Apologetics is the study of how to give an answer for your faith.
This is the first of a 3-part introductory course on Biblical Apologetics and Worldview. Here are the articles in this series:
- Apologetics 101 – How do we give an answer?
- Apologetics 102 – Why trust the Bible?
- Apologetics 103 – How do we form a Christian Worldview?
This first article is focused on the “how” of giving an answer for our faith, also called apologetics. This course will be focused on giving a thorough beginner-level introduction to the study of Christian apologetics.
The goal of this article is to establish a Biblical method of apologetics by considering what the Bible has to say about the topic.
My main thesis is that there is a Biblical and un-Biblical way of doing apologetics (defending the faith), and Christians should aspire to be Biblical in their apologetic method. Many of the common (supposedly Christian) apologetic methods out there today are sub-Biblical and even un- or anti-Biblical. However, God’s word doesn’t just give us good ideas for the task, but is also defines how we are to do it and is sufficient to accomplish it. We’ll be looking primarily at 2 major passages in 1 Peter 3 and Romans 1 in this article to inform our apologetic methodology.
1. WHAT IS APOLOGETICS?
1 Peter 3:15 is often cited as the biblical proof text for what is called ‘apologetics’. In fact, the word ‘apologetics’ comes from a Greek word used in that verse, apologia, which simply means “a reasoned defence.”
“…but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)
Biblical scholar J. Ramsey Michaels explains what the term “make a defence” in the first century means:
“This term is used of a formal defense in court, against specific charges… an argument made in one’s own behalf in the face of misunderstanding or criticism (1 Cor 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11) …here in 1 Peter, the language of the courtroom is being applied to informal exchanges that can occur between Christian and non-Christian at any time under varied circumstances.”(J. Ramsey Michaels, World Biblical Commentary: 1 Peter, Vol. 49, 188)
APOLOGETICS IS FOR EVERYONE
There is a tendency to make apologetics out to be more complicated than it actually is.
It has led many to believe, and some to argue, that the most difficult issues of philosophical theology or theological philosophy should be engaged only by those philosophically trained, those whose minds have been able to meld together the best of theology with the best of philosophy.(K. Scott Oliphint, Revelation and Reason, pg 2)
Howeer, 1 Peter was written to people who weren’t “professional apologists and philosophers” – they were ordinary people like you and me, fishermen, tradesmen, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, young and old. They were simply, Christians who loved Jesus and wanted others to be saved through faith in him also. Therefore, this verse, written to them is calling them to do what any one of us, any Christian should and can do!
So, every Christian is and ought to be an apologist and contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
APOLOGETICS IS FOR EVERYTHING
Because of the faulty assumption that apologetics is a discipline that only the intellectual elite can do, it has led to it being popularly thought of as only as a sort of Christian intellectual ninjitsu that simply does scholarly battle with philosophical attacks and equate it with fruitless, never-ending argumentation with an impossible demand to be an expert in a vast range of academic fields. However, this is not what apologetics is primarily about.
Yes, there are some highly academic and philosophical questions which learned Christian scholars should answer. But if we are realistic, those are typically not the questions the average Christian is dealing with when engaging with their non-Christian neighbours, co-workers, family and friends.
Dr. Joe Boot rightly observes,
“By limiting apologetics to answering a handful of classic or common objections to Christianity, it is made to appear irrelevant to Christians who find that their friends are not asking such questions, and irrelevant for our contemporary culture if addressing issues that were of concern only to those generations deeply committed to the assumptions of modernity.”(Boot, For The Hope That Is In You, 8)
Some Christians think that apologetics only has to do with the doctrine of justification by faith and salvation by grace. Now, while those are important and primary doctrines to defend, that is not all we are to defend—nor is that the whole of what comprises the totality of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, many Christians functionally think of their faith as a piecemeal sort of thing comprised of many, unconnected parts. However, it is all interconnected!
If defending the faith is limited to only a handful of Christian doctrines that only concern our “religious” claims about Christ and God, then we have inadvertently bought into the division of the sacred and the secular. But Scripture makes no such division. Christ is the Lord of all of life. So, we must not just have a Christian defence for “religious” doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the historicity of the Resurrection, and the problem of evil, but we must also defend a biblical vision for the rest of life. How do we think Christianly about education, law, family, culture, politics, arts, business, etc? The “hope in us” includes salvation from eternal damnation through the death and resurrection of Christ, but it also includes so much more!
The Christian hope is an all-encompassing hope – from cradle to grave, from home to school to business to politics to culture and all of life.
Thus, we must also understand our apologetic task as being able to communicate how Christianity gives us hope in every area of life. In doing so, we may actually find that it gives us far more fruitful opportunities for Gospel engagement with the non-Christians in our lives than just limiting it to conversations about salvation by grace through faith. Believe it or not, not every unbeliever is going to ask you to defend Substitutionary Atonement, but you are likely to have a conversation with them about public schools, or government, or the movies. The more you are able to apply your Christian faith to every area of life, the more prepared to give an answer you will be when these opportunities arise.
As the famous theologian, Cornelius Van Til once said,
“Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”Cornelius Van Til
Thus, Christians must practice thinking “Christianly” in all areas of their life so that they can talk about how their Christian faith applies to these various areas or helps them to understand and analyze them from a Biblical worldview.
A SIMPLE DEFINITION
I love the definition of apologetics that Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr gives,
“In its simplest form, apologetics is knowing what we believe and why we believe it, and being able to communicate that to others effectively (Titus 1:9; 1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 1–4).”(Voddie Baucham Jr, Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word)
So, let’s restate that by looking at what that entails…
- Biblical – We answer objections with the power of the Word.
- Simple – If we can’t remember it, we won’t use it in our everyday encounters.
- Conversational – We must be able to share truth in a manner that is natural, reasonable, and winsome.
In this study, we’re going to think about it in these 3 terms: Biblical, Simple, and Conversational. Even though we may get technical at some points, it all boils down to these 3 points.
2. THE FOUNDATION OF APOLOGETICS: Honouring Christ
“…but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Peter 3:15a)
What does honouring christ look like? There are 3 marks that define what honouring Christ looks like – and they are all related and co-dependent. They are:
- A Holy Life
- A Biblical Worldview
A. A HOLY LIFE: Living as a Christian
In Greek, this verse literally says that we are to “sanctify/set apart Christ in our hearts”. This verb “to sanctify or make holy or set apart” (ἁγιάσατε) is actually the ONLY verbal imperative or command in this verse! It’s the main verb. So often we are quick to stress ‘giving a defence’ – however, in the original text, that phrase is not the primary emphasis. Peter’s main focus/command in this verse is to ‘sanctify Christ’ in our hearts.
But what does this mean?
