Additional information on apologetics by Charlie Clough is available here:
Giving an Answer – Part 2
1 Peter 3:15
1 Peter Lesson #084
March 23, 2017
“Our Father, we’re thankful to come together this evening. Father, what a tremendous privilege we have to come before Your throne of grace. Because the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins, He opened the way; He is our High Priest. There is no longer a barrier between You and us; the sin barrier has been removed, and the way has been opened. The path is faith in Christ alone, trusting in Him and in His sufficient death on the cross for our sins.
Father, as we study our passage, we’re reminded that, as believers, we need to be prepared. We need to be ready to tell others why we believe what we believe and that this is a mandate in Scripture, and to the best of our ability we should understand the reasons why we know the gospel to be true, why we know Jesus to be the Messiah, why we know the Scripture is Your Word, and not the word of men.
And, Father, we pray that You might help us to be equipped; strengthen us in our understanding of Your Word that we may be faithful witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ and of our salvation. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles. We’ll start with 1 Peter 3:15. We have been going through 1 Peter and we’ve come to this verse which is sort of the benchmark verse, a key central verse for understanding apologetics. That is a concept and a doctrine that is important. It is one that is often misunderstood, and sometimes it is one that is often misapplied.
There are a lot of things that have been written over the last 50 years related to apologetics. It’s almost as if this area of theology has just exploded. I think one of the reasons for that is because we have shifted in the primary worldview of our culture from a Judeo-Christian theistic worldview to a pagan worldview. That Western civilization has thoroughly rejected Christianity and we’ve come back to an environment that is not unlike that of pagan Rome in the first century.
What we understand historically is that in cultures that have a minority of Christians, or have barely been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview, apologetics moves to the forefront. That was especially true in the early church, as will see from one of the slides I have. AD 150 would be about 50 to 60 years after the close of the canon of Scripture and the death of the last apostle. This was a time when Christianity had begun to make this spread throughout the Roman Empire, and to be making an impact on the culture.
So the intelligentsia of the Roman Empire was waking up to the fact that there was this new religious claim on the scene, and they were beginning to question it, make attacks against it. Of course, there had been persecutions against Christians. So it called upon certain mentality to answer these objections and criticisms to Christianity. That’s what apologetics is—it’s giving an answer; it’s defending a statement that you make.
You say, “Jesus is the Messiah,” you can expect somebody to say, “Well, how do you know that? On what basis do you know that?” Then you say, “Well, I know that because that’s what the Scripture says.” And somebody says, “How do you know the Scriptures are right? How do you know you should believe the Scriptures?” So you have to be able to answer those kinds of questions in a cogent manner.
There have been numerous examples in history of people who have set out to disprove Christianity only to become a devout Bible-believing Christian. One of the more famous, in the late 19th century, was a Civil War General, a Union general, who later became the territorial governor of New Mexico, by the name of Lou Wallace. After he sought to disprove Christianity, he ended up writing a novel to express what he had learned and to teach the story of Jesus and forgiveness. The title of that book was based on the main character, which is Ben Hur. You’ve seen the movie, you’ve seen the Charlton Heston version, maybe some of you have seen the recent one; I haven’t, but I read the novel.
Not only did I read the novel when I was in about the sixth grade, I found it not long ago, and it’s sitting on my nightstand. I’ve had that book a long time. The book, like all books, is better than the movie. So that came out of that.
There have been others like C.S. Lewis, who was an Oxford professor of medieval literature, and he was an agnostic. He did not believe in the Bible, did not believe in God, did not believe in religion. He sought to disprove Christianity and ended up becoming not only a very devout Christian, but a very strong apologist. A book that he wrote, Mere Christianity, is one that has been used in many cases to help people think through the issues related to the existence of God, the veracity of the Bible, the claims of Jesus to be God, and he’s done an excellent job.
