Apologetics

What Should be the Source for Christian Apologetics?

William Lane Craig is a brilliant, very articulate Christian philosopher and apologist.  Listening to him speak on a given topic can be a humbling experience, for it is hard to imagine how one may say things with better eloquence.  His speaking manner and quick wit leaves one feeling a bit inadequate when the suggestion of defending the faith is broached.

This is an honest personal assessment on my part. I don’t say this to butter him up before I chop him down, rather I use these truths to highlight an important fact that all should consider—This does not stop dumb things from coming out of his mouth.  Craig, as smart as he is, has the same makeup as you and I; he’s a flawed, imperfect human being.  And the result is moments of ignorance either willful or accidental; it doesn’t matter which.

We all have blind spots in our field of vision both physically and mentally. Here is an example of Craig’s:

  • “When we do systematic theology the basis of theology—the rule of faith—is Scripture. The Scripture is the only authoritative and infallible rule for faith and practice. But [not] when we do apologetics…The apologetic enterprise or task does not depend upon biblical authority, inspiration, inerrancy, and all the rest. Those things are important for doing theology, but when you are doing apologetics those sorts of things are not presupposed lest one be arguing in a circle.”1

Obviously, Craig is of the opinion that the Bible is good for doing theology (i.e. the study of God). There the Scriptures are authoritative and infallible in the sense that they offer the believer a rule for how to think and live.  Yes, I realize that Craig said “faith and practice,” but the sense in which he is using the word “faith” is related to how one thinks (i.e. faith commitments, convictions and biases). However, that is where his affection for the use of Holy Scripture ends; or so he says. When it comes to the field of apologetics, it’s best to leave the Bible out of the discussion.  Well, not entirely he’d probably argue, but surely not something to state one’s apologetic case on.  Why? The short answer is because not everyone will “accept what you are laying down,” so to speak.

**This is a popular argument by many leading Christian apologists today.

Take for example Gary Habermas and Michael Licona in their collaborated effort The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. In this book, they offer the following statement in the introduction of the second section of their book under the heading “Just the Facts, Ma’am”2: “While we hold that the Bible is trustworthy and inspired, we cannot expect the skeptical nonbeliever with whom we are dialoguing to embrace this view.”3 Therefore, though they readily admit that the Bible has authority to some extent, they push it aside in favor of another standard when practicing apologetics.  In order to justify this action, Habermas and Licona appeal to Paul’s address at Mars Hill recorded in Acts 17:16-31 where “instead [of using Scripture] he cited secular writers and poets known to his audience.”4

What is apparent from such Christian apologists is the desire, in part or in total, to “use commonsense standards of rationality and universally agreed principles of logic in [their] arguing,”5 as disclosed by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. They later write that “[doing] apologetics only from the starting point of the authority of Scripture…is a tactical error.”6 Why? Well their reasoning is the same as Craig quoted above: “…the unbeliever will not accept the use of any special standards or assumptions or attitudes toward Scripture at the outset, since they clearly beg the question.  You must first prove that Scripture deserves such special treatment as the Word of God, and you must prove this without presupposing it, without giving Scripture special treatment. Otherwise you argue in a circle, assuming what you need to prove.”7

For a moment we will bypass the allegation of circular-reasoning (i.e. begging the question).8 All I want to deal with in this post is the claim that an apologetic approach which bases its argumentation on biblical revelation is unnecessary, unwanted, or unwise. Therefore, my question for you the reader, “Is that accurate? Does what is being claimed really pass scrutiny?”

What is Apologetic’s?

Perhaps, we should start here before attempting to answer the questions above.   The field of apologetics is geared towards providing argumentation in order to defend one’s faith-system.  Anytime you are challenged for a belief, conviction or even an opinion you have, and then you go about providing reasons to justify your position you have just performed apologetically.  That is the generic or universal definition which applies to all people and all fields.

What I and the individuals above are alluding to however, is a bit more specific.  The type of apologetics that we are talking about is specialized in the Christian faith-system (i.e. worldview).  This concept is developed from a biblical understanding of providing the rationale for one’s belief in the Triune God of the Bible, and everything that pertains to Him as Creator over all things.

I would imagine that the most popular text that Christians appeal to for their apologetic endeavors is 1Peter 3:15. While, this text is certainly valid in that it applies to all members of the Church, regardless of their educational status or position in the Body of Christ, there are others that are just as important in helping define what Christian apologetics entails. Here is a list of some premiere Christian apologetic texts9 that ought to be carefully weighed and mulled over:

  • 1Peter 3:15— “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (cf. Isa 8.12-13).
  • Jude 1:3— “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
  • 2Cor 10:3-5— “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (cf. Rom 16.26)
  • Col 4.5-6— “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (cf. Matt 5.13).
  • 2Tim 2.24-26— “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
  • Titus 1:9— “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Though each passage is given in differing contexts, with some specifically applied to overseers/elders/pastors/teachers in the Church and others in terms of the general congregation of Christ, the theme is universal amongst them.  Christians are to stand firmly upon the truth—the Word of God, which is the Word of Christ as wise men/women. The Bible is the root from which they appeal to all people.