It means to set Christ apart as the ultimate uncontested LORD and put Him in the highest place of honour and control for all of our lives. Beyond this, ‘heart’ in this verse refers to the center of all our affections, emotions, intellect, desires, and actions – ALL of our being and who we are – it refers to the totality of the essence of who you are.
Peter is saying this: the starting point of apologetics (giving a defence for the hope in us) is to set Christ as Lord over the way we think, feel and act… over all of our lives and resources. It is to live totally and completely under the Lordship of our Great God and King, Jesus Christ!
How many times have you thought of that when you considered starting to be prepared for the task of apologetics? Yet that is exactly where Peter tells us to start! Before giving a response, your life must be totally devoted to Christ.
Heart Check: How does my lifestyle reflect this truth? How does my purity reflect Christ’s lordship over me? How do my finances, my relationships, my affections, my integrity in business, and what I watch and listen to for entertainment reflect the fact that I’ve set Christ as holy in all of my life? Do I know how to think Christianly about every part of my life or have I just adopted the ways the secular culture around me thinks about things like business, law, education, art, family, etc?
Giving a reason for the hope in us is too often narrowly defined as only arguments, debates and logical discourse. While it does not exclude those things, it is not only those things. It involves ALL of our life. A life lived “Christianly” in all areas of life is an enacted apologetic to a watching world.
B. FEARLESSNESS: Suffering as a Christian
We see from the context of this verse that apologetics is not a means by which we make people like or accept us. In fact, the preceding verses say:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” (1 Peter 3:13-14)
In verse 15, Peter is quoting Isaiah 8:13: “But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honour as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” in regard to Christ. By equating Christ with Yahweh from this verse in Isaiah 8, he is calling for our sole, unflinching allegiance to be to Christ as the LORD just as OT Jews would have such allegiance to Yahweh. Verse 15 calls us to faithfulness to Christ in spite of opposition. So then, apologetics, instead of being a tool that alleviates the tension between us and the world, often times it heightens that tension.
Apologetics is ultimately an expression of our willingness to suffer rather than compromise… Apologetics says to a watching world, “We have been captured by something so profound that we are willing not only to be considered fools, but to suffer as such.”(Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr)
Believe it or not, a life lived fully sold out to Christ is the basis for our fearless witness. In fact, that is exactly what Peter just said in verses 13 & 14! This is what gives us the confidence to not fear nor be troubled even if we should suffer “for righteousness’ sake.” We don’t have to go looking for trouble, if we are living fully for Christ in every area of our lives and unwilling to compromise, trouble will find us. That is part of what it means to live faithfully as lights in a dark world. Paul promised that all who desire to live godly in Christ will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). But we can be fearless even in the midst of persecution because our Lord says that when that happens to us, we are blessed.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Jesus is saying that such persecution is proof that you are among good company – for so they persecuted his prophets who were before us. Far from being a discouragement to us, it is a confirmation of the fact that we belong to Christ. Remember his words:
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20)
Thus, honouring Christ necessitates that we not walk in the fear of man and the opinions of others who are set against Christ. Christians must be bold heralds of truth to a world that is hostile to that truth. The Bible repeatedly admonishes us to not be cowardly but rather brave and courageous. Remember, that the righteous are bold as lions but the wicked flee when no one pursues (Prov. 28:1). Don’t run from the fight because we already have the ultimate victory in Christ.
C. A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW: Thinking as a Christian
Lastly, honouring Christ means believing His Word. We cannot honour Christ without conforming our beliefs to His Word.
In short, this means we must operate from a Christian Worldview. Simply defined, this is a worldview based on what the Bible teaches about ultimate reality: our world and how to live in it. To put it another way, having a Christian Worldview simply means thinking like a Christian who applies the Bible’s truths to all of life.
What’s a worldview?
Worldviews are like belly buttons – everyone has one, but few people seldom take a lot of time to think about them or look at them. Think of a worldview as a pair of glasses or lenses through which we see and interpret reality. Or you can think of it like the Big Picture Story about reality – that’s our worldview – and it helps us figure out how and where we fit into that big story.
Embedded in all grand stories are fundamental beliefs about the world, answers to questions of ultimate significance: What is life all about? Who are we? What kind of world do we live in? What’s wrong with the world? How can it be fixed? The answers to these great questions are not philosophical concepts; rather, they are beliefs, often not even articulated, embedded firmly in the particular grand story that we share…(Michael Goheen, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview, pg 24-25)
Your worldview helps you answer these questions about life and ultimate reality. Everyone has a worldview and Christians should have a distinctly Christian worldview that helps them understand the world.
As C.S. Lewis famously said,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
This is fundamentally how a Christian worldview function. It gives light by which we see everything else. So, a worldview is like lenses that we see through, like the big story we find ourselves in, or like light by which we see things.
It is made up of the basic truths (or ‘axioms’) about of reality we all assume without proving them. These include beliefs in things such as logic, morality, being and reason.
For example, how can you prove laws of logic without using logic? How can you prove that reason is the way to find the truth without using reason? You can’t even prove existence without presupposing that you exist (at least not without turning into a crazy solipsist). These assumed truths are what we call “presuppositions” and we all have them. They must be taken on faith because we cannot prove them without using them.
Thus, every worldview is at its heart a “faith system” because it has to assume these starting presuppositions that make thinking and reasoning possible.
These presuppositions which form our worldview inform us about the world we live in, and they act like the lenses through which we see the world and interpret facts.
“Every system must have some unproven assumptions, a starting point not antecedently [previously] established, with which reasoning begins and according to which it proceeds to conclusion.”(Dr. Greg Bahnsen)
Our presuppositions are the reason some people will look at the same ‘facts’ about the world and end up at different conclusions.
For example: One scientist looks at the archeological and biological evidence and concludes that the world must have been created by God, and another scientist looks at the same evidence and concludes that it must be the result of blind chance and evolution. Why? Both scientists were just as smart and had the same evidence available to them. The difference is the presuppositions or worldview that they used to interpret those ‘facts’.
This shows us, there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact.
We will come back in our third session to deal more fully with the concept of developing a Christian worldview. But for now, we must understand the concept that everyone has a worldview and that it affects how they perceive the world and their place in it.
Therefore, our apologetic as Christians must be self-consciously “presuppositional” in nature. That is, we must be aware of and understand our presuppositions as Biblically informed Christians.
There is no such thing as a neutral person
We are told today by unbelievers that we must abandon our Christian beliefs so that we can come together and approach the facts ‘neutrally’. However, this is impossible. Even an atheist has a worldview and set of beliefs they accept by faith and use to interpret these facts. The idea that there is some sort of neutral common ground with no presuppositions on which we can meet an unbeliever is a myth.
