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Apologetics: Who Needs It?
By Dr. Craig Blomberg
Two Tragic Conversations
I had just arrived in Denver. I was excited about my new job teaching at the seminary level. But my first love had always been the university; so I contacted the regional director of a well-known Christian organization which works with students on campuses around the world. It was an organization which had been very helpful and influential in my own Christian upbringing. I tried not to be too pushy; but I wanted the director to know I was available and interested in speaking to campus groups.
"On what topics?" "Well, anything related to the Bible, and particularly the New Testament," since that was my field of expertise. But I explained I was particularly interested in questions about the reliability of the Scriptures-defending evangelical Christianity against its many liberal and secular challenges. "Oh," the director replied lamely. "Kids aren't much interested in that these days."
To make a long story short, it became clear that this man wanted nothing to do with wrestling with the tough intellectual challenges to faith. His "kids" just wanted to sing and pray and have a good time together and that was about it.
Not long afterwards I was talking with one of my colleagues, a man who was both a pastor and professor. He had been reading in my book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. He made a few appreciative remarks about it. But it was clear he had some serious doubts. Soon his question came out. "How much does the average lay person really need to know about any of this?
To summarize another lengthy conversation, it became clear that this man felt that most adults in evangelical churches are no different than "kids" In campus groups. They want to hear Jim Dobson or Chuck Swindoll on how to have good families. They find it interesting to learn about the latest inroads the New Age movement is making into our society. But for heavens' sakes, don't bother me with the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. "God said it, I believe, and that settles it for me." The problem of course is that not everybody believes God said it! So what gives us the right to say we do?
This is the tragic state of much evangelical Christianity at the end of the twentieth century. If I had been exposed only to this kind of religion growing up, I would probably not be a Christian today. What is even sadder is that evangelicals today are so numerous that many of them can actually go through life without ever having to face some of the tough questions that. skeptics ask. But of course such people are seldom involved in seeing skeptics become believers.
What Is Apologetics?
Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing! It comes from a Greek word [apologia] which means "fit for defense." Apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith. Scripture commands us to know why we believe what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15 declares, " Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Quite frankly I don't know very many Christians who have obeyed this command very often.
Apologetics means being able to suggest answers to the hard questions of life that keep a lot of people from trusting in Christ. How can I know there is a God? Can an intelligent person seriously believe in miracles? Can I really claim that Christianity is true and all other religions false? Is Jesus actually God? Isn't God more pleased with people who do lots of good things than with those who do evil? Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world anyway? Who in their right mind can believe in a heaven or a hell?
These and other questions like them have taxed philosophers and theologians down through the centuries. They do not have easy answers. But Christians ought to be able to give at least some kind of well-thought out reply to those who raise such questions.
From one point of view all of these issues depend on one fundamental question. Can I trust the Bible as the inerrant Word of God? If Scripture is a fully reliable source of revelation of God's ways with his creation, then I can find many of the answers to the tough questions of life there. In fact, even if only part of the Bible were true, I could learn a lot. For example, suppose that I could believe in the trustworthiness of the four gospels but had doubts about other parts. All the gospels agree that Jesus of Nazareth was miraculously resurrected. If Jesus really rose from the dead, then his claims to be God's Son have been vindicated. If Jesus is the Son of God then everything he says is true.
If the gospels give a reliable record of Jesus' teaching, then we know a lot of truth on many topics. Moreover, Jesus taught that all of the Old Testament was true (John 10:35; Matt 5:17), so we can trust it too. He also taught that the Holy Spirit would come and lead his followers into further truth (John 14:26, 15:26), which probably includes but is not limited to the New Testament. Suddenly I find I have good reason to trust all of the Bible. Maybe now it becomes more understandable why I get excited about a "dry" topic like the historical reliability of the gospels!
Who Needs It?
So who needs to learn apologetics? At least three kinds of people.
(1) Anyone who is concerned that the lost get saved.
Now we must be honest. People reject the gospel for all kinds of reasons. Some don't want to give up their favorite sins. others have a misunderstanding of what Christianity Is really about. But many people have serious questions about Christian beliefs which just don't make sense to them. Once they receive good explanations, they become more open to the Lord.
We must also emphasize that nobody comes to Christ unless God has called him and unless the Holy Spirit convicts him of sin and leads him to repentance. But usually God's Spirit does not work in a vacuum. Normally, he uses other people to bring his chosen ones to himself.
God may speak through a fiery preacher to convict someone of sin. He may speak through the tender love of a faithful friend who sticks by someone during dark days. But he also speaks through an ordinary Christian's clear explanations to nagging questions which have been obstacles keeping a per-son from the Lord. I am not speaking hypothetically. I have seen it happen and heard of many more cases in which it has happened.
(2) Anyone who is concerned that professing Christians not abandon their faith needs apologetics.
In adolescence, many fall away from the faith of their parents because no one is able to give convincing answers to their hard questions. Students go off to universities and discover a whole new world in the academic study of religion. When their churches back home show no interest in this world or are unable to reply, many give up on the church.
Many of my friends are professors of the Bible in liberal or secular settings. I am amazed at how few "liberals" are homegrown. Large numbers of them have had some significant involvement with fundamentalist Christianity and have turned their backs on it because it has not adequately addressed the tough questions. The same is even true of some atheists.
(3) Anyone who is concerned about growing spiritually needs apologetics.
We all have our own moments of doubt, some of us more so than others. If we base our faith solely on past, personal experiences, we tread on thin ice. Tragedies in the present have a way of obliterating good feelings about God's presence in the past. Unless we have logical, rational arguments for the truth of our faith on which we can fall back when our emotions betray us, we too will be tempted to "hang it all up." Or at best, we will backslide rather than grow in our walk with God.
How to Get It
So who needs apologetics? Everybody does! How then do we learn more about why we believe what we believe? Read good books on the topic. Listen to tapes. Join a church whose pastors and teachers think apologetics is important and speak about it often. If we have the opportunity, study it in a Christian college or seminary.
Find mature Christians who have thought about such things, whether or not they have ever studied them formally. Talk to them. Pick their brains. Play devil's advocate and ask them the hard questions. Keep asking until you find someone or some source who gives you a decent answer. The answers are Out there!
But what kinds of questions should I start with? Start with the ones that bug you! If none do, start talking to people who are not believers and ask them why they aren't! You'll quickly find plenty of problems to keep you going. Will you be part of the problem or part of the answer?
Author: Dr. Craig Blomberg is professor of New Testament studies at Denver Seminary. He is the author of the book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by InterVarsity Press (1987).
C.S.. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Paul Little, Know Why You Believe.
Colin Chapman, The Case for Christianity.
Gordon Lewis, Testing Christianitys Truth Claims.
Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences.
Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics.
E.J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics.
Stuart Hackett, Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation Claim.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
The above article originally appeared in The
Shield newsletter in 1989.
It was posted on this website February 1998.
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