Five Things Christian Apologetics Must Have
I was raised in a Christian home, always active in an evangelical church, and was even on a first name basis with my youth pastor. However, I was not “apologetically” prepared for my first year in college. It started after freshman orientation when my advisor met with us and said, “Look, you’re getting a liberal arts degree so you have to take one class in religion and philosophy. Get it over with now. Don’t wait until the end.”
So, by the end of my freshman year, after taking Bible and Philosophy, I still considered myself a Christian, but I was fairly convinced as a result of taking those classes that the Bible contained historical errors and that no argument could prove the existence of God. Those were only the things I could verbalize. I had also internalized that some truth, especially religious truth, must be subjective and relative.
However, I still had this gnawing inclination in the back of my mind. Remember the youth pastor, who I knew by name? I thought, he was smart, went to seminary, knew Greek and Hebrew and even some philosophy, and he did not believe the things I learned in class. Why did I believe them? . . . because my college professor did? All I knew at that point is I had to look into matters more deeply.
Apologetics to the Rescue
Up to this point, all I was exposed to is what I now call evidential or historical apologetics. In other words, I knew the biblical and historical points regarding Jesus’ resurrection. However, that did not help with the philosophy or even supposed errors in the Bible.
Then I finally bought a book titled When Skeptics Ask. It changed me. It was the apologetic baptism I was hoping and looking for. What made that exposure better than any other? In short, it defined what apologetics is and is not, covered truth, arguments for God’s existence, different views of God (worldviews), and organized questions and points to show a systematic defense of the Christian faith.
I was hooked and still am. However, I have discovered that not all approaches to apologetics are created equal. I now use five principles to evaluate apologetics systems, people, books, curriculums, and other materials. If it does not measure up, it does not necessarily mean it is all bad, but it is not complete. Apologetics needs to include these five things:
- Apologetics must be distinguished from evangelism. Apologetics answers questions about Christianity (1 Peter 3:15), and it can build a positive case for the Christian faith (Luke 1:4). But this is clearly different from evangelism or giving the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Evangelism is any time, any place, to anyone, in any conversation. Apologetics is only done when and if needed for unbelievers or even believers: to defend the faith or strengthen the faith.
- Apologetics must define truth and demolish any relative notion of truth. To counter today’s postmodern world, you need to defend truth as absolute. The world says that beliefs about religion or God are subjective: true for you but not necessarily for them. But if truth corresponds to reality, the way things are, then truth is grounded in the objective world everyone knows. The law of non-contradiction shows us that something cannot be true or false at the same time and in the same sense/relationship. So if “C” (Christianity) is true, then all “non-C,” anything opposed to “C,” is false. The truth is there is no such thing as a relative true. Relativism is self-defeating, as it assumes relativism is true for everyone (=absolute), which is nonsensical.
- Apologetics must demonstrate the existence of God. If #2 is right, then we can reason from a changing reality to an unchanging cause of all things. The traditional arguments for the existence and nature of God are not dead if truth is absolute and knowable. Moreover, we must connect such arguments with the theistic nature of the God of the Bible (Ex. 3:14) and show that there can be only one such Being (God) who is necessary, eternal, all-knowing, and all-powerful.
- Apologetics must show that worldviews opposed to Theism are false. Given #2 and #3, it is possible to show that no opposing view of God is true or can be true. Atheism, the view that there is no God, and Pantheism, the view that God is identical to creation, are false if Theism (there is One transcendent God) is true. This, therefore, provides the context to understand everything else in the world, including science and history.
- Apologetics must give a systematic defense of the Christian faith. An apologetic must connect the theistic view of God to the historical truth of the New Testament by showing that Jesus claimed to be God, fulfilled prophecy by rising bodily from the dead, and taught that his apostles had the same God-breathed inspiration and miraculous power as the Old Testament prophets.
Only upon these can we rest the claim that Christianity is true and everything opposed to it is false. Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible, but the plain things are the main things. And yes, truth exists outside the Bible, but nothing can be true that contradicts the Bible since Jesus, the Son of God, taught it is the Word of God (John 17:17).
Never did I imagine apologetic resources would be so widely known and accessible as it is today. The internet has certainly made that possible. Yet it can be a blessing and a curse. I encourage you to evaluate apologetic programs, ministries, and materials so that they do not miss these five things. Your faith and the faith of those you disciple may well be compromised.
If you are interested in hearing more about how to evaluate apologetic systems and Christian education programs, we would like to invite you to our Summer Open House, on August 5th. On Campus and Live-Streaming options are available.
Dr. Potter is the author of Developing a Christian Apologetics Educational Program (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and co-author (with Dr. Norman Geisler) the Teacher’s Guide for Twelve points that Show Christianity is True (Bastion Books, 2015). He has written and published articles in the Christian Apologetics Journal, The Homeschool Digest, as well as the Christian Research Journal. Dr. Potter also serves as the Registrar and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program.