Christian Apologetics - A Study: Part 01

January 10, 2012 | Pr. Finny Samuel |

Etymology and Semantics

The word “Apologetics” is derived from the Greek word “Apologia” which means ‘To speak in one's defense’. The word meaning for the English word 'Apologetics' can be defined as ‘constituting a formal defense or justification of a theory or doctrine’.

This word has no relation with the English word ‘Apology’ even though ‘Apology’ was also derived from the same or similar origin (Latin - Apologia).  Interestingly, up until the 18th century, even the English sense of the word ‘Apology’ was pure ‘Self Justification’ which is similar to the meaning of the root word from Greek.   Later in 1855, it was yielded to a meaning of “frank expression of regret for something done wrong.”

Christian Apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defending the objections to the fact that Christianity is believable.

Trinity Graduate School of Apologetics and Theology in India has developed the course in Christian Apologetics integrating the best from all the schools of thought in this area.  This special approach is called “Integrated Apologetics”.

Simply put, Apologetics is giving a reason for why you believe in what you believe. It is not for arguments and debates with non-believers or ‘helping’ Christianity to become popular, but is mainly for knowing that there are definitive and satisfactory answers to the criticisms against the Bible, by the so-called radical philosophers or critics.

The Biblical Motivation for Apologetics

Apologetics has clear biblical support and has been advised and demonstrated in several areas in the Holy Bible.

1.    Definition of Apologetics in the Bible
In II Corinthians. 10: 3 - 6, Apostle Paul reminds the church that our war is to demolish sophistries and arrogances against the knowledge of God, and we need to capture the human thoughts for the obedience to Christ.

The arrogance against the knowledge of God mentioned by Paul is essentially a war between two types of knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul says that knowledge brings arrogance. So the worldly knowledge that can cause arrogance against the divine knowledge of God is an enemy in the spiritual warfare of a believer. Apologetics addresses this issue.

2.    Apologetics in the Old Testament
Several incidents in the Old Testament show that God himself has given proper responses both in terms of words and actions to those people who had either criticized or doubted the existence or sovereignty of God of Israel.

Some examples of Wrath of God to prove his sovereignty

  •     Among Israelites when they created golden calf while Moses was with God. (Exodus 32 and 33)
  •     To Korah and his followers when they questioned God and Moses. (Numbers 16)
  •     To Jezebel and her pagan priests by the test of sacrifice in Mount Carmel by Elijah. (1 Kings 18)
  •     To Pagan nations - through the God-given victories of Israel.

Some examples of God’s gentle answers to Man’s genuine questions/doubts

Demonstrations given to

  •     Moses to prove His sovereignty (Exodus 3,4)
  •     Gideon to prove His authenticity (Judges 6)
  •     Daniel’s manager to prove His omnipotence. (Daniel 1)

Job’s arguments with his friends in the Book of Job, where he tries to convince his friends that Jehovah cannot be compared to Pagan Gods, are another example of Apologetic dialogues in the Old Testament.

Many of David’s psalms are apologetic in nature, where he tries to explain the mighty power of God of Israel to the unbelievers.

3.    Apologetics by Jesus
Jesus and his biographers have affirmed multiple times that the miracles done by Jesus were to demonstrate who he was to the world (Matthew 11: 2 – 5). When he was questioned by the jury of the high priest, Jesus gave evidence to his claims by referring to the Law of Moses, writing of prophets, and the psalms (Mark 14: 16, 62 Luke 24: 44 – 45). He also taught his disciples that the miracle of his resurrection will be proof to the non-believers who are asking for signs. (John 2: 19-21, Matthew 12: 39, 40) After his resurrection, he explained the scriptures and prophecies about his victory on death to the two people who were traveling to the village of Emmaus.  (Luke 24: 25, 26) Jesus also debated with the devil quoting the scriptures when he was tempted. (Matthew 4: 11-11)

4.    Apologetics in the New Testament
Apostles in the New Testament have advised the church multiple times to be ready for defending their faith.

Apostle Jude in his epistle advises to contend earnestly for the faith we have (Verse 3) and to show mercy for those who doubt (Verse 22). Apologetics does exactly this mercy and love by helping the people who have questions about the Bible, so that their faith is strengthened.

Apostle Peter in his 1st epistle (1 Peter 3:15) asks the church to be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks to give an account for the hope Jesus has given us. He also reminds us to do this with reverence and gentleness.

