This is from a series of posts which was copied with permission from Jordan Apodaca’s blog, “Thoughts & Anti-Thoughts,” which can be accessed here: https://jordanapodaca.wordpress.com/
This particular post, which allows comments, can be accessed here: https://jordanapodaca.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/acceptingrejecting-calvinism-pt-8-an-apologetic-for-apologetics/
A Reason for Hope:
An Introduction to Apologetics
Why do you believe God exists? Has anyone ever asked you that? What would you say? Why do you think God exists? We just prayed to Him. Why do you believe He heard you? What would you say? There are a lot of different answers.
- I believe he exists because I have experienced his loving presence in Scripture, in prayer, and in corporate worship.
- I believe he exists because when I prayed to God to save me, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace in my soul like I had never felt before.
- I believe he exists because a group of reliable eyewitnesses attest to the resurrection of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and their witness has been recorded in Scripture.
- I believe he exists because he is the best explanation for the origin of the universe:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
- If the universe has a cause for its existence, it is God.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
- I believe he exists because he is the best explanation for moral absolutes and duties.
- If God does not exist, then no moral absolutes or duties can exist.
- Moral absolutes and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God does exist.
If you didn’t notice, there are quite a few ways you can answer. I appealed to my experience and feelings, I appealed to Scripture and history, and I appealed to philosophical arguments.
I think those are all fine answers. But tonight I want to focus on the last group of answers and talk about apologetics. I have one goal tonight: I want to encourage you to study apologetics for the sake of your walk with Christ and your witness to the world. I’m not going to teach apologetics; I’m going to teach you why you should study apologetics. I want to lay a foundation that you can build on for the rest of your life – I want to give you a confidence that studying apologetics is something for you, not just experts or nerds.
And since that’s my goal, I should begin with a definition.
Definition of Apologetics
At its core, Christian apologetics is the attempt to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith. What’s a rational justification? A rational justification is the reason why you can say “I know that.” So if you say “I know that church starts tonight,” your rational justification could be “the church bulletin says it would.” Or if I say “I know that America declared independence in 1776,” my rational justification for believing so would be that all accurate historical documents say so. So Apologetics is the attempt to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith. And you can picture it like a football team: there is an offensive and a defensive side to apologetics.
- When playing on Defense, the Christian Apologist seeks to defend Christianity against objections. So if someone says “The God of Christianity can’t be real, because if he were all-loving and all-powerful like you say he is, he wouldn’t allow evil in the world.” At this point the apologist could respond in multiple ways: by explaining that the origin of evil is due to our free will, that God only allows evil for the sake of a greater good (like someone’s salvation), and that on the Christian view, the purpose of this world isn’t maximal pleasure, but to know God and to prepare us for his coming kingdom.
- And when playing on Offense, the Christian Apologist seeks to offer positive evidence for the truth of Christianity. This would include arguments for God’s existence, as I mentioned earlier, or historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus.
My Love for Apologetics
And as I said last week, apologetics have personally been so helpful in my life. I don’t know what would have happened or what I’d been doing today if my roommate, who was totally unaware of any of the struggles I was going through, randomly encouraged me to look up this apologist named William Lane Craig.
And God has used apologetics to save many people: C.S. Lewis is a striking example. When he was a young man, he wrote a letter to a friend and said “I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.”
Lewis always struggled with religion. As a young man, he was taught that when he prayed, he needed to really mean it. So he would continually analyze his words, trying to figure out if he really meant it. He never was sure he meant it, so he kept starting over. He said that he would have gone crazy if he didn’t give it up.
Later on in life, he would really struggle with the “Argument from Undesign”: Surely, if God made the world, it wouldn’t contain so many defects. He wrote, “Nearly all I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real, I thought grim and meaningless.” One of his friends described him as a “riotously amusing atheist.”
There were a number of turning points for him: he had a number of traumatic events happen in his life, and around the same time he became acquainted with a number of Christian apologists. It began with reading G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. He wrote a letter to a friend later in life and said “the [very] best popular defense of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.” He began to read other authors as well, and he came into contact with a number of Christians at Oxford, such as Tolkien, Dyson, and Coghill, who also began to discuss Christianity with him. And one by one, his intellectual objections to Christianity fell.
