Friday, March 15, 2013

The Sine Qua Non of Biblical Apologetics

I am going to argue that Biblical Apologetics is characterized by a certain set of traits, the absence of which means the absence of the project itself. In other words, as one looks at the class of “biblical apologetics, one must ask what are those “class defining attributes” that distinguish it from other classes. All apologetic methods claim to be biblical, but in one way or another, they are missing some of those essential characteristics necessary to satisfy this definition.

First, I will seek to demonstrate that the definition of apologetics along with the method and manner in which we carry out this definition are all unambiguously informed by Scripture. A straightforward exegetical approach to the discipline of apologetics reveals all we need to know in order to understand the discipline, the method we must employ, and the manner in which we are to behave in order to accomplish the discipline in a way that honors God and extends the highest degree of respect to divine revelation. I would be remiss if I did not also disclose that such an approach presupposes the right use of the laws of human thought. Exegesis always involves deductive and inductive methods of approaching the text.

The truth of God, having been revealed to us in Scripture, warrants the utmost veneration. The discipline of Biblical Apologetics has a deep and profound duty to maintain an inflexible, inexorable, unyielding loyalty to Scripture. After all, the Christian worldview is a paradigm. As such, it stands or falls as a whole. In other words, it cannot be discontinuous. Biblical apologetics rests on the foundation of one message, one way of looking at reality, one way of knowing, and one way of living. Departure from this “one way” even in the smallest gradation translates to an indiscriminate retreat from Biblical Apologetics as an enterprise and exchanges it for something less than God’s remedy for how we need to respond to the unbeliever in a fallen world.

The Right Definition – Response

In order to understand the essential components of biblical apologetics, one must first acquire an accurate definition of the term. Moreover, since the term we aspire to understand is the same one used by several writers in numerous documents of the Greek New Testament, it only follows that we must confine our investigation to the documents of the GNT. After all, central fallacies arise at precisely these stages. The failure to establish a working definition of a term lends itself to unnecessary confusion and in many cases, frustration. It does little to advance the cause of truth.

The Greek words apologia and apologeomai appear 18 times in the Greek NT. Luke uses the terms 10 times and in every single instance it is in the context of a formal religious or civil trial with perhaps one exception(Lu. 12:11; 21:14; Acts 19:33; 22:1; 24:10; 25:8; 25:16; 26:1; 26:2; 26:24). In each of these cases, the idea is that a person has been charged or indicted and they are responding, or answering the indictment or charges. Paul uses the term twice to defend his ministry against false charges (I Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 12:19). He uses it on three occasions to reference his trial (Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16). He uses it once to refer to how the Gentile conscience defends its behavior in terms of moral practice (Rom. 2:15), and once to refer the Corinthian repentance and how that served to defend charges against the genuineness of their faith (2 Cor. 7:11). Peter uses the term in his command to all Christians to always be prepared to respond to those who would demand an account of us for the reason of the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15).

It seems clear then that Christian apologetics is a response to something. In most cases, it was a response to a formal charge or indictment. However, it would be an overstatement to say that this is the predominant picture that should come to mind. On the other hand, it would also be inaccurate to describe Christian apologetics as primarily a response to an inquiry, or a simple question. While one must accept that this situation would rightly be classes as apologetics, it is not exactly the situation described in most instances in Scripture.

The Right Method – Faith Informed Reason, Revelational Epistemology, Biblical Authority.

The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, contain several examples of NT Apologetics. You do not need to look any further than Scripture in order to identify the apologetic model that Christians ought to employ. The very first apologetic is issued in Acts 4:8. The charge came in response to the preaching of Jesus. The religious leaders arrested Peter and John. Peter stood up and preached Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified, and whom God had raised from the dead. He reasons from Scripture to support His argument. Peter began with Christ, reasoned from Scripture, and ended with Christ. The result was a threat of serious bodily harm.

