BIBLICAL APOLOGETICS | Part 1 - Definition & Foundation

The focus of this series of articles will be on the “how” of giving an answer for our faith, also called apologetics. The goal is to establish a Biblical method of apologetics by considering what the Bible has to say about the topic. There are many Christian apologists out there today who use a variety of methods to defend the faith. But not every method is necessarily Biblically-based, though they may be pragmatic.


My main thesis is that God’s word doesn’t just give us good ideas for the task of defending the faith, but it also defines how we are to do it and is sufficient to accomplish it. We’ll be looking primarily at 2 major passages in 1 Peter 3 and Romans 1 in this series of articles to inform our apologetic methodology. So, what I’ll be arguing for here is Biblical apologetics - that is, what is the way the Bible prescribes for defending the faith?

WHAT IS APOLOGETICS?

It’s helpful first for us to clearly define what apologetics is.


1 Peter 3:15 is often cited as the biblical proof text for what is called ‘apologetics’. In fact, the word ‘apologetics’ comes from a Greek word used in that verse, apologia, which simply means “a reasoned defence.”

“...but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...” (1 Peter 3:15)

APOLOGETICS IS FOR EVERYONE

There is a tendency to make apologetics out to be more complicated than it actually is.

“It has led many to believe, and some to argue, that the most difficult issues of philosophical theology or theological philosophy should be engaged only by those philosophically trained, those whose minds have been able to meld together the best of theology with the best of philosophy.” (K. Scott Oliphint, Revelation and Reason, pg 2)

1 Peter was written to people who weren’t “professional apologists and philosophers” - they were ordinary people like you and me, fishermen, tradesmen, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, young and old. They were simply, Christians who loved Jesus and wanted others to be saved through faith in him also. Therefore, this verse, written to them is calling them to do what any one of us, any Christian can do!


A SIMPLE DEFINITION

“In its simplest form, apologetics is knowing what we believe and why we believe it, and being able to communicate that to others effectively (Titus 1:9; 1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 1–4).” (Voddie Baucham Jr)

So, here are 3 points about apologetics:

  • Biblical - We answer objections with the power of the Word.

  • Simple - If we can’t remember it, we won’t use it in our everyday encounters.

  • Conversational - We must be able to share truth in a manner that is natural, reasonable, and winsome.

These are the three points we’re going to use to think about apologetics. Even though we may get technical at some points, it all boils down to these 3 points.


Apologetics must be biblical, simple, and conversational. Or to put it another way, it is knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and being able to communicate it effectively.


THE FOUNDATION OF APOLOGETICS: Honouring Christ

“...but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Peter 3:15a)


Notice that this verse starts with honouring Christ. That needs to be the foundational starting point of every Christian’s apologetic methodology. We must firstly honour Christ. Yet this is often neglected in any conversations about apologetics and equipping believers to give a defence for the faith.

What does honouring Christ look like? There are 3 marks that define what honouring Christ looks like - and they are all related and co-dependent:

  • Living as a Christian

  • Suffering as a Christian

  • Thinking as a Christian

A. A HOLY LIFE: Living as a Christian

In Greek, this verse literally says that we are to “sanctify/set apart Christ in our hearts”. This verb “to sanctify or make holy or set apart” (ἁγιάσατε) is actually the ONLY verbal imperative or command in this verse. It’s the main verb.


So often, we are quick to stress ‘giving a defence’. However, in the original text, that phrase is not the primary emphasis. Peter’s main focus/command in this verse is to ‘sanctify Christ’ in our hearts. But what does this mean?


It means to set Christ apart as the ultimate uncontested Lord and put Him in the highest place of honour and control for our lives. Beyond this, the word “heart” in this verse refers to the center of all our affections, emotions, intellect, desires, and actions. It refers to all of our being and who we are - the totality of the essence of who you are.


Peter is saying this, the starting point of apologetics (giving a defence for the hope in us) is to set Christ as Lord over the way we think, feel and act. He is Lord over all of our lives and resources. This is to live totally and completely under the Lordship of our Great God and King, Jesus Christ. That’s the necessary starting point of Christian apologetics - it’s to actually live consistently and whole-heartedly as a Christian!


