Thursday, February 11, 2016

What is necessary for doing Christian apologetics?

Acts 17:1-3 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

Today's post answers the question: "what is involved in Christian apologetics?" Dr. William Lane Craig defines apologetics as: "The discipline in Christian theology that entails giving reasonable warrant for holding to the truth claims of Christianity". When Dr. Craig speaks of "reasonable warrant", he is referring to justifying why one believes what they believe. Certainly the Apostle Paul had a mission to go into the regions of Europe - particularly Macedonia - so as to lay the ground work for evangelism. As a plowman prepares a field for reception of seed, apologetics sculpts furrows and rows in the culture for what will be the sowing of Gospel seed in evangelism. God had called Paul by way of vision to journey to Macedonia and engage the people of ancient Europe. Paul would eventually make his way down the region of Macedonia that included key cities such as Philippi and the larger cities referenced in the passage above. The more familar cities of Thessalonica and Corinth would also be included in this missionary journey. Eventually this trip would lead to one of the most dramatic apologetic encounters occurring at the famous "Mars Hill" - an ancient think- tank of philosophers and thinkers in Athens. 

In the opening verses of today's post, we see Paul's method of apologetical groundwork as he entered in new territory. What were the essentials of Paul's apologetical method and message? Note the following thoughts from Acts 17:1-4:

1. A consistent method Acts 17:1-2a
As a general rule, Paul always bee-lined to the Synagogues (Jewish meeting-places) in keeping with the early church's mission of the "Jew first, and also the Greek" (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16). The word translated "custom" speaks of Paul's "habit". A good apologist will have a method, an outline and overall goal in mind as they do their preparatory work for evangelism. An example of a consistent method may very well be in offering common arguments for God's existence, followed by demonstrating the reliability of the Bible and ending with the credibility of the fact of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Such a method, called "classical apologetics", has existed in one form or another since the early days of the church following the death of the apostles. 

2. A communication of worldviews.
Acts 17:2b
Luke writes in Acts 17:2b that Paul "reasoned from the scriptures" with the Jews. The Greek word translated "reasoned" is a verb from whence we derive our English word "dialogue". Thus as Paul spoke in the Synagogue, or later on with the Graeco-Roman audiences, his aim was to engage these people in dialogue. Creating an atmosphere of having "meetings for better clarity" can go a long way toward removing caricatures that Christians and non-Christians bring into the apologetical discussion. Moreover, as non-Christians are given the opportunity to dialogue with Christians, inroads are opened up for the Holy Spirit to do His convicting work (John 16:8-12). Think of how often Jesus Himself had conversations with people. In apologetics, building relationships is essential if we ever expect to see eventual conversions.  

3. Constructing evidence and arguments for why one believes the truth claims of Christianity
Luke then goes further by stating in Acts 17:2b-3 reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” The two underlined English words detail what Paul did as he laid out the case for Christianity. 

First, the word "explaining" comes from a word that refers to "opening up the meaning" of the text of scripture. We could also say that Paul's intent was to hopefully "open the minds" of his hearers. Undoubtedly there had been much prayer invested in this endeavor, since much like preaching, apologetics will never succeed apart from the Holy Spirit's intervention. 

The second word describing Paul's apologetic effort is the term "explaining". This word in the original language gives the idea of "laying out each argument or bit of evidence side by side". I'm sure the reader has seen court cases on television where lawyers will have "exhibit A" and "exhibit B" and so on. To establish guilt or innocence is done by cumulatively present each individual piece of evidence to make the overall case. In legal settings, the gold standard of establishing truth is "beyond a reasonable doubt". 

In apologetical situations, the normal standards include "plausibility" and "greatest level of probability, given the evidence." Apologetical arguments on their own do not constitute enough persuasive power to deliver certainty. Now even though that may sound disconcerting at first, the point of apologetics is to dislodge intellectual and moral objections and to move the unbeliever from outright hostility to reasonable consideration of the Christian faith. Whatever distance may remain between, say, intellectual acceptance of Christianity to full certain faith in Jesus Christ can only be bridged by the Holy Spirit and the scriptures (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

Apologetics functions to prepare the mind and heart of the unbeliever for what will be the presentation of the Gospel. It may take only one apologetical encounter, or one may not even get through the whole presentation before the person says they're ready to believe. Again, the Holy Spirit is the One who brings people to point of certainty in saving faith (James 1:18; Hebrews 11:1). 

So, what is involved in doing Christian apologetics? In exploring Acts 17:1-3, we saw that the Apostle Paul had three major elements: consistency, communication and construction. He was consistent in his approach and methodology. He aimed for two-way communication between himself and those whom he brought forth the case for Christianity. As we already noted, the task of Christian apologetics must be conjoined to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit and prayer. Then finally, he had constructed arguments and evidence that gave justification for why he believed why he believed.