One day while riding the bus to Oxford, Lewis felt like he was holding something at bay and trying to shut it out. He felt he could either open the door or keep it shut, and he knew that to open the door “meant the incalculable.” According to one biographer, he finally submitted to God, the most “dejected and reluctant convert” in all of England.
It would be a few more years until he finally accepted Christ, and as you know, he went on to become one of the greatest Christian writers and apologists of all time.
And stories like these are everywhere. Thousands upon thousands have been saved through apologetically-oriented evangelism.
Now, with that said: I want to make sure that apologetics like I described it is Biblical. I don’t want to just say “Well, it helped me so it must be true!”
So the plan tonight is simple: first, I want to convince you that the Bible teaches that all Christians should study apologetics. That will take the bulk of our time. And second, I want encourage you to do so by giving you two reasons why studying apologetics is helpful.
Biblical Justification for Apologetics
So first: should Christians engage in apologetics? I think the answer is Yes. Turn to 1 Peter 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” Peter says to be ready. For what? To give an answer for why you have hope. This would seem to imply that we are supposed to be able to articulate reasons why we have hope. And when you consider that our hope is founded on a number of other beliefs, including the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus, it seems that the Christian is expected to be able to articulate reasons for why he believes that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead.
But perhaps someone could object and say “True, Peter does expect us to be able to give a reason for why we believe. But what kind of reasons should we provide them? What is the reason for our hope? The reason we have hope is because Jesus saved us! The reason we have hope is the Gospel! When people ask why we have hope, Peter wants us to tell them the Gospel, not a list of arguments.” Some Christians hold this position: they say that even though there are logical arguments that would lead one to conclude that God most likely exists, these are primarily just interesting. They shouldn’t ever be used in evangelism, and they don’t really strengthen your faith either. So there’s nothing wrong with them per se, but the Church would be totally fine and healthy if she chose to completely ignore them.
So how should we interpret 1 Peter 3:15? Do reason and arguments and logic have a place in the sharing of the Gospel or not?
I think the answer is yes, and I have two main reasons for thinking so. But first, let me clarify three things:
- I do not by any means think that somebody can come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through arguments alone. As I said, I think God can use arguments to help open somebody’s ears to the Gospel, but it is still the Gospel that saves.
- Also, I don’t think that arguments are the proper foundation for someone’s faith. Romans 8 teaches that the Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. The inner witness of the Spirit is ultimately what confirms our faith and gives us confidence. Arguments don’t give us anywhere near the same level of confidence that the spirit of God can give us. In other words, when the hymn writer says “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart” – Peter would say amen! And when you talk to people about why you’re a Christian, tell them about how through Jesus you have met God and how being in his presence through the Word and prayer and in corporate worship have confirmed the truth of what you believe.
- And if that’s true, you might be asking “Okay, then what’s the point of apologetics if the Spirit gives us confidence?” Here’s why Apologetics works:
- Arguments are helpful because we are rational creatures. When we have two thoughts in our head, we want them to make sense together. And if they can’t be reconciled, we feel the need to change one or the other or both. So if someone strongly believes something that is false, it will cause him to continue believing false things, and it will make it harder to believe true things. For example, if I for whatever reason didn’t believe the earth is round, it would make my study of astronomy a bit harder. I’d start coming to very different conclusions that are quite different from reality.
- And it’s the same thing with Christianity. If someone believes things that aren’t true, like materialism (which says that only things that are physical and measurable exist), it will be hard for him to believe in God. As J. Gresham Machen once said, “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel.” And I think that’s why Paul in 2 Corinthians 10 says “We destroy arguments and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” There are certain false ideas that make it hard to believe in Christianity, and Paul says he wants to destroy them to make it easier to believe. That’s what The Everlasting Man and his friends at Oxford did for Lewis: they destroyed the arguments that stood in the way of his faith.
