Saturday, October 03, 2009

Christian Apologetics

Apologetics is the intellectual activity of giving a defense of one's faith. Peter writes that we should be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you“. I've written before on the role of apologetics as logically foundational to understanding and applying the Bible.

Apologetics is logically foundational to the principles of hermeneutics by which we can glean truth from the scriptures and apply the Bible. So the role of apologetics is intrinsically presuppositional. But on what level?

I've also written that we do not come to faith because we first understand apologetics, but rather that God gives us spiritual life by which we see the truth experientially and come to faith. Only afterward do we delve into the true rationality of scripture.

So apologetics is presuppositional rationally. With regard to faith, I agree with Christ when he told Nicodemus that we speak what we know. I married my wife not knowing the whole apologetic of her life. I could say that I knew her and had an intimate relationship with her. However, I didn't know everything, did I? I've learned much more about what makes her tick since we've been married. I could give an account of my love for her in the early days, but it is nothing compared to the account of love that I could give for her now. Our identities are intertwined and learning more about her formative influences only establishes our relationship more firmly.

Is the account of love that I could give for my wife in the early days any less of an apologetic than the account I can give now? Hardly, for I would have no apologetic now were it not for the early days and there would be no early days were it not for that first apologetic.

Likewise with God.

I read scholars who discuss apologetics, but fail to evaluate an apologetic with regard to its formative purposes or usefulness. Therefore, I must conclude that true apologetics can't happen in an intellectual vacuum. Once they are sealed against any personal context, they cease to be apologetical.

So, I come up with a remedial understanding of apologetics which involve the Types or Methods of Apologetics and the Purposes for Apologetics, to whit:

Types or Methods of Apologetics

Types or Methods of Apologetics refer to the logical approach to doing apologetics, whether for developing a system of preliminary thought or developing a dialectical interchange for whatever purpose. These types include Classical Apologetics, Evidential Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, Theological apologetics and Spiritual Apologetics.

Classical Apologetics – This involves considerations regarding the “proofs for the existence of God” that have been around now for centuries. It includes such as the cosmological, teleological and ontological arguments. This type of apologetics is very philosophical. Typically no wise debater building a case for God builds his line of argumentation solely on the basis of classical apologetics. For Christians, we must also demonstrate the veracity of Christian theology. God appealed to what we would today consider classical apologetics when he told Moses to tell the people, “I AM that I AM. Tell the people I AM sent you.”

Evidential Apologetics – Based on the classical teleological argument for God (argument from design), this takes empirical observations about the world around us and uses them logically to evaluate theological statements. This is most often used to test the veracity of the Bible and the hermeneutical principles used to understand the bible as well as to demonstrate the usefulness of theistic presuppositions in scientific analysis over and against those of naturalism. God used evidential apologetics throughout the Bible where he lists the things he's done in order to encourage people to faith.

Presuppositional Apologetics – It's invaluable to understand that the other two types of apologetics are irrelevant without holding Christian presuppositions true. In fact, no other set of philosophical presuppositions are intrinsically coherent for no other reason than they aren't true. Only the truth is ultimately coherent. Therefore, the method of presuppositional apologetics often involves demonstrating the incoherence of false presuppositions. The method of presuppositional apologetics differs in the Biblical accounts. The typical presuppositional method in the Bible is to use elements of the presupposition of the intended audience that are true to build other true presuppositions on rather than to immediately tear down their false presuppositions. John does this in the first chapter of his gospel when he appeals to the philosophical debate of his day regarding the nature of the logos of God. Paul does this when he goes to Athens in his sermon on Mars Hill. Additionally, Paul uses the same methodology when he writes to churches understanding that people in the process of sanctification do not have fully formed sets of Christian presuppositions.

Theological Apologetics – I've included the category of Theological Apologetics where people of different religions or even different schools of thought within a religion debate particular points of theology without particular mention of regard to any other type or method of apologetics. This can cause problems where debaters miss the meaning of their opponents' discourses when they fail to realize different presuppositional positions. It often produces debate that is haphazard and unfulfilling. In this case, any good fruit that is borne is done so due to the grace of God and of no particular merit to the debaters. However, there is enough fruitful debate and as such God must be glorified that he continues to work in his people to build them and to edify them despite our silly squabblings. Paul and other NT writers often engage in theological discourse, following Christ's example, where they make good reference to the Old Testament writings. There is the common presupposition that they are true.