How many times have you thought of that when you considered apologetics?


Before giving a response, your life must be totally devoted to Christ.

So, take a moment to examine your heart:

  • How does my lifestyle reflect this truth?

  • How does my purity reflect Christ’s lordship over me?

  • How do my finances, my relationships, my affections, my passions, my hobbies and interests, my integrity in business, my truthfulness of speech, what I watch and listen to, where I go, how I spend my time, and my obedience to His word in all these things - reflect the fact that I’ve set Christ as holy in all of my life?

  • How can others observing my life see that I really believe that Christ is King?

Giving a reason for the hope in us is too often narrowly defined as only arguments, debates and logical discourse. While apologetics does not exclude those things, it is not only those things. It involves ALL of our life. The Christian’s life lived for Christ is one of the strongest apologetics to a watching world and is the thing which helps give credibility to any arguments we might employ in the defense of the faith.


You cannot give a reason for the hope in you if that hope is not working its way out of you!


B. FEARLESSNESS: Suffering as a Christian

We see from the context of this verse that apologetics is not a means by which we make people like or accept us. In fact, the preceding verses say:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” (1 Peter 3:13-14)

In verse 15, Peter is quoting Isaiah 8:13: “But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honour as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” in regards to Christ. By connecting Christ with Yahweh from this verse in Isaiah 8, he is calling for our sole, unflinching allegiance to be to Christ as the LORD. Verse 15 calls us to faithfulness to Christ in spite of opposition.


Thus, apologetics, instead of being a tool that alleviates the tension between us and the world, oftentimes heightens that tension.


Apologetics is ultimately an expression of our willingness to suffer rather than compromise. Apologetics says to a watching world, “We have been captured by something so profound that we are willing not only to be considered fools but to suffer as such.” (Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr) Yet many Christians are unwilling to risk any conflict or suffering with the world for the sake of truth. Have we truly been captured by the amazing grace of God, whereby, like the apostles did in Acts 5:41, we would rejoice at being counted worthy of suffering for the Name?

Notice that a life lived fully sold out to Christ is actually the basis for our fearless witness. That is exactly what Peter just said in verses 13 & 14. This is what gives us the confidence to not fear nor be troubled even if we should suffer “for righteousness’ sake.” Thus, perhaps for some, the reason for their aversion and unwillingness to suffer for Christ is because they’re trying to somehow live with one foot in and one foot out instead of being all in. This sort of uncommitted and double-minded lifestyle will inevitably lead to instability (James 1:8). We must be all in. Indeed, Christ gives us no other option, and really - there’s no better way. In all our compromises to try to please the world and please Christ, we end up pleasing neither. Both demand ultimate allegiance, and you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). So, why not just jump all in?


When we fear men, we are looking for our approval from others rather than God. His is the only “Well done, good and faithful servant” we should desire to hear.


C. A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW: Thinking as a Christian

Lastly, honouring Christ means believing His Word. We cannot honour Christ without conforming our beliefs to His Word.


In short, this means we must operate from a distinctly and consistently Christian Worldview. This is a worldview based on what the Bible teaches about ultimate reality in all areas of life and how to live in it. To put it another way, having a Christian Worldview simply means allowing God’s word to shape the way you think like a Christian in everything that you do.


What’s a worldview?

Worldviews are like belly buttons - everyone has one, but few people seldom take a lot of time thinking about them or looking at them. Think of a worldview as a pair of glasses or lenses through which we see and interpret reality. Or you can think of it as the Big Picture Story about reality - that’s our worldview - and it helps us figure out how and where we fit into that big story.

"Embedded in all grand stories are fundamental beliefs about the world, answers to questions of ultimate significance: What is life all about? Who are we? What kind of world do we live in? What’s wrong with the world? How can it be fixed? The answers to these great questions are not philosophical concepts; rather, they are beliefs, often not even articulated, embedded firmly in the particular grand story that we share…" (Michael Goheen, Living at the Crossroads, pg 24-25)

C.S. Lewis famously said,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

This is fundamentally how a Christian worldview functions. It gives light by which we see everything else.