The atheistic unbeliever has presuppositions about life’s biggest questions: where do we come from? What’s the purpose of life? Why can we trust our senses? They also take for granted many things “on faith” such as the reliability of their minds to think clearly – how would you know if your mind didn’t work properly? Also, that rules of logic and reason work – or universal principles of morality. How would you account for these things in a chance universe where there is no objective basis for laws of logic or morality? Everyone has starting presuppositions they must accept on faith and thus, no one is neutral.
Our Lord Jesus tells us that we are either for Christ or against him; no one is unbiased (Matt. 12:30). Therefore, there is no such thing as a neutral person when it comes to God. The worldview of a person shows this – they don’t interpret the facts correctly to come at the right conclusion because they’re biased – they are not neutral, and nor should we be!
It should be recognized that the claim to be, or the attempt to be, completely objective and value-free in deciding an issue of truth is ridiculous; the very fact that evidence is collected, arranged, and evaluated by each man’s own mind and in response to his personality and past experience indicates the strong element of subjectivity that is involved in settling issues of truth.(Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, pg 88-89)
When a non-believer comes to a topic (abortion, politics, education, law, etc), they come to it with their worldview and presuppositions. They don’t come neutrally. The Muslim brings their Islamic worldview, the atheist brings their Naturalistic worldview, etc. Yet, they tell the Christian that he/she must lay down their worldview to come “neutrally” to the discussion. This is simply absurd.
We must believe what the Bible tells us about the state of the sinner apart from God’s saving grace – He is a slave to sin, a rebellious enemy against God (cf. John 8:34; Rom. 5:10 & 6:6-20; Eph. 2:3; Col. 1:21). The Bible’s description of unbelievers are not ‘neutral’ descriptions.
“The unbeliever’s professed interpretation of things is not our common ground, for we do not share that interpretation. Rather, the actual state of affairs—man as God’s image, the suppressed knowledge of God, the world as totally revelatory of God—constitutes a point of contact for the apologist.”(Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, pg 19)
Don’t try to be neutral
We must truly believe what Colossians 2:3-8 declares, that, “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.” ALL of it. That means that for the Christian, there is no area of neutrality. If there is to be found any wisdom or knowledge, it must all be related back to Jesus Christ as the fountain of all of it.
Dr. Bahnsen in one of his basic apologetics training books, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith notes that,
“To avoid Christ in your though at any point, then, is to be misled, untruthful, and spiritually dead. To put aside your Christian committments when it comes to defending the faith or sending your children to school is willfully to steer away from the only path to wisdom and truth found in Christ. It is not the end or outcome of knowledge to fear the Lord; it is the beginning of knowledge to reverence Him (Prov. 1:7; 9:10)… One must be presuppositionally committed to Christ in the world of thought (rather than neutral) and firmly tied down to the faith which he has been taught, or else the persuasive argumentation of secular though will delude him. Hence the Christian is obligated to presuppose the word of Christ in every area of knowledge; the alternative is delusion.”(Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, 5)
Our ‘common ground’ with unbelievers is not some fictional neutral ground. It is rather, that like it or not, knowingly or unknowingly, they live in God’s world – regardless of their rebellion against Him. The sinner everywhere finds himself confronted by the reality of God, there is no neutral ground to flee for refuge. Therefore, he must suppress the truth in an attempt to hide from it. Thus, the common ground we meet the sinner on is not neutral ground; it is God’s ground. There is nowhere in the world to stand that is not God’s territory.
Come to the unbeliever unapologetically as a Christian with a Biblical worldview, because that is the only sure ground to stand upon.
OBJECTION: You cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible
I know this objection is probably on the minds of many of you now. Isn’t it circular reasoning to use the Bible to prove the Bible? However, what many don’t realize is that we all use circular reasoning at some point. There’s a difference between vicious circularity (it’s true just because it’s true) and virtuous circularity (appealing to an ultimate standard).
John M. Frame writes,
“Every philosophy must use its own standards in proving its conclusions; otherwise, it is simply inconsistent. Those who believe that human reason is the ultimate authority (rationalists) must presuppose the authority of reason in their arguments for rationalism. Those who believe in the ultimacy of sense-experience must presuppose it in arguing for their philosophy (empiricism). And skepticism must be skeptical of their own skepticism (a fact that is, of course, the Achilles heel of skepticism). The point is that when one is arguing for an ultimate criterion, whether Scripture, the Qur’an, human reason, sensation, or whatever, one must use criteria compatible with that conclusion. If that is circularity, then everybody is guilty of circularity.”(Dr. John M. Frame)
This goes back to what we talked about earlier that there’s no such thing as a neutral person. Don’t buy into the myth. They have their standards which they presuppose – don’t put down yours and try to fight from their ground which has no foundation. If the Bible is the ultimate standard – then by very definition, an ultimate standard cannot point to something else to prove its legitimacy because then that other thing would be more ultimate than it! Every true standard rests on the Bible. We will come back to this issue more fully in our next article.
Put down your sword!
For now, let’s illustrate this with an example. I got this story from Voddie Baucham’s book Expository Apologetics.
Imagine that two people meet on the field of battle, one is wielding an incredibly powerful and sharp sword in his hand, and the other comes empty-handed. But the second person calls out to the one with the sword, “I don’t believe in swords.” Now, the person with the sword could do one of two things. He could put his sword down and explain to his opponent the science of metallurgy, he could show him how sharp the blade is, he could point to the history of warfare and how swords are deadly, he could examine the evidence for his swordsmith who made the sword… Or, he could just strike his opponent with the sword. Either he’ll start believing in swords really quickly, or he shall perish.
We believe that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10: 17). As a result, like a warrior whose opponent does not believe in the existence of his sword, we refuse to lay down our arms and argue, opting instead to hack away, knowing that eventually, he will believe . . . or he will perish!(Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr., Expository Apologetics, loc. 895)
Don’t put your sword down. The Enemy knows that is the weapon given to us (Eph. 6) and he does all that he can to get us to lay it down and not know how to use it.
Jesus himself tells a parable about one who builds his life upon His Word being like a wise person who builds upon a solid rock foundation. However, the one who builds his life upon a rejection of God’s revelation is a fool (Matt. 7:26). The fool is the person who does not make God and His Word the foundation and presuppositional starting point of all his thinking.
We will come back to the issue of the authority and reliability of the Bible in our next article in this series.
This is why this method of apologetics, which I believe is the Biblical method, is often called “Presuppositional Apologetics”—because we start by presupposing the truth of God’s Word in every area of life in our defense and advancing of the faith. We don’t accept the premise of the myth of neutrality, but instead stand upon the sure foundation of God’s Word and let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). God’s Word is objectively true whether or not a person subjectively rejects it. This must be the sure rock upon which the faithful Christian builds their apologetic. Everything else is sinking sand.