There are other books other than Mere Christianity. A little more in-depth book … When it first came out it was basically an outline; that’s the version I read in 1974 called Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, who was on staff at Campus Crusade. I think he still is. In fact, when we were here Sunday a week ago, the Light in Action guys were here; two days before they were in a six-hour meeting with Josh McDowell, so he still has a very active ministry. But that’s an excellent, extremely thorough book on Christian evidences—Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
There is another book that has been around for about 30 or 40 years by Paul Little called, Know Why You Believe, and it’s an excellent book. Christians should be able to intelligently answer a question as to why you believe what you believe.
So, having arrived at 1 Peter 3:15, I want to take a little time to talk about these issues related to: How do you give an answer? Is there a right way? Is there a wrong way? Is just any old way okay? What are the issues here? How do you understand this? One of the things that I’ll point out as we go along is that this can be an extremely intellectual topic; it can be an extremely challenging intellectual topic. And it can be one that a lot of people think, “Well, it’s mostly more philosophy than it is the Bible.” That’s not necessarily true. That’s probably been poorly represented.
But it all depends on the kind of person that you’re talking to. I find that when you’re witnessing to somebody that’s older and somebody that’s perhaps more educated, they’re going to have more intellectual questions. They’re going to have more challenging questions. The older a person gets and the longer they’ve been suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, it’s got layers and layers and layers of resistance on top of it and you have to help them dig through those layers to expose what we all know is there, which is a sure and certain knowledge of God according to Romans 1.
That’s part of apologetics. Apologetics is just another aspect related to evangelism. But it’s also, as we will see, very important to Christians. Maybe you were like me and you became a believer in Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross for your sins when you were a young person—6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years of age. Maybe you were just a little bit older, but it wasn’t much of a leap for you; it wasn’t much of a step for you because of the context in which you grew up. But then there are others that have grown up in purely secular homes, agnostic homes, homes that were hostile to religion, hostile to Christianity, hostile to the Bible, and so it takes them a little longer to work through a lot of the issues and answer the questions or objections.
So, it varies from person to person and situation to situation. Sometimes the questions that are being asked, the circumstances, are such that you may not have the answers. Then it’s important to know how you can point people to the answers—things to read, things to watch, videos. There are so many different things that are out there today, some of which are good, some of which are not so good.
So, our context is 1 Peter 3:13–16, and the key verse that we’re looking at is in verse 15 in the middle of the screen, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” This is presenting to every believer a command that is for every believer—that we should all be ready. This is part of our sanctification, our spiritual life and spiritual growth, that we should always be ready to give an answer, or give a defense. We looked at the word last time.
We’re looking at this introduction or overview to apologetics, answering these questions:
1. What is apologetics?
2. Why should we learn apologetics?
3. Why do some people object to apologetics?
4. The Bible doesn’t use apologetics, why should we? That’s a claim that’s out there.
5. What is the difference between apologetics and Christian evidences?
A lot of people think they’re the same thing, and they’re not. Apologetics basically has to do with tactics and strategy, and Christian evidences has to do with the tools or the weapons, you might say, the intellectual weapons, that are used.
6. On what basis do we defend, support, or argue that Christianity is the one and only TRUTH?
That’s probably one of the most important questions: What is our common ground between the believer and the unbeliever, and how are we going to understand that? How are we going to define truth? As soon as you start talking about truth, somebody’s going to say, “Well, how do you know truth?” Well, what is knowledge? How do you come to know that something is true or not true? There have been a lot of different answers given to these things over the centuries, and we’re going to sort of summarize that.
Last time we looked at the question of definition. What is apologetics? I went to the Oxford English Dictionary, and the way many people think of apology is they think of some sort of regret or an acknowledgment of an offense, or a failure. The third meaning in the OED is it’s a justification or defense. Somebody says, “Why did you do that?” And you answer that question. That’s an APOLOGIA; that is a defense. You have given an answer as to why you’ve done something or why you believe something.
In common usage, most people think of that first meaning, but that’s not the biblical sense of the term or its historical meeting. It is this third meaning which is the focus of biblical apologetics, giving a reasoned, organized statement of why we believe what we believe.
