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Different Aspects of Apologetics
By Gary F. Zeolla
What is apologetics? Theologian Millard J. Erickson defines it as, "That branch of Christian theology which has as its aim the reasoned advocacy of the Christian faith. It includes both POSITIVE ARGUMENTS FOR THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY and REBUTTALS OF CRITICISMS LEVELED AT IT" (Erickson, p.14).
Dr. Carl F. H. Henry further states, "The victory of Christian truth requires AN EXPOSITION OF THE INTELLECTUAL WEAKNESS OF COMPETING VIEWS, and an indication of just how and why THE CHRISTIAN OPTION IS RATIONALLY SUPERIOR TO ITS RIVALS" (p.B4).
The above two quotations bring out different aspects of apologetics. Although there is overlap between them, for the purpose of explanation, each aspect will be looked at separately.
The first aspect of apologetics is to present reasons why the Christian faith is true. Peter mentions this point in his first epistle. He commands believers to, "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1Pet 3:15). The Greek word translated "defense" is apologia; hence the term "apologetics" to describe this discipline.
An example of this aspect of apologetics can be seen in evangelistic methods Paul used with the Thessalonians (Acts 17:1-4). Paul "... REASONED with them from the Scriptures, EXPLAINING AND DEMONSTRATING that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ'" (vv.2,3).
Luke reports the result of Paul's preaching, "And some of them [the Jews] were PERSUADED; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, JOINED Paul and Silas" (v.4).
Following Paul's example, Christians in general should be prepared to "reason" with non-believers. We need to be able to "explain" what the basic truths of the Gospel are and be prepared to "demonstrate" why they are true.
For instance, what does Paul mean when he says Jesus is "the Christ?" If you are a Christian, would you "be ready" to answer this question and demonstrate the claim is true? If you are, then, God-willing, people will be "persuaded" and will be "joined" with us.
Incidentally, "Christ" is not Jesus' last name. There is much more to it than that. The term is actually a title and includes within it all that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) prophesied about the Person and work of the coming Messiah.
The second aspect of apologetics is to defend Christianity from arguments against it. Solomon alludes to this practice, "The heart of the righteous STUDIES how to answer" (Prov 15:28).
The word translated "study" here is also used in Psalm 1:2; 63:6. In these verses it is rendered "meditate" and refers to thinking purposely upon the Word and Person of God, respectively. So Proverbs 15:28 is indicating believers should think carefully beforehand about how to answer people's questions (see Col 4:5,6).
Some objections to the Christian faith can involve a misunderstanding of the Christian teaching (Acts 17:18; Rom 6:1). To answer such objections, Christians must first understand Christian beliefs and practices ourselves (Acts 2:42; Heb 5:12-6:3). Next, we need to listen to the objector and discover where the misconception is (Prov 18:13). Then we will be ready to clarify our position (Acts 17:22f; Rom 6:2-8).
Another class of objections involve simply a lack of knowledge on the part of the questioner. As an example, it is often claimed that the copies of the original manuscripts of the Bible which we have today are not reliable. But this claim shows a lack of knowledge of the details of the transmission of the Biblical texts.
For instance, "The Hebrew Bible has come down to us through the scrupulous care of ancient scribes who copied the original text in successive generations." And "There is more manuscript support for the New Testament than for any other body of ancient literature. Over five thousand Greek, eight thousand Latin, and many more manuscripts in other languages attest the integrity of the New Testament" (Parallel, p.xxiii).
So to deal with these kind of objections, the Christian needs to study and become informed of such facts (see the chapter "An Introduction to Textual Criticism" in this writer's book Differences Between Bible Versions).
There are more complex objections that could be and have been raised. But the key word for dealing with these is still the same - STUDY. Intellectual objections to the Christian faith deserve and can be given logical answers. And Christians should "be ready" to provide these answers "to everyone who asks."
Paul summarizes this section well when he proclaims, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. CONVINCE, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2Tim 4:2).
The third aspect of apologetics is to demonstrate why other worldviews are false. To do this requires a knowledge of the basic teachings of these other belief systems. A good example of this can be seen in Paul's evangelistic efforts in Athens (Acts 17:16-31).
During his speech at the Areopagus, Paul systematically refutes a series of beliefs of Grecian religions. He even quotes from two Grecian writers! (v.28). So Paul obviously had studied the prevalent religions of his time. This study prepared him to witness to their adherents when he was given the opportunity. And Paul's preparedness should be an example for us today.
There are different methods one can use to refute false beliefs. First, if the person or religion accepts the Bible as being the Word of God, the Scriptures can be appealed to (Isa 8:20). Second, if the religion attempts to make prophecies, their accuracy can be checked. A true prophet of God will be 100% accurate (Deut 18:21,22).
Third, even if prophecies are accurate, this doesn't automatically mean the alleged prophet is from God. If the fulfilled prophecies, or any other kind of miracles for that matter, are used to try to lead people to a god other than the God of the Bible, then the religion is still false (Deut 13:1-4).
Fourth, logical inconsistencies can be shown to exist in the belief system. This was the purpose to which Paul quoted the Grecian writers in Athens. Also, many religions today teach salvation is by "faith plus works." But Paul demonstrates the illogical nature this position in Romans 4:4; 11:6.
And many other methods can be utilized in this regard. But the main point here is, to effectively show the "weakness of competing views" requires a basic knowledge of the other worldview's tenants and for one to look critically at these teachings.
Jesus' confrontation with the Jewish leaders in Matthew 22:15-46 provides a good example of the above three aspects of apologetics being used together. And when each of these aspects are performed, the last aspect follows logically.
If "positive arguments for the truth of Christianity" are given; if "rebuttals of criticism leveled at it" are provided; and if "an exposition of the intellectual weakness of competing views" is accomplished; then only one conclusion is possible:
Christian option is rationally superior to it's rivals"
(Col 2:8-10; 2Pet 1:16).
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
Bibliography: Note: All emphases in quotations are
All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Erickson, Millard. Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986.
Henry, Carl, F.H. From a speech he gave at his 80th birthday celebration: Valley News Dispatch, 2/13/93.
KJV/ NKJV Parallel Reference Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Different Aspects of Apologetics. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1995.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996.
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