Prompt: Explain the definition, aim, and purpose of apologetics. Select three key passages from the Bible and elaborate on how they support your explanation.
Apologetics: A Call to Love and Destroy
Have faith! It is often proclaimed and heralded among the Christian church, spoken about as a positive trait, and frequently alluded to as a necessity for salvation. If it is something so important, it is worth investigation what it means. As defined by the world, ‘faith’ is a belief in myths, in foolishness, in lies. Holding to a ‘faith’ is self-deception, wishful thinking, and profitable only for the naive and weak, for the foolish and afraid. It is defined to be an inexplicable, irrational belief despite all evidence to the contrary. ‘Faith’, it is said, has no place in the scientific, rational, reasonable human mind, and must be discounted as irrelevant to practical life, and indeed, a hindrance to all knowledge and progress of humanity.
True or false? True. If this is ‘faith’, then no Christian should have anything to do with it; indeed it is stupidity and folly. This is because this definition of ‘faith’ is not biblical. Hebrews 11:1 — “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Greek word for “faith” is pistis, from the word peithō, a verb meaning to persuade, to have confidence in — a definition contrary to, if not exactly opposite of, the world’s understanding of the word. To have faith is to be persuaded of, to be convinced of something; it is to be assured of what one hopes for, to be convicted of that which is invisible. It is not an thought that one fabricates in order to fabricate a world that make sense, nor to bring a false peace. Faith is based upon reality and knowledge, and is having confidence in what one has faith in, going beyond what one feels or sees into what one knows with undeniable certainty.
Because there is this misunderstanding and frank disagreement between the true, biblical definition of faith and the world‘s definition of faith, it is necessary in every sense that those that bear the name ‘Christian’ explain the concrete evidences and reasons why faith in Christ is not merely superior to all other beliefs, but the only faith that is consistent with truth, experience, reason, and most important God and His Word. This defense, this evidence-giving, has been traditionally named apologetics, taken from the Greek word apologia, meaning to speak in defense of, to argue in favor of, or to give an explanation for. One of the most prominent calls for Christians to make a defense for their faith is from 1 Peter 3:15 — “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always beingready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you...” (emphasis added). The link between “of things hoped for” (Heb 11:1) and “for the hope that is in you (1 Pe 3:15), between having faith and giving reasons for that faith, is the basis for all biblical apologetics.
Yet, “to make a defense” is somewhat of an abstract idea. What does it mean? What does it look like? Does God give us examples of and truths about how Christians are to do this? God has not left His people without His revelation. Looking at the New Testament Scriptures, the Greek word apologia is used most often either by Paul himself in his epistles to the first century church or to refer to Paul and his trial as recorded in Acts 22-26. As a man of God “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Php 1:16), it makes perfect sense that an understanding of what it means to “make a defense” start with him.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
3 ... we do not war according to the flesh,
4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
The Christian life is a war. And the main forefront of this war is fought within the realm of apologetics. The fortresses are walls of worldly pride and knowledge, of intelligence and arrogant disposition. The sinner in unbelief has hidden himself inside his fortress, guarding himself with stock weapons of Darwinism, speculations, ‘what-ifs’, disobedience, irreverence, doubt, unbelief. He is confident that his fortress will stand, that his argument, his belief in everything but the knowledge of God, is foolproof, and indestructible. Such is the extent of his blindness, for in truth the fortresses is built upon sand and not rock. But look at the Christian! He is armed with weapons divinely powerful, specifically empowered by God to destroy these fortresses, to destroy speculations and every thought, deed, motive raised up in rebellion against God. The fortresses will fall, the accusations and questions and rationalizations will be destroyed. A light friendly conversation made upon the premise that the believer and the unbeliever can come to some mutual agreement has no part in apologetics — apologetics is the insistent demand from the Scriptures that the sinner repent. Every thought must be taken captive for Christ. The Savior alone can justifiably demand to be praised, and the sinner in unbelief is robbing Him of His glory.
