Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Christian Apologetic Task and its Relevance to Christmas

Luke 2:17-20 "When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them."
1 Peter 3:15 "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."

During these last few days we have been taking the time to suggest ways in which one could argue for the historicity and reality of the birth narratives of Jesus Christ. More specifically - we have aimed to demonstrate the reasonability, reliability and significance of the Son of God becoming incarnated or revealed in true humanity by way of the virgin birth. Such a study has included discussions about the possiblity of miracles, the existence of God and the reality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. It is hoped that the reader has gleaned some ways in which they can share the Gospel in reference to the miracles of the virgin birth and incarnation. 

To know that the incarnation was a real event begs the question: what will you do with Jesus? As we also labored to demonstrate, being that we live in a world where God's direct intervention into history has occured (minimally described by the non-natural events of the beginning of the universe and Jesus' resurrection from the dead), we concluded that there is no reasonable basis for excluding the miraculous from a genuine reading and assessment of the Christmas accounts in Matthew and Luke's Gospels. 

As can be seen, such efforts have relevance for communicating the truth of Jesus' remarkable life and resurrection from the dead. Today's post aims briefly to define what we will call "the Christian apologetical task", with some final closing remarks on its relevance to Christmas. 

Defining the term "apologetics"
In the opening text of today's post we see the mandate given by the Apostle Peter to defend the Christian's hope.  In fact the word translated "defense" is the Greek word "apologia" (a-po-lo-gee-a), from whence we derive the name of the branch of Christian theology called "apologetics".  When a Christian engages in apologetics, they are not saying they are "sorry" for being a Christian, rather they are given reasons to skeptical onlookers as to why they are so full of hope in an otherwise hopeless world.  Dr. R.C Sproul in a sermon entitled "apologetics" gives this definition of apologetics: "A well reasoned defense of the truth claims of the Christian faith." Any well rounded Christian should not only know "what they believe" but also "why they believe". 

Various methods for doing apologetics
With the mandate to defend the faith being clear from scripture and the meaning of apologetics being briefly defined, the next important area has to do with how to go about doing apologetics.  Several methods of defending the Christian faith have been proposed through the more than 2,000 year history of the Christian church.  

a. Classical Apologetics
Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner of Liberty University of the following description of classical apologetics:"the unbeliever is offered
evidence of the existence of God, and the supposition is that the unbeliever can reasonably ascertain that this hypothesis is rational and cohesive". 1  Hindson and Caner then explain further the second area general covered by classical apologetics, namely: "The classical apologist further argues for the reliability of the special revelation (The Bible) as a reliable and authoritative word from God."2  Author Doug Powell has this to say about the classical method: "The emphasis of classical apologetics is on reason. Christianity's logical soundness and internal coherence is exploited in this method. As a result, tests are developed and proofs are given that demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity and the irrationality of competing worldviews."  Powell later adds: "The classical method is so called because it traces its roots back to the second century and the earliest apologists."3

When defending the Christian faith through the method of classical apologetics, at least two and sometimes three steps are followed in the course of the presentation. 

1. First, reasonable arguments are given to show the reasonability of the Christian faith. Such arguments as showing God's existence from observations in the universe and science (i.e the cosmological argument); the existence of objective moral values (i.e the moral argument); how God is necessary for anything to exist (i.e the ontological argument) and then the evidence for design in the universe (also called the telelogical argument). 

2. The next phase will usually entail demonstrating the reliability of the Bible from the transmission of its words through the thousands of existing manuscripts to the archaeological evidence supporting the accounts we read in the Bible.