So back to the question: according to Scripture, do reason and arguments and logic have a role in the task of evangelism, or not? I think the answer is yes. I have two reasons.
The Case for Apologetics
The Word Apologia
First, because of the word that Peter chose to use. The Greek word is apologia, which is where we actually get our English word apologetics. “And be ready always to give an apologia to every man that asketh.” I consulted a number of Greek dictionaries and found that the definitions were all essentially the same:
- “a reasoned statement or argument”
- “the term for making a legal defense in an ancient court.”
- “a reasoned argument (defense) that presents evidence (supplied compelling proof).”
The ancient philosopher Socrates was condemned to death. When he stood on trial, do you know what he gave? He gave an apologia: he gave his defense for why he believed he should live. He addressed his accusers and tried to prove that he was innocent.
Paul also gave his apologia in Acts 22:1. The text says that Paul raised his voice and addressed the crowd of men who wanted him dead: “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my apologia (defense) which I make now unto you.”
In Acts 25 Paul insisted on his rights as a citizen to give an apologia concerning the crime he was accused of.
In Philippians, Paul praises God for the fact that they stood with him in the apologia or defense of the Gospel.
I could go on. But I think it’s far more persuasive to consider examples of men in Scripture who actually lived this out. Turn to Acts 17. We’re going to fly through six different texts.
- Act 17:1-4 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: Act 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days [preached… shared his testimony… spoke with… no] reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Act 17:3 Opening and alleging [ESV: explaining and proving], that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.Act 17:4 And some of them believed! [“Reasons don’t ever persuade people.” – Yes they do!]
- Act 17:16-17 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
- Act 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
- Act 18:19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
- Act 18:24-27 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: [how did he help them?] For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
- Act 24:25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”
- And in addition to these, Luke said he wrote his Gospel so that Theophilus would have certainty about the things he had heard about Jesus.
So it is abundantly clear that it is Biblical to use arguments – to reason with people.
What Kind of Arguments Did They Use?
There were four main arguments they would use:
- They would appeal to nature and its design as an evidence for God’s existence.
- Acts 14: “Nevertheless [God] did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our heats with good and gladness.” Paul’s argument is that the good things of life – the provisions you receive – are evidence of a good and loving God.
- Acts 17: Paul argues with Greek philosophers that since God is a spirit, he must not be any of the gods that they have lining their city. He argues that God exists as the source of life and being, and that he is not the object of human hands.
- They appealed to history and eyewitnesses.
- 1 Corinthians 15: Paul argues on the basis of 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom are still alive.
- In the introduction to Luke, he tells us that his purpose is “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed,” and he does this by taking the testimonies of eyewitnesses and constructing a historical argument.
- They appealed to miracles.
- The Gospel of John: John repeatedly refers to Jesus’ miracles as signs, and Jesus performs these works so that people would believe. They were intended to serve as a reason why they should trust him and believe. In John 14:11, he says to his own disciples “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the works’ sake.”
- In Acts, Luke writes that Jesus appeared and for forty days gave “infallible proof” of his resurrection.
- And they appealed to fulfilled prophecies.
- The Gospel writers do this all the time.
- And Peter does this in Acts 2.
So, given all of these things, I think we can safely say that reason and arguments and logic should and must play a role in evangelism.
Why, then, are there Christians who believe we should distance ourselves from reason? I think the main reason is captured by this quote from Dallas Willard. He said “The powerful though vague and unsubstantiated presumption is that something has been found out that renders a spiritual understanding of reality in the manner of Jesus simply foolish to those who are ‘in the know.’” In other words, we are afraid. We’re scared that there is something out there in the world of reason that we won’t be able to answer.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. All things hold together in Christ Jesus – every square inch of this world belongs to him. No piece of true knowledge will ever contradict the Bible – it can’t! God authored both his Word and his World, and since they are from the same source they won’t conflict. I believe the Bible; and I believe that everything we find in the world, in science, in philosophy, in archaeology, and in every other field – when done properly – will support the truth claims of Scripture.
