(Please note: For better understanding, please read the previous parts of this study before reading this one.)
Click here to read Part 01 of this study
The attacks against the scriptures come from diverse fields. Acquiring the basic tools of Christian Apologetics helps to defend against those attacks and helps the faith being shaken by the worldly knowledge and philosophies. In spite of the changes in approach, the basic principle of Apologetics remains the same: To defend our faith.
From previous sections in this study, we have already seen that:
- Bible commands us to do Apologetics.
- Jesus has set an example for Apologetics.
- Paul, Peter, Jude, and other Apostles taught and practiced Apologetics.
- Early Church practiced Apologetics.
- Despite the temporary dormancy, Apologetics has evolved itself in the Modern Christian world.
Importance and Practical Value of Apologetics
Christian Apologetics targets 3 broad categories of people.
- Critics: To defend the attacks against the Christian Faith from critics.
- Unbelievers: To help sincere seekers of truth overcome the barriers of doubts preventing the Christian faith.
- Believers: To help the believers to stand strong in the faith by empowering.
The practical values of Apologetics
- Defend accusations from critics against scriptures
In 1 Peter 3:15, the Bible advises us to be able to defend our faith against those who question us about the spiritual truth.
Not only that the criticisms against the Christian faith have received so much media coverage but also the media is very biased against Christianity, and we can see negative opinions of Christianity promoted everywhere.
There have been attacks on Christian faith all throughout history. Every generation of these critics brings up different and new objections. A person who is trained in systematic Apologetics would be able to identify that all these accusations fall into the same set of broader categories. An apologist should be well trained to identify the category of the question/accusation so that he would be able to hold the stand without loss of words.
Instead of avoiding being confronted with questions, a Christian should be able to acquire the basic knowledge to use the conclusions published by numerous scholars in defense of Christian faith. There are several resources out there done by highly qualified and dedicated men to prove that Science is not against the Bible and those can be used against the arguments put across to Christians about the reliability of the Bible.
- Provide reasoning, as an aid for faith, to unbelievers
Fides quaerens intellectum or "faith seeking reasoning" is a theological method stressed by early Christian Apologists such as Augustine (A.D 354-430) and Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109). Anselm articulates it as follows:
I do not reason so that I may believe, but rather, I believe so that I may reason.
The fundamental principle of Christianity is that the starting point is faith. However, the Bible shows that once faith is established, reasoning can aid it to be consistent and unwavering. Apostle Paul prays in Colossians 1:9-10 to help the believers to grow in the knowledge of God through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Hence, though Apologetics cannot create faith in a person, it can aid the maintenance of faith by removing the hindrances of scientific, logical, and human reasoning. Knowledge of Apologetics certainly helps when answering sincere questions from an unbeliever. For this task, an Apologist depends upon the role played by God the Holy Spirit in helping both the Apologist [to communicate the message to people] and the recipient. [to understand and accept the message].
Believers are called to be the light and salt of the world. To achieve this goal, we should be able to witness the Gospel, publicly addressing the concerns of the public. It is our mission to create a countercultural communal presence in the society by advocating that Jesus is Lord over all systems, ideologies, and institutions. We are called to think, even though the world around us does not think or at best thinks in non-Christian categories.
- Remove sincere questions/doubts from believers' minds.
Statistics show 3 out of 4 young Christians abandon their faith while they are in the first few years of their college education. Though they were raised in Christian families, they end up not knowing what to believe and why to believe it. We are losing a generation just because of the incapability to stand against the attacks of the rational world against the faith. Often youth come to the conclusion that if they do not know the answer to a question, then correct or satisfactory answers do not exist.
The young Christians are not the only people facing this challenge. Even experienced Christians are often caught off guard for some questions from the rationalists. In 1 Corinthians 16:13, Paul urges the believers to stand firm in the faith. When doubts arise, the believer becomes like the wave of the sea, tossed and blown by the wind [James 1:6]. That is why Jude encouraged the church in his epistle (verse 22) to be merciful to those who doubt. Bible advises us to be aware of the enemy’s tactics and inducing doubt in a believer’s heart is certainly one of the tactics of the devil to deprive him of the faith.
If a believer has some basic knowledge about the challenges from the errant movements and is prepared for facing them, his/her own faith becomes stronger. Apologetics comes handy in this aspect. The better a person knows about his own faith, the more effective will he be able to share it. This also helps to prevent doctrinal apostasy in the Church and to answer the false claims of cults and religions.
Colossians 2:2-3 urges the believers to have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom have hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
What Apologetics is not
- Apologetics is not for compromising with the attacks towards faith: The very essence of Apologetics is non-compromise. Compromising to find a middle position is a slow poison to kill the truth and is more harmful than the fierce attack against the Christian faith. Reconciling the theory of evolution and creationism is a vain attempt since both theories differ in the fundamentals of the presupposition levels itself. There are no "neutral" assumptions from which Christian advocating creationism can reason with a non-Christian advocating evolution. Attempts to synthesize between evolution and creationism (which is otherwise called Theistic Evolution) ends in direct or indirect denial of the Genesis creation account.
