What Are You Apologizing For?

What are you apologizing for? This is often the question I get when I talk to Christians and non-Christians about Christian apologetics. To be fair, it does sound like I’m apologizing in a professional manner but in reality that is not the case. Apologetics comes from the greek word, apologia, which means to give a defense. The word shows up a few times in the New Testament (Acts 22, 25; 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 7; Philippians 1; and 2 Timothy 4:16) but it’s most prominent use is in 1 Peter 3:15. If you want a definition of Christian apologetics, this is the verse to read. 1 Peter 3:15 says:

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

More often than not, when I talk about how important Christian apologetics is for the Christian in evangelizing, I get a lot of push back from my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I want to first list my reasons for why everyone who claims to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior should, in some capacity, be equipped to defend their faith in front of non-Christians:

  • Persuading non-Christians to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior
  • Strengthening Christians’ beliefs in times of doubt
  • Shaping culture to where the Gospel is seen as plausible to non-Christians (Pastor Josh Moore has written a brief post on a related topic here.)

However I’m going to wait for a future post to delve more deeply into these three important reasons for using apologetics. In this current post, I want to briefly look at some objections that I have often been confronted with from Christians about using apologetics.

Objection 1: I’m not smart enough to defend my Christian beliefs!

My first response is reminiscent of the words of the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig who responded to this kind of objection. To paraphrase Dr. Craig, how dare you insult your Creator who endowed you with reason and intelligence and not use it to glorify Him in defending His truth. The different (and numerous) defenses of the Christian faith does not require Ph.D.-type knowledge nor dozens of complicated text books to understand. There are books out there written on a high school (some even middle school) level that a person of average intelligence could easily grasp.

Objection 2: The apostles were unlearned and they did okay!

In Acts 4, we read that the Jewish leaders noted that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned. Some have taken this cue that it’s okay to not use their reason and intelligence when reaching out to unbelievers. I have a couple of responses to this:

1) When the Jewish leaders said that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned, they probably meant that Peter and John had not undergone formal rabbinic training headed by the Pharisees and Sadducees.

2) Even if we grant Peter was uneducated and unlearned, it doesn’t appear he stayed that way. Keep in mind at the beginning, he was just a fisherman but he must have taken his own advice (1 Peter 3:15) and got himself educated. This is evident in his letters. 1 and 2 Peter are considered to be written in highly educated, intellectual Greek style which is unlikely from someone with just a fisherman background. If Peter did write those letters, he must have devoted himself to intellectual cultivation in his travels. All of this could be said of John as well with his letters and gospel written in Greek.

Objection 3: In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul argues against the wisdom of the world and reminded his readers that he did not give them persuasive words of wisdom!

Some conclude from this that reasoning and argumentation doesn’t do us any good when it comes to evangelism. I have a few responses to this:

1) If this is an indictment against argumentation and reasoning with unbelievers then Paul contradicts himself a lot as shown throughout the book of Acts.

2) Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 should be seen as a condemnation on the exclusive use of Greek rhetoric. Greek orators at that time did not have substance to their rhetoric but used empty rhetoric to persuade others to a position.

3) Paul is likely making the claim that the content of the gospel cannot be deduced by pure reason from a set of first principles. I have no problem agreeing with that. I don’t see how it’s possible to start with some abstract concept of an unmoved mover and conclude that a crucifixion must take place sometime in human history.

Objection 4: Our response to God’s ways should be that of ignorance, otherwise we dishonor God by using reason!

Christians will often use Isaiah 55:9 (God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours) and 1 Corinthians 8:1 (knowledge puffs people up and makes them arrogant) to justify this position. The fact that God’s thoughts are higher than ours means that we will never be able to fully grasp God’s purposes, motives, or guidance in the world. But who would ever think we could attain to the full knowledge of such things?  To admit this says nothing about loving God with our minds by defending his truth with reason and arguments.

In regards to arrogance, I want to make two important points. First, Paul’s statement is not going against knowledge but against a certain attitude toward it. It seems that the proper response is humility, not arrogance. Second, there are as many unknowledgeable persons who are arrogant as there are knowledgeable persons who are arrogant. Arrogance is not solely for people who use their reasoning to defend God’s truth.

Doubtless there are other objections but I tried to answer the most popular ones that I have heard. In my next post, I’ll delve more deeply into my three reasons why a follower of Jesus Christ should engage with apologetics.

 

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