I know this blog entry is not the conclusion to the previous one that I said I would do, but I’m going to delay that one to instead write on another subject I’m passionate about- Christian Apologetics. I do so partially because it’s the subject of a conference* happening at my church in a few weeks’ time which I could not be more excited about, but also partially because of some of the attitudes of fellow Christians towards apologetics that I’ve noticed over the past six months or so. (Sidenote: Christian Apologetics isn’t actually just for Christians at all but also for theists, atheists, agnostics and whatever other -ist you may consider yourself. So feel free to read on, whatever your beliefs, but this particular blog is written for a Christian audience). I’m a little surprised at how many Christians don’t know what apologetics is, but I’m even more surprised at how easily others dismiss it or even denounce it. All of these reactions are surprising to me for two main reasons- apologetics is important and it’s Biblical. Before I delve further into that though, I’ll address the most basic question first…
What is “apologetics”?
No, it doesn’t mean to “apologize” for something. The word itself comes from the Greek work “apologia” meaning to give an answer or defense for something- in this case a defense of Christian claims to truth. (You may even notice, this blog is an apologetic for apologetics). The word comes from the judicial processes that go on in a courtroom, so let’s analyze that scene for a moment: Defense attorneys come prepared with all the evidence they can gather. They have both direct and circumstantial evidence, and eyewitness accounts, and from this they make their case. The attorney researches, studies, memorizes and then expounds their evidence to the courtroom. They build a reasoned and rational case for what they’re claiming is true. Christian apologists do the same thing, only they use the Bible as historical document as much as a holy book, and evidence from other disciplines as well like the sciences (yes, the sciences), philosophy, archaeology and more.
Does that sound cool? It is!
As Christians, we’re actually all called to be apologists. 1 Peter 3:15 says “…always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect…”. We are also instructed, ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind“- Matthew 22:7, Deuteronomy 6:5 (emphasis mine). And yet, a lot of Christians seem lukewarm about it. Some are even antagonistic towards it. Of the Christians I’ve spoken to in this latter camp, they explained that they’ve had bad experiences with it. Some have taken the apologists’ words as prideful and arrogant. Putting the issue of subjectivity aside, on the one hand if this is true at face value, the apologist has perhaps not applied the second instruction in 1 Peter 3:15 in his or her argument. On the other hand, it also doesn’t seem reasonable to ignore an entire field of study because one proponent didn’t follow one of its cardinal rules. Furthermore, to those who are against apologetics, if a strong enough case hasn’t yet been built from the aforementioned scripture, there’s another fact from biblical history that gets seriously overlooked- apologetics was the modas operandi of Paul and the apostles.
Apologetics is not just a trend as many seem to think. Dozens of examples could be used here to illustrate how apologetics was standard for the apostles. They constantly defended, taught and challenged false teachings against Christian doctrine. They used examples from the culture of the audience to whom they were speaking to apply Christian teaching, regularly quoted from “scriptures” (the Old Testament) and taught from oral traditions (“You have heard it said…”) and historical facts as known to their audience to formulate their arguments. “Then (Paul) went to the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things related to the kingdom of God.” Acts 19:8 & 9. As you can see, being a Christian and being an apologist actually go hand in hand. Far from a passing fad or something popular Christian culture has conjured up that will come and go, apologetics is as old as Christianity itself.
Some have said to me that apologetics is intimidating. That’s definitely understandable. The scientific and philosophic statements that often arise from the various fields of study can seem really baffling. But you don’t necessarily need to be an expert apologist to be able to defend your faith well. Sometimes even a few key pieces of information that challenge some of the major, popular, flawed ideologies of our culture are enough to greatly increase your understanding, both of what those flaws are and of how to have a meaningful conversation about them. There are also many of online resources that put these complex arguments in simpler terms. I’d encourage you not to let sophisticated argument names or concepts intimidate you and to be patient with yourself. There are hugely important lessons to be learned and huge benefits to you as a believer when you come to understand them.
For the Christians who seem to be apathetic altogether about the subject, well let me start by giving you an anecdote from my own experience. I hope you don’t get caught in the same position I was.
Why is apologetics important?