Everyone Is Without An Excuse – Romans 1:18-32
How does this knowledge that no one is neutral help us? Let’s look at what Romans 1:18-32 clearly says about the unbeliever.
Paul opens off (v.18) by stating that all ungodly and unrighteous people suppress the truth due to their unrighteousness. This implies that they already have the truth in order to suppress it – in fact, this is what the next two verses say. God himself has made it plain to everyone (v.19). In fact, so plain that they are without an excuse (v.20). This phrase “without an excuse” is actually the word “anapologetous” (ἀναπολογήτους). Literally, it means, “without an apologetic”. Unbelievers are without a reasoned defence. God’s revelation of Himself to people in His creation is such that all people can be held to give an account and judged guilty for not acknowledging and worshipping Him (v.32).
This verse (and many others) clearly tells us that the primary reason for unbelief is not a lack of information, it is not intellectual. It is a moral problem: they suppress the truth they already have because of their unrighteousness.
This is the point at which you all should have breathed a big sigh of relief! Why? Because this verse just told you – “you don’t need to be a scholar knowing everything about every religion, scientific fact and philosophy in order to be a good apologist.” If people’s primary problem is their unrighteousness which causes them to suppress the truth – what is the solution for our unrighteousness? It is the Gospel! It’s Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
So, any apologetic that does not first deal with this truth, that all people know God truly will “tend to be too concessive to the unbeliever and aim simply to show Christianity as probably true. It does not leave the unbeliever “without excuse,” but suggests implicitly that he has the prerogative and ability to stand in judgment over God’s own word.” (Dr. Greg Bahnsen)
It is not God who is on trial with man as judge to decide whether He exists or not. We cannot come to some neutral ground and lay out the facts for the unbeliever in their rebellion to then decide if God exists or not. The unbeliever already knows this at a deep level because God has written His Law (Rom. 2:14-15) and set eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11)! It’s the other way around – God is Judge, and the unbeliever is on trial to give a reason (which there is none) as to why he does not believe and submit to God.
If we understand this, we see that even the excuses that unbelievers give for their unbelief betray the fact that they truly know God but suppress that truth because they are unwilling to submit to Him. Their God-given conscience, the Law written on their hearts, always testifies to the truth they know and suppress. This is why men invent all sorts of far-out theories and false religions rather than coming to the True God – because if they do, they know they will have to renounce their autonomy and bow their knee to Him.
The prodigal son can never forget the Father’s voice. It is the albatross forever about his neck.(Cornelius Van Til)
How do we use this apologetic practically?
So then, what does apologetics look like in light of this truth? Do we simply disbelieve, dismiss or deny someone who says they don’t believe in the Christian God and yell “YES YOU DO!” louder and louder until they submit? Are we reduced to an exchange of: ‘I don’t believe in God’ and replying ‘yes, you do’ – ‘no, I don’t’ – ‘yes, you do’ – ad infinitum?
Rather, this text gives us our goal in apologetics, and our goal in using argumentation and evidences. It is to expose this suppression in unrighteousness.
This can be done for a number of situations and topics. Take for example the issue of abortion. You could spend a lot of time explaining the science of conception and all the evidence that exists about the fetus being truly a human. However, you cannot talk about why that fetus has intrinsic equal value, dignity and worth without appealing to the Imago Dei based upon Scripture. Also, all of this might just be interesting information to the unbeliever until they are pressed as to why they suppress that truth. Is it because they don’t want to be accountable for their sinful actions? We know how babies are made… Ultimately, the problem is not ignorance, it’s suppression of truth because of unrighteousness and that’s why they need to flee to Christ!
The ultimate reason why the unbeliever suppresses the truth is because they don’t want their unrighteousness to be exposed. So, they sew fig leaf excuses in an effort to hide from God. This is why in every abortion debate, when pressed to be consistent, the unbeliever cannot be. Their position is neither morally nor logically consistent and this is because it was based ultimately on a desire to suppress truth rather than to find it. Until they desire the truth truly, they will never turn from their sin to embrace Christ.
You see, until the unbeliever sees their unrighteousness as their main problem (and not just a lack of information), they will never want the cure for that unrighteousness – which is Christ. They must be convicted not just about their illogic but most importantly of their sinfulness. If they don’t know they’re terminally ill, they won’t love the medicine. And this is the ultimate problem and what should be the aim of the apologist. Jesus said in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”(Thomas Cranmer)
The unbeliever is in rebellion to Christ, their heart loves their sin, and thus their will chooses it and their minds justify it. This is what suppression of the truth in unrighteousness looks like practically. Therefore, we must expose their unrighteousness that leads them to suppress truth in order for them to see their need for repentance. We do this by showing the inconsistency of their position, but we don’t just stop there. We press it further by showing that ultimately, the reason why they seek for excuses (though there are no legitimate ones) is because of they are running from their guilt before a Holy God.
What does this look like then? How do we use apologetics to expose suppression of truth and unrighteousness? And how does one practically prepare to do this?
3. THE CONTENT OF APOLOGETICS: Prepared to Give the Reason for Hope
“…always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15b)
A. BEING PREPARED
It should not be lost on us that the text calls us to ‘always be ready to give a defence.’ This clearly implies preparation.
We don’t wait until we’re in a situation where we must give an answer and then we try to scramble together some sort of answer in our own strength and cleverness. Rather, this passage is talking about living your life in such a way that you are ‘always prepared.’ But how are busy students, business men, wives, mothers, fathers, etc. supposed to find time for such preparation?
The answer may actually be simpler than you’ve imagined.
I. Preparation: Bible Study
This may sound daunting to many of you. Does this mean that I have to read stacks of books as thick as law textbooks and watch apologetics lectures and get a PhD in world religions? Well, no. You may do those things if you’d like to, and they may be very beneficial – however, when we understand what God’s word says to us, we realize that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3)
This is speaking about knowledge of Christ. Colossians 2:3 says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So if we want all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we need to know Christ more. And we learn about Christ through His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Every good work includes giving a reasoned defence for our hope. God’s Word is sufficient to equip us for the task to which it calls us. So, the way that we prepare ourselves is by studying God’s word.
Do you think that God would call you to a task that He has not also given you what you need to prepare you?
Therefore, what does preparing yourself for the task of apologetics look like primarily? Well, it looks a lot like being a Christian who is intentional about growing in their faith! It’s about learning more of His Word and what it says about living as a Christian in all areas of our lives. This is a lot more doable for the working businessman trying to manage home and work life, or the busy mom trying to manage all her responsibilities and caring for children, because it is simply the work of Christian maturity.
