Belief in God and belief in the truth claims of Christianity are being consistently and passionately attacked in secular arenas as a “crutch for emotionally weak people”, “a fairytale” believed only by intellectual simpletons or a “mental delusion” caused by a virus in the mind (more>>). Conversely, Christian apologists confidently maintain Christianity is not a mindless faith, a purely emotive faith or a blind faith (i.e., faith without reason or contrary to reason). Rather, Christianity is a rational faith supported by several independent lines of persuasive philosophical argumentation as well as historical and scientific evidence.
Engaging in apologetics has always played an important role in the lives of Believers but in today’s pluralistic and increasingly godless society, it is more important than ever for Christians (especially Christian young people) to develop a basic understanding of the intellectual foundations of the Christian faith. As discussed in this article, engaging in apologetics is not only commanded by Scripture and vital for Christian living but was modeled by Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles and, most importantly, by Jesus himself.
Because the attributes of the God of the Bible are strikingly consistent with what logic and science teach to be true about the cause of the universe (more>>), Christian apologists maintain that belief in the God of the Bible is a rational belief supported by multiple independent lines of argument, including the following:
- God’s existence best explains why anything exists rather than nothing (Leibnitz’ Cosmological Argument — an argument for the existence of a first cause or an uncaused cause) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains the cause of the universe coming into existence (the Kalam Cosmological Argument) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains all the mind-boggling, just-right design features scientists have discovered throughout the universe which make it possible for life to exist in the universe (the Intelligent Design aka Teleological Argument) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains the existence of objective morality
- God’s existence best explains man’s search for, and innate belief in, meaning, purpose and significance
In the view of Christian apologists, not only do each of the above lines of reasoning present a persuasive case for the existence of God but when considered together, the arguments provide a cohesive and convincing case that belief in the God of the Bible (who is described as eternal. self-existent, transcendent, righteous and purposeful being) is the most rational belief possible (more>>).
There are also good reasons to believe God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (more>>) thereby confirming Jesus was who he claimed to be — the son of God and the savior of those who would put their faith and trust in him (John 3:16).
Seven Reasons it is Crucial for Today’s Christians to Develop a Basic Understanding of Apologetics
Although not every Christian has the time or desire to understand the details of the scientific evidence and philosophical arguments involved in the study of apologetics, there are at least seven (7) reasons why every Christ-follower should develop a basic understanding of apologetics:
- 1 Peter 3:15-16 instructs Christ-followers to be ready to give reasons (an apologia) for their beliefs to people who ask (skip to>>)
- Understanding that a rational basis exists for the Christian faith gives Believers greater confidence to stand firm in their faith even when ridiculed or challenged intellectually (skip to>>)
- Apologetics demonstrates intellectual and explanatory inadequacies of other religions and philosophical ideas (skip to>>)
- The Holy Spirit can use apologetics to remove intellectual obstacles to belief in God and Christianity (skip to>>)
- Jesus used apologetics to confirm to sincere truth-seekers that he was who he claimed to be (skip to>>)
- Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles engaged in apologetics (skip to>>)
- Engaging in apologetics is a way for Christ-followers to love God with their minds as Jesus exhorted his followers to do in Matthew 22:35-40 (skip to>>)
Perhaps the most well-known apologetic passage in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:15-16:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience….
For some Christ-followers, obedience to the command of I Peter 3:15-16 will mean sharing a personal testimony about how their relationship with Jesus Christ totally transformed their lives. This is the kind of apologia the apostle Paul shared with other Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27 – 22:22) [Go here to see some compelling testimonies of how becoming a Christ-follower transformed peoples’ lives.] For others, it will include understanding and using scientific, philosophical and historical evidence to demonstrate there are good reasons to believe in the Christian faith and using that evidence to fairly and respectfully respond to probing questions of those investigating the reasonableness of Christian truth claims.
