This will be a very basic introduction to why many — like myself — believe apologetics to be very important in the believers life. A “WHY APOLOGETICS 101,” so-to-speak.
What is the word “apologetic” even mean? How do we defining the word, Biblically. Apologetics is explaining to the non-believing friends, co-workers, family, the soundness of the Christian collection of beliefs about life and the universe in easy to express ways that allows co-operation of our created will and intellect with the Holy Spirit in evangelizing those around us. We are not robots under God’s divine hand (automatons) but individuals whom God works through keeping our personality intact in sharing the Gospel effectively and showing how Christianity stands in stark contrast to competing beliefs around us. The non-believer is not expected to interpret the data of history, psychology, and morality (let alone theology and miracles), as does the Christian. However, he must be given such data as the Christian interprets it… Otherwise he is not being witnessed to by a Christian.
✞ 1 Peter 3:15 – “… and always be ready to give a defense [or answer in some translations] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Defense/Answer: is the Greek apologia, from which we get our word “apologetics,” meaning the careful, logical defense of the Christian faith showing its validity as the true saving gospel of God, our Creator and Savior. In effect Peter is admonishing believers to be always prepared to give an apologetic for the faith, especially when confronted by those who deny it and would destroy it if they could.
✞ Jude 3 – “although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Contend: Should be “earnestly contend.” The Greek, epagonizomai, refers to athletes intensely agonizing in the grueling training for a coming contest. Thus Jude graphically stresses the urgency of defending the faith. The defense of the gospel is no indifferent matter to be left to a few specialists, but one to which all believers should be trained and committed.
✞ Philippians 1:7 – “…whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” Defending: A legal term referring to a formal defense as in a courtroom. Many modern evangelicals think the gospel does not need to be defended — just preached. Paul and Timothy are saying different here.
For instance, apologetics should stir ones knowledge base about their own faith and understanding towards positions Christianity naturally takes. Or, what are known as “truth statements,” i.e., “Jesus rose from the grave,” “God exists,” “God changed my life,” “Jesus is not like the Buddha,” “God is creator,” and the like. People often times will stop you at one of those points and ask you to elucidate. You should be prepared to.
“I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers that impose upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition”
Morimer J. Adler, “A Philosopher’s Religious Faith,” in, Kelly James Clark, ed., Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 207.
Apologetics is one of the steps one takes (should take) in advancing their faith past milk by increases one’s “awareness” about the world in which they live and parts of it we should separate ourselves from. This includes as well aberrant thinking in our own camp.
“Instead of thinking of Christianity as a collection of theological bits and pieces to be believed or debated, we should approach our faith as a conceptual system, as a total world-and-life view…. Raising one’s self-consciousness [awareness] about worldviews is an essential part of intellectual maturity”
Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992], 19, 9.
1) Apologetics helps with correct belief (truth) and in this regard is very important:
Believers may not fully comprehend or may have genuine misunderstandings or even limited exposure to and about Christian truth, but there are doctrinal parameters outside of which a person cannot cross without suffering apostasy and divine judgment. Embracing a false Christ and/or a false’ gospel leads to dire consequences. Paul’s warning to the Galatia church concerning a different gospel dramatically underscores the importance of sound (biblical) doctrine: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8)
2) Christianity as a truth position, a worldview, necessitates an apologetic response:
Christian apologists must take the religions of the world seriously. The effective apologist will come to know other religions and their adherents with an insider’s mastery. Only then can he or she graciously expose a given religion’s flaws in light of essential Christian truth. Not an easy task for the apologist for sure, however, a well-done expose can have a powerful effect. This endeavor seems to be what Scripture calls for in terms of the apologetics enterprise. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
3) Apologetics offers People, deservedly, the proper respect:
As creatures of God, all people bear the imago Dei and therefore have inherent dignity and moral worth. Every person consequently deserves respectful treatment regardless of race, sex, social class, political, or religious belief. Christians are called by God to guard the individual right of others to believe what they choose, whether their particular beliefs are wrong, absurd, or contrary to Christian truth. This regard basically amounts to respecting human personhood, volition, and individual moral responsibility. Christians should even tolerate the practices (religious and otherwise) of others, so long as those practices are legal, moral, and prudential. However, respecting another person’s beliefs must not be misconstrued as approving those beliefs. Christians are responsible to use their powers of persuasion to convince others of truth, especially the ultimate truth of, Jesus Christ. While being socially tolerant, Christians must at the same time be intellectually intolerant of conflicting truth claims.
