defender of the faith

November 28, 2015


Fundamental to apologetics is answering questions commonly raised by non-Christians about the truth of Christianity. While many such questions are broached in this book, we will concentrate on those that are basic and crucial to the validity of the Christian faith. These questions are part of the unbelieving stance typified by the agnostic or atheist today. Those questions are the following:


  1. Why should we believe in the Bible?


  1. Don’t all religions lead to God?


  1. How do we know that God exists?


  1. If God does exist, why does he permit evil?


  1. Aren’t the miracles of the Bible spiritual myths or legends and not literal fact?


  1. Why should I believe what Christians claim about Jesus?

we will be analyzing four basic approaches to apologetics. Again, these are idealized types; when we consider the apologetic work of actual Christian apologists we find that there are actually many more than four approaches. However, most of the methods that Christians use in apologetics are closely related to one of these four basic approaches. We might think of them as ‘families’ of apologetic approaches, with those classified in the same type as sharing certain ‘family resemblances’ with one another. Membership in one family does not preclude some resemblances to another family. Our analysis of apologetic approaches into these four types closely parallels that found in other surveys of major types of apologetics, though with some minor differences (see the Appendix.)


What distinguishes these four basic approaches to apologetics? To put the matter as simply as possible, each places a distinctive priority on reason, fact, revelation, and faith respectively. In our illustrations with Sarah and Murali, we will also present four Christians utilizing the four approaches in an astute, representative manner. For reasons that will become clear by the end of Part One, we call these four apologists Tom (after Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century theologian), Joe (after Joseph Butler, an eighteenth-century Anglican bishop), Cal (after John Calvin, the sixteenth-century French Reformer), and Martina (after Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century German Reformer). Tom’s apologetic approach places a strong emphasis on logic, and is called classical apologetics. Joe’s approach emphasizes facts or evidences, and is called evidentialism. Cal’s approach emphasizes the authority of God’s revelation in Scripture; because of its close identification with Calvinist or Reformed theology, this approach is here called Reformed apologetics. Finally, Martina’s approach emphasizes the need for personal faith and is referred to here as fideism (from the Latin fide, “faith”). These are differences in emphasis or priority, since apologists favoring one approach over another generally allow some role for reason, facts, revelation, and faith. (Even fideism, which is typically suspicious of apologetic argument, offers a kind of apologetics that uses reason and fact.)


The four approaches diverge on apologetic method or theory regarding the following six questions, all of which will be discussed in this book in relation to each of the four views:


  1. 1. On what basis do we claim that Christianity is the truth?


  1. 2. What is the relationship between apologetics and theology?


  1. 3. Should apologetics engage in a philosophical defense of the Christian faith?


  1. 4. Can science be used to defend the Christian faith?


  1. 5. Can the Christian faith be supported by historical inquiry?


  1. 6. How is our knowledge of Christian truth related to our experience?


Although each approach answers these questions in different ways, those answers are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In practice, many apologists do not fit neatly into one of the four categories because they draw somewhat from two or even more approaches to answer these questions about apologetics. We see this as a healthy tendency. In fact, we will argue that all four approaches have value and should be integrated together as much as possible.

The Plan of this devotion ( I may deviate or shorten some of the material as I don’t want anyone to suffer burn out from so much information.)

  1. On what basis do we argue that Christianity is the truth?


On the basis of what understanding of knowledge and truth should the Christian apologist seek to lead non-Christians to the knowledge of Christianity as the truth? As we have seen, this question is at the core of what distinguishes the four approaches discussed in this book. The classical apologist sees reason as the ground of apologetic argument. The evidentialist seeks to build a case for Christianity from the facts. The Reformed apologist contends that God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and in Scripture is the proper ground for all thinking about reason, fact, and human experience. The fideist presents experience of God in Jesus Christ as self-justifying apart from argument. These varying approaches are based on different epistemologies, or theories of knowledge. (Epistemology is concerned with the nature and ground of knowledge—what knowledge is, and how we know what we know—and especially with the justification of knowledge claims.) Thus the classical apologist adheres to a broadly rationalist epistemology, the evidentialist to an empirical or fact-based epistemology, the Reformed apologist to an authoritarian epistemology (with Christ and Scripture the supreme authorities), and the fideist to a subjectivist, experience-based epistemology. Tied up with these epistemologies are varying beliefs about the kind of certainty that can be afforded through apologetic argumentation, the existence and identity of “common ground” or relevant shared truth between Christians and non-Christians, and the relation between faith and reason.