Notice also that it implies effort. Sorry, you’re going to have to study and apply yourself to understanding God’s word. There’s no way around that. Investing in Bible commentaries, Study Bibles, learning resources, listening to sermons from expositional preachers who apply the text to the issues of life, learning from podcasts, conferences and video lectures are all ways that one might be intentional about this growth. However, this is what we should already be doing! This just shows us that all of our growth in knowing Christ actually serves as ‘being prepared to give an answer for the hope in us’. This is because we are getting to know that hope more deeply – to love that hope, express that hope, and live out that hope more passionately in our lives. It is learning how to apply God’s word to our own hearts first, to answer our own areas of unbelief and doubt.
How is it that studying God’s word prepares us to answer questions from atheists, muslims, mormons, etc? Because whether they believe it or not, they still live in God’s world, and His word is objectively true. It is not just true for me, or true for you – but ultimately true and therefore answers all people with the truth necessary for them to come to saving knowledge of the Gospel. It also answers God’s design and purpose for all other areas of life as well, so it equips us with a Christian worldview on these various issues that we can use to talk and engage with unbelievers. We’ll come back to some more examples of this later.
Why is it that we act schizophrenic when we approach apologetics to unbelievers? In the church, we believe wholeheartedly that God’s Word is the solution for all of our most pressing problems – it pierces through the our souls, showing us our sin and need for God – it is alive and active, empowered by the very Spirit of God! Yet somehow, when we leave the church, we act as if there is something else, some other source of power to convert the soul and battle unbelief. Is anything more powerful than God’s Word? It’s God’s word that created all things! God’s word is not confined. It is powerful, inside and outside of the walls of the church (cf. Heb. 4:12; Rom. 10:17; Isa. 55:11; 2 Tim. 2:9).
Remember: “apologetics is knowing what we believe and why we believe it, and being able to communicate that to others effectively.”
II. Preparation: Prayer
Perhaps you still feel unfit for the task of defending the faith, or you’re like, ‘man, I struggle with even reading the Bible daily or understanding what I just read and you expect me to defend it to unbelievers?’ Good. Welcome to the club.
We sometimes look to ‘giants of the faith’ like the apostle Paul giving a defense of the faith before the Greek philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17 and think, “I could never do that!” Yet, the ‘great apostle’ Paul himself when considering the Gospel he is tasked to proclaim asks, “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16b) He answers his own question in 2 Cor. 3:4-6 that our sufficiency is from God. It is the Spirit that makes us sufficient for the task – for we are but ‘jars of clay’ – having no power of ourselves, but having the treasure of the Gospel inside of us to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7)
God chooses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the strong and wise of this world. (v.26-28) Why – because since the Fall, that’s all He’s got to work with! We’re all fallen and weak. But aren’t you glad that God’s requirement for using you is not that you be a scholar or strong in yourself – but rather that you just be a weak thing submitting yourself to be an instrument in His mighty hands? This is so that no one can boast in themselves (v.29), but rather our boast is in the Lord! (v.31)
You must understand that the Gospel will always be foolishness and a stumbling block to those who do not believe (1 Cor. 1:23) but to us who believe, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (v.24) This wisdom of the Gospel is not discerned or accepted by the natural man – meaning the person apart from the work of the Spirit illuminating His truth in their life – it is ‘folly’ to him, and he CANNOT understand it because it is spiritually discerned. (v.14) What we are desiring to see done in an unbeliever’s life is nothing short of a supernatural work of God. Jesus Christ didn’t come to make bad men good, he came to make dead men live.
We must feel the weight of this – that the natural man is not only unwilling (due to his rebellion) but also unable to accept the truth (because these truths are spiritually discerned).
If you want to be a good apologist – you’ve got to be a prayer warrior! No apologist is greater than his/her prayer life.
Before we continue on, I don’t want it to be lost on you… just in case you’re still thinking this apologetics thing is so complicated… I just told you that the way to prepare yourself for apologetics – the task of defending the faith – is to study your Bible and pray.
Yep. That’s it. Basic Christianity – but are we doing it?
Obviously there’s a lot more that we can do such as reading books on apologetics to help supplement that, but let’s not overcomplicate it. Apologetics is essentially about doing the basics and doing them well. The reason why you’d even make use of those supplemental resources is to help you do those basics better. Everything else we will cover in this article series is just expanding on these core principles.
The way you prepare for being a good apologist is to be a good Christian who is intentional about their spiritual growth and is desperate in prayer.
B. PEOPLE ASKING YOU
The second thing this passage implies is that people are asking you for reasons for your hope. This assumes that you are living your Christian faith out in such a way that it stands out and people are compelled to ask – why are you different? This connects directly with our previous point about living holy lives sold out for Christ.
This is a point which we cannot pass over too quickly. Ask yourself, “when last has someone asked me about the hope in me?” When was the last time that someone observed my walk with Christ and it so baffled them that they just had to ask me?
Too often, many ambitious and eager young men see apologetics as just another excuse to go pick an argument with people to prove them wrong. That’s not apologetics – that’s arrogance! Wrong A-word. Our text clearly implies that Peter expects that people should be asking you about the hope in you. Therefore, while there is a place for offering a critique of false beliefs when we see them, apologetics is primarily responsive in nature – not argumentative and offensive. (For further study on this point, see Ephesians 5:1-2 & 7-11 & 15-16)
4 TYPES OF QUESTIONS TO THE FAITH
When we consider the questions that people ask us about our faith, there are four major challenges we must face today. Christianity is:
- Weird – What you believe is strange or odd
- Untrue – What you believe is false
- Irrelevant – What you believe is not important or applicable to my life
- Harmful – What you believe is evil or hurtful
In a large part, apologetics is the application of God’s Word to these 4 challenges.
How we respond to people challenging our beliefs will depend on what is the challenge they bring. For example, an unbeliever may think that Christian beliefs are harmful, in which case we may respond by living out a life of sacrificial deeds of love and service towards them because of what we believe – showing them in our deeds and our words that Christianity is actually not harmful, but rather God’s design for true joy and human flourishing. Or they may think its weird – in which case we bring them into contact with Christians who show them what real love looks like and help explain why we do some things that are strange to them.
So then, consider:
As we give answers to these challenges, it is not uncommon that unbelievers will either be drawn or repulsed from our Christian life because it will expose their own suppression of the truth in unrighteousness. This “gospel fragrance” can be the aroma of life or stench of death to an unbeliever, depending on the disposition of their heart and the Spirit’s work in their lives (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15–16).
TAKING THE OFFENSIVE
Now, while defence of the faith is definitely necessary, every sports player knows that the best defence is a good offence. For far too long Christians have only taken a defensive posture when it comes to apologetics. But this is not the only Word God has given us on this. We are also to go on the offensive. We’re not just supposed to not sede the ground we have, but we’re to advance and take or take back ground from the enemy!