(#s 1-3 are from: Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004], 178-180)
Ravi Zacharias tells a story that is worth repeating, it is called “The Bell Tower”:
There’s a story of a man who used to go to work at a factory and every day would stop outside a clockmaker’s store to synchronize his watch with the clock outside. Seeing this routine, the clockmaker finally asked the gentleman, “Excuse me, sir, I see that every day you stop and adjust your watch with my clock. What kind of work do you do?” The man replied, “I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but, I keep the time at the factory nearby, and I have to ring the bell at four o clock every afternoon when it is time for the people to go home. My watch doesn’t work very well, so I synchronize it with your clock.” The clockmaker sheepishly responded, “I’ve got bad news for you. My clock doesn’t work very well either, so I synchronize it with the bell that I hear from the factory at 4:00 every afternoon.” …. Even a clock that doesn’t work may show you the right time twice a day…but it’s not because it’s keeping time.
Adapted from Ravi Zacharias, “Address to the United Nations’ Prayer Breakfast.”
Apologetics is analogous to wearing a pair of glasses:
The right eyeglasses can put the world into clearer focus, and the correct worldview can function in much the same way. When someone looks at the world from the perspective of the wrong worldview, the world won’t make much sense to him. Or what he thinks makes sense will, in fact, be wrong in important respects. Putting on the right conceptual scheme, that is, viewing the world through the correct worldview, can have important repercussions for the rest of the person’s understanding of events and ideas.
Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 17-18.
Below is a wonderful graphic of what the person seeking to use and learn apologetics properly should look like. It is from the first chapter in a book I am currently reading and it has helped me to understand the delineations (or sub categories) to a healthy, well-balanced study of apologetics. Gregory Ganssle, in the before-mentioned book (Come Let us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, by-the-by, this is not a good introductory book on apologetics… it is a bit technical), points out the areas of study one might find him or herself in the “theological theme” (tt) of the pyramid:
… This angle [tt] includes a variety of topics, such as the scope of common grace, the nature of general revelation, and the effects of our sinful condition on our reasoning.
Exploring these topics theologically helps us develop a realistic understanding of what we ought to expect in our encounters with those who are not yet believers. Theological themes, then, are relevant to our thinking well about apologetics.
As one enters into studies on topics like these, red flags may appear in your reading general books by Christian authors. Does this mean you shouldn’t read these books or get information from such people. Not necessarily. It really depends how far they twist major doctrines of the Gospel [Bible]. For instance, would I tell a person (like my wife for instance) not to read Beth Moore? Of course not. I would however, as the spiritual leader of my household, explain some of my “red-flags” I encountered in reading her stuff and mention that an author highly recommended by her is a person I WOULD NOT read. (That being said, as I learn more about what is aberrant, I find my reading of these books has increased for my own personal apologetic studies, not as books that I incorporate into my walk.)
To better explain myself, here is the small portion that sent a red-flag up for me and is found near the end of Beth’s book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things (p. 290):
So the question is, 1) who is Brennan Manning that so influenced Beth Moore to have evoked her to [highly] recommend his book, Ragamuffin Gospel? and 2) where does he fall on the major doctrines we hold so dear to? This is where a decent study of theology comes in and should make aberrant teaching smoother to spot. I wish to allow Dr. Norman Geisler to lead off a quick summation of some of the doctrines the postmodern movement Mr. Manning finds himself in the thralls of:
Pastor Gary Gilley, after bullet pointing some of the problems in Manning’s book introduced to many people through Moore’s book, says this:
Add all of this up and we have a book that makes some good points, especially about God’s grace, but distorts so much about God and truth as to render it worse than useless—it is downright dangerous.