Time for a Quick History Lesson…

Did you know, the popular reference of 1Pet 3:15 which gets the majority of attention by Christian apologists in the Evangelical Church is rooted in Isaiah 8:12-13?

  • “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But in the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”

The historical context is when Ahaz king of Judah refused to trust in the Lord (cf. 2Kgs 16.2-4; 2Chr 28.1-4) and was besieged by an alliance of Syria and Israel in the north. Rather than seek the Lord’s aid in deliverance by repenting, Ahaz sought the aid of a pagan king from Assyria (2Chr 28.16). Isaiah speaking on behalf of the Lord tells the people to not fear what others fear, to not trust what others trust in, but be distinct from the popular culture of the day and trust in the Lord of Hosts.  Fear Him, follow Him, devote yourselves to Him and His Word, and in so doing you will find that he is in fact “a sanctuary” (Isa 8.14a) for those who trust in Him. But for those who refuse… the Lord shall be “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to…” (Isa 8.14b) all others, causing “many [to] stumble…and be broken; they shall be ensnared and taken” (Isa 8.15).

History applied in Peter’s ministry and Ours?

In the midst of fiery trials, for being persecuted for doing good, for following the will of God and not of unredeemed man, this is when opportunity will come to answer those who question such faith Peter says in 1Pet 3:10-18. In that moment of apologetic ministry Christians are to put on Christ (vv. 17-18). To argue like Jesus.

By borrowing from the prophet Isaiah, Peter is explaining there is no such thing as a Christian apologetic without Christ being the foundation of it!  If you lay aside the Scriptures (the Holy Bible) in order to do your apologetic, whose thinking are you more in line with God or man? In other words, whose foundation are you building your argument from?

If our theology must be rooted in God’s Word, then why not our apologetic? For do they not both draw from the same well? Is not Christ the center of our gospel, the center of our theology, and therefore rightly the center of our apologetic? How can one hope to give a reasoned defense of the Christian faith, when they willingly push to the side the foundation of that faith—the very thing that makes sense of the faith-system in the first place?

What message are you conveying to your audience when you say, “Well, yes, this stuff is in the Bible, but let us put that aside for a moment and just look at the evidences?” At that moment what becomes your chief standard? What is the basis of your faith, the Triune God’s testimony/witness to the world or a subjective understanding of miracles like the resurrection of Christ?

Muddy Eyes leads to Muddy Thinking…

Now I’ve heard Craig and his ilk claim that we have to prove God before we speak authoritatively about God, because people won’t believe that message. Rather we must get in the murky mire and coat it over our eyeballs so that we approach the truth in the same manner that the unbeliever does, because everyone knows how well blind guides lead.  “Oh, you’re not being fair Kris…you’re sounding awfully preachy!” Lol, well I suppose I am sounding preachy, but am I really being unfair?

I just find it laughably silly to assume that your understanding of the Christian faith, which is based directly on biblical teaching, is somehow found unacceptable when I attempt to give a reasoned defense for it; by appealing to that which governs my understanding, makes sense of reality, and gives proper meaning to things like the resurrection of Jesus.

Where are we authorized by this rule of “faith and practice,” as Craig refers to the Holy Bible, to divorce it from our apologetic “faith and practice?” Such a view is nonsensical because it reasons in an unreasonable fashion out of fear of looking silly to a world that we are told will identify the message of the cross as folly (1Cor 1.18).  So, even when we are instructed that it is through the folly of this message preached that God saves (1Cor 1.21), we knowing better than our Lord, ashamedly soften the folly of the message so that others will find it more acceptable.  Who are we really concerned about at that point; God or man?

I realize that by putting it this way I will quite possibly offend any who read this, but in true sincerity: “What gives us the right to set-apart, sanctify, make holy another standard for our beliefs than the one we have been given?” For many this is not an easy question to answer because it seems logically impossible. Why? Because of “circular-reasoning” which if you listen or read the above authors you will find that is their professed chief concern. As such, it’ll be the subject of my next article…

______________________

ENDNOTES:

1 William Lane Craig, “The Bible Tells Me So! So?” Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, March 26, 2017, accessed May 23, 2019, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/the-bible-tells-me-so-so/Italics added.

2 Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 41.

3 Ibid, 44

4 Ibid, 34. This is an interesting admission by these writers that I hope to be able to address at a later date. For the conclusions that they draw from Paul’s address seems to result from poor observation of the text in question.

5 Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 23.

6 Ibid, 203.  I should note that the Kreeft and Tacelli do use the word “only” in reference to the use of the Bible in one’s apologetic, and on this I agree.  Leaving evidence out of an apologetic is a mistake and probably impossible to really do, but there is a proper order (logically speaking) that should be followed when presenting evidence for one’s case. For example, it is impossible to comprehend the resurrection of Jesus properly aside from the biblical framework provided in Scripture found in both Old and New Covenants.

7 Ibid, 204.

8 In a forthcoming post I will address the issue of “circular-reasoning” (i.e. begging the question).

9 All of the Scriptural references in this work are of the English Standard Version. Also, not everyone may agree that these are apologetic texts, but the concern in each text (within its context) is in giving and providing answers to those who either ask, oppose themselves, or are found leading others in error.

 

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