I pointed out the keyword is APOLOGIA, which means a speech of defense. It was often used in the courtroom when the defense attorney would state the reason for his client’s lack of guilt. It is also used to refer to the act of making a defense as in a courtroom and a claim of extenuating circumstances, or an excuse. That’s all from the Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich dictionary. Seventeen times a noun or verb appears in the New Testament, in the sense of vindication or defense.
It’s used in several passages. I gave a couple of examples last time, and I’ve got a couple new verses here this time. Acts 26:1, when Paul is standing before Herod Agrippa II. Herod Agrippa says to Paul, “You can speak for yourself.” He had a hearing before the king. “So Paul stretched out his hand and answered.” That’s our word, APOLOGIA. He answered; he gave a reasoned or rational defense of his position. In verse two, he says, “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer [APOLOGIA—I shall give a rational defense] for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews.” So, one of the things we see is by analyzing what Paul says to Agrippa, that gives an example of a defense, of an APOLOGIA of the gospel.
Acts 24:10. Paul is before the Roman governor, Felix, and he’s been accused by Ananias the high priest. This is the same kind of situation. He says to Felix, “I cheerfully give an answer for myself.” That’s the idea there.
So we looked at some other definitions and noted this one, that the modern use of apologetics isn’t quite the same as what the New Testament meant, but it’s based on that. And as time has gone by, it’s been necessary to refine our understanding of how to do this, how to answer for the faith.
But it has nothing to do with saying you’re sorry or guilty over some action.
Robert Reymond has said that, “Christian apologetics is the discipline wherein an intelligent effort is made to defend before an unbelieving world the truth claim of Christian faith.” That’s basically it: We’re claiming to have the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” That’s an enormous claim; He claims to be the personification of truth, the incarnation of eternal truth. How do you know He is? How do you know that’s a true statement, that He’s not just some nut case, some lunatic that’s come in off the street? How can you defend that or demonstrate that that is a true statement? That’s his idea.
I mentioned last time, I put a couple of Charlie’s papers, a recent one from about 10 or 12 years ago, “Theology and Apologetics”, up on the website. Plus, his older, “Giving an Answer”, where he writes that, “Apologia describes a carefully reasoned defense in response to a line of questioning or wrongful accusation by recognized authorities. The word may also refer to a more informal defense outside of the courtroom against personal questioning or accusation. The intent of an apologia is to win over the person being addressed.”
It’s not to win an argument. That’s a really important thing to understand. The purpose is to help people understand the gospel—not to beat them over the head with the Bible, not to prove you’re right, not to win an argument. All of us have been caught in that trap at some point or another as we have tried to witness to someone.
As we look at this, it involves knowing facts, determining truth, talking about concepts such as knowledge, truth, reasoning, understanding reality. This is all part of what goes into apologetics. What I have found is, what apologetics does, when you study it and you think it through, is that it teaches you to reason biblically and to think biblically.
We talk a lot today about people’s different worldviews. “Worldview” was a new term for a lot of Christians 50 or 60 years ago. I first ran across the term in a college course talking about the German Weltanschauung, which is the German word for worldview, talking about the paganism and the anti-Semitism and the romanticism that had all led to the Nazi philosophy during World War II.
Everybody has a worldview, whether you know it or not, whether you’ve thought about it or not. It may be an inconsistent worldview, it may be an irrational worldview, it may be a disorganized worldview, but everybody has one. And they think within that worldview. It’s important to understand that when you’re trying to communicate with people, this is something that we need to take into account. What’s their worldview? What is their background?
So, I developed these little slides to help us think about this. Apologetics, as I pointed out, is ultimately about communication. How do we communicate to an unbeliever when the unbeliever has one frame of reference, or worldview, and we have a different one? So, in the slide here, I have a Christian missionary who’s trying to take the gospel to pagan aborigines.
