Brief Overview of Christian Apologetics
Theory of knowledge
Observations regarding how human beings know anything:
We must know what something is before we can know how something is.
Absolute truth exists in the world in which man lives.
Man can have true knowledge, albeit not comprehensive knowledge, of the universe, of God and of himself because he is a creature and because of revelation.
All facts (truth) are God created, God related, and God interpreted. Thus, human beings cannot genuinely know apart from knowing God. This also means that all truth is categorically sacred; truth is not categorically sacred or secular.
The Christian interprets reality in terms of God’s eternal self-consciousness. The non-Christian interprets reality in terms of his existence independent of God.
Man is not what he thinks he is (self-knowledge); he is what the Bible says he is. We must present the gospel to him from the perspective of who he really is whether he believes so or not.
Man is naturally disposed against God and thus against a Christian theory of knowledge. He cannot be neutral.
Knowledge of God
We can only know God if he allows us to know Him. The fact that he reveals Himself shows His compassion. God has revealed himself in numerous ways. These ways are not proofs of His existence; rather they are self-revelations of the God of the Bible whom we presuppose to exist:
In creation – Romans 1:19-20
In man – Genesis 1:26-27
In direct revelation – Genesis 6:13
In supernatural ways – Exodus 7:5, 17
In providential ways – Deuteronomy 4: 33-35
In people – 1 Peter 2:9
In Scripture – John 5:39
In Christ – Matthew 1:23
Self-revelation of God can be understood only as a matter of faith by regenerate people. Man cannot reason to God on our own. The unregenerate trample all over God’s creation, worship the creation, (Romans 1:18), reject God out of hand, and don not understand his ways (1 Corinthians 2:14).
An unbeliever must be approached with the gospel from a faith first, understanding second perspective.
Criteria for Truth
Basic to any discussion of discovering truth is the matter of criteria for truth. For instance, those seeking to prove the existence of God via rational proofs necessarily believe that the human mind is the criteria for truth. On the other hand, the one who presupposes God’s existence holds that God Himself is the ultimate criteria of truth. God is the starting point as well as the conclusion.
Any argument for the existence of God or for the truth of the Christian system by logical reason makes man the criteria for truth. This is contrary to the Bible as the standard for truth. At the end of the day, all theistic proofs prove nothing and are a detriment to effective presentation of the system of Christianity.
This in turn is related to one’s view of the nature of man. Many argue that the natural man can, by use of reason, do justice to the natural revelation that surrounds him. He merely needs some assistance and rational arguments are that assistance. However, one who realizes the depraved nature of man, sees that the “revelation of a self-sufficient God can have no meaning for a mind that thinks of itself as ultimately autonomous.” (Van Til, “The Defense of the Faith” (p 89).
Van Til also states that rational argumentation “…assumes that man can first know much about himself and the universe and afterward ask whether God exists and Christianity is true. The Reformed apologist assumes that nothing can be known by man about himself or the universe unless God exists and Christianity is true.” (Van Til, Ibid p 223)
“Apologetics” means to make a verbal defense (verb) or the defense itself (noun). In the Christian context it is thus defending the system of Christianity. Apologetics is also the foundation for presenting the gospel.
The word family is used seventeen times in the New Testament the most widely known being NAU 1 Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (ἀπολογία) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence
Another way to frame the discussion of apologetics is with the question, “What is the connection between faith and reason”? Here are four schools of thought:
Rational – must logically demonstrate Christianity to the unregenerate.
Semi-rational – must use logic to remove the unregenerate’s objections and then later give him the gospel.
Semi-presuppositional – must mix the gospel and logic at the same time in approaching the unregenerate.
Presuppositional – need not prove anything to the unregenerate, but rather must presuppose the truth of Christianity.
At least two factors support the position that the presuppositional apologetic is preferred and thus that there is no necessary connection between faith and reason.
The nature of faith as a gift from God (Philippians 1:29, Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, is not a product of reason; it cannot be earned; and it cannot be exercised at men’s whim.
The unregenerate man is spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:3-4); a creature made in the image of God (Romans 1:18-25); and is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5). Therefore:
arguments can never fully penetrate the minds and hearts of the unregenerate
man is subject to the creator
man’s freedom is a derived freedom
man is not the final criterion for truth
man can never possess comprehensive knowledge about God
the unregenerate has no ability to come to God, to please God, or to respond to reason about God
the unregenerate man must be made alive by the sovereign operation of God before he can believe
The implications of the position that the presuppositional apologetic is the preferred approach to the unregenerate man are:
Christian theism will appear unreasonable and illogical to the unregenerate – 1 Corinthians 1:18
The unregenerate man can know nothing about himself or the universe unless God reveals it to him
The gospel of God is still the only power able to deliver lost man – Romans 1:16
All methods of evangelism must depend on the power of God’s Word rather than the persuasiveness of men.