But apologetics end is not to win an argument. Winning arguments is easy; winning souls takes the power of God. The last part of 1 Peter 3:15 says that Christians are to make a defense, “yet with gentleness and reverence.” Indeed, in light of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, it can be said that if one has boundless knowledge, convincing arguments, powerful weapons for the destruction of fortresses, but does not have love, he is a noisy gong, he is nothing, and making a defense profits him nothing. Christians are to make apologia while “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), with gentleness. In addition, reverence for the unbeliever is an understanding that this man, this woman, is made in the image of God (Gen 1:26), and has inherent worth because of the Creator. The believer must understand that he too was “dead in [his] transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1). In Ephesians 2:3, Paul says, “Among them [the unbelieving] we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (emphasis added).
Paul understood this well, counting himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph 3:8), an attitude of humility that all Christians should strive to grow in. There is a temptation to taint and corrupt something as pure as biblical apologetics, turning the motivation behind making a defense into asserting one’s knowledge, proving the superiority of an argument, showing the unbeliever his folly. May pride, and self-exaltation, never be the drive for apologetics! Instead, apologetics should be motivated by a passion to see God’s name worshipped “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev 7:9-12).
Paul spoke well about apologetics; Acts records how Paul lived a life of apologetics:
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
This passage is taken from the larger account of Paul on trial before the Roman courts, in which he pleads innocent of any crime, and yet insists on going to Rome as a prisoner. Acts 25-26 record that Paul gives his testimony before Festus, a Roman authority, and Agrippa, the Herodian king — how he formerly jailed and killed Christians (Ac 26:9-11) until Jesus Christ appeared to him (Ac 26:14-18) and he was converted. But Acts 26:28-29 are where one can see Paul’s heart. Agrippa must have seen in Paul’s speech, mannerisms, enthusiasm, life, gestures, earnestness, that made it evident that Paul’s speech was not an ordinary plea made in a justice court. This was no ordinary trial, for Paul was not following an ordinary example. He was following in the footsteps of his Savior: as Christ voluntarily and willing went to His crucifixion (Mt 26:52-54), Paul goes to Rome. And just as Jesus’ mission in going to the cross was to pay the ransom for sin (Mk 10:45) so that repentant sinners would be forgiven, Paul’s mission is to make Christians.
29 ... “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (emphasis added)
Now the phrase “such as I am” would be quite odd, but 1 Corinthians 11:1 provides the explanation — “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And so, the above verse could be paraphrased: ‘I pray to God, that whether soon or later, not only you, but everyone who is within earshot, would become imitators of Christ.’ Paul’s heart is simple; he wants all peoples to whom he is making a defense to be conformed in obedience to Christ, to become Christians. The end of making a defense for the hope, for giving reason and rationale for believing in the Bible, for loving Jesus Christ as the Savior Messiah, for apologetics, is to make disciples, so that all would become imitators of Christ.
A desire to make apologia, divorced from the desire to see God magnified and the sinner repent, is worthless and a hindrance to faith rather than a help. The chief goal of apologetics: to persuade unbelievers of the truth of the gospel and birth faith. It is no mere coincidence that the word “persuade” in Acts 26:28 is peithō, the same root word from which “faith” in Hebrews 11:1 is derived. Having faith is being persuaded by evidences, facts, and truths of the gospel. Making an apologia biblically is to desire to create faith in the Son of God in unbelievers. Paul was a man of God who “aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was alreadynamed,” (Ro 15:20), but to the hearts of the unrepentant, “reasoning” (Ac 17:16) with them with the truths of the gospel. Apologetics seeks to destroy worldly fortresses hostile to God and lovingly construct temples of Christ (1 Cor 3:16) pleasing to the Father, for the glory of His name and the good of all peoples. Jesus Christ, at the end of this age, will receive all glory and praise (Php 2:9-11). May He, and the salvation He purchased, be the power, fuel, and passion of apologetics.
By the grace of God,
1 Peter 1:3-9