What do you have to do to communicate the gospel to these pagan aborigines? We had a great example of this at the conference. Grace Hensarling, who’s been in Columbia for over 35 years, is instrumental in going to an aboriginal people, the Kogi, learning their language, breaking it down into the syntax, the grammar, the vocabulary, the nuances, the idioms—all those things.
It took four or five years for those three women to come to an understanding of the language well enough that they could begin to translate the Bible into the Kogi language. In the process, they were able to tell the story about Jesus. They had to go back all the way to the fall. They had to learn all about the different ideas and worldviews and thoughts and values of the Kogi people.
It took time to be able to do that and then to be able to clearly communicate that, because these pagan aborigines come with their own set of values, their own ideas. They have beliefs. As unbelievers, the Bible says they have been suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. So, after a while, the more you suppress the truth, the more you build up these layers on top of it, and it takes time to rip those away.
Now sometimes it seems like it’s going to take a long time, but it doesn’t. Look at the Apostle Paul. Of course, there was quite a lead up to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. I keep going back to that. That’s one thing that impressed me several years ago when I started thinking about that. If any of us had tried to communicate the gospel to Paul the week before that event occurred on the road to Damascus, we would’ve sworn this guy is going to be leading all the unbeliever straight into the Lake of Fire. He is not positive it all to the gospel. He doesn’t want to believe in Jesus. He hates Jesus; he hates Christians; he is trying to kill all of them. There’s no way he is ever going to respond to anything.
And then Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. What that unmasked was that at the core of Paul’s thinking, at the center of his heart, he really was positive. But he had buried it in a lot of pagan legalism and the ritualism of Pharisaism.
So, Jesus actually is engaged in a form of apologetics in that event. We don’t see anything that dramatic, but there is something similar and that is, according to John 16, the role of God the Holy Spirit, Who is working every time we’re witnessing to somebody. It doesn’t matter how dead set they seem to be against Christianity and against the truth, you know and I know—but they don’t know—that God the Holy Spirit is working with His Word in their soul.
That’s an important thing to always remember, because we say, “Oh … I just can’t do this. I don’t know the answer to their questions. They’re just so hostile.” But God the Holy Spirit is always working, so we can relax. Ultimately, it’s not up to us to convince them of the truth. It’s up to us to give a rational, logical, biblical answer to the question. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to use that to pierce the darkness of their soul.
When we talk to unbelievers, there are several questions that come up. What’s the common ground between the thinking of the missionary, who’s thinking according to the Scripture, and the thinking of pagan aborigines? What’s the difference in their language, their culture, their religion? What do they mean when they say “God,” when they talk about truth, when they talk about values, when they talk about reason, or experience? Those are critical things to understand.
What’s our common ground? That’s at the essence. When you’re talking to an unbeliever about God and you’re trying to validate or vindicate your belief, to what are you appealing as your ultimate authority, whether explicitly or implicitly? If you’re appealing to something other than God, then what’s over God? Is God answerable to some higher standard? Or is God the higher standard? We’ll learn a little bit more about that as we go into this.
So, when a missionary communicates and has to learn about the language and all these things, the Christian missionary is arguing from divine viewpoint. He has a view of reality that’s going to be different from the pagan, from the aborigine, or from the new age person that lives next door to you. What do they mean when they talk about God? What do they mean by “truth?” What do they mean by “life?” You tell somebody, “Would you like to have eternal life?” Well, if this person is coming out of a Buddhist or Hindu background, they already believe in eternal life. They have eternal life; they are going to be on an endless cycle of reincarnation and everything, but they have a concept of eternal life. So, when you say, “Do you want eternal life?” What they’re hearing is not what you’re saying as a Christian. This is why it comes down to explaining terms and defining terms.
Creation. How do they understand creation? Where does creation come from? Attitudes of right and wrong. We’ve seen the film Peace Child, where Don Richardson took the gospel to a Stone Age tribe, only to discover that in their scale of values the greatest value was to deceive an enemy to the point that they would be deceived and die. That was the hero. So when they told the gospel message, Judas was the hero. Now you’ve got a problem. See, that’s part of apologetics—understanding these things.
