What is Christian Apologetics? (By Joel Hitchcock)
Firstly, the word apologetics may be misleading to some. It almost sounds like Christians are making an apology for our faith. However, the word actually comes from the Greek word, apologia, which basically carries the meaning of, "to defend."
So, with the term, Christian Apologetics, we mean that we defend the Christian Faith with reason and logic. But even this is too simple of an explanation of what Christian Apologetics is and how to engage in it.
I would like to share some insights into Christian Apologetics, which I hope will help those who are interested in it. It's an vast and interesting topic, and this article of mine will barely be the top of the iceberg.
Understanding the importance of presuppositions in Apologetics
To engage successfully in Christian Apologetics, the Christian apologist must have a thorough understanding of presuppositions of both the Christian Apologist as well as the non-Christian or non-Biblical alternative.
What is a presupposition? A presupposition is the starting truth upon which different fields of knowledge and investigations are built.
For example, the sentence “John no longer believes in God” includes an inherent supposition that John once did believe in God. The supposition is that John once did believe in God. If John did not at one time believe in God, saying that he “no longer” believes in God does not make any sense.
Therefore, the Christian Apologist should firstly understand his own Biblical presuppositions, and with that knowledge distinguish contradistinctions with the error he is trying to refute.
Even in algebra and calculus this is true. If we do not have a thorough understanding of our algebra, it is impossible to engage in calculus. For example, we presuppose that the number 5 means five. Therefore, in our calculus the numbers 5+5 equals ten. But if we think that the number 5 means six, our calculus will mean that the numbers 5 +5 equals 12.
Similarly, the Christian Apologist should have a thorough understanding of his or her presuppositions, and also that of the opposing teaching he is trying to refute.
There are also axiomatic presuppositions in particular. These are presuppositions that are self evident or unquestionable. No proof is needed for self-evident presuppositions. However, there are also non-axiomatic, non-evident or questionable presuppositions. These concepts should be kept in view when the Christian Apologist engages those he wishes to draw to the truth.
Those contrary to the Christian Faith have certain presuppositions. They are:
1. The existence of God is doubtful;
2. The Bible is an ordinary, human-authored book, not divine in its origin;
3. The historical as well as supernatural events in the Bible can be explained rationally and naturalistically as events that did not presuppose the direct involvement of God.
Major Presuppositions of some prominent groupings:
Fundamentalists are theologically conservative, whether in the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu traditions. For the sake of this study we predominantly focus on Christian Fundamentalism only.
Fundamentalism underscores the fundamentals of the Bible. There are four major fundamental presuppositions:
(a) Sola Scriptura (Scripture Only): That the Bible is inspired by God and is our rule of faith and practice;
(b) Sola Gratia (Grace alone): Salvation is received by grace alone, not by our meritorious works.
(c) Sola Fide: (Faith Only): Only by faith can we receive justification
(d) Solus Christus (Christ Only): Jesus Christ is the One and Only Savior and Mediator between God and man.
Fundamentalist may also be called “conservatives” or “orthodox”. It is important to note that the word “orthodox” in this context refers to orthodoxy in doctrine, not to the “Orthodox” churches, such as “Russian Orthodox”, or “Ethiopian Orthodox” etc.
Evangelicals are virtually the same as Fundamentalists, in that they too are orthodox in their doctrine. Like the orthodox group, they believe that salvation was wrought on the cross by the atoning death of Jesus Christ, and that salvation can be attained through Christ alone. They believe in the deity of Christ and in His incarnation when the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us (John 1:1, 14).
They believe in the virgin birth of our Lord. They believe He was more than just a man – that He was the Son of God. They believe He lived a sinless life, died on the cross and literally rose from the dead the third day.
They affirm the four presuppositions of Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Solus Christus, but stress the need for a definite, cognitive commitment to Christ.
Perhaps Evangelicals may be sorted into two primary groups:
(a) Conservative Evangelicals, who closely mirror Fundamentalists; and
(b) Born Again Evangelicals, who emphasize the born again experience of John 3:7
However, this categorization may be problematic, because “born again” evangelicals may be conservative, and “conservative” evangelicals may also be born again. Regardless, for the sake of distinguishing between these two groups of evangelicals, these labels may be in order, since they do emphasize the “brand” of evangelicalism they represent.
