I want to give credit where credit is due. Much of this material is modified from an address given by Voddie Baucham at a pastors’ conference I attended a few months ago. It was a powerful message, and one that all Christians should take to heart.
The ability to defend the Christian faith from attack has been a prized ability in church history. Attacks against the faith have come often, and today is no different. But the question arises, “does one have to possess some special gift, ability or level of intelligence in order to defend the faith against intelligent attacks?” Too often, we view “apologists” as elite Christians with in-depth knowledge of science, philosophy, logic, debate, cults, heresies, and who possess the “apologetics edge”- a bit of confidence that borders on the arrogant. I’ve known these people. You’ve known these people. Some do a good job of defending the Christian faith. Others win arguments but completely turn people off to the faith. But are this what apologetics is? I don’t think so.
What is apologetics? Very simply, it is “the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against various forms of worldview.” Even more simply, it is knowing what you believe, why you believe it (lots of Christians get lost here), and being able to communicate it effectively and winsomely.
Apologetics is a basic requirement of pastoral ministry (Titus 1:9), but it is also a basic requirement for all Christians (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 1:3). It is vitally important that every one of us be able to clearly communicate truth and answers questions about it.
So, three key characteristics of doing apologetics:
- It must be rooted in the Bible. Don’t put down the bible. Don’t try to be “neutral” (no one actually is. We all approach life from a worldview). Don’t be afraid to go to scripture in defending your faith. If the Bible is the supreme authority for life and practice, then we must find our answers to what we believe there and there alone.
- It must be easy to remember. We have to be careful that as pastors and professors we don’t place burdens on our people that cannot be carried. Expecting your 45-year-old plumber deacon and 28-year-old soccer mom to spend their waking moments reading philosophy and books on apologetics simply is not practical or necessary.
- It must take place in the context of normal conversations. We don’t need to look for “apologetic encounters,” but rather should simply learn to defend the faith within the context of daily events and interactions.
Okay, so we’ve laid a groundwork. But what do we actually do? What material are we responsible for? This is where things get interesting. Christians believe in a closed canon. As Voddie Baucham states, “this is why we have leather-bound Bibles. We don’t use three-ring binders.” The Bible is complete. It is closed. And with that comes a limited amount of material that we are responsible for defending.
A few things to consider:
- There are a limited number of things we believe. I am not responsible for defending things I don’t believe. I’m not responsible for defending against heresy or against assumptions and straw men or caricatures of Biblical teaching
- Therefore, there are a limited number of objections that can be raised. Legitimate objections can only be raised to things that I actually believe. So I will defend the virgin birth from the text of scripture. I don’t have to defend against an objection that is rooted solely in naturalistic assumptions based on a secular worldview. For example, I don’t have to defend some church’s racist positions during the age of slavery. Those people were wrong, and their position cannot stand the scrutiny of scripture.
- Therefore (again), there are a limited number of objections that we must answer
- We have one definitive source for those answers- the Bible. If what I believe is biblical, then the answers to objections to what I believe are in the Bible. If I cannot find answers to defend my beliefs in scripture, then my beliefs must change (or I don’t know my Bible nearly as well as I thought I did!).
If we are going to truly defend our beliefs from the Bible, the apologetics training process becomes simple (though not easy). We begin by knowing our Bibles. We have to read them and understand them. This requires a good hermeneutical understanding. A church that doesn’t teach and reflect good hermeneutics is a church that is open to attack. In addition, we must understand seven or eight key categories of questions and what biblical texts deal with those issues. This is why most systematic theologies are organized in similar ways. Christianity only has a certain number of theological areas. Get familiar with a good basic systematic theology and get a basic grasp of various theological areas. Another really helpful set of tools in going this are creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Creeds are easily remembered statements of faith. Confessions often were developed as a result of heresy and so help clearly state biblical positions on controversial issues. Catechism (especially combined with scripture memory) is quite possibly the best discipleship tool in the church. Catechisms structure biblical truth into a question and answer format that is easy to learn.
So, believer, if you are in the faith (you have repented of your sins and put your faith and trust completely in Christ), you are called to defend that faith. Not to alienate and turn people off, but to carefully eliminate objections to the truth claims of the Word. Start today. Lay out a plan. Put a system in place that works for you to learn the truths of the Bible and allow them to affect your thinking and behavior. And be engaging those around you. The people at work, school, sporting events. They may have misconceptions and questions about the faith that have held them back for years from even considering the claims of Christ. It is not easy, and there will be lots of rejections and refusals to listen. Be we are called to the task, and where God calls, He also equips. It falls to us to brandish the sword with skill.