- Apologetics is not to “help” Bible for self-defense: Apologetics is an activity that is more of a man-ward character than directed toward the Bible. Though Apologetics is for addressing the reliability of the Bible, it is not to defend the Bible as if it were incapable of self-defense. Rather, this field of theology is meant to help to preserve the faith of those who are distressed due to their questions or doubts. The scriptures need not be defended by man since it has overcome several assaults throughout history. Apologetics is not helping the Bible but helping a true inquirer.
- Apologetics is not to “prove” that the Bible is the word of God: Since Apologetics is a man-ward activity, it can never be used to prove that the Bible is the Word of God. Accepting the Bible as word of God is an act of faith by a believer. The purpose of Apologetics is just to direct the inquirer to see that the attacks towards the Bible are not valid. It even can help a person to understand that science actually does not contradict the Bible. This will be a supportive action for one to understand and believe in the biblical truth.
- Apologetics is not for intellectually forcing unbelievers to submission: Creation of faith in an unbeliever is not the aim of Apologetics. Nor does it aid in any way to create faith in a skeptical mind by forcing that person intellectually. The apologist seeks to remove the intellectual thorns and emotional rocks that prevent people from finding the true path to God. This removal of barriers of human knowledge may aid a doubting person to make the leap of faith and help a believer to be deeper in his faith.
- Apologetics is not to meet the rationalist demands for faith: Christian Apologetics is NOT for those people who seek rational reasons to believe in a statement. Though the rational content of Christian faith is fully logical, accurate, and reliable, no amount of evidence is enough to make a person claiming rationalist to believe against his will. Interestingly, the demands placed by rationalists give an Apologist the standards with which he can evaluate the apologetic statements.
- Apologetics is not for winning the debates on religions: Apologetics is to establish the truths in the scriptures, not to get carried away by the feeling of victorious debates. Bible warns us against entering into unnecessary and time-wasting debates. It is to be remembered that debates are not the strategy to discuss spiritual truths. The impact of an Apologetic presentation is reduced if the presenter allows a willful debater to take the control away for mockery, sarcasm, and other deceptions.
- Apologetics is not to be used as an alternative to evangelization: Proclaiming the Gospel will bear fruit even if there is much unbelief in the air. Apologetics is neither to pave the way for conveying Gospel, by “proving” the divinity of the Bible. The power of the Gospel works miracles in people’s hearts and is capable of turning a person a believer. However, if he asks questions, Apologetics can help in removing the barriers of doubts from a true seeker, so that he can find his way to the faith. Only the Holy Spirit can cure the unbelief of a person and Apologetics is to be used only after the Holy Spirit’s intervention in a person to open his heart for the spiritual truths.
- Apologetics is not a treatment of deliberate disbelief: Apologetics is only a cure for sincere doubts not for deliberate disbelief. Faith comes from a free will and no person can induce faith to a person by rational argumentations or demonstrating evidence.
- Apologetics is not scientism: Scientism is the belief that only science can prove a statement. This is not true and Apologetics does not try to explain everything based on current science. Rather, it uses science where it is a scientific subject, history where it is a historical subject, logic where it is a logical subject, and faith where is a matter that can be understood only by faith
Criticisms against Christian Apologetics
Many Christians oppose the idea of Apologetics for various reasons. Main criticisms against Christian Apologetics are analyzed below:
- Argument #1: Bible does not need to be defended since it is alive and powerful (Hebrews. 4:12)
Response: Apologetics is not for defending the Bible or helping the Bible to prove its reliability. This is a man-ward activity where a human is being helped to understand the infallibility of the Bible.
- Argument #2: Human wisdom cannot understand God (1 Corinthians 1:12) or Natural humanity cannot understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2: 14)
Response: This refers to the human depravity and foolish rejection of the message of the cross, and not an argument against providing proof for the unbeliever. Jesus has provided proof to an unbelieving Thomas that he is alive. Also Acts 1:3 says, that Jesus gave convincing proof to so many people that he was alive before he was taken to heaven. Indeed, even though humankind knows clearly through human reason that God exists, nevertheless, he 'suppresses' or 'holds down' this truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1: 18). Apologetics aids not in receiving but in perceiving. No man can be forced to believe against his will using Apologetics. The problem is not that unbelievers are not aware of God's existence. They do not want to accept him because of the moral consequences this would have on their sinful lives. The apologist’s role is to make this awareness in a human heart. Only God can induce faith in a person.
- Argument #3: Without faith, no man can please God (Hebrews 11:6)
Response: This does not mean that reasoning displeases God. Rather, 1 Peter 3:15 clearly urges us to use our reasoning to aid in the fight against the doubts that can jeopardize the faith in a later stage. There have been several instances in the Bible where God himself has given evidence or proof about His sovereignty. (Romans 1:20, Acts 1:3). Moreover, Apologetics is not for somebody to please God, Rather it is for removing the barriers of faith.
- Argument #4: Jesus refused to give signs to evil people (Luke 16:31) and hence we should not answer a fool (Psalms 14:1) according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4).