Apostle Paul has shown the importance of Apologetics through his words and deeds. When he preached to the Greeks in Mars Hill, (Acts 17: 22-34), he quoted their scholars and used the context to convey the gospel to them. He also used this tactic to Jews on several occasions (Acts 17: 1 – 3).  Paul reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. (Acts 18: 1 – 4). From Philippians 1: 7, 16 we can understand that Paul was confident that he was appointed for the defense of the gospel. He also affirms in Romans 1:20 that the study of nature is enough to confirm the existence of an omnipotent God.

In several of Paul’s epistles, we can see that he is talking very strongly against the false teachers and helping the believers to understand and be firmly rooted in what they believe.

At the same time, Paul also warns the Apologists against unnecessary debates and arguments. (Titus 3:9). Jesus also warns us not to get into time-wasting arguments (Matthew 7:6).

5.    Biblical methodologies of Apologetics.
Bible encourages sincere and honest reasoning and investigation even though faith and belief are given the most stress. In the above sections we have seen that God Himself giving evidences to lead humanity to faith. We can see multiple approaches for apologetics in the Bible

Evidential Approach
This approach gives emphasis on giving evidence for the Christian faith, whether historical or logical or signs.

God has taken this approach when He

  • Gave signs and miracles to Moses before sending him to Pharaoh.
  • Granted the request of Gideon for a sign.
  • Granted the request of Elisha to open his servant’s eyes to see God’s Army around Elisha to protect them.
  • Gave sign to Hezekiah to confirm Lord’s words.
  • Did signs and miracles through Jesus and Apostles.

Experimental Approach
This is an “investigate and conclude” approach when a theory is subjected to experiments and proved based on the outcome of those tests. Examples of this approach in Bible include:

  •     Daniel’s request to his manager to test him for 10 days by just giving pulse to eat and water to drink and at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat.
  •     Jesus allowing the “doubting” Thomas to examine Him physically so that Thomas would see and touch the wounds of Jesus to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead

Biblical advices to Apologists

  •     An apologist should converse with reverence, gentleness, [1 Peter 3:15] mercy and love (Jude 1: 3, 22)
  •     An apologist should never indulge in unnecessary arguments and time-wasting debates (Titus 3:9, Mathew 7:6) and he must be able to explain himself with patience (2 Timothy 2:24)
  •     An apologist should have firm faith and confidence in his own beliefs and the scriptures. (Titus 1:9)

Historical background of Apologetics

Biblical Apologetics is as old as the Bible itself. As seen in previous sections, both Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible have profound illustrations of this field in theology.

Apologetics among Jewish Fathers
Bible was subjected to attack right from the Old Testament era since most of the pagans were followers of Universalistic theology which teaches the salvation of everyone in the world irrespective of his religion.  Consequently, Jewish Fathers and leaders had to face a lot of opposition from the universalistic people.

Many of the Jewish Rabbis and scholars produced countless works against the critical books by universalists that attack the Old Testament. Contra Apion (Against Apion), written by Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100 CE), is a wide-ranging defense of Judaism against many charges laid against Judaism at that time. Josephus was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who had fought the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War of 66–73 as a Jewish military leader in Galilee.

One can trace Jewish apologetic literature as far as the Jewish philosopher Aristobulus of Paneas (third or second century) who is the author of the Jewish apologetic work addressed to Ptolemy VI Philometor. However, some scholars opine that the works of Demetrius the chronographer (3rd century BC) evidences the style of questions and solutions typical of this genre.

Apologetics among Church Fathers
Many heretics, such as Gnostics [who taught intuitive knowledge as a way of salvation], Nestorians [who emphasized the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus], Ebionites [who insisted on the necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites], Pelagians [who taught Mortal Will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid.], and Arians [who believed that ‘God the Son’ in the Holy Trinity is subordinate to ‘God the Father’ in trinity] in the era of early Church produced a large number of voluminous books to spread the doctrines to hold the Bible and pagan philosophies simultaneously. Both rebel Christians and non-Christian critics launched their triads against the Bible, Jesus Christ, and Christianity questioning the New Testament insistence of the doctrines of the Bible, Christ, Grace, and Faith.  Several church councils condemned the heresies as a way to suppress the false teachings.

Porphyry of Tyre [AD 234–c. 305], a Neo-Platonist philosopher and a rationalist writer who authored a 15 volume work entitled “Adversus Christianos” (Against the Christians) was one among the prominent heretics during that period of time. However, the church Fathers courageously combated Porphyry and other similar philosophers and produced numerous volumes of Christian Apologetics and Polemics.