The Apostle Paul writes,
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
Destroying strongholds and arguments, taking captive thoughts – that’s offensive language! As Dr. Bahnsen writes,
“In the long run the believer must respond to the onslaught of the unbeliever by attacking the unbeliever’s position at its foundations. He must challenge the unbeliever’s presuppositions, asking whether knowledge is even possible, given the non-Christian’s assumptions and perspective. The Christian cannot forever be defensively constructing atomistic answers to the endless variety of unbelieving criticisms; he must take the offensive and show the unbeliever that he has no intelligible place to stand, no consistent epistemology, no justification for meaningful discourse, predication, or argumenta- tion. The pseudo-wisdom of the world must be reduced to foolishness- in which case none of the unbeliever’s criticisms have any force.”(Bahnsen, Always Ready, 55)
What does this look like? Well, it’s not being a jerk.
Instead, it’s actively looking for opportunities to challenge the culture’s erroneous assumptions and doctrines. There is a place for confronting the idols of our culture and its dangerous ideologies (like cultural Marxism, Wokeness, Critical Race Theory, Relativism, etc). There’s even a time for utilizing well directed, sanctified sarcasm and satire like Elijah against the idols of our culture’s prophets of Baal. For many Christians, they lack a category for such things, but the Bible gives us a full arsenal of tools in the fight. However, modern Evangelicalism’s confusion of “winsomeness” with “graciousness” can handicap the Christian’s effectiveness to “tear down strongholds” and “demolish arguments” and “lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God.” (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3–5) Grace and truth are not opposed to utilizing all these tools appropriately to confront and subdue every thought opposed to Christ. It would be good for Christians to regain a right understanding of how to utilize all of this arsenal appropriately for the glory of Christ.
We’ll come back to better nuance this in a future section on the conduct of an apologist.
Furthermore, it looks like starting Christian think tanks, businesses, media, education, arts, etc that can take ground culturally from a distinctly and unashamedly Christian worldview. It looks like Christians living out their faith publicly and not shrinking back from speaking openly about it. It looks like not just criticizing the craziness of the modern radical secular Left, but instead building something better to offer! Modern secular conservatives can just seem like a bunch of whiny complainers, with all of their content focused on criticizing the ridiculousness of the Left (and critique is necessary), but we need to think as Christians about positively building something of greater value and telling more beautiful and true stories based on and flowing out of the Ultimate True Story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.
Answering the Fool
It is the fool, the Bible says, who says in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 14:1), and we will inevitably have to answer fools in apologetics. How does God’s Word help equip us for this task?
Proverbs 26:4-5 illustrates one of the ways we approach the apologetic task offensively. It says,
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Is this philosophical schizophrenia? Which is it? Are we to answer the fool or not? Well, it depends.
This proverb is laying out two principles for us. Firstly, if you do what the unbeliever tells you to do and lay down your Christian convictions in order to be supposedly “neutral” – that’s you becoming like the fool. However, if you were to leave it there and not answer the fool at all, he might think that he has won by default and be “wise in his own eyes.”
Dr. Van Til comments this way,
“The Christian apologist must place himself upon the position of his opponent, assuming the correctness of his method merely for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position the “facts” are not facts and the “laws” are not laws. He must also ask the non-Christian to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order that he may be shown that only upon such a basis do “facts” and “laws” appear intelligible…
Therefore the claim must be made that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. And it is utterly reasonable. It is wholly irrational to hold to any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not crucify reason itself… The best, the only, the absolutely certain proof of the truth of Christianity is that unless its truth be presupposed there is no proof of anything. Christianity is proved as being the very foundation of the idea of proof itself.”(Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 117-118, 396).
What Van Til is talking about here is the offensive strategy of showing the impossibility of the contrary – that it is impossible that Christianity is not true, because if it were not true, then we would have no basis for morality, beauty, and even logic to have the conversation. The fool is to be answered. However, that answer is not to be one that conforms to the foolish unbelieving presuppositions behind the question. We answer not to argue from rationality to faith, but rather from faith to rationality – because rationality presupposes faith.
“At the level where there are conflicting claims as to the true, self-evident starting point, our apologetic argumentation must require all or nothing: either complete surrender to the epistemic Lordship of Christ (Col. 2:3) or utter intellectual vanity and striving after wind (Eccl. 1:13-17). We must argue from the impossibility of the contrary. The fundamental truth of the Chris- tian faith cannot be given a more ultimate or rigorous defense than this.”(Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, 74)
There’s a lot more that could be said here, but we’ll have to come back to it later.
C. THE HOPE IN YOU
Why is it that the Bible is the foundation for our apologetic? Because what we are called to give a defence for is “the hope that is in you.” What is that hope? It is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) – the hope is the Gospel! Our hope is that Christ is the Risen Lord is King over every area of life and existence who is putting every enemy under His feet, who has defeated death, sin and the grave, and who is coming back in glory to judge the living and the dead. Not your testimony. Not clever arguments, proofs and scientific data. Where do we get this hope? From God’s Word. That’s why the Bible is the foundation of our apologetic.
This brings us back to what we noted at the beginning – that apologetics is not an end in itself. Our goal should not be just to give people some good arguments for a god, or some probability that god exists, or a bunch of facts and evidence and thereby make them a deist believing in some vague notion of a higher power and yet still lost in their sins. Deists still go to Hell. Our goal is not to make more pious pagans, but rather that they would repent and turn to Christ. As we saw in Romans 1, the problem is not a lack of evidence – all creation screams that God exists (Psalm 19:1-3)!
That is why the only solution is the Gospel. This is why Paul even says explicitly that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16a) Only the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Sometimes we put our trust in evidence and clever arguments, but that’s not where the power is! And though God may use various evidence and arguments in calling a person to faith, it is the Gospel that is the power. This is why the end goal of apologetics is to get to the Gospel.
Professor of Apologetics, Dr. John Frame puts it this way:
“apologetics is also the application of Scripture to unbelief. The unregenerate heart desires a god that it can handle with a revelation that it finds palatable. The Christian defender is not free to water down the faith to suit the tastes of rebels. The unbeliever may be without excuse with regard to God’s existence and moral requirements (Rom. 1:18-32), but the apologist is likewise without excuse with regard to the truth that he or she must uphold and defend.”(Dr. John M. Frame)
Conversion is not just simply ‘accepting Jesus into your heart’ (which is thoroughly unbiblical language). It is actually an overthrowing of a person’s entire worldview, expelling any other thing that exalts itself over the One True God and putting Christ at His rightful place as the uncontested Lord of their life. The Gospel is not just ‘come have a relationship with Jesus’, for everyone already has a relationship with him, either as Judge or Saviour. The Gospel is a call to repent and believe in Christ’s work to change that relationship from enemy to friend. It’s a radical change of a person’s ultimate allegiance. It is an all-encompassing call to come and die to yourself and live to Christ. As Dr. Baucham notes,
“As expository apologists, we point people to Christ and call them to repent and believe. We are constantly showing people how foolish and dangerous it is to trust in anything but Christ. At bottom, the expository apologist is an evangelist.