Spiritual Apologetics – Christ often used an uncanny wisdom to address spiritual shortcomings in the people who came to him with questions. His typical discourse makes appeals to truths that we know by spiritual revelation outside of observational evidences or intellectual presuppositions. The one intended to receive wisdom may or may not be the one he addressed, but it seems he always intended to impact the observing audience. The result is to force a decision based on a known truth exposed as having been suppressed in the presuppositional complex of the individual listener.

Purposes of Apologetics

So we can begin to see that there are different purposes for apologetics. Some of the purposes of apologetics are Academic, Evangelistic and Sanctifying. I could add a fourth category called “Theological”, but Theological Apologetics tends to have multiple purposes and some methodologies and typological characteristics that are unique from other types and methods, so the category properly belongs in the Types or Methods section.

Academic Purpose – The comment I often hear regarding the deeper things of scripture is, “Of what spiritual good is it really?” On the surface, the argument is pragmatic. For a God who is extravagant in his creative prowess and provision, how can we boil necessary truth down to only that which is immediately useful? It's a silly argument. The challenge is made by opponents to Christianity that Christianity rationally breaks down at a certain point. Academic apologetics is necessary to demonstrate that Christianity is indeed rational. In fact, nothing is rational outside of the Creator of reason and any reason used to dispute Christianity is using reason borrowed from the Creator himself. It is a matter of desiring God enough to want to know more about him that Christians pursue apologetics for no other reason.

Evangelistic Purpose – The fulfillment of the Great Commission consists of more than simply speaking the gospel. Christ admonishes us to make disciples. The evangelistic process starts before conversion where information regarding the gospel message is offered and some apologetic method is used. Where the one being evangelized is made alive by the Holy Spirit the truth is made certain to them and they realize their salvation in Christ. This is the role of apologetics in evangelism.

Sanctifying Purpose – Believers are often challenged with feelings of doubt. Knowing intellectually that our God is true sustains us in the times where we are challenged. God allows these times for the reason of building us up in his strength. Also, if we were to know everything about God and about our depravity, we would be undone and the message of grace would be thwarted. So as our sins are mortified our knowledge and understanding of God is increased. Each drives the other and works together to make us more holy like sinking cold air and rising hot air drive each other to generate a twister.

There are a couple of other areas I'd like to comment on briefly: The Nature of Truth and the Existence of God.

Nature of Truth

Facts are true, but facts themselves do not comprise Truth itself. Truth is absolute because God is absolute and Truth is the nature of God. Truth is the foundation for facts. While we handle facts with such as logic or reason, Truth is essentially the will of God. Therefore, for us there is no Truth without submission to God's will.

Existence of God

I've been listening to a debate from 1985 between Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen and Dr. Gordon S. Stein about the existence of God. The biggest issue I have with such a debate is that it presupposes that the existence of God is foundational to God. Remember the philosophy of existentialism, that existence precedes essence or substance? It's at least erroneous if not entirely backwards. I challenge that essence or substance precedes existence. The debate I've heard so far has been fairly well waged, but the premise of the debate falls on the same bad ground that grows such philosophical weeds as naturalism and postmodernism.

Studying Cornelius Van Til's Apologetics

I heard about this larger debate between scholars of Reformed Presuppositional Apologetics as to whether God is comprehensible to us or not. The players are Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark – and their students apparently. I was initially interested in this because of an old debate I had with a guy who insisted that the Christian faith is blind. The fact that he was a fellow church member alarmed me and I insisted that although the scripture said we walk by faith and not by sight, our faith was a matter of spiritual sight and we don't truly follow God without his revelation to us. I learned that there was more to this debate than that and have endeavored to dig deeper. So, I have a few books and this debate to listen to.

I had thought to post a summary after having read these books and perhaps a few others. However, having read the first chapter, I see much to comment on as I go along. So, perhaps this will be the start of a series. Given my track record with series, I can't promise I'll finish. But I don't have a whole lot going on right now, so it seems like a worthy endeavor.

Thus, I have produced this post summarizing my thinking on Apologetics. I have written this exclusively from my own thinking without reference to any other source (except the scripture quote) so you can see what is in my mind to begin with. This is the presuppositional ground that I start with as I read. I may change my mind on what I have written, but if you have a desire to follow this journey with me, then hang on for as long as I post about this and we'll see where this leads.

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