In this age of easily accessible books, television shows, blogs, and YouTube videos, Christian apologetics (or the giving of a well-reasoned defense of the Christian faith) has evolved from something that was once considered solely for academics (and nerds) to something that is both widely admired and studied by individuals of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds.
However, just like anything that grows in popularity and acceptance, Christian apologetics has its detractors. One would expect that these detractors would be from outside the Christian faith, but you would be surprised to know that many of them come from within. These detractors seem to make compelling arguments against apologetics, including things like:
“God and the Bible can defend themselves, and don’t need to be defended.”
“We are commanded to live by faith, not by reason.”
“People are not saved by reason and arguments, but only by the work of the Holy Spirit.”
How would an apologist respond?
My aim today is to construct a short and simple biblical argument for Christian apologetics using premises that are Biblically-attested and universally-affirmed by all orthodox Christians. I will also consider and respond to some of the common Christian objections to apologetics.
A BIBLICAL ARGUMENT FOR APOLOGETICS
Like any other argument, this argument consists of premises and a conclusion. If one accepts all of the premises to be true, one must also accept the conclusion, since it follows from the premises. Given my claim that all orthodox Christians must admit all of the following premises, I also believe that this will force them to accept the conclusion that naturally follows.
Premise 1: If anyone loves Christ, he will do as Christ commands.
Justification: This is directly based on the words of Jesus in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (NKJV).
Premise 2: A true Christian is one who loves Christ.
Justification: This should be a self-evident premise to every Christian. A true Christian is supposed to lay down all things to follow Christ and bear His name of his own accord. A true Christian cannot be indifferent towards Christ, hence must be one who loves Christ.
Sub-conclusion/Premise 3: A true Christian is one who does as Christ commands.
Justification: Follows directly from 1 and 2.
Premise 4: We are commanded by God to engage in apologetics/the defense of the gospel.
Justification: There are several passages in the Bible that ask us to engage in a defense of our faith. For instance, 1 Peter 3:15 says, “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” Similarly in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we read that we must be involved in “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”
Conclusion: A true Christian must engage in apologetics/the defense of the gospel.
Justification: Follows from Premise 3 and 4.
Hence, from Biblically-based premises that are universally-affirmed by Christians, we can arrive at the logical conclusion that any true Christian must engage in apologetics.
RESPONDING TO COMMON OBJECTIONS TO CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS
Objection 1: “God and the Bible do not need to be defended.”
I often see a look of shock register on the face of many Christians when I first tell them that apologetics involves a reasoned defense of the Christian faith.
“God and Jesus don’t need defending from us!” they respond, “Neither does the Bible need to be defended. They can all defend themselves.”
C.H. Spurgeon probably rendered the most famous formulation of this objection when he said, “Scripture is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose; it will defend itself.”
Unfortunately, I notice that this objection arises from a false equivocation of two meanings of the word ‘defense’ or ‘defend’. In one sense, the word ‘defense’ is used to mean protecting something that is feeble, vulnerable, and incapable of protecting itself. Yet, in another sense, ‘defense’ can mean a robust justification for something or a well-reasoned case arguing for a particular thesis. Spurgeon seems to be using the word in the former sense, but the same is not true of the Christian apologist. The apologist uses the term in the latter sense, giving a well-reasoned argument for why they believe what they believe.
As a matter of fact, the Bible also uses it in the latter sense. In Philippians 1:17, Paul says that he is appointed for the “defense of the gospel” (NKJV). Is he referring to the gospel as something that needs protection? Or is he saying that he is appointed to reason on behalf of the gospel? It seems to be the latter. SImilarly, as we saw in 1 Peter 3:15, we are asked to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (NKJV). The word used in the Greek for both these cases is apologia, which often refers to a well-reasoned legal argument that is supported by evidence (such as, Plato’s Apology, which recounts Socrates’ defense of himself before the Athenians).
Thus, when our faith in God and the Bible is questioned and challenged, shying away is not going to cut it. Giving circular arguments like, “The Bible is true because the Bible tells me so” isn’t going to cut it either. We must present an apologia or a defense for our faith, not because God’s word or Christ is feeble, but because we have an obligation to do so, set out by God himself.