So, a worldview is like lenses that we see through, like the big story we find ourselves in, or like the light by which we see things.


Presuppositions

It is made up of the basic truths (or ‘axioms’) about of reality we all assume without proving them. These include beliefs in things such as logic, morality, being and reason. For example, how can you prove laws of logic without using logic? How can you prove that reason is the way to find the truth without using reason? You can’t even prove existence without presupposing that you exist (at least not without turning into a crazy solipsist). These assumed truths are what we call “presuppositions” and we all have them. They inform us about the world we live in, and they act like the lenses through which we see the world and interpret facts.

Every system must have some unproven assumptions, a starting point not antecedently [previously] established, with which reasoning begins and according to which it proceeds to conclusion. (Dr. Greg Bahnsen)

Our presuppositions are the reason some people will look at the same ‘facts’ about the world and end up at different conclusions.


For example, One scientist looks at the archeological and biological evidence and concludes that the world must have been created by God, and another scientist looks at the same evidence and concludes that it must be the result of blind chance and evolution. Why? Both scientists were just as smart and had the same evidence available to them. The difference is the presuppositions or worldviews that they used to interpret those ‘facts’.

This shows us, that there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. This is why, until we challenge an unbeliever’s worldview - their presuppositions - they will keep looking at ‘facts’ and coming to wrong conclusions.


The Myth of Neutrality

We are often told by unbelievers that we must abandon our Christian beliefs so that we can approach the facts ‘neutrally’. Don’t bring your religion into this, we have to approach the facts neutrally. However, this is not so, for even an atheist has a worldview and set of beliefs (presuppositions) they accept by faith and use to interpret these facts. The idea that there is some sort of neutral common ground with no presuppositions on which we can meet an unbeliever is a myth. Christians must abandon this myth in a hurry if we’re to ever have any impact.


Our Lord Jesus tells us that we are either for Christ or against him; no one is unbiased (Matt. 12:30). Therefore, there is no such thing as a neutral person when it comes to God. The worldview of a person shows this. They don’t interpret the facts correctly to come to the right conclusion because they’re biased. The unbeliever is not neutral, and neither should we be!

It should be recognized that the claim to be, or the attempt to be, completely objective and value-free in deciding an issue of truth is ridiculous; the very fact that evidence is collected, arranged, and evaluated by each man’s own mind and in response to his personality and past experience indicates the strong element of subjectivity that is involved in settling issues of truth. (Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, pg 88-89)

We must believe what the Bible tells us about the state of the sinner apart from God’s saving grace - He is a slave to sin, a rebellious enemy against God (cf. John 8:34; Rom. 5:10 & 6:6-20; Eph. 2:3; Col. 1:21). The Bible’s descriptions of unbelievers are not ‘neutral’ descriptions.

“The unbeliever’s professed interpretation of things is not our common ground, for we do not share that interpretation. Rather, the actual state of affairs—man as God’s image, the suppressed knowledge of God, the world as totally revelatory of God—constitutes a point of contact for the apologist.” (Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, pg 19)

Our ‘common ground’ with unbelievers is not some fictional neutral ground. It is rather, that like it or not, knowingly or unknowingly, they live in God’s world - regardless of their rebellion against Him. Though they try to deny it, they must live in God’s world because there is no other option. Therefore, His truth will always stand sure - “let God be true and every man a liar!” (Rom. 3:4) - and the unbeliever’s worldview will eventually break down and become inconsistent because it departs from God’s truth about the world.


Without An Excuse

How does this knowledge that no one is neutral help us? Let’s look at what Romans 1:18-32 clearly says about the unbeliever.


Paul opens off (v.18) by stating that all ungodly and unrighteous people suppress the truth due to their unrighteousness. This implies that they already have the truth in order to suppress it! In fact, this is what the next two verses say. God himself has made it plain to everyone (v.19). It is so plain that they are without an excuse (v.20). This phrase “without an excuse” is actually the word “anapologetous” (ἀναπολογήτους). Literally, it means, “without an apologetic”. Unbelievers are without a reasoned defence for their suppression of the truth. This suppression is not because of a lack of truth, it is because of their lack of righteousness - they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. God’s revelation of Himself to people in His creation is such that all people can be held to give an account and judged guilty for not acknowledging and worshipping Him (v.32). We must not give up this ground with some sort of fancied neutrality.


