It seems that with each passing generation, the society in the Western world has become increasingly skeptical, if not hostile, towards Christianity or the Christian faith. What was once the guiding worldview for much of Western civilization has now been traded in for a postmodern worldview that affirms no absolute truth or reality.
BY STEVE CHA
GRACE CITY LA
Secular humanistic philosophy also drives much of America today, a worldview that excludes God as the basis for creation, and emphasizes nature as the eternal, uncreated reality from which we derive all truth, reason, and purpose for existence. This has given popular rise to our culture’s drift into agnosticism, atheism, and ecumenical religiosity.
This is why it is important that Christians in this day and age stand firm in the truth of Scripture.
Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), a claim that runs contrary to the claims that all paths lead to God when it is all said and done. Exclusivism is the inescapable truth behind the Christian faith, and if Jesus’ life, miracles, and resurrection is sure indication of His identity as the Son of God, then the gospel is a message that must be heeded. Furthermore, we are called to defend it against false claims and attacks, as taught in Jude 3. This gave rise to the practice of apologetics, which has its origins as early as the apostolic days in the 1st century.
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, from which we get the English word, ‘apology.’ Contrary to its modern meaning, apologia does not mean that we are sorry for something we have said or done and are asking for forgiveness. Rather, it means defending a truth claim against objections. As it relates to Christianity, apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith against falsehood, inconsistency, and credulity. It is both an intellectual and a practical exercise that all Christians should be familiar with to some degree, since all Christians are called to witness to unbelievers and to make a “defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
There are four functions of apologetics.
1. To provide proof: Apologetics is the art of using scientific, historical, and philosophical arguments to bolster the truth of the Christian faith. This is often called the positive case for Christianity.
2. To provide a defense: Apologetics is the practice of defending the truth claims of the Bible against misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and defamations. By answering these objections, Christianity is shown to be more reasonable than skeptics estimate it to be.
3. To provide an offense: Apologetics seeks to dismantle the foundation of the counterviews. When measured against the truth, other worldviews, religions, and philosophical thoughts are false, inconsistent, and often times unreasonable.
4. To provide a witness: Apologetics is meant to supplement and lead to evangelism. That is end goal of all apologetics. People not only need to acknowledge the truth of Christianity, but to embrace it in faith, since souls are at stake. Jesus commands the church to evangelize as part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), therefore apologetics should ultimately aim at reaching the skeptic with the gospel. Failure to reach this step makes apologetics a futile endeavor.
There are many instances in Scripture that document apologetics. In Acts 22:1, the Apostle Paul says, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense [apologia] which I now offer to you.” Paul also speaks in the epistles, such as in 1 Corinthians 9:3, “My defense [apologia] to those who examine me is this.”
In all cases, Paul’s goal was to defend the gospel against false and ignorant accusations, whether from commoners or kings, with the goal of preaching Christ crucified. This has been the practice of 1st century apostles, as well as many faithful Christians since.
The technique of apologetics varies, but Acts 17:16-34 provides a helpful guideline on how to do effective apologetics. Here, Paul preaches open air to the Gentiles of Athens, examining the “unknown god” that stands prominently in the Areopagus. If you read through this passage, you will notice four things about Paul’s technique:
1. Paul exposes the error of the false worldview. The Apostle Paul begins by pointing to the object known as “the unknown god” (v. 23). Paul identifies the idol and calls it an object that the Athenians worship in ignorance (v. 24). Paul goes on to describe the nature of what the true and living God is like – that He does not dwell in temples or is made of gold and silver. This is in contrast to man-made idols.
2. Paul proclaims the truth of the Christian worldview. Paul debunks a false understanding of the eternal power to describe what the true God is like, which can be observed in nature (aka general revelation). Paul declares that this God is Lord over all heaven and earth (v. 24), made all people on earth (v. 25), and sustains life at every moment (v. 28). God’s invisible power and nature are clearly perceived (Romans 1:19-20).
3. Paul gives historical proof of the Christian worldview. Paul speaks of the authority and resurrection of Christ as the basis for his understanding of God and His will for humanity. Paul references the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection (v. 31) as proof that Jesus’ claim of eternal salvation in His name is true and binding on all humanity. The resurrection is proof that Jesus is the messenger of God and that He will one day judge the living and the dead (v. 30)
4. Paul calls on his audience to believe the gospel. Paul closes his speech by exhorting the listeners in the Areopagus to repent. In other words, Paul calls on the people to believe in the gospel and to begin thinking seriously about the truth. The reason is that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed…” (v. 30-31). And that man is Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of apologetics as “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God…” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is one of a few good passages that demonstrate good apologetics in action. It is always grounded in God’s word.
The Bible is the standard that helps us understand empirical evidence in creation. Because it is important to help believers grow in their faith and to bring unbelievers to a saving knowledge of Christ, apologetics is indispensable to both pastoral ministry and to laity. It is especially important now when vicious attacks come from all sides to dismantle the Christian faith and to get people to disbelieve the Bible.
Though not every Christian becomes a world class intellect and arguer of the Christian faith, every Christian is called to know enough to defend his faith and, at times, to strengthen the faith of other believers. That is what the meaning behind 1 Corinthians 9:3 and 1 Peter 3:15.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.