This metapologetic question also relates directly to an apologetic question. Non-Christians object to the absolute truth-claim made by Christians on behalf of the gospel. Most people in our society today do not believe in absolute truth and consider any absolute religious claims particularly onerous. The rise of postmodernism represents the newest wave of assaults on the belief in absolute truth. The responses to this question from the four apologetic approaches will naturally parallel their answers to the question in its metapologetic form. Thus the classical apologist will argue that denials of absolute truth are irrational. The evidentialist will typically argue that while absolute rational certainty for the claims of Christ is unavailable, those claims can be supported by the facts, perhaps beyond reasonable doubt. The Reformed apologist will commonly contend that all people at bottom do believe in absolute truth and even presuppose that belief at every turn. The fideist will generally respond that absolute truth is not a matter of propositional knowledge or factual information anyway, but is a Person who is known in relationship, not in mere words. Fideists are more likely than advocates of other apologetic approaches to find value or points of contact in postmodernism, since that movement eschews the modernist assumption of scientific and rational objectivity and views belief systems primarily as functions of the individual and the community.

  1. What is the relationship between apologetics and theology?


This relationship is a primary issue in metapologetics, though its importance is often overlooked. This question is important in two ways.


First, there is significant debate concerning the theological foundation of apologetics. To some extent apologetical methods are related to the way one understands and interprets Christian theology. The close relationship between theology and apologetics is especially evident in Reformed apologetics, because it originated from and is almost completely tied into the Reformed tradition in systematic theology. On the other hand, some Reformed theologians engage in rational and evidential apologetics, although those we are calling Reformed apologists regard these thinkers as inconsistent Calvinists who have slipped into a Thomistic or Arminian apologetic methodology. Thus one cannot avoid theology when considering how to do apologetics. Apologists disagree, for example, about whether God’s revelation in nature can be sufficiently understood by non-Christians to arrive at belief in God. This disagreement is closely tied to a debate over the effects of sin on human reasoning.


Second, apologists hold different views about the relationship of apologetics as a discipline to the discipline of theology (particularly systematic theology). Some apologists view apologetics as a branch of theology (whether major or minor), while others regard it as a preparation for theology. The debate is significant because it affects our understanding of the rules or methods followed in apologetics as well as the purpose and scope of apologetics.

  1. Should apologetics engage in a philosophical defense of the Christian faith?


Apologetics is often viewed and practiced almost as if it were synonymous with philosophy of religion—as a discipline that seeks to apply the tools of philosophy to defining and proving certain key beliefs of Christianity. On the other hand, some apologists show great disdain for philosophy, regarding it as the enemy of Christian faith. Historically, some apologists have sought to defend Christianity in terms drawn from the non-Christian philosophies of such thinkers as Plato or Aristotle or Kant. Meanwhile other apologists have regarded such efforts as inevitably compromising the Christian message that is supposedly being defended. This issue must be considered in developing an approach to apologetics.

  1. Can science be used to defend the Christian faith?


For many non-Christians today, science poses the most formidable intellectual objections to Christian faith. Yet Christian apologists differ markedly in their view of the proper stance to be taken toward science. Some embrace the findings of science enthusiastically, claiming to find in them direct confirmation of the Christian faith. Others take the opposite position, viewing science in general with suspicion and regarding certain prevailing theories of science as inimical to the Christian faith. Still other apologists view science as irrelevant, since to them the Christian faith deals with issues that transcend the physical world that is the field of scientific inquiry.

  1. Can the Christian faith be supported by historical inquiry?


The diversity of views on science among apologists is paralleled by a similar diversity concerning history. Some apologists stake the truth of the Christian message on its historical verifiability. Others, while agreeing that the faith is based on historical events, place little emphasis on historical inquiry or warn against believing that the central events of redemption can be verified “objectively” according to the canons of historical study. Still others regard the faith as in principle not subject to historical inquiry because it deals with the eternal, not the temporal.

  1. How is our knowledge of Christian truth related to our experience?


All human beings process new information and ideas by relating them in some fashion to their own experiences in life. This fact necessitates giving some consideration to how apologetics should relate to experience. Some apologists seek to analyze human experience in terms of universal truths in which the Christian message can be grounded. Others eschew argumentation about experience and instead call on non-Christians to experience God’s love in Christ. Still others view all experience as untrustworthy and argue that it needs to be tested and interpreted in light of the authoritative teaching of Scripture. Some answer to the question of experience must be given, or at least assumed, by every apologist.


Apologetic Questions


In the preface we introduced six common questions or objections to the Christian faith that are commonly brought up by non-Christians. We will comment briefly on each.