We’ve got a post-modern family member. We’ve got a post-modern co-worker.
We can have a neighbor that’s a Buddhist, a Muslim, an atheist, an agnostic. How do we communicate the gospel so that they can understand what we’re saying and not be like, for example, a Hindu who has many, many, many gods and adding a new god named Jesus is no big problem? So, if you come and you start talking about Jesus being another god, he is just going to take Jesus and put Him up on that shelf with his other 99 gods. So, we haven’t communicated the uniqueness of the God of the Bible, or the uniqueness of Jesus, and they’re not hearing us. That’s all part of communicating the gospel. But everybody’s different.
Genuine communication involves making clear what one person thinks to another person. As such, the person who is communicating from a divine viewpoint should make sure that in his communication of his culture’s beliefs—and by that I mean the culture of the Bible, the biblical culture, divine viewpoint culture—that he does not compromise his own divine viewpoint standards. There’s a right way and a wrong way to communicate truth.
When we give an answer, it assumes that there is an understandable explanation that communicates truly to the person who comes from a different framework. It’s not impossible; it is something that God knows can be done because He’s the Author of language.
How we know the gospel is true, as I pointed out last time, is based on:
- how we know
- limitations on human knowledge because of the intellectual corruption from sin
That’s called the noetic effects of sin. You’ve always heard that phrase, right? Somebody used it at the conference. Noetic is from the Greek word NOUS, which is mind. What’s it saying? It’s saying the effect of sin on thinking.
- the nature and definition of truth
- the role of God the Holy Spirit
- the impact of unbelief and true suppression on the part of the unbeliever.
That’s all part of what is apologetics.
Now the second question is, “Why should we learn about apologetics?” What is important about that? Well, first of all, we should learn about apologetics because the Bible says so; God commanded it.
God has told us that we are to be prepared, all of us, to give an answer for the hope that is in us. God commands it.
Now, as we engage in evangelism with people, we may never run across somebody who asks really tough questions—hard intellectual questions about our faith. But we should still be ready to respond if someone does. We should arm ourselves to the best of our ability. We should have the right intellectual ammunition and weapons to be able to handle the situation—or at least know how to point the person in the right direction.
So being ready isn’t just a matter, though, of having the right information available. It’s also an attitude of readiness and eagerness to share the truth of what we believe, and we have to understand how to properly use it.
I know that some of you have firearms in your home, or in your possession, or in your car. There are a lot of people, especially in Texas, who are thrilled with the Second Amendment, and they thoroughly enjoy having a weapon and being able to use it. But having a weapon in your home, having a .45 on your nightstand (or a .38), or having a shotgun, or having a shotgun and a pistol in your car just in case of a difficult situation, doesn’t mean anything.
That’s true for a lot of people. I could name a lot of people I know who have weapons. They have pistols, they have shotguns, they have rifles, but if somebody broke into their house, they would have no idea what to do. They have a false sense of security because they have the weapon, but they don’t necessarily know how to use that shotgun, or that rifle, or that pistol in a home-defense situation.
I know guys that go hunting a lot; they’ve hunted for years. They know how to use their .30-06 with a 9 power scope on it at 150 or 200 yards to bring down a buck, but that’s very different from some bad dude coming in across your bedroom as fast as he can come, hyped up on drugs, and you’ve got to grab your pistol off the nightstand and put three in his torso as fast as you can. That takes training; that brings to bear something else called strategy and tactics.
Strategy and tactics tells you how to use the weapon. Now the analogy that I’m going to develop here is that the evidences of Christianity—evidence for the existence of God, evidence for the resurrection, evidence of miracles, evidence that the Scripture is the Word of God, canonicity—all of these things are like weapons. They’re like having a .45, or a .38, or an AR-15, or a 12-gauge shotgun, but how you use it is going to be dictated by the circumstances. There are right ways and wrong ways to use those weapons, and there are right ways and wrong ways to use Christian evidences. So we’re going to talk about that; that’s part of apologetics.