Christians now have the benefit of over 2,000 years of concentrated scientific, philosophic and historic investigation concerning Christian truth claims which demonstrate that Christianity can stand up to even the most vigorous intellectual challenge. One of the primary goals of FactsandFaith.com is to provide Christians with summaries of the well-reasoned arguments that Christian apologists have developed in defense of the Christian faith so that Christians (especially young people) will have the intellectual tools they need to competently and confidently respond to the arguments raised by skeptics in the secular arena.
Understanding that a Rational Basis Exists for the Christian Faith Gives Believers Greater Confidence to Stand Firm in Their Faith Even in Face of Intellectual Challenge
Research poles and studies demonstrate that more and more Christian young people are disengaging from their faith. Many young Christians report having serious doubts about their faith after being confronted with intellectual questions about God and Christianity and not knowing where to find well-reasoned responses to those questions [See, for example, the testimony of James Merritt (here)]. When questions of young inquiring minds remain unanswered, seeds of doubt creep into their thinking and, over time, many of them end up either privitizing their faith or disengaging from their faith. It is now expected that up to 51% of Christian young people will actually recant their faith by the time they graduate from college.
“… we are in serious danger of losing our youth. In high school and college, Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted by every manner of non-Christian philosophy conjoined with an overwhelming relativism…. I constantly meet parents whose children have lost their faith because there was no one in the church to answer their questions.”
– William Lane Craig, Christian philosopher
As noted by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, history has proven that mindless and purely emotive Christianity has little staying power, whereas passionate and thoughtful Christianity has great staying power. [Ravi Zacharias, www.rzim.com] Christians now have the benefit of over 2,000 years of intellectual investigation and reflection by very well-respected scientists, philosophers and theologians. It is simply unwise for Christians to fail to educate themselves and their children about the rational foundations of the Christian faith.
As cautioned by many apologists, such as William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias, churches are filled with Christians who are either “idling in intellectual neutral” [see, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pg. xiv (1994)] or mindlessly riding on waves of emotionalism [Ravi Zacharias, www.rzim.com.] By neglecting to understand, at least on a basic level, that the Christian faith is supported by scientific, philosophical and historical evidence and argument, Christians deprive themselves of the joy and confidence they could have in knowing their faith is rational and is able to withstand even the most rigorous intellectual challenge. [See, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pgs. xiv (1994) and J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pg. 11 (1987)]
Christian Apologetics Exposes Intellectual and Explanatory Inadequacies of Other Religions and Philosophical Ideas
As argued by Christian apologist, John Lennox, there is only one valid reason to believe in the Christian faith — because it is true! Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth, the life and the only way to God the Father (see John 14:6). If Jesus’ claims are not true, Christianity is false and should be abandoned. On the other hand, if Jesus’ statements are true, then any rational person would follow Jesus no matter the cost. The same is true for other religions and philosophical ideologies — if they are true, they should be believed and followed; if untrue, they should be abandoned. Lennox maintains that any rational decision to follow or not follow a particular religion or philosophical idea is best evaluated on the basis of evidence, not beliefs, because the sincerity of one’s beliefs simply does not guarantee the beliefs are actually true because all of us are capable of being sincerely wrong. [John Lennox, Foundations of Apologetics: “Pluralism: Do All Religions Lead to the Same Goal?“ (2010)]
By engaging in apologetics, one can come to appreciate that, as compared to other religions and philosophical ideologies (e.g., atheism and agnosticism), Christianity has well-reasoned answers to life’s most important questions (e.g., How did the universe come into existence? Why are we here? Why is there evil in the world? Ultimately, will good or evil prevail? How can we have hope when things seem hopeless?). And, Christianity’s answers to these important questions are not only satisfying to the heart but also the mind.
