Lesson 02.01

What is apologetics?


"So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present," (Acts 17:17).

     The word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia," pronounced, "ap-ol-og-ee’-ah." It means, "a verbal defense." It is used eight times in the New Testament: Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11; Phil. 1;7,17; 2 Tim. 4:16, and 1 Pet. 3:15. But it is the last verse that is most commonly associated with Christian apologetics.

"but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence," (1 Pet. 3:15, NASB). 

     Christian apologetics is the branch of theology that deals with answering any and all critics who oppose or question the validity of Christianity.   It can include studying such subjects as biblical manuscript transmission, philosophy, biology, mathematics, evolution, logic, history, etc.   But it can also consist of simply giving an answer to a question about Jesus or a Bible passage. The later case is by far the most common and you don’t have to read a ton of books to do that.
     Apologetics can be defensive and offensive.  Phil. 1:7 gives us instruction on the defensive side
.  “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my 2imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.”  2 Cor. 10:5-6 gives us instruction on the aggressive side, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  The apologist can and should defend his reasons for believing (1 Pet. 3:15). But, he can also go on the attack. He can seek out those who oppose Christianity (2 Cor. 10:5). Of course, he should be prepared to do this before hand with gentleness.
     Apologetics is the work of convincing people to change their views.  In this it is similar to preaching because its goal is ultimately the defense and presentation of the validity and necessity of the gospel.  It is an attempt to persuade the listener to change his beliefs and live in conformity to biblical truth.  This means he will come to a saving relationship with Christ.
     Apologetics can be, basically, evidential, classical, or presuppositionalEvidential apologetics deals with the evidence for Christianity: Jesus’ resurrection, the biblical manuscripts, fulfilled prophecy, miracles, etc. Jesus defended his resurrection with the use of evidence.   He said, "Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing," (John 20:27). 
     Classical apologetics focus on using reason combined with evidences.  Paul reasoned with the Jews in the temple:  "So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present," (Acts 17:17).  The Greek word for "reason" in this verse is dialegomai.  It means "
to ponder, resolve in one’s mind (dia, through, legō, to say); then, to converse, dispute, discuss, discourse with; most frequently, to reason or dispute with." 1  When you reason with someone, you use logic. 
     Presuppositional apologetics deals with the presuppositions of those who oppose Christianity because presuppositions effect how a person views evidence.  This approach is very useful when dealing with atheists as you'll find out later.  Jesus used a presuppositional approach when He spoke to the woman at the well.  "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father," (John 4:20-21). 
     Some areas of debate within Christian apologetics deal with the use and relationship of evidence, reason, philosophy, presuppositions, etc. Should the apologist use only those criteria acceptable to unbelievers? Are we allowed to use the Bible as a defense of our position or must we prove Christianity without it? Which form of apologetics is best?  Should we use evidential, classical, or presuppositional approaches?  Is reason alone sufficient to prove God existence or Christianity’s truth? How much should reason and evidence be used in light of the Scriptures teaching that it is God who opens the mind to understand? What part does prayer, using the Bible, and the sinful nature of the unbeliever play in witnessing? How do these factors interrelate to bring an unbeliever to faith? The questions are easy. The answers are not.
     Jesus chose one highly educated religious person as an apostle. That was Paul. The rest were fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, etc. They were regular people who were available and willing to be used by the Lord. They were filled with the Spirit of God and they were used as vessels of His righteousness. God uses all things for His glory.  So, we do apologetics by faith, in obedience to His command, and we expect that God will be glorified.  As far as which approach is best, I recommend you pray, trust God, and give the best answer you can.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you.  As you can see that different apologetic approaches were used in scripture depending on the situation, you too will adapt to the issue at hand.
     The Lord has called every Christian to be ready to make a defense of his faith. That means you are called to give reasonable answers to questions regarding Christianity. This does not mean that you must have a Ph.D or that you have to go to seminary. But it does mean that you should be willing to at least give an answer for your beliefs. If you find you cannot, then prayerfully talk to God about it and start studying.

What do you study?

     You could pray and ask the Lord to teach you what He wants you to know. Ask Him to give you a burden for something to learn. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just ask.  You might be interested in dealing with Mormonism, or atheism, or evolution, or biblical evidences.  It doesn't matter.  Whatever you become interested in is what you should learn about because it is probably something God wants you to know for later use.  It is like having tools in a tool shed. The more you have, the more you can accomplish.  Once you've "mastered" one area sufficiently, you'll find yourself interested in something else.
     Another way to find out what God wants you to study is through circumstances. Let’s say that a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door and debates the deity of Christ with you and you find you don’t know how to defend it biblically.  In that case, you know you need to study verses that teach Jesus is God in flesh. Or maybe a coworker asks you how you know the Bible is true? If you don’t have a answer, pray, and start researching.  Go to a Christian bookstore and get some books on it.  Talk to your pastor.  Study on CARM.  You’ll learn. 
     Sometimes God will make a verse or subject in the Bible "come alive" to you and  it might strike you as odd or interesting.  You could get a commentary and read up on it. You could ask others about it.  In so doing, you are preparing yourself through learning to be ready to answer questions and point people to the truth.  You'd be surprised how many details God can use to help you in your witness, even through those apparently odd times when verses suddenly "come alive."

Get An Ignorance Notebook

     The ignorance notebook is something I started almost 20 years ago to help me study. You can make one yourself. It’s simple. Get a 3 ring binder and fill with blank pages. Then ask God to fill it with what you need to know.
     As in the examples above, God will put burdens on your heart, or cause you to find places where you are lacking in knowledge, or a Bible verse will strike you. Write down what you learn in your notebook. Date the pages as you go. Again, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.
     Basically, apologetics is equivalent to theology in sneakers. It means getting the hay down off the loft and down to where the cows can eat it. Anyone can ‘do’ apologetics. All it takes is a willingness, a little work, and the Spirit of God in you.  So, are you willing and ready?  If so, get ready for a ride.

------------------------ Focus Points ------------------------

  1. God commands that you be able to give an answer to those who would ask you (1 Pet. 3:15).
  2. Apologetics can be defensive and offensive.  It is OK to be on the offense, tearing down the strongholds of the enemy.  we do not always have to be defensive.  we don't always have to wait for the attacks to come to us.
  3. Apologetics is similar to preaching because its goal is ultimately the defense and presentation of the validity and necessity of the gospel. 
  4. We do apologetics by faith, in obedience to God's command, and we expect that God will be glorified.  As far as which approach is best, pray, trust God, and give the best answer you can. 
  5. You should pray and ask the Lord to teach you what He wants you to know.  This way, you will be prepared according to God's will do not your own.

 

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1. Vine, W., & Bruce, F. (1981; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). Vine's Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words : W.E. Vine ; Old Testament edited by F.F. Bruce. (electronic ed.). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.

 


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