Response: Apologetics is not for winning debates with Atheists. It is a tool for a sincere truth seeker rather than a blind arguer. Jesus has offered his miracles as proof of his messianic authenticity. (Matthew. 11:4-5, Mark 2:10-11, Acts 2:22) although he refused to do a miracle to satisfy King Herod’s curiosity (Luke 23:8) or to prove the unbelievers to made a mockery on him while he was in the cross (Luke 23:35)Proverbs 26:4 has to be read in concordance with the next verse, 5. This passage is advising us to answer a fool wisely so that he understands his folly. If we do not do this wisely, we will make ourselves fools before him. We have to be very wise to choose how and where we choose to confront false ideas.
- Argument #5: Reason is useless in religious matters and the existence of God cannot be proven by human reason.
Response: Fideism argues that reason is of no use in matters that deal with God. One must simply believe. Yes, only faith can provide eternal salvation and Apologetics cannot induce faith. However, God does not prohibit reasoning. It is the free will of the human to accept or reject God. God would not insult the reason he gave us by asking us to ignore it in such important matters as our beliefs about him. Logic by itself cannot help us to know whether anything exists. However, human reasoning can give sufficient evidence (provide good reasons) for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Furthermore, Apologetics is not a replacement for Gospel. It simply is a stepping stone to find one’s way to the truth.
Behind the curtains, the major reasons of opposition to Apologetics are of the following:
- Compromising with World (Dilution)
People who believe in error-prone Bible oppose Christian Apologetics. While the critics of the scriptures believe this 100% it is a painful fact that even plenty of Christians belong in this category. These spiritual compromisers want the best of both the worlds, consequently become hostile when someone defends the Bible.
Pseudo Apologists who have some knowledge in science or humanities but little training in Apologists also often tend to make this compromise when they find the personal system of Apologetics they built up is not sufficient. Moreover, due to personal prejudices and ignorance, they try to impose their erroneous views on others especially when they come in contact with a true Apologist.
- Distrust of Reason (Fideism)
People who believe in Fideism (Human reason is useless in the spiritual realm) also oppose Apologetics since they believe faith and reason will never go together. This type of opposition comes from ignorance of the fact that Christianity has an integrated approach to the truth where faith and reason go hand in hand in many realms of spiritual truth. So we cannot think that reason is for the natural world while faith is for the spiritual world.
- Fear of attacks (Escapism)
Some people prefer to run away from the attacks against their faith since they find themselves not equipped to face them and consequently oppose the idea of Apologetics because of prejudice. Fleeing from doubts is harmful to self and others since, at some point in time, these people will susceptible to the fall from the faith due to the loss of mental peace. Though Apologetics is a bit hard to study and master, one should be courageous enough to make an honest effort on it for the defense of one’s faith.
- Willful blind opposition (Defiance)
The blind and willful opposition to Apologetics is mainly 2 types:
- Stubborn defiance: Apologists often face much hostility from people who are willfully and stubbornly opposing Apologetics. It would be a vain attempt and a waste of time to try to convince them of the truth since they are not sincere inquirers. Another type of stubborn defiance to Apologetics is from Christians who are insensitive to other’s spiritual problems and doubts. These people are hardened towards others who face real-world problems and dilemmas. These people also may not listen to Apologists.
- Ignorant defiance: This type of defiance comes from those who never had doubts and those who never faced any attacks on their faith. People with ignorant defiance can be engaged in mutual discussions. Such people may come to the knowledge that their opposition is ill-founded if an Apologist reasonably explains the facts. Just because they never had doubts or were never attacked, it is not fair to assume that others are equally safe or insulated.
Apologetics Vs Polemics
Polemics is the area of theology which deals with the attacks to true faith from within the Church, whereas Apologetics deals with the attacks from the outside world. The attacks from within the Church are in two forms.
- Distorted Bible Interpretation: The perverted doctrines existed within the Christian realm right from the era of the New Testament. Back then, the prominent among these type of polemics were Gnostics [taught intuitive knowledge as a way of salvation], Nestorians [emphasized the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus], Ebionites [insisted on the necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites], Pelagians [taught Mortal Will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid.], Arians [believed that ‘God the Son’ in the Holy Trinity is subordinate to ‘God the Father’ in trinity] etc. The modern forms of this type of attacks include the radicals, the ecumenists, the Christian New Age movements, those who teach salvation through baptism, those who attack the person of Christ (Smithism/Poonenism), and those who Hinduize Christian doctrines (Prajapati Proponents, Christian Vedantists), etc.
- False cults who proclaim they are the true Christians: Cults are groups that attack the true fundamentals of the Christian faith. Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, etc. are examples of this type of Polemics. The number and types of this attack are increasing day by day and the leaven of their erroneous teachings is spreading very fast.
The ultimate purpose of both Apologetics and Polemics is to refute error and to establish the truth. Hence a true Apologist should be an expert in both Apologetics and Polemics.
(To be continued…)
Click Here to view Part 03 of this study
Christian Apologetics by Johnson Philip and Saneesh Cherian