the New Testament.  Admittedly, far too few of our churches place much importance in apologetics; whether in Bible study, discipleship training or from the pulpit.  The good news is that it is easy to get a good start in apologetic training.

Probably the most well known starting point is Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ and the follow-up The Case for Faith.  These books are well written and aimed squarely at the layman.  He basis the book on addressing a series of questions and interviews experts in the subject.  It’s easy to read and easy to understand.  If you find an interest in a particular subject, there are plenty of references for more in-depth reading if desired.

I’ve found Josh McDowell’s book Evidence That Demands a Verdict a valuable reference, as well, for both the beginner and the experienced.  This is less of a “read it” book and more of a short subject reference.  The book is laid out by topics, with short sections on each in outline form.  It is easy to understand and very well referenced.  It goes from very layman approaches to some surprisingly advanced material.  It is a great aid in developing arguments.

One personal favorite of mine, is Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias.  Not only is this and easy read with sound arguments, Ravi’s approach is more pastoral.  He discusses the subject from a personal perspective and includes his experiences raised in India in a Hindu society.  For many, his work is more approachable than someone like McDowell.

If you want something with a bit more meat, then consider How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey.  I have several friends that might suggest some of Francis Schaeffer’s work instead.  If it were just a worldview discussion, I would agree, but for backing faith with reason go with Colson and Pearcey.  This book goes beyond mere apologetics and applies it from the perspective of your worldview.  There is actually a video and workbook kit that allows you to use this material as a classroom or discipleship study.  It captures the essentials of the (rather dense) book in a discussion oriented group format.  I highly recommend it.

No list of resources would be complete without including C. S. Lewis’ classic piece of literature, Mere Christianity.  He approaches his case for Christianity from the perspective of reason.  The book is based on a series of radio interviews in which he had participated.  This book is one of the most influential books on Christianity of the 20th Century and should be on every Christian’s required reading list.

None of the books I’ve suggested are beyond the grasp of the layman.  Most are targeting for the non-professional, though they a good reads even for the pastor, theologian or philosopher.  If I were to suggest a reading plan, I would probably start with Strobel followed by Zacharias.  Tackle Lewis’ book next and add the others as opportunity allows or even look at the references in the first books.

I will add one last book in its own special place.  It is called Living Loud: Defending Your Faith by Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden.  Geisler, along with Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig are who I would consider the three top Christian apologists active in the world today.  Geisler’s book Christian Apologetics is considered a standard collegiate text on the subject and his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics is considered by some a near definitive work.  He has an impressive bibliography for both layman and scholar.

Living Loud, however, is targeted squarely and brilliantly at high school believers.  The audience seems to be Juniors and Seniors, but both clever Sophomores and college Freshman without any apologetic background would be comfortable in this book.  It’s well within the ability of most Bible study or discipleship teachers and if you do not have a background in apologetics, you will learn as much as your students.  This book makes an excellent quarterly study for any church group and would be especially useful for homeschoolers.  Each chapter starts with an imagined scenario that is a reality for far too many kids.  It then progresses to the meat of the topic.  Each chapter ends with a question/quiz section.  It also has an outstanding bibliography at the end for those who want to learn more.  If your desire is to lay a foundation of equipping you children with the tools to remain strong in their faith when they get out in the “real world,” I simply cannot recommend a better book.  If you have kids, get this book.

Hopefully, this article has made a good case for the Biblical command and necessity for the study of apologetics.  More important, I hope it has made a good case for the practical side of why apologetics should be important to you and especially your children.  The references given should show you that the subject is not just for pastors and scholars but that any believer can be competent in the exercise.  I would love to hear your thoughts or questions.  If you are in the St. Louis area, I have taught classes based on The Case for Christ, How Now Shall We Live and Living Loud.  If you are interested in them, let me know and I’ll post when I teach one again.  In the meantime, get out there and get prepared!

  1. Anonymous says:

    I can appreciate the implication that we are not a faith of the book, though I wish you would go a bit further. We are not a faith of emotions. We are a religion, established by Christ, passed on through oral tradition, cemented by the compilation of our Bible, and led by the Holy Spirit. Apologetics is a great love of mine.

    Strobel is great but as far as fullness of truth, 2000 years of history, tradition, apostolic succession, and authority, it’s really just baby food. Well written piece 🙂

    • Raul Ybarra says:

      I’m a member of the St. Louis Reasonable Faith chapter (William Lane Craig’s org), so let’s just say I would have loved to have gone into depth. 🙂 I had to avoid scaring people away, however.

      Compared to some of the more scholarly works of Craig, Geisler, Turek, etc. Strobel is very much baby food. But it’s baby food made with real meat, not the fake filler of so many pop-theologians that are out there today it’s a great launching pad for self learning or an introductory discipleship class.

      Thanks again for the very kind words. And don’t worry, there will certainly be some steak on the menu as well! ;-D

  2. […] have written in the past about the dangers of abandoning apologetics in the Church (see: Apologetics: Never Having to Say You’re Sorry). In that article I had taken issue with the number of believers who rely on a blind faith rather […]

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