The Holy Spirit Uses Apologetics to Remove Intellectual Obstacles to Belief in Christianity
Christian apologists recognize that primarily men come to know Christianity is true through the witness of the Holy Spirit and Christians show it to be true primarily through arguments and evidence. According to the Bible, it is God working through the Holy Spirit, who ultimately draws men to the gospel (see, John 6:44; John 16:7-11). As delineated by Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, in John 16:7-11 Jesus identified three roles the Holy Spirit plays in the life of unbeliever:
- He convicts unbelievers of sin;
- He convicts unbelievers of God’s righteousness; and
- He convicts unbelievers of their condemnation before God.
As stated by Craig, “[I]f it weren’t for the work of the Holy Spirit, no one would become a Christian” because: a) no one is righteous, no one understands and no one seeks God (Romans 3:10-11), b) the gifts of the Spirit of God are folly (foolish) to men (1 Corinthians 2:14) and c) man is naturally hostile to God because their minds are set on the flesh (Romans 8:7).[See, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pg. 35 (1994)]
However, even though it is the Holy Spirit who must necessarily convict men of the truth, Scripture also teaches that the Holy Spirit uses evidence presented by Believers to convict men of that truth. [See, J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pg. 11 (1987)]Therefore, although arguments for God’s existence aren’t enough in and of themselves to lead someone to Christ, the Holy Spirit can use those arguments to remove intellectual obstacles that keep some men from believing. [Alister McGrath, Foundations of Apologetics, “The Existence of God” (2007); see also, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pgs. 35-36 (1994)]
Lee Stobel is an example of someone who the Holy Spirit drew to God through the use of apologetics. Strobel was an atheist working as a legal editor for the Chicago Times. After his wife became a Christian and he noticed her life being transformed, Strobel embarked on an investigative journey to check out the veracity of Christian truth claims. Strobel states that, over time, he eventually became convinced “by the evidence” that God existed and that Jesus was who he claimed to be. View Lee Stobel’s testimony here. Since becoming a Christian, Strobel’s stated life goal is to do his part in “helping others get answers to the questions that are blocking them in their spiritual journey toward Christ.” [Lee Strobel, The Apologetics Study Bible, “How Apologetics Changed My Life!”, pg. xxvi-xxvii (2007)] In furtherance of that goal, Strobel has written many books on apologeticsincluding The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, The Case for Easter and The Case for the Real Jesus.
Jesus Engaged in Apologetics
Christians are called to imitate Christ and one of the things Christ did was to reason with sincere truth seekers and provide them with evidence that he was who he claimed to be and that his claims were true:
In this passage, John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus the following question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” When Jesus was asked that question, instead of responding verbally, Luke reports that Jesus cured many people with diseases, cast out people with evil spirits and gave sight to the blind. Then Jesus told the men to “[g]o back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
The acts were some of the signs Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would perform: “preach good news to the poor”, “bind up the brokenhearted”, “proclaim freedom for the captives” and “recovery of sight for the blind.” (Isaiah 61:1). The Isaiah 61 passage was the same passage Jesus had previously read in a Nazareth synagogue at the beginning of his ministry before stating, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (see, Luke 4:20-21). Instead of sending John the Baptists’ disciples back to him with an unsubstantiated affirmation that he was the Messiah, Jesus sent them back with direct evidence that he was the Messiah by performing the signs and wonders Isaiah 61 prophesied the Messiahwould perform.
Philip (one of Jesus’ disciples) said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” After telling Philip that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father, Jesus asked Philip, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” Then Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
This passage records that after ten of Jesus’ disciples told Thomas aka Didymus (another of Jesus’ disciples) that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Thomas said he wouldn’t believe it until he saw the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, put his finger where the nails had been driven in and put his hand into Jesus’ side where the Roman soldier had thrust his spear. A week later, Jesus provided Thomas with that very evidence. Jesus appeared to Thomas and said to him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas believed and responded, “My Lord and my God!”
