In our first article, we looked at the biblical definition and foundation of apologetics (giving a defence of the faith). We saw that there is no neutrality and that the heart of the problem is not the sinner’s ignorance but unrighteousness. In the second article, we considered then the content of our apologetic. Because the main issue is unrighteousness, it is the Gospel that is the solution - that’s the “hope in you” for which we give a reasoned defence. Our apologetic methodology must get us to the Gospel by exposing the sinful suppression of truth because of the unbeliever’s rebellion against the God they know exists but wish didn’t.
In this article, we’ll look at what God’s word says about the conduct of the Christian apologist and some practical tips on engaging with unbelievers.
“...yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15c-16)
Have you ever wondered why Peter goes to such trouble to tell us to have such an attitude and approach to apologetics? Look at the words he uses - gentleness, respect, good conscience and good behaviour. It seems like he’s going to a lot of pains to tell us to be really careful about how we do apologetics. Why?
Gently Demolishing Foundations
It is because ultimately, apologetics aims at the foundations of every opposing worldview - and when the foundations are taken out, it all comes crashing down. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This can be a very traumatic experience for an unbeliever to have everything that they’ve (up to this point) put their hopes in come crashing down. Apologetics involves the demolishing of an entire foundation upon which a person has built their lives - we must do so gently, lovingly and respectfully!
Also, when a person’s foundation has been destroyed, we cannot just leave them free falling with nothing under them. When we wield the sword of the Spirit and cut them, we cannot leave them bleeding out. This is why it is essential that our apologetic aim is the Gospel. Yes, we are destroying foundations, but only so that they would replace their faulty foundation with the only true, strong foundation - Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). Thus, we must always see and love the questioner behind the question.
One thing that helps is to remember that we were all once lost as they were.
”For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:3-5)
This should remind us “to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).
Waiting on God’s Vindication
Note also that Peter emphasizes having a good conscience and good behaviour. This circles back to our first point about the cornerstone of apologetics - living a holy life sold out to Christ. A life that displays the total Lordship of Christ shows the fruits of the Spirit to a watching and even critical or hostile world. But notice what the text says, that even if they slander and revile you - they will be put to shame. Put to shame by who? It does not say that we put them to shame. The passive voice of this verb shows that it is God who ultimately vindicates us because He is the final Judge of all.
Too many times, young, zealous keyboard warrior apologists (who are often young males without proper spiritual mentorship, accountability and community in their lives), go off on tirades of demolishing other people’s worldviews, mocking their inconsistencies, savaging their deeply held beliefs - not to honour God but rather to feel vindicated. We want to win the argument at all costs and vindicate ourselves. However, you can win the argument but lose the person. No one likes to be made a fool or public spectacle. Oftentimes, because of the public nature of engagement on social media, debates become a forum for public approval and vindication - to score cheap “gotcha” points to shame the opponent. We’ll never win hearts that way nor honour God.
In apologetics, we honour Christ in our words, attitude, thinking and behaviour by showing gentleness and respect for the people we’re engaged with and entrust God with ultimate judgement.
I’d like to circle back to the point we touched on about being prepared to help give you some practical examples and tips - because it’s probably not very helpful for me to just yell at you “go study your Bible!” How can you go about doing that?
Does it just mean that I sit down for hours by myself in a room and try to figure everything out about the Bible alone? No. By God’s grace, He has provided us with numerous ways to study and understand God’s word. I’ll point us to two practical examples here and there are many resources available on the resources section of this site.
We’ll start off with some free, readily available, historic, solid resources.
I. Catechisms, Creeds & Confessions
No, this is not a “Catholic thing.” The Church has been using catechisms for centuries as a way to teach people the basics of the faith.
What is a catechism? (Questions and Answers)
It is simply a series of short questions about faith, and short responses that are based on the Bible that are easy to memorize.
Because catechisms are basically learning how to answer questions with the Word of God, they are perfect for preparing us to ‘be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.’ They are a ready-made tool to equip us! Additionally, many of the historic catechisms have been tried and tested for literally centuries and are based solidly on God’s Word.
You’ll find that studying catechisms will help you grow in your faith and memorize more scripture and as a bonus, they will give you practice in answering questions about your faith!
The Baptist Catechism - 114 questions and answers with scriptural proof-texts from a Baptist theological perspective.