Not only is apologetics important, it’s necessary. In my second year at university, I had an English prof I’ll never forget. On one particular day in this class we were discussing the historical context of a book we were reading, and suddenly he started harshly criticizing Christian missionaries. I’d never heard an adult bash Christianity outright before. He had issues with religion in general, but he especially had it in for Christians. I was a deer in the headlights. Part of me was mad that he was harping so heavily, but, what bothered me most was that I had no idea what to say. Having grown up in a Christian home and lived in a Bible belt town for most of my life, my beliefs were fairly insulated. I’d been taught a lot about and from the Bible, and I trusted it, but never had anyone challenge it. Now I found myself in just such a position- with a university professor no less, someone who I naturally held in high intellectual distinction. Nothing prepared me to defend Christianity against that. I didn’t necessarily think that what he said was true, but I didn’t have a rebuttal either. This is the experience that many North American young adult Christians are having once they leave high school and enter the world. The result so far has been this demographic leaving the church in droves. Many go to post-secondary institutions without knowing how to defend their beliefs. It’s one thing to have a peer challenge you on it, it’s another altogether to have a professor ridicule it. It can be confusing at best, disillusioning at worst, and for many it’s meant the end of those beliefs. The good news is that if they have doubts, they don’t need to check their intellect at the door when they go to church or sit down to read their Bibles. The bad news is that many don’t know that yet.
Still feeling apathetic? Maybe the university setting doesn’t apply to your situation. Let’s move to the marketplace then. If someone said to you, “Christians are always trying to force their views on everyone else”, would you know how to respond? What if someone asks you, “Don’t all religions lead to God?” How about a the statement, “I don’t believe in God because it’s not rational. There’s no proof.” Or how about this tough question: “Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow suffering in the world?” These are some serious questions, and they’re ones that get asked a lot. Do you know how to answer any of them? Some people simply deem Christianity as just another religion while others don’t believe it at all. Still others like the New Atheists even go so far as to claim that Christianity causes only harm to the world and should be eradicated. How would you as a Christian respond when facing such harsh criticism? Again there’s good news. Apologetics training helps you navigate discussions on even the big, hard questions.
What about when you’re spending time with non-Christian friends at dinner and these questions come up? Maybe that’s happened already. How has the discussion gone? Do you feel like you’ve been able to confidently defend Christianity? Maybe you didn’t have an answer so you didn’t say anything. Maybe you tried to give an answer but the words came out wrong. Or maybe it went okay for a while but then grew emotional, and everyone walked away discouraged and upset? Discussing worldviews can seem daunting. What apologetics seeks to do is facilitate edifying those discussions rather than just having an argument that winds up escalating (again, “…with gentleness and respect…”), or dying before it’s even gotten a chance to address the question . There are apologetic books on how to navigate conversations about Christian doctrine. They can provide helpful tools to bring to these discussions despite the difficult topics, and to help represent Christianity strongly and accurately.
One last point…
This is too critical not to include. A key goal of apologetics is not to convert non-Christians to Christianity, but rather to get BOTH of these groups of people to think critically. Never before has humanity seen an age like the present one where so much information can be accessed so easily. The disadvantage to that is of course the amount of misinformation there is mixed in with it. Add to this the advent of social media to truncate and over-simplify this information, creating a sea of one-liners and memorable catch-all statements that we constantly expose ourselves to. It becomes very easy to grow lazy in our thinking about what’s really being said. More importantly, we tend to not filter out what’s true. Of course there are other causes. But while we’re being spoon-fed so much information, how much of it do we allow to influence us without thinking about the premises and conclusions we’re agreeing to? It influences our own worldview. Consequently, we regularly say things we don’t actually mean. If the mind is our circulatory system, critical thought is our immune system. By challenging you to think critically, apologetics wholly and truly teaches how to love the Lord your God with all your mind.
Apologetics is immensely valuable for Christians. We can give good, thoughtful, reasoned, even evidence-based arguments for what we believe. In today’s world the attitudes toward Christianity range from indifference to hostility, so rather than shrugging it off or spurning it, Christians should educate themselves on what apologetics really is and take the study seriously. This practice is both biblical and necessary. We as Christians ought to be prepared to have a response to what we believe and why. Studying apologetics equips us with the necessary information to do this with- to think critically about the mountains of information available, to sift out what’s true and what’s not, and to then engage with others in addressing the most difficult questions about life. If you’re a Christian and this topic doesn’t excite you, I encourage you to very carefully evaluate or re-evaluate your reasons why. For everyone else, let’s take a lesson from the apostles. Let’s take up the mantle to defend the Christian worldview. Let’s share the knowledge we can glean and do so with gentleness and respect. In doing so we will be encouraged in our faith, gain confidence in defending Christian beliefs against criticism, and put into practice loving our God with our minds. In doing so we will encourage and challenge those around us as well. To the glory of God.
*Some fantastic Chritian Apologists (including literally one of the world’s best), are coming to Northview Church in Abbotsford, B.C. This is happening on March 1st and 2nd and tickets are on sale both online and at the church. For all details on keynote speakers, schedules and speakers for breakout sessions, ticket pricing and more, visit… http://www.apologeticscanada.com/conference-2013/