Our Reasonable Hope: An introduction to Christian Apologetics

Do faith and reason oppose each other? In cases where one’s faith is unreasonable, yes. It is the job of all Christians, however, to explain why we have a ‘reasonable’ hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15).

“For me, apologetics proved to be the turning point of my life and eternity. I’m thankful for the scholars who so passionately and effectively defend the truth of Christianity—and today my life’s goal is to do my part in helping others get answers to the questions that are blocking them in their spiritual journey toward Christ.”

~ Lee Strobel

Beyond the general call to give a personal testimony, there is a higher calling to the ministry of Christian Apologetics. At the helm of this endeavor are those who work more formally to destroy anti-Christian arguments and affirm the rationality of the Christian faith (2 Cor 10:5). These believers work to arm themselves for the task of defending Christianity’s basic truth claims.

“We stand in the gap for the weaker brother, confronting counterfeit truths, which would draw the young in faith away from Christ.”

~ Malachi Sewell

In a world that is largely devoid of faith, Apologists take the initiative to defend faith in God’s existence and the authority of scripture. A true Apologist doesn’t wait for the battle to come to them. They instead lead the charge against any and all ungodly notions which compete for the minds of men.

“If Christians could be trained to provide solid evidence for what they believe and good answers to unbelievers’ questions and objections, then the perception of Christians would slowly change. Christians would be seen as thoughtful people to be taken seriously rather than as emotional fanatics or buffoons. The gospel would be a real alternative for people to embrace.” [1]

~ William Lane Craig

In this introduction, we will deliver a basic snapshot of the fundamental subject matter associated with Christian Apologetics.

Herein, we shall address:

1.) Defining “Apologetics” as a term
2.) The rationality of Christianity
3.) The historicity of Christianity
4.) Principles of truth

Defining our operative term

The word “Apologetics” may appear to be a heavy term but it’s a very necessary and descriptive one. When applied to Christianity, the term (taken from the Greek “Apologia”) identifies the branch of theology concerned with defending the Christian faith.

“Christian apologetics may be defined as that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide rational warrant for Christianity’s truth claims.” [2]

~ William Lane Craig 

In 1 Peter 3:15 we read, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” The term is used more formally in Acts 22:1 and 1 Cor. 9:3. Peter, however, used the term more informally. Peter is basically saying, “Be on the ready to answer any friends or neighbors who ask why we’re Christians”.

Also note, the Greek word “apologia” is translated in this verse as “give an answer”. This very neatly and simply sums up what Christian Apologetics is. Those who engage in the defense of Christian belief are basically called upon to ‘give answers’. They are the gatekeepers of evangelistic discourse wherein Christianity meets its challengers.

Putting one’s best foot forward

As an aside, we assume that our reader is a person with some interest in Apologetic engagement. While it’s beyond the scope of this introduction to address how Apologetic ministry ought to be carried out, it’s quite necessary to say this much before proceeding.

Complete personal assurance is arguably the best first step of formulating an adequate apologetic. How can one be effective in convincing others of beliefs they themselves aren’t properly rooted in? So, before we answer why we’re a Christian, we ought to be sure of our faith in Christian doctrine and our own salvation.

While the inner personal witness of the Holy Spirit is our best assurance, an in-depth consideration of 1 John 5 renders much in the way of biblical assurance of salvation. These two powerful forms of assurance work in tandem to make us know that we belong to Christ. Therefore, it is strongly suggested that anyone who seeks to convince others must be certain that they themselves are convinced of Christ.

The rationality of the Christian faith

Proponents of atheistic thought maintain that faith in God is irrational. Fancying themselves to be paragons of reason, they express acrid disdain for the idea that the Universe was created rather than self-manifesting. Furthermore, they would have all of humanity believe that life somehow built itself from dead chemicals.

If the Universe was eternally existent, Atheism could be considered more rational than Theism. If life was observed to be easily or spontaneously created from non-life, Atheism would be more rational than Theism. The problem for Atheism is that scientific findings confirm the assertions of Theism and disconfirm those of Atheism.

Atheism alleges itself to be based on scientific facts but it isn’t. Theism, according to Atheism, is alleged to be irrationally based on that which science does not support. Yet the findings of science and common sense dispute Atheism’s claims.