We have to learn about it because the Scripture says that we need to give an answer. A lot of people say, “I give an answer. I can quote John 3:16. I can quote John 3:18, John 3:36, Ephesians 2:8-9. That’s it! The Word of God is alive and powerful. And I’m just going to shoot them with my gospel gun.” That’s pretty pathetic and juvenile, and that isn’t going to help anybody who has questions. Just because they have questions doesn’t mean they’re negative. Just because they have questions doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be answered.
People have heard objections, and they think, “Well, if I believe that Christianity stuff, I’m just going to have to park my brain in neutral. I don’t want to do that. I want to know that I am believing something because it’s true and it makes sense logically and rationally.” To work through that with somebody is going to take more than four or five conversations. It might take a year; it might take a year and a half even. That is going to be a process, and God the Holy Spirit is going to use that. So we have to know how to do this; it’s commanded in Scripture.
One of my favorite verses and one that was actually given to me as a counselor at Camp Peniel. Each counselor at Peniel was given an Indian name—we won’t go into that—and they were also given a verse. And this was a verse that that was given to me, “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” That is the function of apologetics. It is to demonstrate, verify, validate the truth of Scripture and also to expose the false lies, false teaching, and wrong explanations of Scripture. That is all part of the function of apologetics.
The second reason that we should learn about apologetics is because it strengthens our own understanding of what we believe. It builds our confidence in God, our confidence in the gospel, our confidence in the Scripture, and our confidence in Jesus.
A lot of your study of Christian evidences will do more for your own personal confidence and trust in the Scriptures and what we believe, than many other things, because it forces you as an individual to say, “What do I believe, and why do I believe this?”
That’s what I was confronted with in college. I had a great background in understanding Scripture, and I had a good background in understanding the creation/evolution argument. Most of you know that I was given a copy of The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris when I was in the ninth grade by Mike Turnage who was one of my counselors at Camp Peniel. I read that, and I read many other books.
I’d go to the library at the church, and I’d pull all these creation books off the shelf and go home and read them. I was a firm believer in creation and disbeliever in evolution all through high school. When I got into college, as I heard a lot of what sounded like erudite arguments against the truth of Christianity, I didn’t have an answer. I was never taught those details. I wasn’t prepared. In my own head I couldn’t say, “Why was that wrong?” If you don’t know how to do that, even in your own head, that’s not going to give you confidence that you’re believing the right thing.
When I reached I guess it was my junior year through several things that happened in my junior year, I was down at Camp Peniel counseling. Randy Price was a co-counselor with me at a high school camp, and I was talking about this with Randy. I said, “But how do you really know this is true?” He gave me Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and he said, “I’ll get another copy; you take this and read it.” I read it over the next week and I never looked back, because now I had the answers, I had the intellectual ammunition that goes into the weapon, I had the information that was necessary. So learning about apologetics strengthens our understanding of what we believe, builds our confidence in God, the gospel, the Scripture, and Jesus.
The third reason we should learn about apologetics and Christian evidences is that it advances us spiritually. It is part of spiritual growth to understand why we believe. We don’t believe just because we believe—it’s not mysticism. We believe because the Bible says so, but God doesn’t expect us to put our brains in neutral.
In 2 Corinthians 10:4–5, Paul says, “For the weapons of our warfare,” because we’re engaged in a spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare doesn’t take place out there; spiritual warfare takes place right here between your ears. It has to do with how you think and how you respond to life situations. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.”
What are these strongholds or fortifications? In context, they’re intellectual. Now, you’ll hear these charismatics that run off and “You gotta slay Satan in the Spirit, knock him down and punch him out,” and all these dramatics that they do. They call that spiritual warfare. That is heresy—that’s not biblical. That’s all part of their mysticism.
