The Context of Apologetics
There isn’t one Christian who is passionate about seeing souls saved that doesn’t at some point face their worst nightmare. What is this terrifying beast? It is none-other-than the “will informed” detractor. It has many faces. Sometimes its face is that of the common atheist. At other times it takes on the shape of the progressive Christian. Still other appearances are in the guise of the Christian cults. What each of these has in common is an answer for every orthodox Christian position. Moreover, they each practice their own version of apologetics.
More-often-than-not, the apologetics of these opponents are well formulated. Furthermore, they operate with the knowledge that the average Christian will not know how to engage. Frankly, the culture of modern evangelicalism is not conducive to apologetics. What we see today is that most evangelicals rely on emotional appeals and responses not on intellectual approaches and argumentation.
It is high time that Christianity take back intellectualism from the atheists and Scriptural arguments from the Christian cults.
Apologetics Isn’t Just For Debates
Apologetics sounds like a difficult topic, and in some ways, it sounds simple. Clearly, we can see that we draw our word apology from apologetics. However, are we understanding the word apology properly if we are drawing it from apologetics?
I have interacted with Christians that seem to think that apologetics means that we are to apologize for Christianity. I know that sounds like a joke, but I’m serious. To be certain, apologetics is not about making an apology for the places where Christianity has gotten it wrong. Apologetics is all about explaining to a dead world that Christianity has it right, period.
Therefore, it is imperative that we have a proper look at the word and the principle that results from it. At the basest definition apologetics means to give a formal defense of an opinion of conduct. Christian, or biblical apologetics can be defined as giving a reasoned defense for your beliefs.
Furthermore, this reasoned defense is not solely a spiritual exercise. We are not merely trusting that in some mystical way we receive the answers we need to confront errors. Instead we seek to prepare ourselves for those moments through intentional study of God’s Word. Moreover, we can actively prepare ourselves to practice apologetics by studying the beliefs of the enemies of the faith.
Sadly, as I previously mentioned, most of modern Christian culture has walked away from intellectual pursuits. They see apologetics as something only certain people do, and it isn’t for them. This is intellectual and spiritual laziness of the worst kind.
But How Do I Do It
Previously, I spoke about the failure of elders and pastors to properly prepare their flocks for the work of evangelism . Now, that failure does not dismiss the culpability on the part of the sheep. The same accusation can be leveled against elders and pastors when it comes to apologetics work. They just aren’t teaching their charges or leading from the front in this issue.
So, it comes as no surprise to me that there are many who are at a loss as to where to begin. Furthermore, with the advent of social media there is no shortage of experts sharing their views on what method or view to hold to. Does one follow Classical Apologetics? Or perhaps one should follow Evidential Apologetics? Maybe the better option is Presuppositional Apologetics? Or maybe Expository Apologetics? Which one do we use? Which one is best for you?
Any of the methodologies I mentioned are certainly options for the person who wants to practice apologetics. Furthermore, some methodologies are more suited to certain situations. And if those methodologies aren’t enough for you there are even more.
What place that I would suggest any person begin to look? That depends on who they will find themselves engaging with on a regular basis. Do you have professing Christian friends that you can tell aren’t genuinely saved? Evidentialism may work best for you. Furthermore, this often works with the Christian Cults as well. (As an aside one can study Biblical Apologetics to combat the cults as well.) Do you find yourself surrounded by atheists and agnostics on an ever-increasing basis? I would urge you to look at Presuppositionalism.
Each methodology has an application and it is imperative to remember that not one shoe fits all feet.
So What Method Do You Use?
I wish it was as simple as just saying I picked a single method and went with it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had to learn apologetics on my own. Moreover, I had no idea what I was learning as I was learning it.
It simply came down to the truth that I was tired of being embarrassed when I was witnessing to people. Nominal progressive Christians were tying me in knots with their loose use of Scripture. Atheist were handing me my lunch on an intellectual level. Cultists were terrifying to me. As James White has said, “Most JWs know their interpretation of scripture better than most Christians know the true Word.” (paraphrase)
Therefore, I committed early in my walk, to learn to combat the lies I was hearing but struggling to defeat. I poured myself into word studies. I also poured myself into studying the Christian cults. Those two things worked to give me a passion for the cultists. Instead of hiding when the JWs knocked on my door I threw it wide open and invited them in. I came to a place where I would see Mormons and I would chase them down. My wife and children can attest to this, they’ve witnessed it numerous times.
