“Let us return to the question of religious doctrines. We can now repeat that all of them are illusions and insusceptible of proof. No one can be compelled to think them true, to believe in them. Some of them are so improbable, so incompatible with everything we have laboriously discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them – if we pay proper attention to psychological differences – to delusions.”
– Sigmund Freud
“This I believe: I believe there is no God. Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows, and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world, and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family that I am raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the genetic lottery and I get joy every day. Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.”
– Penn Jillette
[dropcap3]T[/dropcap3]hese two voices of unbelief should give us pause. They reflect millions of others who are secularists, agnostics, and atheists. To these individuals, we can add Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and all the others who are believers – just not in Christianity. We live in a world populated by individuals who do not share our faith, and many of them actively oppose the very notions that we cherish most. This competition and debate regarding the existence of God, the Bible as God’s Word, the historicity of Jesus and the gospels, the creation of the world, and a host of other controversies means that one of our most important duties as Christians is to be an apologist for the faith.
As Christians, our primary goal in life is to live in such a way that the glory of God is magnified. That God accepts our feeble efforts may frequently be astonishing to us, nevertheless, it is clear that God expects our participation in the defense of the faith. Apologetics contributes to the glory of God because it is dedicated to the truthfulness of the Christian message, and the correct understanding of God himself. In this sense, apologetics magnifies God, because it contends for the veracity of the divine revelation and message.
For some, the word apologetics produces uncomfortable caricatures: a street-preacher with the “Turn or Burn!!”sandwich board, the debater in a bad suit taking on all comers with an unquenchable supply of both facts and venom, the church lady with a purse full of tracts, and the oh-so-sincere “witnesser” who loves Jesus but is woefully uninformed about what other people really believe. Fortunately, a closer look at what genuine apologetics really is helps to reveal the shortcomings of these caricatures.
When we revised our core curriculum several years ago, we gave careful attention to the freshman year, so that incoming students would get off to a strong start at PBU. We also discussed the senior year in the hopes of providing a significant capstone experience for students in their graduation year. A big part of our revised senior year was a course in Apologetics. Our spring commencement this year featured the first graduating class of students who completed this new core of classes, including Apologetics. I am privileged to be one of our Apologetics professors and to share some reflections on this important, but often-misunderstood task.
To engage in Christian apologetics, of course, is not to be apologizing (“I’m really sorry that I am a Christian, and thus forced to tell you what I believe…”), but rather to defend the faith. The word apologia is Greek in origin, and it is borrowed from the legal arena where a defendant (like, for instance, Socrates in his famous “Apology”) offers a defense against the charges lodged against him. Peter enjoins his reader to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). To use a different metaphor, we are God’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), which implies that we are responsible to represent God in the various arenas of this world. We give voice to the divine perspective. We defend and explain His actions, His words, and His truths. We put a human face on the truths of Christianity.
In an academic sense, I think that apologetics is an inter-disciplinary application of the truths of many academic disciplines to the task of defending the faith. As such, apologetics is not a discipline in its own right, but rather it employs all the disciplines – theology, of course, but also philosophy, history, science, archaeology, etc. – to the project of safeguarding and championing the Christian faith. It is for this reason that Apologetics is an excellent senior class. Having spent four years studying the Bible and theology, plus the core courses in history, science, psychology, philosophy, literature, mathematics (and a few more), the PBU senior is now well equipped to apply all this material to the enterprise of advocating for the biblical worldview. The Christian apologist must know more than just a few simple spiritual truths or a couple of key verses. Apologetics involves interacting on a broad level with ideas across the academic spectrum. Being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks implies that the Christian apologist should be well read and able to interact on a diversity of topics, from Arminianism to Buddhism to Calvinism to Darwinism. The well-meaning tract lady is not doing effective apologetics if all she can do is tell the Bible story. Apologetics requires a well-rounded education.