Early Christian Apologists (apart from the Apostolic Fathers) include Justin Martyr (103 – 165) who is known as Saint Justin, Origen Adamantius (184/5–253/4), Saint Irenaeus (2nd century - 202), Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) who is known as St. Augustine, and Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) who was a mathematician, physicist, inventor, and a Catholic philosopher.

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is probably the earliest example of Christian apologetic writing. The Greek writer and recipient are not otherwise known, but the language and other textual evidence date the work to the late 2nd century; some assume an even earlier date and count it among the works of Apostolic Fathers.

Modern Apologetics
During the time when the Roman Catholic Church ruled the Christian world with an iron rod, the Church found it easier and better just to kill the dissenters rather than reasoning and arguing with them. However, this led to the rejection of Christianity and the rise of a host of anti-Christian thinkers, philosophies, and movements. Thus, in this era, [1000 years after 5th century] Christian Apologetics and polemics was dormant.

Creationism and birth of Modern Apologetics
The idea of creationism was questioned by many people when Charles Darwin proposed the hypothesis of evolution as a theory of science. Some European and American evolutionists were successful in persuading prominent theologians to believe in theory of evolution. Germany was fertile in developing this "atheist theologians" since Government funding was liberal there and they had the financial muscle-power to print and spread their ideas worldwide.

Thus, an era of compromise has started since the acceptance of evolution can win the respect from theological infidels and acceptance of creationism can win the confidence from evangelical Christians. However, in the first decade of the 20th century, a small remnant of conservative Christians in the USA, took a strong stand to publish 12 volumes of a book named “The Fundamentals” which defended the idea of creation.

In the fifties, some American evangelical Christians, who realized the fact that compromise is a poison that kills truth, started writing aggressively on themes defending historical and scientific reliability of the Bible, which helped to start a modern interest in Apologetics and Creationism.

Creationism in India
Since the Indian evangelical theology was mostly a copy of the Western theology, the Indian theologians also avoided defending the Biblical doctrine of Creation for a long period of time. However, the separatist churches like Brethren, Pentecostals, and Fundamental Baptists were better than others in keeping the high view of the Bible, though they were capitulated to compromise interpretations like Theistic Evolution and Gap Theory up to an extend.

Gap creationism (also known as ruin-restoration creationism, restoration creationism, or "The Gap Theory") is a form of Old Earth creationism that teaches that there was a gap of time [several thousand years] between two distinct creations in the first and the second verses of Genesis.  This helped religious geologists to create reconciliation between science and Bible since the newly established science of geology had determined that the Earth was far older than a literal interpretation of Genesis and the Bible-based Flood geology would allow. With the 1917 edition of Scofield Reference Bible, authored by American Bible student Cyrus I. Scofield, this idea gained widespread attention.

In the early sixties, Professor H. Enoch, through his book “Evolution or Creation” became the first Indian who took a bold stand against the theory of Evolution. In this period, with the exception of a Pentecostal magazine named ‘Cross and Crown’ by Dr. Thomas Mathews from Udaipur, almost no evangelical magazines in India was willing to publish articles about creationism.

After the 1970s, the following movements were formed in India for creationism.

  • Movement: Fellowship of Christian Men of Science (FOCMOS) later renamed to Creation Scientists Fellowship Of India (CSFI) – Currently Defunct
    Founder: A group of Christian Scientists.
    Origin: 1970s
  • Movement: Creation Research later renamed to Calvin School of Apologetics and Theology     
    Founder: Dr. Johnson C Philip
    Origin: 1970
  • Movement: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) – Teaches Gap Creationism     
    Founder: Dr. Ravi Zacharias     
    Origin: 1984

Following names are also noteworthy in the field of Apologetics in India:
A. K. Skariah, Dr. Johnson C. Philip, Dr. Johnson George, Dr.Ezhamkulam Samkutty,  J. C. Dev, E. S. Thomas,  Paul K. Ramakrishnan.

Winnings of Modern Apologetics
After a period of dormancy, restarting in the 20th century, Christian apologetics continues to the current day in a wide variety of forms.  The vocal and aggressive works of Modern Apologists, which include thousands of apologetic books, magazines, and articles, have influenced theologians, thinkers, and Bible teachers all over the world and diminished the influence of radical and rationalists. With the technical advancement and popularity of computers and the Internet, millions of resources are available to address the current issues and the intellectual struggles of those who are at risk in the Christian society. This movement has helped to restore a lot of doubting people to faith and strengthen the faith of many believers.

(To be continued...)
Click Here to view Part 02 of this study

Referenced Resources:
oxforddictionaries.com
etymonline.com
carm.org
bethinking.org
Christian Apologetics by Johnson Philip and Saneesh Cherian

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