So far I have argued that the Christian ought to engage in apologetics, and that apologetics is simply the attempt to provide rational reasons for why one ought to believe in God, the resurrection of Jesus, and ultimately, why they should repent and believe in Jesus for salvation from their sins.
And I really want to press this home: the passage we began with, 1 Peter 3, was not addressed to the leaders of the church. Peter did address the church leaders specifically in chapter 5, but he did not put his charge to be ready to answer people with reasons in that section. He includes it in the section to all the Christians.
He tells them: be ready, prepare, to give an answer, an apologia, a reason for the hope that is in you. Be ready to articulate and defend the Gospel. We are to follow the order of Jude, when he exhorted his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
I firmly believe you can do this, and I think it would be very helpful. And I think you would genuinely enjoy it. Let me give you two reasons why you should begin or continue studying Apologetics.
Why Apologetics is Helpful
1. Apologetics Leads People to Christ
First. Apologetics is valuable because it leads people to Christ! So for the sake of your witness to the world, study apologetics. Let me reread from Acts 17.
- Act 17:1-4 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days [preached… shared his testimony… spoke with… no! He] reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging [ESV: explaining and proving], that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed!
Don’t believe the lie that arguments don’t ever persuade people. That simply is not true. Scripture tells us they do; history tells us they do.
2. Apologetics Strengthens the Faith of Believers
Second. Apologetics is not only valuable for the unbeliever; it is helpful for the believers as well. Studying apologetics will give you a greater confidence in your faith, it will give you boldness in evangelism, and it will help you to obey Jesus’ commandment to Love the Lord your God with all your mind. Let me reread from Acts 18.
- Act 18:27-28 And when [Apollos] was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
Apollos’ ability to argue for the truth of Christianity helped the church. There was an interesting study done on the early church. The historian was investigating what kind of impact the early apologists had. And interestingly, he said that one of the biggest impacts was on the church itself. He said that it strengthened the church’s faith and confidence in what they were living and dying for. The Greeks and Romans were ridiculing the Christians, and the apologists helped the Christians to maintain a self-image that they truly were reasonable. And this, he argues, is one of the keys for the evangelistic fervor of the early church: they really believed that the message of Christianity was true. I think we could learn a lesson from the early church to take the intellectual side of our faith seriously. It would help us to love God, to be more confident in evangelism, and to grow stronger in our own personal faith. As William Lane Craig says,
- “American churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste… [As a result,] they know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, and of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.”
- He went on to say: “Sound training in apologetics is one of the keys to fearless evangelism.”
So for the sake of your walk with Christ, and for the sake of your witness to the world, I strongly urge you to study apologetics.
Conclusion: Sanctify the Lord God in your Heart, and Always be Ready
So, as we close tonight, let me ask you to consider 1 Peter 3:15 one more time.
He commands us to “be ready” to give an answer, a defense, an apologia. Are you ready? Are you prepared?
If you are not prepared, maybe it is time you began the work of preparing. Why do you have hope? I know that there are good reasons for you to have hope. But are you ready to articulate them? At the end of the day, this is about the Gospel. Are you ready to articulate and defend the Gospel?
And really, be encouraged: it’s not that difficult. You don’t need to have giant arguments memorized. You don’t need to have everything perfect. Remember the argument from morals that I mentioned at the beginning –
- If God does not exist, then no moral absolutes or duties can exist.
- Moral absolutes and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God does exist.
That’s super short, really easy to remember. I would encourage you to learn more and to study more, but it’s an easy place to start.
I recommend two books on apologetics.
First: William Lane Craig: “On Guard.” On Guard is a great introductory book to apologetics. It’s very well-written, and it was designed with evangelism in mind. In his own words, it’s a book designed to help you fulfill 1 Peter 3:15.
And the second one is by Greg Koukl, called “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.” This book is great, because the focus is actually on how to have good discussions with people.
And most important of all: don’t trust in arguments; don’t trust in your ability to reason or persuade. Trust in God. Believe that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. And as Peter says, as you are preparing to be ready to give and defend the Gospel, sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. Let God be your highest love and your greatest treasure in your heart.