  1. Why should we believe in the Bible?


All Christian apologists have as part of their “job description” the task of persuading people to accept the Bible as God’s word—as inspired Scripture. Apologists take different approaches to accomplishing this task. Some see the question of the Bible as the conclusion or end point of their apologetic. Typically they seek to demonstrate logically the truth of the biblical worldview, then to defend the truth of the central biblical claims on behalf of Jesus Christ, and only then to present the Bible as God’s word. Other apologists defend the truth and inspiration of the Bible inductively, by treating the Bible as a source and defending the authenticity and accuracy of that source in every major aspect. In contrast to these approaches, some apologists insist that the divine authority of the Bible must be presented as the only viable foundation for all knowledge; for them the inspiration of Scripture is the beginning, not the end, of the argument. Still other apologists focus not on defending the doctrine of biblical inspiration but on leading non-Christians to encounter Jesus Christ personally through the reading of Scripture.

  1. Don’t all religions lead to God?


On the assumption that (absolute) truth claims in religion are unjustifiable, many people today argue that all religions are adequate to meet the needs that Christianity does. Apologists employing different methods tend to respond to this belief in different ways. Some try to show that all non-Christian religions are illogical. Others present evidence to support Christianity’s unique status among the religions of the world. Still others cut through the objection by responding that Christianity isn’t a religion at all.

  1. How do we know that God exists?


All Christian apologists, of course, are concerned to bring non-Christians to the knowledge of God. However, they differ markedly in what sorts of arguments they regard as viable means of convincing non-Christians that God even exists. Some apologists employ arguments designed to prove conclusively that God exists, while others use arguments claiming only to show that it is not unreasonable to believe that God exists. Still others are critical of traditional arguments for God’s existence, preferring either an indirect argument or no argument at all. Some apologists, in fact, assert that arguments for God’s existence can actually interfere with or impede genuine faith.

  1. If God does exist, why does he permit evil?


Ask ten non-Christians at random to give two objections to the Christian faith, and very likely nine of them will mention what is known as the problem of evil: How is it that there is evil in the world created by an all-powerful and all-loving God? Christian apologists respond to this challenge with different argumentative strategies. Some argue for the coherence of the Christian worldview as inclusive of evil and suffering. Others contend that the question is impudent and cannot be rationally answered. As this is probably the number one objection to the Christian faith, apologists must wrestle seriously with this question.

  1. Aren’t the miracles of the Bible spiritual myths or legends and not literal fact?


Modern criticism of the Bible has resulted in the widespread belief that the books of the Bible were in general not written when or by whom they have traditionally been understood to have been written. Worse, it is commonly believed that the narratives of the Bible are not historical accounts but later myths or legends that have only tenuous roots in fact. In particular, many people today view the biblical accounts of such foundational miraculous events as the crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus or the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as symbolic myths teaching perennial spiritual truths rather than as miraculous historical events. Christian apologists approach the biblical miracles in different ways. Some seek to make them credible by first proving the existence of God. Others appeal directly to the historical evidence to show that these events occurred, and actually cite the biblical miracles as evidence of God’s existence. Others, though, view miracles as God’s activity in the world in response to faith and criticize traditional apologetic arguments as seeking to base faith on miracles. Once again, apologists who agree that the biblical miracles occurred have markedly different approaches to defending belief in those miracles.

  1. Why should I believe what Christians claim about Jesus?


Most non-Christians are willing to grant that belief in Jesus can be helpful or meaningful to Christians, but balk at the claim that belief in Jesus is necessary for all people because what Christians believe about Jesus is the truth. In addition, many non-Christians today believe that biblical scholarship has called into question the traditional Christian view of Jesus as the supernatural, risen Savior and Lord. Apologists employ a variety of arguments designed to lead non-Christians to see and accept the truth claims of Jesus. Some reason that Jesus must be what the Bible says he is because no other explanation makes sense. Others present factual evidence for the life, the death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus, maintaining that it is sufficient to refute modern antibiblical theories about Jesus and to establish the Christian truth claims about him. Still other apologists argue, in effect, that Jesus himself is his own best argument: that non-Christians need simply to be confronted with the person of Jesus in the Gospels. They recognize that biblical scholarship does not deliver to us the traditional, biblical Christ, but contend that it could not and indeed should not do so: the Christ of faith transcends the “Jesus of history” and must be found by faith, not by historical inquiry. Thus, on so basic a question as why non-Christians should believe in Jesus, Christian apologists have offered some strikingly different answers.

Part Three tomorrow.

God bless from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: