Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Defending Apologetics1: Are we called to apologize for God?

by Deb Welch
Are we called to "apologize" for God, the Bible, or our faith?
No, not in the way that our contemporary society thinks of an apology, but we are commanded in scripture to be prepared to give an account for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3: 15).

When Christians take a wrong approach to the topic of apologetics, they often end up wishing to abandon the practice altogether. However, if the aim of our apologetic efforts is in line with the historical roots of “apologia,” which in the Greek means to make a defense, then we can focus our efforts on engaging in the true sense of the practice as it was set out and meant to be.

Some of the common misunderstandings that Christians have about apologetics should be recognized at the outset. Contrary to what many emerging and post-modern thinkers believe, apologetics is not “scientism.” We do not set out to provide total proof of everything contained in the scriptures by rational or scientific claims. However, we are able to provide sufficient evidence, rather than total proof. If scientists are honest, and most scholars will agree, total proof is not achievable, because of man’s finite and limited knowledge, perception, and capabilities. Instead, scholars do rely upon the basis of sufficient proof to make a case, and such is the burden of the apologist.

Another valid observation of the role of apologetics that should be acknowledged is that apologetics is not “treatment” for deliberate, ardent unbelief or willful disobedience. Many Christians who don’t practice apologetics will have affirmed this by their own experience, and thus dismiss future endeavors to engage in the practice. Unfortunately, this approach overlooks the reality of what making a defense of our faith and hope most accomplishes - which is to serve as a cure for sincere doubts of both believers and unbelievers. College students in academia and institutes of higher learning are bombarded with false claims and worldly philosophies that assault the foundations of the Christian faith, thus, an effective apologist will find overwhelming opportunities to defend the truths of God’s word and the Christian faith.

Additionally, a number of Christians in our contemporary society falsely confuse apologetics with polemics. This is a relatively recent development, as secular philosophy has infiltrated many of the foundational doctrines of our historic churches. Historically, the goal of polemics is to root out false teaching, false doctrines, and cults from our midst, rather than to defend against doubts and challenges that historically originate outside of the church proper. In either case, it is of the utmost importance that we remember the aim of our apologetics is never just to win a debate or out-maneuver the other person intellectually, but rather to help them to remove barriers and doubts that are obscuring their ability to see the Truth and grasp hold of the truths of Christianity.

Another common argument against the use of apologetics is without faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, no reasoned defense will be sufficient to win someone over. Remembering that apologetics is not scientism and that it is about addressing sincere doubts, we certainly do not want the Christian to think that they can debate anyone into the kingdom. Faith is the very starting-point of the Christian life, yet for the apologist, we know that faith can be shown to be consistent with truth and reason. We use the practice of apologetics not to create faith, but to aid in the beginning of faith to those who are seeking and the maintenance of faith for those who doubt. We fully depend upon the role played by the Holy Spirit in helping to communicate the apologetic message to all people. Furthermore, the recipients will not understand or accept any message without the aid of the Holy Spirit either. Therefore, while it is true that apologists do not seek to prove their point to a recipient beyond any shadow of a doubt, reason is certain involved and highly instrumental as an aid to the recipient’s faith.

Finally, some believers will claim that since the only thing that can increase faith or aid in changing someone’s heart or mind is the Bible, therefore, apologetics is not effective or an essential activity in which Christians ought to engage. Yet, to a true apologist, a high view of the Bible is not incorrect, nor is it anything on which a true apologist would need to compromise. In fact, one of the central roles in apologetics is to point to and provide sound evidences of the unusual character of the Bible in matters of unity, accuracy, consistency, redemptive-historicity and life-changing power. While the rest must be left to the Holy Spirit to work upon the inquirer, the work of the apologist is to play a very supportive role in helping other to accept in faith the Bible as God's infallible word

In summary, I will offer an example of how an apologist and a non-apologist approached a question which is often regarded as a general, but difficult question. How do I defend that God commanded the destruction of the Canaanites by the Israelites?” The non-apologist response was that “the Canaanites were destroyed because they were an abomination unto God, for the scripture says: “For every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deut 12:31).”
The non-apologist assumes the recipient has prior faith in the Word of God as absolute and infallible and also pre-supposes the recipient’s knowledge of basic doctrines. Some would consider such a response begging the question. Of course, the apologist would respond quite differently.

(the non-apologist)

The prime target in defending against such a difficult question is “barrier removal.” Proclamation is not to be minimized, but done by addressing doubts and barriers first and foremost. What are the possible barriers? That God would approve of the destruction of a whole nation of people? That God would command it? That the Israelites carried it out?

Typically, with a question like this, much of it is culturally and contextually based. In western society, and particularly in this country, Christians would never accept the command to destroy a Muslim or Hindu nation strictly because it was full of creatures guilty of abominable acts committed to idols. So, the question many times becomes why was it somehow okay, according to the Bible, somewhere, and at sometime in the past? And how can you believe the Bible is true, but not be okay with putting entire nations of people to death for their idolatry? This is the pivotal opportunity to accomplish both barrier removal and proclamation.

The apologist will defend the Bible’s unity, accuracy, consistency, redemptive-historicity and life-changing power by making a case that is based on the resurrected Christ and His kingdom. Some key points an apologist would make that would lead cleanly to an evangelistic path would be to show them how:
· it was necessary to preserve the physical line of the Promised Messiah,
· this event was a temporary requirement at a unique time in redemptive history,
· Jesus came to establish a “kingdom not of this world,”
· His servants to do not fight with physical weapons or against flesh and blood, but against spiritual strongholds with spiritual weapons,
· and we now come in he name of the crucified and risen Christ who came to give life that we might have it abundantly and who said from the cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

For more info on this particular questions go to: http://media.sermonaudio.com/mediapdf/111206123250.pdf


Chucky said...

If anyone wants to help out on the web, there is an apologetics wiki just starting at http://www.apologetics-wiki.com.

Deb said...

Excellent site. Thanks for the link.