The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: Part 13.6
Review and Critique:
"What is Apologetics?"
Author not listed.
[Key: direct quotes from author.]
This article is one of the more reasonable and even-handed approaches I’ve reviewed. It does, however, come to a conclusion which does not match the theme of the majority of the article and thereby wanders into the same theological brambles as pretty much any other article like it.
It begins with reasonable review of the occurrences of
ἀπολογία, noun [G627, apologia: defense];
ἀπολογέομαι, verb [G626, apologeomai: to make a defense; to defend oneself]
[The author notes 17 occurrences of the combined noun and verb forms; there are actually 18. I provide a detailed list of all occurrences of the noun and verb forms here.]
The author’s approach to 1 Pet 3.15 is far more biblical than the “typical” modern evangelistic apologist I've encountered:
“Christians are to behave lawfully, maintain a good conscience, and give a reasoned defense of what they believe to anyone who asks.”
Technically, Peter commands the defense of a Christian’s “hope”, not what “they believe”, but within the context of this article this is an acceptable definition—just barely.
The author then makes this statement:
“The New Testament, then, does not use the words apologia and apologeomai in the technical sense of the modern word apologetics. The idea of offering a reasoned defense of the faith is evident in three of these texts (Philippians 1:7, 16; and especially 1 Peter 3:15), but even here no science or formal academic discipline of apologetics is contemplated. Indeed, no specific system or theory of apologetics is outlined in the New Testament.”
This is the first and only time that I’ve seen such a (truthful) admission of this basic fact by a modern apologist. Indeed, it was actually refreshing after being exposed to the incessant drone of humanistic verbal sewage by other authors I’ve reviewed in this series.
The author then spends some time with a history of the development of (Christian) apologetics. Based on the truth of the paragraph I quoted above this history is irrelevant. Why give a history regarding something for which the author admits “Indeed, no specific system or theory of apologetics is outlined in the New Testament.”? Wouldn’t that be the working definition of the "lost cause" or the "futile exercise"?
The remainder of the article deals with the “Functions of Apologetics”. The author identifies four:
The author does not formalize (as I have here) the fact that within a biblical definition of apologetics, it is nearly always used as a personal defense (usually legal). And, in the few places in the NT in which the noun or verb forms were used, it is always within the Christian community generally or the local assembly specifically. This biblical understanding rebuts the author’s summary:
“These four aspects or functions of apologetics have differing and complementary goals or intentions with respect to reason. Apologetics as proof shows that Christianity is reasonable; its purpose is to give the non-Christian good reasons to embrace the Christian faith. Apologetics as defense shows that Christianity is not unreasonable; its purpose is to show that the non-Christian will not be acting irrationally by trusting in Christ or by accepting the Bible as God’s word. Third, apologetics as refutation shows that non-Christian thought is unreasonable. The purpose of refuting non-Christian belief systems is to confront non-Christians with the irrationality of their position. And fourth, apologetics as persuasion takes into consideration the fact that Christianity is not known by reason alone. The apologist seeks to persuade non-Christians to trust Christ, not merely to accept truth claims about Christ, and this purpose necessitates realizing the personal dimension in apologetic encounters and in every conversion to faith in Christ.”
The context of the entire summary statement above is clearly the use of apologetics when engaging the lost.
As I see it, there are two major questions here:
- Is the author’s definition of apologetics valid?
- Is the author’s implementation of apologetics (“The apologist seeks to persuade non-Christians to trust Christ …”) valid?
In terms of applying a strictly biblical definition of apologetics, based solely on the Bible’s use of the noun and verb forms, then the answer to both questions is no. Please see my article here on the biblical definition that demonstrates its only venue (in the context of actually “defending the faith”) is within the Christian community/local assembly exclusively. Neither the noun nor the verb forms are ever used in the NT for any activity that engages the lost.
In terms of essentially creating a non-biblical definition of Christian Apologetics in general (such as what James White does or the research work of the Institute for Creation Research, as two examples), as long as it is recognized that the author’s definition is extra-biblical, then it is as legitimate as any other definition of apologetics which may be applied to any other scientific, medical, astronomical, cosmological, historical, archaeological, etc., discipline. It is simply another discipline—but beware, the use of this type of apologetics as an implementation of “evangelism” (quotes deliberate) is never supported by Scripture.
It is this last point that highlights the author’s stunning conclusion: “The apologist seeks to persuade non-Christians to trust Christ, not merely to accept truth claims about Christ …”.
How does this differ from what the NT clearly calls “evangelism” and “preaching the gospel”? Why is it necessary to create another term? If we let this definition stand, then it presumes to grant credibility to a so-called discipline (evangelistic apologetics) which it does not deserve and can’t biblically support—even though the claim above applies the caveat of “not merely to accept truth claims about Christ …”.
As I said, this is a non sequitur.
There is also that last phrase: “… and this purpose necessitates realizing the personal dimension in apologetic encounters and in every conversion to faith in Christ”.
“Personal dimension in apologetic encounters ...” !?!?
Sharing the gospel with the lost is indeed personal; it is nothing less than sharing the facts of spiritual life and death with someone who is spiritually dead (Eph 2.1,5; Col 2.13). Nothing is more fundamental, vital or "real" to the lost.
It’s that phrasing the author uses: it is impersonal, sterile, clinical, academic, cold, unfeeling, detached … for an activity that Paul described as:
1 Cor 15.3-4
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …
See additional comments in my article on Preach the Gospel!
Our sharing of the gospel (not the sharing of our apologetic prowess) should be “of first importance”. Do we seek a euphemistic definition because we are secretly ashamed of the pure gospel, a gospel that abases lost man, demands his repentance and faith, and elevates a sovereign and gracious God and Risen Christ, without whose work no one would be saved?
I, for one, aspire to this:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
This should be our goal and experience. If we get this right, anything “apologetic” will fall into its proper place (and that place isn’t evangelism—in fact, the place of evangelistic apologetics is nowhere!). If whatever activity we define as apologetics is not valid, then it will/should simply fall away.
And it would fall away, except for the fact that it is kept on "theological life support" by those calling themselves "evangelistic apologists", perhaps because they believe that they must contribute tangibly to the salvation of the lost by their wit and intellect.