3. Usually the final phase will then be showing how the God of the Bible exists due to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Some classical apologists will combine this step and the defense of the scriptures, whereas others may only focus on either one. 

b. Presuppositionalist apologetics
Classical apologetics states the the proper starting point for defending the Christian faith is reason to scripture. However other apologists believe that the proper starting point for defending the Christian faith is by pre-supposing God Himself.  Christian scholar Norman Geisler notes: Presuppositional apologetics is the apologetical system that defends Christianity from the departure point of certain basic presuppositions. The apologist presupposes the truth of Christianity and then reasons from that point.4 With the presuppositionalist approach, the emphasis is almost opposite, namely you presuppose God's existence and aim to prove why Christianity alone is most reasonable and possess the greatest justification for believing.  Douglas Powell notes the following about presuppositionalism: "Thus, presuppositionalists are more concerned with what makes evidence evidential and what makes reason reasonable. Because the God of the Bible is the Creator of all things, we know that He is not just the source of all physical things, but all laws whether they be scientific laws, moral laws or logical laws.5

The presuppositionalist contends that since all human beings have the knowledge about God in their hearts, the purpose of apologetics then is to expose the fallacies of their worldview and get them to admit what they have been supressing. A typical presuppositionalist approach would be that without God, we could not use reason in our discussions, since reason itself requires the existence of God to operate. The existence of objective moral values and the underlying laws of such fields as math and even science require the existence of God. Even though presuppositionalism is the minority method in apologetics today, it can be very effective when dealing with such worldviews as Atheism.

c. Evidential Apologetics
In the evidentialist approach, evidence from the world of the sciences, history and observation functions to provide the necessary ammunition for the Christian apologist. Doug Powell notes: Evidentialism's value as a substantial tool to defend the faith rose in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as archaeology in particular developed as a science and turned its attention to the Mediterranean world and the Middle East. The findings of ancient manuscripts contributed immensely to our ability to know the original text of the Bible."6
Hindson and Caner give this insight about the evidentialist approach: "the method is the same: arguing the preponderance of the data."7

In the evidentialists mind, if enough evidence is brought forth to the unbeliever, the unbeliever will be backed into a corner, admitting that their evidence cannot compare to the evidence for the God of the Bible. In using events such as the World-wide flood of Genesis 6-9, evidentialists will appeal to virtually every branch of science to support the historical reality of the flood. In showing the flood to had been a real event, the logical follows then that the Bible is realiable enough to be trusted in other areas and ultimately salvation. 

d. Fideism or arguing that the best defense of the Christian faith is the Christian faith itself
Doug Powell observes the following about this fourth major approach: "In sharp contrast to these three methods, fideism rejects reason, evidence, and transcendental arguments as sufficient ways to justify the Christian faith (fide is Latin for faith). Faith and faith alone is the only proper way to understand the truth of Christianity."8  For the fideist, the task of the apologist is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel in the special revelation of the Bible, since the warped human nature necessarily rejects the testimony of God in the general revelation of creation and the conscience. As Hindson and Caner note about this approach: "A fideist, therefore, is one who holds the view that one comes to belief in God on the basis of faith alone, in the absence of or contrary to reason.Unlike the other three viewpoints above, the value of evidence and rational arguments is placed in doubt under the method of fideism. 

We have explored the meaning of apologetics and four main methods for defending the Christian faith: classical, presuppositionalism, evidentialism and fideism. May you and I dear reader know that not only must the Christian hope be defended, but that there are some marvelous ways in which we can go about presenting Christ to a lost a dying world. These two thoughts especially have bearing on this time of year as we consider the family and friends with which we will have contact - some of which have never trusted in Jesus Christ. Would it be that God uses these series of posts to open the eyes of openly hostile or skeptical loved ones and friends who are cynical towards Biblical truths such as the virgin conception and incarnation of Jesus as God in human flesh. The task to proclaim and defend the faith never ends and the relevance of such efforts has never been so urgent. May those who are Christian readers of these posts have a renewed fervor to share Jesus this season.

1. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers 2008. Page 64.

2. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers 2008. Page 65.

3. Doug Powell. Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Holman Publishers. 2006. Page 356. 

4. Norman Geisler, General Editor. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker. 1999. Page 606

5. Doug Powell. Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Holman Publishers. 2006. Page 360.

6. Doug Powell. Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Holman Publishers. 2006. Page 359.

7. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers 2008. Page 65.

8. Doug Powell. Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Holman Publishers. 2006. Page 363.

9. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers 2008. Page 224.