Monday, September 5, 2016

Defining Christian apologetics and four reasons for doing it

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."

In today's post I want to offer a short treatment on the definition of Christian apologetics and its role in the Christian life. As Peter opens up this verse, he urges his readers to "sanctify" or "set-aside as special" Christ in one's heart. However and whatever we define the Christian apologetic task to be, it must be centered around the desire to cultivate a closer walk with Jesus Christ. Moreover, such a task as Christian apologetics aims to ultimately convince people to give their hearts to the Lord Jesus in saving faith. 

When we speak of "apologetics", were not talking about making apologies for being a Christian. Instead, the Greek word behind the term translated "defense" is the word "apologia", from whence we get our English term "apologetics". In its most basic meaning, "apologetics" describes the task of defending and communicating the Christian Faith. By understanding what Christian apologetics is all about and what function it has in Christian development (i.e discipleship), the reader will hopefully become intrigued to study further on this subject. 

Further refining our understanding of Christian Apologetics
Dr. William Lane Craig in his book: "Reasonable Faith", page 15, defines Christian apologetics as follows:

"Christian apologetics may be defined as that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide rational warrant for Christianity’s truth claims." 

Another Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, has offered the following definition of apologetics in an article explaining why churches need apologetics: 

"(A)pologetics is the branch of Christian theology that seeks to address the intellectual obstacles that keep people from taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously."

Readers may had noticed the picture associated with today's post, featuring a chess board with opposing armies of chess pieces. When this blogger snapped the above photograph, the thought came to mind about the importance of fighting the good fight of faith. When William Lane Craig mentioned of giving "rational warrant", that is another way of saying: "giving good reasons for why you believe what you believe". When Ravi Zacharias brought up the point of "addressing intellectual obstacles", we come to grasp how apologetics functions as a form of "pre-evangelism" or "removing of grounds for dismissing the gospel". Apologetics is a crucial tool in the Christian's growth in discipleship. As the opening verse of today's post states, we must be prepared to give an answer with the attitude of Christ that exercises both gentleness and respect toward the questioner. 

The four purposes served by Christian apologetics
Dr. William Lane Craig's book: "Reasonable Faith" spells out four main purposes for Christian apologetics. I will list what they are and then offer a brief exposition of each:

a). Express our cognitive love to God (Mt 22:37).

We should not only love Jesus with all our heart, but also our minds (hence the term "cognitive". In as much as the spirit of a man is instantly converted at saving faith, the mind ought to be the subject of progressive, ongoing transformation as the Christian grows in their faith. Both heart and mind are essential in the cultivation of Christian spirituality.

b). Explain/defend Christianity to unbelievers

This second purpose reveals how apologetics functions as a form of "pre-evangelism". Apologetics ought to lead us to a deeper burden for sharing the Gospel. Often we must knock down the intellectual barriers and opposing arguments to get to the root of a person's rejection of Jesus Christ. The Bible uniformly describes mankind's rebellion against God as moral and spiritual. Apologetics aims to eventually expose this root while also addressing the intellectual branches that issue forth from the trunk of unbelief. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 that we aim to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 

c). Confirm our faith to Christians

I have found that Christian apologetics can strengthen the Christian's faith. There are those seasons where all Christians have doubts or struggle in the midst of great difficulties. Christian apologetics can function alongside the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit in verifying to the Christian that following Jesus is worth it all.

d). Explore connections to Christian doctrines and other truths

As one engages in Christian apologetics, growth in understanding how the Christian worldview fits together comes as an added bonus. Key doctrines that typically comprise any Christian apologetic includes: the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation and the doctrine of last things. When you think about it, these five classical "key points of Christian doctrine" provide a broad outline of the Bible. Throughout every age, these five key areas have been attacked and have needed to be repeated and communicated. Other doctrines are appealed to along the way as one grows in their understanding of the Christian worldview. 

Closing thoughts

Today we defined Christian apologetics and four main purposes for doing it. My hope is that the reader has been inclined to increase their knowledge of what they believe, why they believe and how to defend what they believe. Such a strategy will enable Christians to have effective testimonies in the workplace, the university campus, the local church and among their families and friends. 

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