Objection 2: “Belief in God and Christianity is a matter of faith, not reason.”
Christians often cite verses like Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please God” and 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by faith, not sight” to argue that any beliefs that we hold as Christians must be held regardless of whether we have good reason to hold them, solely on the basis of faith. Let us take a look at each of these verses and see what they actually say.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith, it is impossible to please God.” What this seems to tell us is that faith is a necessary condition for pleasing God. In other words, it says that one needs to have faith in order to please God. It does not, however, say that faith is a sufficient condition to please God; it does not say that faith is the only thing that one needs in order to please God. Given that the entire chapter is dedicated to the topic of faith, it is entirely possible that the author chose to mention it as a necessary condition, but that does not preclude other such conditions that are involved, including reason. Jesus himself encourages the use of reason as a way of loving God, when He said, “Love the Lord your God…with all your mind.”
Blind faith, or faith without reason and evidence, is not a biblical concept. Even in cases that Christians often use to promote blind faith, like Abraham ‘blindly’ obeying God’s command to sacrifice his son, we find later in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11:18-19) that his faith was based on the evidence of God fulfilling all his past promises; and since God had promised that all his descendants would be born through Isaac, he concluded that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if necessary, in order to keep His word. This evidence was the reason why Abraham obeyed God at His word.
The second verse is 2 Corinthians 5:7, which says, “For we live by faith, not sight.” Oddly enough, none of the Christians who use this verse as an anti-apologetics tool seem to know the context in which the author uses it. From 5:1-8, Paul seems to be presenting a juxtaposition between living in our mortal bodies and our future heavenly bodies. In verse 6, he says that as long as we are in our mortal bodies, we are spatially separated from God, and then in verse 7, he states, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” What Paul is saying is, when we are in this mortal body, we are spatially separated from God, so we live in the realm of faith, not the realm of sight. And then in verse 8, he states that one day, we hope to move from this realm of faith into the realm of sight, and be “present with the Lord.” Thus, if the verse is read in context, it is one that is descriptive of how a Christian life is, not prescriptive of how our Christian life ought to be led. The use of the term ‘sight’ does not refer to being aware of evidence, but rather the literal act of perceiving Christ.
In sum, we can conclude that faith, while being a necessary condition, does not preclude reason in the Christian life.
Objection 3: “No one is saved through arguments and evidence. Only the work of the Holy Spirit can do that.”
I actually agree with this objection to an extent. No Christian can attain salvation through the cosmological, ontological, teleological, or moral argument for the existence of God, or the minimal facts argument for the resurrection. Salvation is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, via the work of the Holy Spirit.
That said, the work of the Holy Spirit is not necessarily independent of reason and argument. The Holy Spirit is free to use any mechanism of choice to fulfill His work, and one of these can be well-reasoned arguments. The purpose of apologetics is to serve as one of the instruments that the Holy Spirit can use to change people’s hearts and bring them to salvation.
As Blaise Pascal beautifully put it in his Pensees, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next, make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.”
That is all the apologist is supposed to do: Present the gospel in a cogent manner that attracts the non-believer and show them that it is the truth. Only the Holy Spirit can move an individual to accept this truth, yet we are supposed to do our part. History is filled with individuals who came to the knowledge of Christ in this manner; Saint Augustine was saved after he reasoned his way out of Manichaeism; C.S. Lewis was persuaded to turn to Christianity after hearing well-reasoned arguments from his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien; and Lee Strobel famously gave his life to Christ after a lengthy investigation into the evidence for the Christian faith. All these cases prove to us that the Holy Spirit does often use apologetics to bring men to salvation.
We have looked at a biblical argument for Christian apologetics, and responded to a few objections to the practice of apologetics. An important thing to keep in mind while engaging in apologetics is that we must not only know what to say when our faith is challenged, but also how to say it. Knowing the arguments for God’s existence or the resurrection is great, but if they are not presented with “gentleness and respect” as 1 Peter 3:15 commands us, we will not be a suitable instrument for the Holy Spirit to use. Hence, we must always be prepared to defend our faith, and remember to defend it with love and compassion in our hearts. We must not strive to sound smart or to win the argument, but to guide genuine truth seekers to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.