What Is Apologetics?

by Michael R. Finney

Apologetics is the systematic defense of the Christian faith. It seeks to define, establish, defend, and vindicate the presuppositions of Christian theology in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology. It also seeks to defend and vindicate the Christian system of truth in every area of thought or investigation.

Apologetics is commanded by the Bible for all Christians (1 Peter 3:15-16) and so there is no excuse not to study apologetics. Its importance was recognized by some of the great theologians of our time (Evidentialist B.B. Warfield and Presuppositionalist Cornelius Van Till both insisted that Christians could and must prove the truth of God and the Bible.)

The basis of all Christian understanding is the teaching of the Bible. The New Testament makes many appeals to people to believe in Christ. There are appeals to the work and miracles Christ did/was doing (John 5:31; Acts 2:22, 10:38-38), the Old Testament Scripture (John 5:39-47; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Acts 17:2-3), Christ's life (John 8:46), the evidence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:15-21), fulfilled Scripture (Acts 2:16-36, 13:22-35), Jesus' resurrection (Acts 2:32, 10:40-41, 13:30-31), direct revelation (John 1; Acts 11:4-17), the Christians godly conduct (1 Peter 2:12, 15, 3:1-2), God's providence (2 Peter 3:2-7; Acts 17:26-28), the nature of God (2 Peter 3:8-9), the creation (Acts 14:14-15, 17:24-25; Romans 1:18-23), God's graciousness to all people (Acts 14:16-17), the Christian's testimony (Acts 22:1-21, 26:1-29; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 9, 2:13), necessity of divine regeneration (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), etc. The Bible's apologetic should also be the Christian's.

The first problem to be dealt with in the discussion of apologetics is the definition of certain words. Different schools use, or at least view, the basic vocabulary differently. Before I give the definitions I will give the basics of my epistemological beliefs. First, my knowledge of God is based on my real, experiential knowledge of Him through my regeneration and conversion. Second, my acceptance of the Bible as my only rule of faith and practice is based on my knowledge of God and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in my examination of the scriptures and their claim of inspiration. Third, this is not true scientific knowledge because it is not repeatable or verifiable by other people. Last, the Bible is however my basis for "all" knowledge. (Philosophically speaking I do accept the testimony of my senses, etc. but only so far as they are consistent with the Bible.)

The basic definitions. Presupposition is a belief that is required or involved necessarily as an antecedent condition. This term is sometimes used to mean a belief that is taken for granted but unproved and possibly uninvestigated (i.e., The Mormons ask people to presuppositionaly accept that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ which is necessary to explain the Bible). This second use is extremely dangerous thinking. A priori is logic proceeding from a known or assumed cause to a necessarily related effect; deductive; can also mean based on a hypothesis or theory rather than on experiment or experience. Made before or without examination; not supported by factual study. (Cf. presupposition above, this alternate meaning is dangerous thinking.) A posteriori is logic derived by or designating the process of reasoning from facts or particulars to general principles or from effects to causes; inductive; empirical. Since they derive from general, limited observation they can only lead to probable conclusions.

It is my belief that nothing should be accepted as true purely as a hypothesis without proving its truth against the Bible. This being said I can now examine the "classical arguments".

The Ontological Argument of Anselm: In brief it states that God must be thought of as "a being than which nothing greater can be conceived." Since necessary existence is greater than possible existence, the idea must include the idea of absolute existence. Hence the non-existence of God would be a logical contradiction. Therefore God must exist. However, just because we would have made a logical contradiction of thought does not mean a god exists in reality.

The Innate Knowledge Argument of Augustine, Calvin, Hodge, etc.: It states that all men have a natural knowledge or understanding of God's existence and claims on them. (Cf. Romans 1) Atheists may be considered an exception or, according to Romans 1, they may simply be people who have believed their own lies about God. Opponents argue that such beliefs may come from culture and that not all men appear to have this knowledge.

The Cosmological Argument of Augustine, Newton, Descartes: This is the argument that every effect must have an adequate cause. For the universe this must be something greater than and separate from itself, that is God. Much of modern science seems aimed at proving this Prime Cause need not even exist let alone be a personal God.

The Teleological Argument of Aquinas. Newton, Butler, etc.: This argues that there is apparent design in nature. Random chance cannot explain the intricate, complex and beautiful workings of nature. Opponents argue that nature is full of chaos and that evolution is scientific fact.

The Moral Argument of Kant, Pascal, C.S. Lewis, etc.: All people know that certain thoughts or actions are "right" or "wrong". These categories would have no meaning without some absolute standard outside themselves. That is without God. Opponents argue that this standard is often very different from society to society and that Christianity has produced much evil.

All of these arguments assume that the person you are arguing with has a mind open to the truth and that by beginning with sinful man where he is you can reason him to accept the true God. According to the Bible, sinful man's will is so darkened with sin that he will never acknowledge the true God. If the sinful man could be persuaded to accept that there is a god it would not be the true God. This point is acknowledged by modern Presuppositionalists. Many (but not all) Reformed apologists like Van Till have an argument of their own.

The Consistency Argument: Christian Theism is the only system which accounts for all points observable in the human condition and the revelation given by God. Without Christian theism no fact has meaning, and even meaningful communication becomes impossible. This view says proofs are inadequate or unsuitable for unbelievers and will only use them to demonstrate the fallacies in the beliefs of opponents and not to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Opponents argue that this approach uses circular reasoning, assuming the truth of what is to be proved. Fallen man cannot be persuaded this way to know the true God. If the sinful man could be persuaded to accept that Christian theism is the ultimate answer, it would still not save him. Saving knowledge of God can only come from Him.

Some Presuppositionalists avoid this approach to apologetics and emphasize direct evangelism, prayer and proper Christian life, sometimes combined with using the above arguments and evidences in defense of the Christian faith at points under attack.

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit regenerates the elect when, where and how he pleases. God has ordained preaching as his means and the Biblical examples of apologetics use a variety of evidences to show the truth of the Biblical system. My "technique" is essentially that of the Presuppositionalists. I present the gospel, usually with my testimony, and then to use arguments and evidences to try to defeat the objections to "Christian Theism" raised by those I evangelize. I know, and tell them, that only through God's act of regeneration (because of total depravity) will any come to saving knowledge of Him. (This is both part of the Gospel and an "evidence" as well.)

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