The Westminster Catechism - There are 2 versions, the Shorter and Longer Catechism. Both versions include the scriptural ‘proof texts’ that show you right from scripture where they are getting the answers.
What is a Creed? (That is wrong, this is right)
Heresies are not usually born out of outright lies but rather out of half-truths or imprecise statements. A Creed is a precise statement affirming Biblical truth against a particular heresy the Church was combatting.
Creeds connect us to the historic Christian faith. All the historic creeds of the church were formed in response to the challenges of heretical doctrines. For example, the Nicene Creed was formulated to battle the heresy of Arianism that denied that Jesus was truly God. Learning the Creeds helps us to give precise responses to doctrinal errors. These heresies are still alive today - Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses repeat the Arian heresy in saying that Jesus is ‘a god’ and is a created being. The creeds give us language to precisely and concisely define the historic faith that Christians have believed in for centuries.
The Apostle’s Creed (c.120-250 AD) - This is one of the oldest Creeds and its doctrine is traced back to the original apostles. It concisely defines the essence of the Christian faith. We even sing it today!
The Nicene Creed (325-381 AD) - This Creed was the product of the Council of Nicea in response to Arian heresy and clearly defines the doctrine of the deity of Christ.
Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD) - Formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in response to the heresy of Nestorianism - this creed focuses on Christology and the two natures of Christ known as the hypostatic union. It is a precise definition of what we mean when we say that Jesus had a human nature and a divine nature.
Creeds are useful to us when we want concise (short) and precise (accurate) definitions of core Christian doctrines (beliefs).
What is a Confession? (This we believe)
It is simply a statement of what we believe. Confessions vary in length and detail, but they outline what and why we believe. Every church has a confession (whether or not it is written down). The advantage of confessions is that they are a detailed and systematic explanation of what and why we believe what we do with many scripture references.
The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) - This is a historic reformed baptist confession of faith. It is structured systematically and touches on every major category of the faith with scriptural texts to study explanations.
Confessions are useful as free, detailed explanations of Christian beliefs in a systematic way.
II. Theological Resources
Ultimately, there is no way around it, we must put effort into growing in our understanding of the Bible and our faith. Sometimes we cannot put all of the pieces together or connect all the dots. Or sometimes we don’t know how a particular Biblical truth applies to our life. This is where good theology books will come in handy.
While nothing replaces our own personal study of God’s Word, humility also requires us to recognize that we don’t have all the answers and must learn from others. One of the ways we do that is by reading books. And today there are various options available to us - not just physical books, but also digital e-Books which are cheaper a lot of the time, and even audiobooks that you can listen to on the go and fit into your commutes! There’s really no excuse for us these days, we live in a time of unprecedented access to God’s word and tools to help us understand it.
Sometimes I wonder if we can get away with being held responsible for not taking advantage of such a wealth of blessings! Will our social media feeds and Netflix subscriptions stand against us as witnesses to how much time we wasted on things that don’t satisfy or feed our souls or equip us for what God has called us to?
If you’re struggling with where to start - check out this website’s Recommended Resources page for a list of great books on various topics. Or you can always ask your local church leaders for recommendations or look at online book recommendations from sites like Challies, Founders Ministries, G3 Ministries, Canon Press, American Vision, and Ligonier Ministries.
As you grow personally in your faith - in applying God’s word to your own life - you’ll grow in your ability to show how it’s applicable in the lives of others. This is because there is no temptation which befalls us that is not common to all people that God hasn’t already provided a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).
Two Practical Examples
We said previously that every true axiom that we use to defend our beliefs ultimately rests on God’s Word because ultimately, we all live in His world which He established by His own standards. Therefore, when engaging with an unbeliever, we don’t need to put aside our Christian worldview.
But what does this look like for someone who rejects the Bible? Well, one simple way to think about it is by asking the question “By what standard?” What is the unbeliever’s standard for believing in these things? In this section, I’ll briefly provide a few examples of how we can use a Christian worldview to perform an internal critique of an opposing worldview and show the truth of Christianity from the impossibility of the contrary. That is, it is impossible for Christianity not to be true.
I. Logic & Reason
Many atheists assert that logic and reason are the ultimate standards for truth. However, if we presuppose their worldview - that the universe is the product of random chance and just molecules in motion, then how can we account for laws of logic and reason? How do logic and reason come out of chaos?
