1. Apologetics: What is it and what is it not?
Apologetics is the branch of Christian studies that is responsible for giving what the Bible calls “apologia” “ἀπολογία” - a reasoned defense for the Christian faith. It is not to apologize to someone, saying, “I am sorry” for being wrong, but rather it means to give a reasonable answer and explaining why you are right. It is what Peter describes as “a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
These notes have been written to accompany four lectures on presuppositional apologetics. The first is a general introduction to the subject; the second looks at the methodology of presuppositional apologetics; the third and fourth look at how we can deal with opposing worldviews. These notes however are not divided neatly into corresponding sections, but rather present an integrated discussion of these topics.
Before we get stuck in, let’s start by defining and explaining exactly what we are talking about. Defining terms is always important, and it’s even more so with apologetics. Once we have our terms clear, the subject itself is not that complicated.
From the very early time of Christianity, Christians have been involved in apologetics. One of the first apologetic encounters recorded for us in the Bible is in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 22). Here we see Jesus’ response to various attacks against the validity of his teachings. We see the Pharisees trying to “entangle him in his words” (v15), then the Sadducees doing the same (v23), and finally the lawyers taking their turn (v35). At this point Jesus took the offensive, asking them a question about the Christ: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42) The chapter ends with a powerful verse: “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46)
This chapter is a clear illustration of Christian apologetics, showing us what it is - and also what it is not. Jesus answered the questions politely, reasonably, with precision and finality, and in a way that put the onus on his opponents. The end result was rather telling: they didn’t want to talk to Him anymore. That should put to bed the idea that they were seeking answers. If they in fact were looking for answers, they should have been thrilled! They had finally found someone who could answer all their questions! But of course we know that wasn’t their goal.
What Jesus didn’t do was also very instructive. Among other things:
- He didn’t get angry.He didn’t shy away from pointing out their hypocrisy (v18) and ignorance about the subject matter of the scriptures (v29).He didn’t avoid the question (although he did answer indirectly).He didn’t use his personal testimony.He was not subjective in his answer.He asked questions to make a point (v41-45).
In Biblical apologetics, we are not presenting Christianity as probably true but certain. The Bible talks about God with certainty. Take the apologetic encounter of Peter’s in Acts 2.
”Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Peter didn’t suggest to his listeners that what he said was probably true; rather he said it was for certain. The word he used is “ἀσφαλῶς.” This word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean holding someone securely (Acts 16:23, Mark 14:44). According to Peter, the word of God comes to us so we may know the certainty of what we have been taught (Luke 1:4), “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1Thessalonians 1:5).