[…here are the bullet points that preceded the above…]
✦ The sources for his philosophy of life range from Catholic mystics to Paul Tillich to Norman Mailer to Carl Jung.
✦ His use of Scripture is scanty but when he attempts to support his views from the Bible he usually goes astray (e. g. pp. 37, 142, 166-7, 220).
✦ He confuses “loving sinners” with “accepting their sin” (p. 33) and believes that forgiveness precedes repentance (pp. 74, 167, 181). This leads to continuous hints of universalism (pp. 21, 29, 31, 33, 37, 74, 223, 232) although he never directly claims to be a universalist.
✦ He is heavily soaked in pop-psychology which taints all he says: accepting self (pp. 49, 152, 229); self-intimacy (p. 49); loving ourselves (pp. 50, 168); inner child (p. 64); forgiving yourself (p. 115); self-image (pp. 147-148); self-worth (p. 148).
✦ He accepts a postmodern worldview and calls for us to be open-minded about truth, reality and Christ (p. 65).
✦ He consistently presents a lopsided view of God. God is loving and forgiving but never a judge, disciplinarian or punisher (p. 75), contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.
✦ God is not man’s enemy, contrary to Romans 5 that says we are the enemy of God if we are not saved (p. 76).
✦ We are told that God does not test us or promote pain (p. 76).
✦ He believes that God speaks today outside of Scripture (pp. 94, 117, 186-187, 229) and that the presence of God is a felt experience that we should seek (pp. 45, 46, 94, 162, 229).
(read more — empahis added)
This short critique (above) by a pastor should send up some warning flares and stir in us an apologetics bent to understand more how these associations can lead a weak Christian astray. For instance, let us “rabbit trail” some positions of this Catholic mystic. Manning recommends highly and even quotes the mystic/New Ager, Beatrice Bruteau in one of his books:
- What is Contemplative Spirituality and Why is It Dangerous? A Review of Brennan Manning’s The Signature of Jesus
In Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning says that Dr. Beatrice Bruteau is a”trustworthy guide to contemplative consciousness.” Who is Beatrice Bruteau and what does she believe? She is the founder of The School for Contemplation, and she believes God is within every human being. She wrote the book, What We Can Learn from the East,
“We have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM” [A Song That Goes On Singing – Interview with B.B., one can read the entire section under “Human Choice” to understand just how New Age Beatrice is].
“I AM,” of course, is one of the biblical names of God (Exodus 3:14). Why would Manning recommend Bruteau with no warning if he does not agree with this blasphemy?
This isn’t “guilt by association” — so one knows the difference — it is “guilt by proxy.” A much more powerful legal term.
“During a conference on contemplative prayer, the question was put to Thomas Merton: ‘How can we best help people to attain union with God?’ His answer was very clear: WE MUST TELL THEM THAT THEY ARE ALREADY UNITED WITH GOD. CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER IS NOTHING OTHER THAN COMING INTO CONSCIOUSNESS OF WHAT IS ALREADY THERE” (p. 218).
Merton was a Trappist monk who promoted the integration of Zen Buddhism and Christianity. The titles of some of his books are “Zen and the Birds of the Appetite” and “Mystics and the Zen Masters.” He is of course famous for saying, “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity … I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” I critiqued Merton because of an associate pastor at a local Bible centered church (in Castaic) saying he loved Merton. Mentioning that his professor at Biola was using a book in class that he didn’t find anything wrong with.Very sad and maddening at the same time. Simple care in learning our doctrines in fun ways (evangelism) can be a big help in leading us away from heresy.