The take away here, is the necessity of turning the tables on Atheism. The job of the Apologist, in this instance, is to demonstrate that theistic belief is both a natural cognitive default and perfectly reasonable. Moreover, there is much evidence to back this assertion. Developing a good apologetic in this regard requires one to find and have evidentiary arguments at the ready.

Regarding the Universe:

“Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover…. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”

– Astronomer, physicist and founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies Robert Jastrow. Please see Jastrow’s book God and the Astronomers for further reading.

Regarding life’s origin:

“The complexity of the simplest known type of cell is so great that it is impossible to accept that such an object could have been thrown together suddenly by some kind of freakish, vastly improbable, event. Such an occurrence would be indistinguishable from a miracle.”

– Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis

As we see indicated above, the position of Theism has been found congruous to rational, logical thought by some of the greatest minds in human history. The rationality of faith in God’s existence and the doctrines of Christianity is perhaps disputed by Atheism, but nowhere near disproved.

Defining our operative term

The word “rational” is an adjective which means:

“1) Based on or in accordance with reason or logic:
1.1) Able to think sensibly or logically:
1.2) Endowed with the capacity to reason: man is a rational being” [3]

So, if being rational is simply a matter of being able to reason in a coherent manner, it is safe to say there are rational minds in existence the world over.  An Atheist ‘can’ be rational.  Yet those who insist upon rejecting the evidence for Theism are of questionable mentality.  We should add: While atheism in and of itself does not make a personal irrational, a ‘rational atheist’ is one who hasn’t yet considered or been exposed to the evidence for Theism.

No ‘rational’ person ought to conclude that it is only irrational persons who disagree with them. Rational, fair-minded persons instead follow the lead of evidence and sound argumentation.

Rationality does not necessarily imply intellectual integrity

Let’s say that belief in “x” is based on known lies. Does this mean that people who believe in “x” are ‘necessarily’ irrational? This is not a safe conclusion in every case. We cannot overlook the fact that a person’s gullibility and will are belief factors. That is, even rational people will sometimes believe things despite the evidence. So, a person may not necessarily be irrational because of their belief in “x” but may simply be gullible or intellectually dishonest and obstinate. We contend that evidence is important but not imperative for personal belief. To say that one ‘must’ have evidence to believe runs counter to scriptural statements ( Rom. 8.14-16 ; 1 Jn. 2.27; 5.6-10 ). That is, we mustn’t discount the power of the Holy Spirit (!)

We contend that evidence is important but not imperative for personal belief. To say that one ‘must’ have evidence to believe runs counter to scriptural statements ( Rom. 8.14-16 ; 1 Jn. 2.27; 5.6-10 ). That is, we mustn’t discount the power of the Holy Spirit (!)

“The contention of theological rationalists (or evidentialists, as they are misleadingly called today) that Christian faith is irrational in the absence of positive evidence is difficult to square with Scripture, which seems to teach that faith in Christ can be immediately grounded by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, so that argument and evidence become unnecessary.” [4]

~ William Lane Craig

Finally, the question of rationality is an important one. We discover truth and grasp reality only when we are thinking rationally. It is reasonably required that any belief ought to be supported by evidence and/or argument; where there is no support, there is no ‘epistemic warrant’ for a belief.

To be rational in this regard is to value the bearing that propositional evidence has on our conclusions. If the evidence disconfirms a belief, that belief is irrational by default. So, the job of an Apologist is to bring the weight of evidence and sound arguments to the table in supporting Theistic propositions.

Christians believe the Gospel message because it is rational; it is a belief rooted in evidence. And whether the evidence is the inner personal witness of the Holy Spirit alone or, a combination of that and existing evidence, Christian belief is indeed rational.

“But as Christians, we know that no one is truly alone in making the choice to believe in the Gospel. For God has sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world and to draw people to Himself. Jesus has promised that “If any man’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7. 17). Ultimately, it will be God Himself who will judge whether a person in his historical circumstances made a rational decision.” [5]

– William Lane Craig

The historicity of Christianity

“One of the central claims of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God who died on the cross to atone for the sins of humanity and rose bodily from the dead. Our acceptance of these claims depends on whether or not the New Testament documents are reliable historical sources about Jesus.” – J.P. Moreland

Many Christian Apologists admit that Christianity stands or falls by the Resurrection of Christ. Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Cor 15:14). One main reason the Resurrection claim is so important in developing a successful Apologetic is that the Gospels claim it actually happened in a certain place at a certain time in history. So, one major part of defending Christianity involves demonstrating the historicity of events described in the Gospel accounts.

