Apologetics: Why We Believe What We Believe

Apologetics (from the Greek apologia) is a type of rhetorical writing in which the proponent of a tenet, theory or religious doctrine presents reasoned arguments or writings in justification of his or her belief. In the days of the Greeks, when someone was summoned to court to face a charge, he would present an “apology” or a defense. Specific to Christianity, apologetics is said to be “the defense and confirmation of the Gospel,” and includes putting forth basic principles that guide the believer in defending the faith. In other words, it involves expressing the truth of the biblical message. This could be described as proving Christianity. A better concept is that it involves persuading others.

Thinking Well

It is critical that an apologist learns to think well or logically. This is important for several reasons. Logic aids in putting together various pieces of the Christian faith to form a cohesive whole. The Bible does not always speak directly to a particular issue. Of paramount importance is learning to deduce true beliefs or proper courses of action from what is known of Scripture.  Sound, logical thinking is especially important for an apologist. On one hand, it helps prevent shoddy arguments. On the other hand, it helps evaluate the beliefs of the antagonist who is challenging Christianity. Too often believers stumble at criticisms leveled against Christianity simply because they sound solid as expressed by the opponent. On closer examination, the arugment stands on logically shaky legs.

An opponent might say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” If that individual really thinks there is no absolute truth that is, truth that stands for all people for all time, that person at best can only say, “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as absolute truth.” To claim there is no such thing as absolute truth is to state an absolute; the statement actually refutes itself. It is faulty logic to conclude that no belief system can claim final truth simply because there are so many belief systems. Postmodernism is fond of saying that truth is relative rather than absolute. Truth, according to a postmodernist, is what the individual thinks it is. Really? What does the existence of many points of view have to do with the true value of any of them?

I’ve had someone say to me, “Look at all the terrible things Christians have done through the centuries!” How should I respond to such an objection? While it is true that what Christians do influences non-Christians’ responses to the Gospel, such actions have nothing to do with whether Christianity itself is true. If part of the Gospel message was that once a person becomes a Christian that person absolutely will never sin again, the non-believer would have grounds for questioning the truth of Christianity. But the Bible doesn’t say that.

Answering the Charge of Elitism

I recently watched a debate between Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza and the late Richard Hitchens, an anti-theist (as he liked to call himself). During the Q&A at the end of the debate, a young college student said the notion that Christians have the only truth is “elitist.” She believes that because there are so many different beliefs in the world, it is not possible for any one group of people to claim they have the only truth. She, and many others, consider such thinking to be arrogant. Non-believers across secular college campuses today are accusing Christians of being elitist and narrow-minded, if not backward and old-fashioned. It is considered intellectually “uncool” to believe in the supernatural in the 21st Century.

How should a Christian respond to this charge? First, note the name-calling. The real issue is passed over in favor of a put-down. This is just another example of how ideas and issues are dealt with in our society today. What is most important is that Christians not react in kind. Too often in our society battles over issues and ideas are fought with name-calling and throwing slogans at each other. Not only is this is unbecoming, it is unprofitable in apologetics and evangelism.

Making the Case for Christianity

Believers are being asked to prove that Christianity is true. It is important to realize that a determined will can ignore even the best of evidence. Since we’re not talking about mathematical proof, we have to remember that what constitutes proof varies among individuals. It has been said that a Christian worldview is a matter of the heart and not the head. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Admittedly, merely throwing this Scripture at a non-believer is not an effective means of practicing apologetics.

At first blush, this seems to relieve us of the pressure of establishing an argument that convinces everyone. In any event, we cannot rely on a “one-size-fits-all argument” in defense of Christianity. Belief, indeed faith, is an individual matter. Certainly, we believe that because God created the universe, there is plenty of evidence in what is called general revelation. That is, nature and the universe. In addition, God has given us special revelation in the form of Scripture.

Today, modern scientific methods are used to recover the remains of the past in order to achieve a better understanding of ancient people and their practices. The Middle East has been the subject of many archaeological excavations because of its continuous history. Josh McDowell said, “It is important to note that archaeology without history is meaningless. All that archaeology can tell us is a sequence of cultural development, not give us an exact chronology. History gives us the chronology, the events, people, places.”

Over the past 100 year, archaeology has been busy verifying some of the history contained in the Bible. For instance, for many years Sodom and Gomorrah was considered by non-believers to be mythological. Recent excavations at Tell Mardikh, now known to be the site of Ebla, uncovered about 15,000 tablets. Some of these writings mention Sodom and Gomorrah. Other archaeological confirmation includes proof that there was a ruler named Belshazzar, the Hittites existed and had a vast empire, King Sargon’s rule is fact, and events described in the Book of Acts are demonstrably accurate. Archaeological findings have verified, and in no case disputed, historical points of the biblical record.

In Conclusion

The key verse for Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which states, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (NASB) [Italics mine.] Eugene Peterson, in his translation, says it this way: “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” (The Message) Every Christian should be able to give a reasonable accounting of his or her faith in Christ. Not every Christian needs to be an expert in apologetics; however, he or she should know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it with others, and how to defend it against lies and attacks.

There are two primary methods of Christian apologetics. The first, commonly known as classical apologetics, involves sharing proof and evidence that the Christian message is true. The second, commonly known as presuppositional apologetics, involves confronting the presuppositions (preconceived ideas and assumptions) behind anti-Christian positions. Christian apologetics is simply presenting a reasonable defense of the Christian faith to those who disagree. Apologetics is a necessary aspect of the Christian life. We are to be ready and equipped to proclaim the gospel and defend our faith.

Recommended Reading

D’Souza, Dinesh. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity?
Strobel, Lee. (1998). The Case for Christ.
Zacharias, Ravi. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists.

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