Neo-Evangelicals are sorted separate from the above-mentioned evangelicals, because they are evangelicals that have a more liberal leaning. They do not accept the accuracy and reliability of the Biblical accounts. They do not believe in the literal creation as is taught in the Book of Genesis, understanding it as a myth.
Neo-Evangelicals set of presuppositions are:
(a) The Bible is inaccurate;
(b) Theistic Evolution;
(c) Denial of the necessity of faith in Christ as the only means to salvation;
(d) Denial of the veracity of the Biblical accounts of miracles
(e) Social Gospel take precedence over New Testament priorities
(f) Compromise for the sake of Ecumenical unity.
They are often left-leaning and liberal, in contradistinction to Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who may often be more right-leaning and conservative, and are therefore called Neo-Evangelicals.They therefore may only have an appearance of Evangelicalism, and may be closer in their beliefs and emphases to liberals.
Radicals may refer to either the religious right or to those who are of a more liberal viewpoint. These radicals mix their left or right leaning political views with their religious beliefs.
Among the radicals, there is a wide array of other leanings: These include fringe groups outside of mainstream Christianity, Conspiracy Theorists, Militia Groups, Identity Christianity, Christian Reconstruction, etc.
The Radicals presuppositions reject the core tenets of Fundamental Christianity, believe that all religions lead to salvation, reject the inerrancy of the Bible, consider the Biblical record of creation mythological, deny the deity of Christ, His virgin birth and His miracles, including His resurrection from the dead.
Neo-Orthodoxy is an oxymoron, since they do not really fit into the orthodox stream of Christianity. They do however present themselves as orthodox. They look traditional but are not. Leaders of this movement include Carl Barth and others.
Their presuppositions are:
(a) The Bible only contains the Word of God, but is not the Word;
(b) Salvation possible without Christ
Christian Mystics and Spiritism, and others:
Christian Mystics emphasize mystical spiritual encounters, and de-emphasize the tenets of Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Solus Christus.
They believe that
(a) God is an infinite spiritual intelligence, but an impersonal power controlling the universe;
(b) Denial of the Deity of Christ;
(c) Denial of the virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death and resurrection and second coming of Christ
Other related groups are Christian Occultism, Christian Cultism, New Ageism, Prajapatism, Occultism, Secular Occultism, Humanism, Atheism, Deism, etc.
There is a wide array of Christian Apologetics. They are:
Philosophical Theological Apologetics, which include
Without explaining each one in this article, let me at least mention them:
(1) Theistic Philosophies;
(2) Atheistic Philosophies;
(3) Occultist Philosophies; and
(4) Non-theistic Philosophies
The use of historic evidences, linguistic considerations, etc. to discredit the Bible. However on the contrary these historic evidences actually underscore the Bible, and don’t discredit it
Rational / Scientific Apologetics
Emphasis on science and the theory of evolution
-Philosophies related to the problem of evil and suffering
-Miracles and the Resurrection
-Bible Text, Language and Canon
In this article I have merely skimmed over some of the nuances of Christian Apologetics. But the point is made: The Christian Apologist must be aware of these contrarian presuppositions, and maintain his or her firm presuppositions, namely Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Solus Christus. He must also maintain the Inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility and canonicity of the Bible.
These fundamental principles are our presuppositions. We cannot and should not attempt to engage in Christian Apologetics without these principles in place. We cannot afford to compromise these presuppositions. It is from these presuppositions that we make our defense of the Christian Faith: Sola Scriptura (only the Bible is the final authority;) Sola Gratia (only by grace we are saved;) Sola Fide (only by faith;) and Solus Christus (Only by Christ is salvation possible.) We may at Tota Scriptura to the mix, for not only is Scripture Only the final authority and the rule of faith and conduct, but all ("Tota") of Scripture, not only part of it.
Thank you for reading about my thoughts on Christian Apologetics and please check back soon for some more insights into apologetics as we go a little deeper!
(Author of One Almighty Mediator JESUS)