This verse (and others) clearly tells us that the primary reason for unbelief is not a lack of information, it is not intellectual. It is a moral problem: they suppress the truth they already have because of their unrighteousness.


This is the point at which you all should have breathed a big sigh of relief!


Why? Because this verse just told you - “you don’t need to be a scholar knowing everything about every religion, scientific fact and philosophy in order to be a good apologist.” If people’s primary problem is their unrighteousness that causes them to suppress the truth, then what is the solution for our unrighteousness? Do you know of that solution as a Christian? Of course, you do. It is the Gospel! It’s Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.


So, any apologetic that does not first deal with this truth, that all people know God truly will “tend to be too concessive to the unbeliever and aim simply to show Christianity as probably true. It does not leave the unbeliever ‘without excuse,’ but suggests implicitly that he has the prerogative and ability to stand in judgment over God’s own word.” (Dr. Greg Bahnsen)


It is not God who is on trial with man as judge to decide whether He exists or not. We cannot come to some neutral ground and lay out the facts for the unbeliever in their rebellion to decide if God exists. The unbeliever already knows this at a deep level because God has written His Law (Rom. 2:14-15) and set eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11)! It’s the other way around. God is Judge, and the unbeliever is on trial to give a reason (of which there is none) as to why he does not believe and submit to God.


If we understand this, we see that even the excuses that unbelievers give for their unbelief betray the fact that they truly know God but suppress that truth because they are unwilling to submit to Him. Their God-given conscience, the Law written on their hearts, always testifies to the truth they know and suppress. This is why men invent all sorts of far-out theories and false religions rather than coming to the True God - because if they do, they know they will have to renounce their autonomy and bow their knee to Him.

The prodigal son can never forget the Father’s voice. It is the albatross forever about his neck. (Cornelius Van Til)

So then, what does apologetics look like in light of this truth?


Do we simply disbelieve, dismiss or deny someone who says they don’t believe in the Christian God and yell “YES YOU DO!” louder and louder until they submit? Are we reduced to an exchange of: ‘I don’t believe in God’ and replying ‘yes, you do’ - ‘no, I don’t’ - ‘yes, you do’ - ad infinitum? No. Rather, this text gives us our goal in apologetics, and our goal in using argumentation and evidence. It is to expose this suppression in unrighteousness.


You see, until the unbeliever sees their unrighteousness, they will never want the cure for that unrighteousness - which is Christ. If they don’t know they’re terminally ill, they won’t love the medicine. And this is the ultimate problem. Jesus said in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” The Christian apologist should not continue to keep giving more and more truth to the unbeliever who is still in their sinful rebellion because they will simply continue to suppress the truth by inventing excuses or jumping to other points and “but what about this…” arguments.

“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” (Thomas Cranmer)

The reason why people will not submit to God’s truth is that their hearts do not love it. Thus, they will defend the lie they love with passionate resolve. We must help them see the reason behind why they are unwilling to even entertain the Christian truth. That reason is their sinful rebellion against the God whom they hate. But that very same God calls them to repent and turn to Him to find Him to be a loving and gracious Saviour who turns enemies into friends.


BIG TAKE AWAY

Apologetics seeks to expose the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth in unrighteousness in order to give them the solution for their unrighteousness - the Gospel.

What does this look like then? How do we use apologetics to expose the suppression of truth and unrighteousness?


This is what we’ll look at in our next article coming out on July 6.

 

Articles in this series:

  1. BIBLICAL APOLOGETICS | Part 1 - Definition & Foundation

  2. BIBLICAL APOLOGETICS | Part 2 - Prepared to Give a Reason (July 6)

  3. BIBLICAL APOLOGETICS | Part 3 - Our Conduct & Practical Tips (July 13)

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