Apologetics isn’t just a philosophical chess game. It isn’t an exercise in rhetorically manipulating the person to whom you’re speaking. At its heart, apologetics is a deeply Christian activity and therefore shares all the convictions of any truly Christian activity.
Knowing what you believe and why you believe it is a biblical mandate given to all believers, not simply just experts and those with advanced degrees in philosophy. All who place their trust in Christ are called to be ambassadors where God has placed them, ready to give an answer to anyone who asks for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15). This hope includes their devotion to the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth who taught us that God‘s Word is truth (John 17:17), and that building our lives upon it is like a wise builder who built his structure on a solid foundation, rather than ever-shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27). The authority of Scripture should function in the life of an apologist in three ways: attitude, allegiance, and awareness.
The first way the authority of Scripture functions in the life of the apologist is in the way it should dictate our attitude. Apologetics doesn’t merely take a cue from Scripture on what doctrines need to be defended, it also should look to the Bible for a biblical approach to how an apologist communicates that defense.
In my first discussion on apologetics, we stressed the need to develop soft skills when speaking with people about the most important matters of life. As 2 Timothy 2:23-24 instructs, apologists shouldn’t be marked with contentiousness or pugnacity. We should be marked with an avoidance of unnecessary arguments and kindness, equipped to teach and instruct, but not resentful of others. The Bible values these interpersonal character traits that assist the apologist in having a genuine give-and-take discussion with a non-Christian, helping to keep them engaged, and ensuring that they feel listened to and understood. Our attitude should be one of gentleness, evident to all those we engage.
The second way the Bible’s authority should function in the life of the apologist is as the object of their allegiance. The charter verse for Christian apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) starts, not by accumulating arguments in defense of the faith, but with setting Christ apart as Lord in our hearts. The beating heart of apologetics is one of love and loyalty to King Jesus, and this King speaks through the Spirit-inspired Scripture. Our allegiance is to Jesus, so we also should be speaking through Spirit-inspired Scripture. If the Bible isn’t setting the agenda in defending the faith, pack your bags and go home. Apologetics just isn’t worth it.
Jesus sets our marching orders, and He speaks to us through Scripture. It lights our path in an otherwise dark world (Psalm 18:28). Since God is a God of knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3), the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). This means that God’s people often take controversial positions that make them look weird before an unbelieving world. Take the example of Abraham, who stood on the sure testimony of God’s Word over the physical evidence of Sarah’s ability to have a child (Romans 4:16-22). Was Abraham’s faith controversial? Yes. Was his faith radical and likely seen as stubborn to others? Sure. Was Abraham’s faith commended by God? Absolutely. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them. (Isaiah 8:20 HSB). If we do not speak according to the instructions of Scripture, there is no hope for us.
Apologists should resist the temptation to tailor the content they defend to what is easiest for the non-Christian to grasp, easier to defend, or more socially acceptable. We must believe all of Scripture, even those parts which might offend our contemporary sensitivities. We cannot edit the culturally embarrassing parts or make Scripture more palatable to the tastes of unbelieving thought.
Third, maintaining the authority of Scripture calls for an awareness of our submission to God’s voice in Scripture. Our allegiance to the Bible means that we allow it to define the faith as we obediently hear from God. Moreover, it means that we devote ourselves to its study (2. Timothy 2:15). The single greatest tool, or “hard skill” an apologist can possess is biblical awareness and literacy. So often, attacks against the faith are based on half-truth, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings. Before we can “defend” our position on Christianity, we need to make sure the person to whom we speak understands what we’re talking about. This means that we must understand what we are talking about. Sadly, most American evangelicals don’t understand the Bible themselves, certainly not well enough to deal with tough objections to the faith.
Let’s drill down a bit further for specifics. An awareness of Scripture’s plot line along the lines of creation-fall-redemption-consummation help us to recognize that many of our experiences do not reflect the reality of God’s original good design. Instead, they are a reflection of the world under the curse, a world where sin, sickness, suffering, and Satan still do their worst.
Let’s look at this within the context of our cultural climate regarding sexuality. What is considered natural by the non-Christian (ex: casual sex), we may (and do) attribute to the fall of man. The Bible distinguishes between two applicable definitions of the word “natural”. First, something may be natural if it was part of God’s original blueprint for creation. In this sense, marriage, heterosexual monogamy, loving obedience and submission to God and His Word are all natural.
The second use of the term “natural” has the opposite meaning. According to this usage, natural is contrasted with spiritual (or [Holy] Spirit-lead, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14, James 3:15 ). Sexual deviation is perfectly natural in this sense, it’s consistent with a creation out of sync with its Creator. In some Bible versions, the term natural is more pointedly translated “carnal.” I think that gets the point across. This second sense of natural comes from the flesh (the sinful nature), not from the Spirit. When we have an awareness of these biblical distinctions, we can understand that unbelievers often blur or do not properly distinguish between creation and fall. When they ask, “What’s wrong with ____? After all, it’s natural,” we are able to properly respond. We need to patiently point out that ____ (given it’s a sinful goal, motive, and/or standard) is not natural in the first sense (according to God’s wise design), but instead is natural in the second.
Biblical literacy also helps filter out objections to the faith based on what seems fitting or appropriate for some conception of God, but not on what Scripture actually says. In popular scholarly attacks on the faith, there is the commonality that many anti-theistic arguments fail to take into consideration the actual accounts of God’s nature and attributes in the Bible, (I.E. they argue against a generic God). Examples like this abound, “Can God create a rock so large He can’t lift it?” From a biblical perspective, that objection reflects a gross misunderstanding of the biblical doctrine of God, right up there with asking if God can make a squared circle. God cannot deny or contradict himself (2 Timothy 2:13), so objections like these that require the defense of God to be a choice between logical impossibilities do not reflect insight, they reflect biblical ignorance. We defend and commend the living God of the Old and New Testament and should gladly join the non-Christian in toppling rival (false) conceptions of God. So, if the “god” that our unbelieving friend is arguing against isn’t one we recognize, kindly respond that you’re not commending that god to them, and get back on track. The awareness derived from biblical literacy will allow you to gently correct while explaining the God you are commending.
Published September 5, 2022