However, I still struggled with atheists and agnostics. The more I witnessed to people, the more I encountered those claiming to be atheists. I quickly discovered that Evidentialism was ineffective against them. Moreover, to some degree even Classical Apologetics could not budge them from their carefully cemented rocks.
It was after years of studying and searching I discovered Presuppositionalism. This form of apologetics fit into the encounters I was having. Furthermore, with slight modifications I could apply it to almost any encounter.
Modified Presuppositional Apologetics
I am sure this methodology isn’t unique to me. I didn’t learn it from anyone, I just started to develop it over time. However, before I get into what I call modified Presuppositionalism I suppose I should give at least a basic explanation of Presuppositional Apologetics. Mostly because all I can give is a basic explanation.
The modern roots of this methodology can be traced to Cornelius Van Til (Van Tilllian Presuppositionalism); Gordon Clark (Clarkian Presuppositionalism). There are slight variations in the two approaches. The basic format argues that without Christian thought and biblical application there can be no basis for rational thought.
Overall, the argumentation is superb and allows the Christian to take back rational thought from atheists. Moreover, it argues that even the God-denying atheist draws his ability to argue against God from God, the source of all knowledge. The argument also takes the unbeliever out of the position of judge and puts them in the proper spot as accused.
I call my methodology Modified Presuppositionalism because I also incorporate certain elements from Classical and Evidential Apologetics. Strict Presuppers would not be thrilled with my adopting of Evidentialism at any level. That’s fine, they are entitled to their opinions.
My reason for adopting certain aspects of other methods into my overall approach is because at times it is necessary. I will explain…
The Problems With Apologetics
No matter which apologetic method you adopt you will run into problems. It is inevitable. Evidentialism allows God to be put on trial and forces Him to present proof of Himself to inferior fallen beings. Classical Apologetics runs into some of the same problems. Yet, to be fair, I will also point out that Presuppositionalism has a weakness.
For all the beauty of the Presuppositional approach it has the ugly tendency to want to make the practitioner prideful. It almost becomes fun whittling away at your opponent’s worldview. So much so that you forget that the goal is to preach the Gospel to the glory of God.
Therefore, when using any apologetic method, you must ensure you have your eye on the Gospel. I know that seems simple enough to remember, but you would be surprised how often I have seen it forgotten.
You can be the best Evidentialist in the world and lead people into believing there is a God because of the evidence. However, even the demons believe and tremble at the name of Christ. Maybe you are the best Presupper around, able to whittle the atheist into the pile of teary wood chips. If you don’t preach Christ for the forgiveness of sins you have failed.
A Quick Word On Studying Other Religions
I cannot emphasize enough how important this has become to the Christian today. We may not ever be experts in world religions. However, we must understand that as we see more and more religious syncretism growing in the West, it is vitally important to know what other religions teach.
We must remember that the person is not the enemy, and that we do not battle against flesh and blood. Moreover, we must remember that the battle is spiritual and that the enemy is a great deceiver. Knowing the enemy’s weapons is a powerful tool.
It is also helpful to know what you believe and be prepared to defend that. Voddie Baucham, one of the wisest Christian men alive today, says that we do not need to defend those things we don’t believe. Know the enemy’s material better than they know yours, and don’t get led down rabbit trails. It distracts from the end goal.
I am convinced the second most prevalent reason Christians don’t witness to others is lack of ability to engage detractors. This can be overcome with just a little willingness to not be content with not knowing what to say. The most loving thing you can do as believer is love your neighbor enough to know what they believe.
Therefore, engage with them. What you cannot glean from them in conversation learn on your own. Then prepare yourself to dismantle their beliefs in Christian love and charity, not in personal warfare. If we truly love neighbor as self, we will want the tools that are best suited for displaying that love.
Soli Deo Gloria!