Not only that, why are laws of logic and reason universally applicable? In a chance universe that develops from unguided processes, why should we expect things to make sense and have a reason? It’s all chance and chaos. If all we are is matter in motion, why do laws of logic matter? All that the atheist can do is assert that laws of logic exist - they just are. But they cannot give the reason why… talk about blind faith!
What then is the foundation upon which the atheist can use laws of logic and his own reason? Logic and reason are products of a mind and intellect, not the product of inanimate things or forces. No one ever considered the logic or reason of a rock or stone. Logic and reason do not arise from inanimate materials, so in a purely materialistic universe, then where do laws of logic and reason come from? Logic and reason imply the Personal God behind the way things work. Without God, we have no foundation for reason and logic.
Only the Triune God of the Bible gives us a sure foundation for logic and reason. When we use logic and reason, we are simply thinking God’s thoughts after Him because we are made in His image (Gen. 1:27). He is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:33, 40; Rom. 8:28; Gen. 1). Laws of logic do not change because they flow out of God’s unchanging character (Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17) and wisdom (Jam. 1:5; Prov. 2:6; Psa. 111:10; Isa. 40:28).
The atheist who asserts that there is no God, asserts by the same words that he holds the universe in his mind; he asserts that no fact, past, present, future, near, or far, escapes his attention, that no power, however great, can baffle or deceive him. In rejecting God, he claims omniscience and omnipotence. In other words an atheist is one who claims that he himself is God. (Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education, 38)
This is the same rebellion that we saw in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, the same rebellion of Satan - all sin is wanting to dispose of God as God and put ourselves upon the throne.
II. Knowledge & Truth
What about knowledge itself? Have you ever thought - why can we even know things? Why is there absolute truth?
If the Christian God does not exist, then knowledge and truth itself is impossible. How so?
In a chance universe, why should we even expect that blind, unguided forces would produce a knowable universe that we have the ability to perceive? Why trust your senses of sight, touch and hearing if they are only the product of blind forces of random chance? What trust is there in something made by chaos? Why would an impersonal universe even develop senses in the first place for living creatures? If we are only the product of blind forces, we cannot even trust the senses by which we perceive the world. And if there is no God, why does truth matter? Where do we get the ‘oughtness’ of truth - that we should pursue truth? The unbeliever has no ultimate foundation for truth and thus must borrow from the Christian worldview.
Some unbelievers think that all truth is relative. However, this statement is self-defeating. If all truth is relative, does that mean that this statement is also relative and not absolutely true? We can easily see the absurdity of this claim - but this is what you are left with when you abandon God: absurdity.
But why is it that only the God of the Bible gives us the foundation for truth and knowledge? Why not Allah or the gods of Hinduism or some other religion?
All of our knowledge is analogical - which simply means we know things by analogy. I know that this is a bowl and not a cup because it is similar to a small basin in that it holds liquid, but I know it is not a cup because it doesn’t have a handle. So, it is like something, and not like something else. It’s an analogical construction - a comparison - that tells me what this is and how I know it and distinguish it from something else. All knowledge is like this.
Just think of what you do when you try to describe something to someone else who doesn’t know what it is - what do you do? You use an analogy. You say, well it’s sort of like this, but not like this.
This means that the foundation for knowledge is analogy - unity and diversity, things have similarities yet differences. If this universe is knowable, that means that this basis for knowability must also pre-exist the universe. Only in the Christian God - who is Triune (unity in diversity) - do we have the eternal basis for knowledge. Because God is unified (One Being of God) but also diverse (eternally existing as three Persons) we have in God the foundation for all knowledge which is based on analogy. We also have a basis for unity in diversity - something our world is desperately grasping to find.
All of our knowledge flows out of God - it is revelational - God reveals His knowledge to us. We trust our senses because He is a good God whose design is good and not deceptive. Thus, we can trust that God creates our senses in a way that comports with and actually relays information to us about reality. The atheist and even other religions do not have this basis for knowledge and truth. Only the Triune God of the Bible provides that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on a basic introduction to Biblical apologetics. There’s much more we could cover, which we will in future articles, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few recommended introductions to apologetics.
RECOMMENDED BEGINNER APOLOGETICS RESOURCES
Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen
Know Why You Believe by Dr. K. Scott Oliphint
Christianity Considered: A Guide to Christianity for Skeptics and Seekers by Dr. John M. Frame
Articles in this series:
BIBLICAL APOLOGETICS | Part 3 - Our Conduct & Practical Tips
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