As with many such teachers who gain popularity by tickling ears, Manning overemphasizes the love and grace of God while ignoring His attributes of justice, righteousness and holiness. He teaches that Jesus has redeemed all of mankind. His “good news” is that everyone is already saved. Manning quotes David Steindl-Rast approvingly in his book, The Signature of Jesus (pp. 210, 213-214). Steindl-Rast, a contemplative Roman Catholic priest, said:
“Envision the great religious traditions arranged on the circumference of a circle. At their mystical core they all say the same thing, but with different emphasis”
(“Heroic Virtue,” Gnosis, Summer 1992).
Manning quotes Matthew Fox approvingly in two of his books, Lion and Lamb (p. 135) and A Stranger to Self Hatred (pp. 113, 124). Fox says:
“God is a great underground river, and there are many wells into that river. There’s a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a Christian well, a Goddess well, the Native wells-many wells that humans have dug to get into that river, but friends, there’s only one river; the living waters of wisdom”
Quoted from John Caddock, “What Is Contemplative Spirituality,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1997.
Even Manning’s approach to prayer is aberrant. In The Signature of Jesus Manning promotes the dangerous practice of centering prayer, which involves chanting “a sacred word” to empty the mind and allegedly enter into silent experiential communion with God within:
“[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer. … enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard. … Choose a single, sacred word … repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often” (pp. 212, 215, 218).
This is a New Age/Eastern concept of prayer.
Not a Christian concept of it.
So where does this example leave us? It leaves us at a couple of places. Some of the critique I use above comes from a book that I would recommend to a friend/believer, but with a caveat. The author can be very legalistic and I would point out that some aspects of how the author applies their understanding of the Gospel is dealt with in Galatians (maybe mentioning Luther’s commentary on Galatians as a resource to better grasp this concept of the freedom we have in Christ). The book is Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond, by David Cloud.
Likewise, I am sure the believer who is well moored in the foundational beliefs and how they work themselves throughout our culture can read Beth Moore and glean from it helpful input into one’s faith. Should it be at the top of a recommend list for one God fearing woman to recommend to another, no. Can it be of benefit as a resource for a woman struggling with issues, of course, as long as the person doing the recommending adds a cautionary note. Like I did with my recommended resource.
Dear friends, I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master. (Jude 3-4, The Message)
As one studies all the facets of apologetics, rabbit trails will appear, but in them all remember a key thing, harkening back to Dr. Ganssle when he mentioned that our sinful condition has even effected our reasoning skills. Building on that take note that even if we have thought through a matter, worked on it, got it to line up with orthodoxy and have sound reasoning… often times our intentions in presenting it as well as the delivery and how the other corrupted person hears it are all at play. Which is why we say the Holy Spirit must be the Prime Mover at the deepest levels for a person to be moved by a truth, by thee Truth. Quoting Dr. Ganssle again:
Each one of the three angles or themes concerning apologetics is legitimate and fruitful. Each is worthy of careful study. Despite this fact, there are two trends I wish to point out First, most of the thinking about apologetics has been on the academic themes. While this weight of attention is not in itself a bad thing, it may allow us to forget the other angles of apologetics. Second most of the criticisms of the usefulness of apologetics find there root in confusing the academic angle of apologetics with the entirety of the apologetic enterprise. Those of us who work in the academic angle bear much of the blame for this confusion. Sometimes we are overzealous about the strength of our arguments or how interesting they ought to be to nonbelievers. [This includes discussions with fellow Christians and topics.] Sometimes we neglect the large distinction between arguments that are technically strong and those that might be persuasive to a given person. Sometimes we neglect the missional themes in the apologetic task and thereby reinforce the notion that coming to believe that Christianity is factually true is the main task in our witness. By articulating the importance of the missional angle, as well as of the theological angle, we can defuse many criticisms of apologetics. (emphasis and addition in box quotes mine.)
I hope this short introduction to apologetics was and is helpful. There are three books I highly recommend as great starter points to both understanding the importance of apologetics as well as seeing the differing models of thinking in the world compared. These three resources are technical enough to invigorate the thinker as well as great introductions to the subject accessible to the layman.
- Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith;
- Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists;
- Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Apologetics (Holman Quicksource Guides)