Evangelism is more than merely convincing people of the rightness of Christianity or getting them to walk an aisle and pray a prayer. Evangelism is about making disciples— calling people away from the kingdom of man and into the kingdom of God. This kind of transfer of allegiance is at the heart of expository apologetics.”(Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr)
Cornelius Van Til put it this way:
“The [Christian apologist] does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its non-acceptance by the natural man… [Apologetics] is valuable to the precise extent that it presses the truth upon the attention of the natural man. The natural man must be blasted out of his hideouts, his caves, his last lurking places.”(Cornelius Van Til, “Christian Apologetics,” 4.2)
The sinner still in rebellion against his Creator wants to suppress the truth because it exposes them to the judgement of God which they desperately want to avoid. So they will hide under every possible objection and seek cover under the lies which they have exchanged the truth for. We may use evidence, arguments and proofs, but at every point, the sinner will try to avoid the truth or simply divert to another topic. What we do then is call the sinner to account for the truth we’ve already presented and show them their suppression of that truth – their unwillingness to deal with the truth and not dismiss it or distract from it.
This once again reminds us of our goal. It is not that we would call the sinner to an agreement with us, but rather to call the sinner to repentance – a radical change of mind – and renounce his antagonistic autonomous reasoning and embrace an entirely new system submitted wholly to Christ’s Lordship.
Only then can the Gospel be seen as truly beautiful. Only when you’ve diagnosed this fatal disease of unrighteousness before a Holy God can the cure of the Gospel be loved and accepted.
4. THE CONDUCT OF APOLOGETICS: Gentleness, Respect, Good Conscience and Behaviour
“…yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15c-16)
Have you ever wondered why Peter goes to such trouble to tell us to have such an attitude and approach to apologetics? Look at the words he uses – gentleness, respect, good conscience and behaviour – he’s going to a lot of pains to tell us to be really careful about how we do apologetics. Why?
Gently Demolishing Foundations
It is because ultimately, apologetics aims at the foundations of every opposing worldview – and when the foundations are taken out, it all comes crashing down. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This can be a very traumatic experience for an unbeliever to have everything that they’ve (up to this point) put their hopes in come crashing down. This is why we must do it with gentleness and respect. Apologetics involves the demolishing of an entire foundation upon which a person has built their lives – we must do so gently, lovingly and respectfully!
Also, when a person’s foundation has been destroyed, we cannot just leave them free falling with nothing under them. When we wield the sword of the Spirit and cut them, we cannot leave them bleeding out. This is why it is essential that our apologetic aim is the Gospel. Yes, we are destroying foundations, but only so that they would replace their faulty foundation with the only true, strong foundation – Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
Waiting on God’s Vindication
Note also Peter emphasizes doing apologetics having a good conscience and good behaviour. This circles back to our first point about the cornerstone of apologetics – living a holy life sold out to Christ. A life that displays the total Lordship of Christ shows the fruits of the Spirit to a watching and even critical world. But notice what the text says, that even if they slander and revile you – they will be put to shame. Put to shame by who? It does not say that we put them to shame… the passive voice of this verb shows that it is God who ultimately vindicates us because He is the final Judge of all.
This is an important point to keep in mind even when we use the serrated edge of satire, sarcasm and even mocking on the false prophets and idols of our day. It must never be done out of a heart of hatred, spite, vengeance, malice, etc. We must not be driven by our own selfish ambition to defend our own ego or advance our prestige in the eyes of men. Our focus should be on the glory of God and jealousy for His Name’s renown. The assumption that when unbelievers slander and revile you is that what they’re saying is actually not true – it’s slander – which is why they will be put to shame. Thus, the Christian should not give legitimate reason for rightly pointing out corrupting talk that is unbefitting of a representative of God. However, this does not mean that a Christian’s words will always be pallatible to the unbelieving world, but they must always be honouring to God.
5. PRACTICAL TIPS
I’d like to circle back to the point we touched on about being prepared to help give you some practical examples and tips – because it’s probably not very helpful for me to just yell at you ‘study your Bible!’. How can you go about doing that?
Does it just mean that I sit down for hours by myself in a room and try to figure everything out about the Bible alone? No. By God’s grace He has provided us with numerous ways to study and understand God’s word. I’ll point us to two practical examples here and leave you with some recommended resources at the end of the article to check out later.
We’ll start off with some free, readily available, historic, solid resources.
I. Catechisms, Creeds & Confessions
No, this is not a “Catholic thing.” The Church has been using catechisms for centuries as a way to teach people the basics of the faith.
What is a catechism? (Q&A)
It is simply a series of short questions about faith, and short responses which are based in the Bible that are easy to memorize.
Because catechisms are basically learning how to answer questions with the Word of God, they are perfect for preparing us to ‘be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.’ They are a ready-made tool to equip us! Additionally, many of the historic catechisms have been tried and tested for literally centuries and are based solidly in God’s Word.
You’ll find that studying catechisms will help you grow in your faith and memorize more scripture and as a bonus, they will give you practice in answering questions on your faith!
- The Baptist Catechism – This is a catechism of 114 questions and answers from a Reformed Baptist perspective.
- The Westminster Catechism – There are 2 versions, the Shorter and Longer Catechism. Both versions include the scriptural ‘proof texts’ that show you right from scripture where they are getting the answers. It is available for free online and in book forms.
What is a Creed? (That is wrong, this is right)
Heresies are not usually born out of outright lies – but rather out of half-truths or imprecise statements. A Creed is a precise statement affirming Biblical truth against heresy. Creeds connect us to the historic Christian faith. All the historic creeds of the church were formed in response to the challenges of heretical doctrines. For example, the Nicene Creed was formulated to battle the heresy of Arianism that denied that Jesus was truly God. Learning the Creeds helps us to give precise responses to doctrinal errors. These heresies are still alive today – Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses repeat the Arian heresy in saying that Jesus is ‘a god’ and is a created being. The creeds give us language to precisely and concisely define the historic faith that Christians have believed for centuries.
- The Apostle’s Creed (c.120-250 AD) – This is one of the oldest Creeds and its doctrine is traced back to the original apostles. It concisely defines the essence of the Christian faith. We even sing it today!
- The Nicene Creed (325-381 AD) – This Creed was the product of the Council of Nicea in response to Arian heresy and clearly defines the doctrine of the deity of Christ.
- Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD) – Formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in response to the heresy of Nestorianism – this creed focuses on Christology and the two natures of Christ known as the hypostatic union. It is a precise definition of what we mean when we say that Jesus had a human nature and a divine nature.
Creeds are useful to us when we want concise (short) and precise (accurate) definitions of core Christian doctrines (beliefs).
What is a Confession? (This we believe)
It is simply a statement of what we believe. Confessions vary in length and detail, but they outline what and why we believe. Every church has a confession (whether or not it is written down). The advantage with confessions is that they are a detailed and systematic explanation of what and why we believe what we do with many scripture references.
- The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) – This is a historic reformed baptist confession of faith. It is structured systematically and touches on every major category of the faith with scriptural texts to study explanations.
- The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) – similar to the Baptist confession, this is a historic reformed confession that reflects a Presbyterian form of theology and church government. It is structured similiarly to cover every major category of faith with scriptural texts.
Confessions are useful as free, detailed explanations of Christian beliefs in a systematic way.
II. Theological Resources
Ultimately, there is no way around it – we must put effort into growing in our understanding of the Bible and our faith. Sometimes we cannot put all of the pieces together or connect all the dots. Or sometimes we don’t know how a particular Biblical truth applies to our life. This is where good theology books will come in handy.
While nothing replaces our own personal study of God’s Word, humility also requires us to recognize that we don’t have all the answers and must learn from others. One of the ways we do that is by reading books. There’s really no excuse for us these days, we live in a time of unprecedented access to God’s word and tools to help us understand it.
Sometimes I wonder if we can get away with being held responsible for not taking advantage of such a wealth of blessing! Will our social media feeds and Netflix subscriptions stand against us as witnesses to how much time we wasted on things that don’t satisfy or feed our souls or equip us for what God has called us to?
If you’re struggling with where to start – check out our church website’s Recommended Resources page for a list of great books on various topics.
Because there is no temptation which befalls us that is not common to all people that God hasn’t already provided a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).
RECOMMENDED APOLOGETICS RESOURCES
- Know Why You Believe by K. Scott Oliphint
- A Guide to Christianity for Skeptics and Seekers by John Frame
- Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Greg Bahnsen
- What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James Anderson
- Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief by John M. Frame
- Christian Worldview Teaching Series by R.C. Sproul
So, having covered the Bible’s method of apologetics – which should be presuppositional, how do we apply this in apologetic situations?
Let’s end this article by considering two quick examples to illustrate it.
By What Standard?
We said previously that every true axiom that we use to defend our beliefs ultimately rests on God’s Word because ultimately, we all live in His world which He established by His own standards. Therefore, when engaging with an unbeliever, we don’t need to put aside our Christian worldview.
But what does this look like for someone who rejects the Bible? Well – one simple way to think about it is by asking the question “By what standard?” – what is the unbeliever’s standard for believing in these things? In this section, I’ll briefly provide a few examples of how we can use a Christian worldview to perform an internal critique of an opposing worldview and show the truth of Christianity from the impossibility of the contrary – ie – it is impossible for Christianity not to be true.
I. Logic & Reason
Many atheists assert that logic and reason are the ultimate standard for truth. However, if we presuppose their worldview – that the universe is the product of random chance and just molecules in motion, then how can we account for laws of logic and reason? How does logic and reason come out of chaos?
Not only that, why are laws of logic and reason universally applicable? In a chance universe that develops from unguided processes, why should we expect things to make sense and have a reason? It’s all chance and chaos! If all we are is matter in motion, why do laws of logic matter? All the atheist can do is assert that laws of logic exist – they just are! But they cannot give the reason why – talk about blind faith!
What then is the foundation upon which the atheist can use laws of logic and his own reason? Logic and reason are products of a mind and intellect, not the product of inanimate things or forces. No one ever considered the logic or reason of a rock or of motion. Logic and reason implies the Personal God behind the way things work. Without God, we have no foundation for reason and logic.
When we use logic and reason, we are simply thinking God’s thoughts after Him – because we are made in His image (Gen. 1:27). He is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:33, 40; Rom. 8:28; Gen. 1). Laws of logic do not change because they flow out of God’s unchanging character (Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17) and wisdom (Jam. 1:5; Prov. 2:6; Psa. 111:10; Isa. 40:28).
The atheist who asserts that there is no God, asserts by the same words that he holds the universe in his mind; he asserts that no fact, past, present, future, near, or far, escapes his attention, that no power, however great, can baffle or deceive him. In rejecting God, he claims omniscience and omnipotence. In other words an atheist is one who claims that he himself is God. (Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education, 38)
This is the same rebellion that we saw in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, the same rebellion of Satan – all sin is wanting to dispose God as God and put ourselves upon the throne.
II. Knowledge & Truth
What about knowledge itself? Have you ever thought – why can we even know things? Why is there absolute truth? If the Christian God does not exist, then knowledge and truth itself is impossible. How?
In a chance universe, why should we even expect that blind, unguided forces would produce a knowable universe that we have the ability to perceive? Why trust your senses of sight, touch and hearing if they are only the product of blind forces? What trust is there in something made by chaos? Why would an impersonal universe even develop senses in the first place for living creatures? If we are only the product of blind forces, we cannot even trust our senses by which we perceive the world. And if there is no God, why does truth matter? Where do we get the ‘oughtness’ of truth?
Some unbelievers think that all truth is relative. However, this statement is self-defeating. If all truth is relative, does that mean that this statement is also relative and not absolutely true? We can easily see the absurdity of this claim – but this is what you are left with when you abandon God: absurdity.
All of our knowledge is analogical – which simply means we know things by analogy. I know that this is a bowl and not a cup because it is similar to a small basin in that it holds liquid, but I know it is not a cup because it doesn’t have a handle. So, it is like something, and not like something else… it’s an analogical construction – a comparison – that tells me what this is and how I know it and distinguish it from something else. All knowledge is like this. Just think of what you do when you try to describe something to someone else who doesn’t know what it is – what do you do? You use analogy. You say, well it’s sort of like this, but not like this.
This means that the foundation for knowledge is analogy – unity and diversity, things have similarity yet difference. If this universe is knowable, that means that this basis for knowability must also pre-exist the universe. Only in the Christian God – who is Triune (unity in diversity) – do we have the eternal basis for knowledge. Because God is unified (One Being of God) but also diverse (eternally existing as three Persons) we have in God the foundation for all knowledge which is based in analogy.
All of our knowledge flows out of God – it is revelational – God reveals His knowledge to us. We trust our senses because He is a good God whose design is good and not deceptive. The atheist, and even other religions do not have this basis for knowledge and truth. Only the Triune God of the Bible provides that.
In our next article in this series, since we’re arguing that we should be presuppositional in our apologetic methodology, we’ll take a look at why the Bible should be our standard.