Thursday, August 20, 2015
What is the Starting Point for Christian Apologetics?
There is little disputing the fact that Christian apologetics has become a very complex and even intimidating subject. If you were to listen to the advice of some apologists, you may be led to believe that defending the faith requires graduate level training in secular philosophy. While it may be true that an education in philosophy may benefit the apologist in many ways, it is an extreme exaggeration to think that such training is essential to effectively engage in biblical apologetics. Since the chief aspiration of Christian apologetics is to defend Christian belief and practice and to refute those who contradict Christian belief and practice, it only stands to reason that every Christian, to one degree or another, ought to be able to engage in the sort of Christian apologetic that is faithful to Christian Scripture.
Contrary to the claims of some apologists, biblical apologetics does not begin with advanced or even basic training in secular philosophy. To the contrary, biblical apologetics begins with God’s Word. And since an understanding of God’s Word is impossible apart from genuine faith, we can claim that biblical apologetics begins with faith. And we all understand that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Hence, a heart that is filled with the gift of faith as a result of the preaching of the gospel is the only foundation known to biblical apologetics. If you build your apologetic upon any other ground, it is doomed to fail sooner or later.
So then, apologetic method must be grounded in biblical truth and can only be exercise faithfully by someone who has experienced the faith that only God grants. Apologetics does not begin with autonomous human reason or historical evidence or empirical proof. It begins with the impartation of divine faith in the heart of the individual and is anchored indelibly to the divine revelation of Scripture.
Peter’s instructions to every believer is much more simple than most contemporary apologists wish to admit. In his famous apologetic imperative, Peter uses the word logos. Many apologists imply, perhaps without realizing it in many cases, that Peter had Aristotelian logic in mind when he employed this word. But a review of how that word is used elsewhere in the NT tells us that such an interpretation is highly unlikely and, most likely, is an anachronism read back into the text by contemporary apologists who are far too influenced by Aristotle themselves. Jesus uses this word in Matt. 5:32 when he talks about a reason for divorce. Peter uses it with Cornelius when he wants to him to give him a reason for why he has sent for him. (Acts 10:29) The problem is that most contemporary apologists are far more attracted to and interested in philosophy than they are biblical exegesis and systematic theology. Most contemporary apologists miss the fact that Peter is quoting Isaiah 8:12, and not Aristotle.
Peter’s idea of apologetics begins with sanctifying Christ in our hearts, not with Platonic philosophy. This sanctification cannot occur apart from genuine, God-given faith. The cursory manner in which traditional apologists allude to this verse, one would think that Peter was writing to an elite group of professional PhD’s who composed The First Hellenistic Evangelical Philosophical Society. [McManis: Biblical Apologetics] But Peter is concerned about the everyday common disciple of Jesus Christ, not highly trained philosophers.
Many apologists claim that Peter’s text had the existence of God in view and set out their program to teach others how to defend the claim that God exists. But that is far from what Peter wrote. In plain enough Greek Peter said that it was the τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος tes en humin elpidos. The hope that is in you. We are to be prepared to provide the unbeliever a reason for the hope of Christ that is in us. What is that reason? The reason is the soul-converting power of the gospel, the life-giving force of the good news of Jesus Christ. Peter did not say that we have to be skilled in formulating the best categorical syllogisms in defense of the claim that God exists. He also did not say that we had to provide evidence, historical or otherwise, or even arguments, that satisfy the challenges of unbelieving skeptics. That assertion is made by contemporary Christian apologists who are somewhat mistaken in their ideas or far too much enamored by intellectual lust and may even have become seduced by secular philosophy.
Christian apologetics, biblical apologetics then, is a defense of Christian belief that is performed by a heart converted by God and filled with divine faith. To defend the Bible is ultimately simply to present it as it is – to present its truth, beauty, and goodness, its application to present-day hearers, and of course, its rationale. When that message is preached so that people understand, the Bible defends itself. [Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God] The starting point for Christian apologetics then is the Word of God, the Bible. The entire defense of Christian theism hinges upon the Bible. If the Bible fails, Christianity fails. If you cannot defend the Bible, you cannot defend Christianity. If you cannot defend the Bible, you cannot defend Christ. Is it any wonder that every attack leveled against the Christian faith today is levelled against the Bible, its reliability and trustworthiness, its credibility. Doctrine matters after all, despite those silly, naïve pastors who for years have had a misplaced emphasis on relationships even to the outright belittling of Scripture and theology. Without the Bible, Christianity becomes indefensible, powerless, and irrelevant. There is no defense for such a system.