Beginning Christian Apologetics

These days, it's popular to apologize on behalf of the Christian faith. While some do this in sincerity, they aren't really doing apologetics. Apologists sometimes talk about "making an apology," but they aren't talking about saying "sorry": they're talking about offering a sound defense of biblical Christianity.

Some argue that apologetics is useless. You can't reason someone to God, and all the time spent arguing with intellectuals would be better spent evangelizing. But what happens when the culture around you has largely been evangelized, and rejects the Gospel on philosophical grounds? Is that an appropriate context for apologetics?

And what about all those people who've been convinced that the entire universe is a big accident, that man is the measure of all things, that the supernatural realm doesn't exist, that the resurrection of Jesus was a big hoax? They aren't intellectuals, they're just regular people who've been fed a line since they can remember, and they've bought it because they didn't know better.

These are only two of the audiences targeted by apologists. Not all apologetics are intended to convince someone of the truth of the Gospel and the accuracy of the Bible: sometimes the goal is simply to demonstrate that the claims of Christianity are no more irrational than the claims of secular humanists. In this case, apologetics can be just as useful for those already in the Church as for those outside it.

Because there are different kinds of apologetic tasks and audiences, there are different approaches to "doing" apologetics. The Classical method involves logical arguments for the existence of God, accumulation of evidence, and ethical arguments. Evidential and cumulative case apologetics (not the same thing, but similar) focus on empirical proofs that the events of the Bible actually took place.

A method for apologetics that doesn't get near enough attention (and the one we affirm) is called presuppositionalism, and was made most famous by Francis Schaeffer and Greg Bahnsen, both drawing on the work of Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary. Presupposition in this sense refers to the foundational tenet of Christianity: that the triune God of Christianity exists, and has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and the Bible.

Everyone has presuppositions, or attitudes they assume that tell the individual how to think about things and how to act in any given situation. The basic presupposition for Christians is: God exists and can be known. This is rooted in acceptance of the Bible as God's written self-revelation.

Humanists of any stripe (empiricists, postmoderns, etc.) also have presuppositions, though they often aver that they approach everything from a completely objective perspective and only make decisions based on observation and reason. This in itself is a presupposition, however, to think that humans are capable of objectivity and that things may be known by them.

And herein lies the irony. Because God is the creator of the universe and has given knowledge of Himself to all humans created in His image (Romans 1), no one is able to completely divorce him or herself from the knowledge of God they've been given. So though they attempt to suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness, all people must base their worldview ultimately on some aspect of the true knowledge they possess. Showing them this inconsistency, and how all philosophical and theological difficulties are resolved in the Christian Gospel and worldview, is one of the major tasks of presuppositionalists.

Apologists in this tradition sometimes use philosophy to prove or dismantle arguments, but at root their method is rooted entirely in the Word of God. A presuppositionalist will likely be able to interact with Heidegger or Sartre, but when it comes to defending the Gospel or showing the emptiness of secular thought, he'll rely on Scripture and Christ's witness.

Not that a presuppositionalist throws out evidence for the truth of the claims made in the Bible, he just maintains faithfulness to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is the final rule for doctrine and practice in the life of the Christian. And this only makes sense: if the Bible really is God's Word, it is supreme, and all human ideas and claims are subservient to it.

The books in this section come from a variety of apologetic traditions. We hope that whichever one you're most attracted to you'll also keep the Word of God central. Apologetics aren't primarily about debate or argument (though those are sometimes necessary). Apologetics are about spreading the glory of God to all people, tearing down strongholds and dismantling arguments, and defending the Gospel against all those who by lack of repentance fight it and dishonor our Lord.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

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