Admonitions for Christians:
The Christian should never apologize for his child-like faith. It is all that is needed! You don’t need to understand everything.
Share the gospel boldly. It is exactly what people need.
In dealing with the unregenerate, the Christian must begin with God, not man. Conceptual evangelism is God > Regeneration > Faith > Man, not vice versa.
Become a person of the Book. Answers for life and life hereafter are found in the Bible.
Develop a holy enthusiasm for Christianity. Mull over how great a thing God has done for sinners like you.
Presenting the gospel
We presuppose that the Bible is true. Our goal will be to make the message of the Bible known.
We presuppose that the God of the Bible exists. We will be careful of being drawn into secondary discussions about the existence of God.
If we start with Christian presuppositions we will end with Christian principles. This is circular reasoning. Of course, the same is true for the unregenerate.
We always return to the basic principle that God is the sole criteria of truth. Hence, the importance of our knowing the Bible. We accept the Bible on its own authority because we are regenerated not because of reason.
These concepts should not be the point of our presentation. However, we will freely acknowledge these concepts and presuppositions if challenged. Remember, the unregenerate also brings certain presuppositions to the table (such as a closed universe; or a world of chance; or a denial of absolute truth; or a denial of God).
Present a world and life view when engaging the unregenerate with the gospel. Any one fact of Christianity must be understood in relationship to the whole of Christianity. There are no isolated facts. For instance, if the resurrection is denied the whole gospel crumbles (1Corinthians 15).
Our point of emphasis must be to communicate what the Bible says about the human condition and the remedy. Our opinions really do not matter.
We must rely on the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16) rather than particular methods or our persuasive abilities.
We will maintain a positive outlook not only because we are unleashing the gospel, but because the unregenerate is made in God’s image and has a foundational awareness of God (Romans 1:19-23; 2:15) whether he thinks so or not.
Engaging world religions
The basic approach remains the same – same presuppositions and same gospel. The authority of the Bible is especially critical.
In the same way that we need to know what the Bible says about the human disposition, it is also wise if have a rudimentary understanding of the beliefs and practices of the particular world religion we are encountering. This is advised not so that we can disprove it, but so that we will better understand the perspective of the unregenerate advocate.
We will always be compassionate and respectful. The attack mode is not helpful.
Traditional theistic proofs
Two key terms must be understood. First, “proof” means that which conclusively demonstrates the validity of a certain concept. The idea is: given concept “A”, concept “B” necessarily follows and is valid. Second, “God” means the God of the Bible. Hence when Plato arrives at a Prime Mover, he has not arrived at God consistent with this definition.
The standard arguments or proofs for the existence of God are well known:
Ontological. This is an argument from being; that is if we can conceive of God as the Supreme Being, the God must actually exist. Or to state it differently, the conception of a perfect God implies the actual existence of that conception. So, if I perceive of the greatest possible being and call him “God”, then God must exist. This is so because if he happened not to exist, then he is not the greatest possible being; for the existing is surely greater than the non-existent.
Cosmological. This is an argument from the universe. The universe had to begin at some point. Thus, the universe owes its existence to a first cause which must be greater than the universe. In other words there is a connection between effect and cause. Plato identifies this first cause as the “unmoved mover.” Proponents of this proof identify this first cause as God.
Teleological. This is an argument from design and purpose. The universe exhibits both design and purpose, therefore there must exist a force or intelligent great enough to produce such a universe. Thus, the grand designer is God.
Moral. This is also called the anthropological argument. It states that if human beings can experience morality and if they can be happy, then there must be a cause able to produce that effect. The perfection of morality is immortality; hence this cause must be immortal; hence God.
Religious Experience. This argument is fairly self- explanatory. Those best qualified to speak to the issue of God are those who have actually experienced religion.
These theistic proofs suggest a first cause or a supreme being or a designer or whatever. However, they do not prove the existence of the God of the Bible. As proof for the existence of the God of the Bible the theistic proofs have absolutely no value. However, this is not to say they are of no value whatsoever. They are valuable to Christians as reminders or evidences of the self-revelation of God.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2018. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.