The next apologetic example is recorded in Acts 5:17-42. The apostles answer the council’s charge by thundering that they must obey God rather than men. Peter once again points to the resurrection, proclaims that they are witnesses of these things, and also confirms that the Holy Spirit is witness to these events. Christians have both the testimony of Scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit that the truth claims of the Christian worldview are actually true. This is how Peter and the apostles reasoned. In contemporary times, we are told, even by Christian apologists, that such reasoning amounts to little more than fideism.

Another example of NT Apologetics is located in Acts 6:8-7:60. Stephen is falsely accused by men who argued with him but were unable to gain any ground due to the soundness of his argumentation. Stephen reasoned from Scripture. Stephen stands up to defend himself at the council and he immediately begins with God, and from the start he reasons from Scripture.

One more example concerns perhaps the most popular apologetic presentations of all. In fact, this address is so popular that it so overshadows the others in such a way that I can hardly think of anyone even considering the apologetic nature of these events. Yet it is clear that each of these historical events were apologetics through and through. In Acts 17, Paul gives the most memorable of all the apologetic episodes ever recorded. And as one might image, Paul too, begins with God and reasons from Scripture throughout his defense of the Christian system of truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The apostles along with Christ began with the supreme authority of the Divine in every encounter. Even when Paul gave his personal testimony of conversion, he always pointed men up to the supreme rule of God, and included that Lordship and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Upon the rock foundation of God’s word the Christian is able to demonstrate the foolishness of unbelieving thought while at the same time vindicate the greatness of divine wisdom.” [Butler, The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence]

Rational argumentation for the existence of God is only valuable when used in the context of reasoning from Scripture. Otherwise, all one can show is that some finite god exists and that he or she created the universe and all that is in it. The ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments do nothing to establish the exclusive truth of Christian theism. For that, we must turn to revelation. Rational argumentation rests upon foundationalism, a system that does not make sin an essential epistemological category. A system that fails to recognize sin as such, also fails to take Paul seriously.

Apologetic method must rest upon the bold foundation of the sufficiency of Scripture. What does it say about the bride of Christ when she surrenders such sacred ground? Not only has the church surrendered the doctrine of sufficiency to psychological integration, and to the pragmatism of programs and a self-help message that is far more psychological that salvific, now it seems she wishes to give up her defense of Scripture in exchange for philosophical speculation anchored in a foundationalism that takes Paul nor any other Scripture seriously in terms of the epistemological aspects of sin. In other words, to concede to any method other than a presuppositional one necessarily affirms that which is should seek to refute; the validity of autonomous human reason.

The Right Manner – Christian Charity     

It is more than just ironic that Christian blogs, websites, and even apologists themselves can resort to name-calling, pejorative language, insults, and the like all in the name of defending the message of Christian hope and love. Still, the sad truth is that this behavior is more common than many realize. Christian apologetics begins when an unbeliever responds to the Christian message. The unbeliever’s response should always be met in the light of the character that the Christian ethic demands. Paul instructs Titus not to speak in a way that would harm or injure they’re reputation, to malign no one. Paul tells him to speak in a way that is peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:2). The “men” Paul references are clearly unbelievers, given the context of this passage. The same apostle instructed the church at Colossae, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).

Peter could not have been more translucent when he said that our apologetic must be given with “gentleness and reverence.” This word gentleness is akin to our modern idea of courtesy. We must take a gentle or humble attitude toward those who would make such demands of us. The word for reverence carries the idea of profound respect. It is as much about the manner of our answer as it is about power of our argument. While prophets, apostles, and our Lord issued rebukes that were stinging and appropriate, our own disposition must be dissimilar. We are not prophets, apostles, or the Lord. They belonged to a much different class of authority while we are all on the same playing field. Stern rebukes issued by these men in divine narrative do not serve as legitimate excuses for us to engage in rude and uncharitable argumentation in our apologetic. A biblical apologetic, to be biblical, must rightly define the term apologetics, must reason rightly from Scripture, and it must be laced with Christian charity top to bottom.

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