Christian Apologists, therefore, should be conversant on the following topics:

Manuscript Evidence – “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

Archaeological Evidence – “It is important to note that Near Eastern archaeology has demonstrated the historical and geographical reliability of the Bible in many important areas.” E.M. Blaiklock, The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology.

Eyewitness Accounts – “A straightforward reading of the Book of Acts reveals the apostles saw themselves as eyewitnesses. The early Church recognized this and formed the Canon around the historic, apostolic record related to Jesus. While features of the Gospels may still be challenged by those who deny the eyewitness nature of the texts, the best inference from the evidence is the Gospels were intended to be eyewitness accounts.” – J. Warner Wallace: author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

Corroborating Accounts – There are plenty of references in non-biblical sources to the events described in the Bible. The Jewish historian Josephus, born in 37 AD, “provide(s) indispensable background material for the student of…New Testament history. In them, we meet many figures well known to us from the New Testament. Some of his writings provide direct commentary on New Testament references.” – J.D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary.

Literary Consistency – “There is indeed a wide variety of human authors and themes (in the Bible). Yet behind these…there lies a single divine author with a single unifying theme.” John R.W. Stott, Understanding the Bible.

Prophetic Consistency – “The very dimension of the sheer fulfillment of prophecy of the Old Testament Scriptures should be enough to convince anyone that we are dealing with a supernatural piece of literature….God has himself planted within the scriptures an internal consistency that bears witness that this is his Word.” – R.C. Sproul, Now That’s a Good Question.

Principles of truth

“Truth and logic must be agreed upon and used as a common ground to move on to bigger things.” 

~ Steve Devall

There are several theories of truth but it’s fair to say that most of us see truth in one of two categories.

1.) Truth is subjective

According to this view, truth is only a matter of personal perception and mentally modified by individual bias. Proponents of this view contend that what’s true for one person is not necessarily true for another. This view tends to coddle fragile dispositions and its proponents may have good intentions but are they correct in their view? They are correct in saying that subjective truths exist but incorrect in claiming that absolutes do not exist.

2.) Truth corresponds to reality

In this view, truth is absolute and, therefore, an objective reality- that is, truth corresponds to reality (cf. correspondence theory). Proponents of this view would ask, “How can something like truth belong to an individual or be subject to their bias?” Whether everyone or no one believes a particular proposition, it’s either true or it isn’t. Absolute truth is not dependent upon any person’s willingness to believe it.

It is important to note that both types of truth exist. For example, “I love the smell of roses” is a subjective proposition and may very well be a truthful expression one’s opinion. Yet subjective truths of this type are dependent upon objective truth. Do roses exist? Yes, this is an objective, absolute truth and gives at least some validity to the proposition. Is the person making the aforementioned statement being truthful? That is hard to prove or disprove. Assuming that they are being truthful, that’s another example of an objective truth.

The Apologist is, therefore, necessarily required to be familiar with how one goes about explaining what truth is and how we can know it.

Conclusion:

Is it entirely unjustified that ‘some’ Christians are mocked for having what is perceived as “blind faith”? When a Christian has no answer(s) for why they believe, they are perceived as irrational. Simply saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it and that’s a wrap on the topic!” is not sufficient and not what God requires of us (1 Peter 3:15).

So, the value of having ready answers is undeniable. Christianity is true and, therefore, holds up to the light of scrutiny. Answering atheistic objections is a healthy, necessary exercise which buttresses our own faith and confidence in what we believe and why we believe it.

References:

  1. William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, p. 18
  2. Craig, William Lane. “Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? | Reasonable Faith.” ReasonableFaith.org. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/christian-apologetics-who-needs-it.
  3. (“Definition of Rational in English:.” Rational. Accessed August 28, 2016. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/rational.)
  4. Craig, William Lane. “Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? | Reasonable Faith.” ReasonableFaith.org. Accessed September 05, 2016. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/christian-apologetics-who-needs-it. 5. (“What Is Reasonable Faith? | Reasonable Faith.” ReasonableFaith.org. Accessed August 28, 2016. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-reasonable-faith.)

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