In this passage, it is reported that after Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples over a 40 day period during which “he showed himself” to his followers and “gave many convincing proofs (en pollois tekmariois) that he was alive.” The Greek phrase (en pollois tekmariois) means “decisive proof” and indicates the strongest type of legal evidence. [See, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament] In today’s legal terms this would be evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In each of these instances, and many others, Jesus did not require those seeking the truth to believe what he said with blind faith (i.e., faith without any reason or contrary to reason). Rather, Jesus gave them a reasonable basis to believe he was who he claimed to be and that what he was said was true. The only time Jesus refused to provide this kind of evidence to people is when he was confronted by insincere skeptics, such as Herod (see, Luke 23:8-9), and certain Pharisees (see, Matt. 16:1-4). Just as Jesus willingly provided honest truth seekers with the evidence they needed to believe, I Peter 3:15-16 instructs Christians to do the same by preparing themselves to give the reasons they have hope in Christ and to do so with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.
The Bible provides many examples of prophets, apostles and other Believers defending and/or contending for faith in God and/or his son, Jesus Christ:
- Old Testament prophets consistently appealed to historical facts, prophecy, creation or providence. [See, J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pg. 11 (1987)]
- In Acts 2:22, Simon Peter told the Jews in Jerusalem that Jesus was accredited to them by God via miracles, wonders and signs which they personally witnessed. Later, in Acts 2:32, Peter contended that all the Jews in Jerusalem were witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and, as a result of the apologia recorded in Acts 2:14-41, three thousand men were saved that day (see, Acts 2:41).
- The apostle Paul reasoned with unbelievers and appealed to creation as evidence of God’s existence (see, Romans 1:18-25). In Philippians 1:7-16, Paul reported he had been imprisoned for the very purpose of providing an apologia of the gospel.
- Jude’s stated purpose in writing to Believers was to urge them “to contend for the faith” (see, Jude 1:3).
In Matthew 22:35-40, an expert in the Jewish law tested Jesus’ comprehension of the law by asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (see also, Mark 12:28-29 and Luke 10:25-27). In these passages, Jesus instructs Believers to love God with all their minds which, at least for some Christians, includes understanding the workings of God’s creation which testify to God’s omnipotence, omniscience and transcendence as well as many of his other attributes (more>>).
Some of the awe inspiring things Believers can ponder about God include: The awesomely vast universe that God has created, the numerous exquisitely fine-tuned characteristics of the universe which point to an intelligent designer (more>>), that only because of all of these just-right characteristics can life exist anywhere in the universe (and, therefore, God must have purposed to create an environment where man could survive), that God graciously gave man the freedom to choose to rebel against him and that all men have chosen to rebel and sin against God but that God graciously offers a way for people to enter into a personal relationship with him (more>>).
When Believers thoughtfully consider how awesome God’s love and power really are, it allows them to put things going on in their lives in proper perspective and worship the Creator in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Because Christianity is not a blind or purely emotive faith, apologetics will always play an important role in the lives of Believers. Gaining a basic understanding of apologetics equips Christians to be able to engage in the battle over ideas and share their beliefs in a well-thought out manner with the confidence that the truth claims of Christianity can stand up to even the most vigorous intellectual challenge.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: July 7, 2012 / Last Updated: April 13, 2012
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Kenneth D. Boa, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe, “What is Apologetics?” (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)
Alister McGrath, Foundations of Apologetics, “The Existence of God” (RZIM, 2007) available at http://rzim.christianbook.com/foundations-of-apologetics-all-digital-version/9781612562124/pd/1314BD
John Lennox, Foundations of Apologetics: “Pluralism: Do All Religions Lead to the Same Goal?” (RZIM, 2007) available at http://rzim.christianbook.com/foundations-of-apologetics-all-digital-version/9781612562124/pd/1314BD
J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity(Baker Academic, 1987)
Lee Strobel, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe“How Apologetics Changed My Life!”, pgs. xxvi-xxvii (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)
Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers Rei Sub edition by Thayer, Joseph published by Hendrickson Publishers Hardcover (Hendrickson, 1996)
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