Many Christians feel intimidated when the subject of apologetics comes up. It sounds foreign and scary and something that only seminary students should try and tackle. While proficiency in the area of apologetics encompasses sophisticated areas like philosophy and confronting cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, it is also related to the everyday calling of the Christian to confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead [Romans 10:9].
The task of apologetics, in simple terms, is the defense of the truth of Christianity, the defense of the faith. The Reformed apologetics professor, Cornelius Van Til, defined apologetics as the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.
Perhaps a clearer way to understand the task of apologetics and why it should be an important area for every Christian to be keenly familiar with flows from the Apostle Peter’s exhortation in 1Peter 3:12 where he said, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
Peter’s phrase to give a defense is the Greek word apologia which carries the idea of that which is said in defense of something or how one defends oneself. The apostle Paul employed this word in 1Corinthians 9:3 where he defended the freedoms and rights that belonged to him in his office as an apostle against those in the church that questioned his authority. In the context of 1Peter 3:15, the defense or apologetic that is in view here is to give a reasoned response to why you believe or place your hope in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
The teaching on giving a defense is the central concept, but it is not standing alone. If you take a look at the overall context of chapter 3, leading up to this passage, you will note that Peter is describing how the Christian’s life will be radically different and observable from those around them. This begins within the church as a family wherein everyone is to be of one mind (verse 8) and acting out of love for one another, putting away those things considered as evil that are common to the natural man. This transformed life is what Peter said the Christian is called to in verse 9.
Another aspect that is bound up in this reality of the Christian life is the world and life view that forms the basis for how one understands the world and their relation to the world. For the Christian, everything begins with the recognition that God is the Creator of the world. This foundation of beginning with God as distinct from the creature is referred to as Christian Theism and is one of the key areas that the Christian must be of sound doctrine. In apologetics, it is this defense of the Lord God that comes into play in the demonstration of the God who is the Creator.
Some schools that are based on a more classic and Greek philosophical method would approach the idea of Theism by seeking to prove the existence of a god through the use of rational arguments known as Theistic proofs, like the cosmological argument. But while these have some value, they are deficient in the task of giving a defense as to the hope that is within the heart and mind of the believer. This Classical school sees apologetics as a purely philosophical discipline and refrains from introducing the Bible into their methodology asserting that such is reserved to the task of evangelism.
However, Cornelius Van Til revolutionized Reformed apologetics in the mid-1900s by recognizing that the believer is not called to adopt the method of earthly philosophers but is to live out of the Word of God. Thus his construct for apologetics aimed at developing a biblical apologetic that does not seek to prove the existence of God but asserted God’s existence based upon revelation. More discussion of this will come in a following blog, but for our purposes here he set forth an approach to apologetics whereby the believer made his appeal or defense based upon the witness of Scripture rather than human reason.
What was revolutionary about his biblical apologetic method is that he embraced the idea that all apologetics is simply a thoughtful form of evangelism. This was Peter’s emphasis in 1Peter 3:15 where he begins with the exhortation to sanctify (or set apart) the Lord God in your hearts as that starting point. It is not the idea of some possible god, but the God who had revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush. It is God who created the heavens and the earth and who sustains and directs the whole of history. It is the Lord God who sent His Son into the world to die upon a cross, who paid the penalty for our sins and opened the doors of heaven to us. This is the Lord God that we give a defense of our faith in the hope of eternal life.
To understand the idea of the task of apologetics, one must answer the question as to what is their purpose in giving the defense in the first place. It begins with the first and great commandment, that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. This is the God we honor, not by speaking of some hypothetical god who may or even must exist, but it is to give a reasoned defense regarding God as our Father who has saved us and who will bring us into heaven.
Equal to that purpose in the task of apologetics must be our love for our neighbor by which we seek to convince the unbeliever of the gospel peradventure God should extend his grace in the saving of their soul. Remember, the implication here is that the unbeliever is asking why are you a Christian because they have observed your walk of faith and see that it is different from their world and life view.
Peter ends with an encouragement to answer with meekness and fear; having a good conscience. In giving a defense of the faith that God has worked in us, we must always do so with a spirit of humility or gentleness, understanding that apart from God’s grace we would be in the same desperate condition as those who are still slaves of this world. He adds to this fear to seal that the work we do in apologetics is as representatives or ambassadors of our Lord God who alone is able to cast both body and soul into hell. Thus we ought not to fear man for we go forth as those who belong to Christ. We might ask what is the worst that a man can do to us? Kill us? But then we go to be with the Lord. At the same time, we understand that in our giving a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in us, God can save that one to the uttermost. So in our apologetic task, we follow what Paul taught in Romans 10 when he said faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, (not in philosophical arguments), and thus we preach the gospel, we evangelize the lost in reliance upon the work of the Holy Spirit, and in so doing we become all the more confirmed in our faith through this task.
1Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 17.