… casting down arguments. See, when it says, “pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments,” that’s what those strongholds are. They are arguments against the truth of the Bible, those arguments that are used to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. So we pull down strongholds by casting down arguments. That calls for a rational explanation of why Christianity is true and the alternate views are false.
We have to understand what we believe and why we believe it. “... casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” So all through here the issue is logic, reason, knowledge—the Bible doesn’t expect us to put our brain in neutral and just accept something to be true because it seems to be true.
Look at Mormonism. Have you ever had a couple of Mormon missionaries come in? You ask them, “Well, why do you know it’s true?” What are they gonna say? I’ve got the burning in my bosom. That’s what they say; that’s their language.
I remember some 30 years ago I went up to Palmyra, New York. I was on vacation, went up to visit a seminary buddy who was youth pastor at a church up near New York. I had not been up in that part, so I went out to the burned over district—that’s upstate New York. They call it that because the fires of revival burned themselves out in that part of New York in the 1830s.
There was a young man named Joseph Smith who had his own religious encounter with what he thought was an angel, but was really Satan, the angel Moroni. This was his hometown, Palmyra, New York. I went there to see where he lived. They have the cabin, and you get assigned a tour guide who is otherwise known as a Mormon missionary. Usually these are older, retired folks who weren’t Mormons when they were younger, so they didn’t go out on their bicycles and go around telling people the gospel of Joseph Smith.
So this little old guy took me around, and then it comes to the end. He is telling his story. He’d been a Baptist for many years in Georgia, but nobody ever told him about the book of Mormon, that this is that second book that is spoken about in Ezekiel—that there are two books. He distorts that passage. Then he came to this, and I said, “Well, how do you know it’s true?” He said, “Ahh, because I had the burning in my bosom!”
That’s just mysticism. It felt like it was right. That’s why I don’t like singing that hymn He Lives because of the chorus: He lives, He lives, You ask me how I know he lives, He lives within my heart.” Wrong! That’s mysticism! That’s not the Bible! Ask me how I know He lives—because the Bible says so!
“Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Now that’s our argument. The Bible is our ultimate authority. We’re to think within the framework of biblical truth.
That’s how we cast “down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought”—there’s another word there; it’s so important. We have to think about why we believe. Christians are not vacuous—or should not be. We don’t have a vacuum between our ears. We should be the most studious, the most academically inclined people around—driven to understand God’s creation down to the finest minutia we can, because this is part of our task as Christians. We understand this, and that advances us spiritually as we know the truth of God’s Word.
The fourth reason we should learn about apologetics is because this was a priority for the apostle Paul. Many times in the Scripture, Paul says, “Do as I do. Be imitators of me.” Not because Paul wanted everybody to be a little Paul, but because Paul was in turn imitating Christ. We are to imitate Paul in the ways that he’s imitating Christ.
In Philippians 1:7 and in 1:17, he uses the noun for the defense of the gospel, APOLOGIA. In Philippians 1:7 he says, to the Philippians, “just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains [because he was in prison at this point] and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel [APOLOGIA—that’s that word there for defense], you all are partakers [you participate with me in the defense of the gospel].”
Philippians 1:17 says, “but the latter out of love.” He’s talking about the fact that some people preach Jesus out of wrong motives, others out of love, but the latter ones out of love, “knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” That’s the role of a Christian leader: they’re appointed to defend the gospel. Not because God needs defense, not because He’s some weenie or is weak, but because we are to give a reasoned answer, biblically sound answer, for what we believe.
The fifth reason that we should learn about apologetics is both thought and communication require it. To think as God thinks, as He has revealed Himself in His Word, is part of the function of apologetics. It is learning to think biblically. That means we need to understand how we are to think and that there are right ways to think and wrong ways to think.
If we are going to talk or communicate truth to others, then we have to understand that there are right ways and wrong ways to do that. If we are to think biblically, according to divine viewpoint standards, then that means, from our various assumptions and presuppositions about life all the way up, we have to make sure that’s all constructed according to the Bible. In many cases, though, I believe that what’s presented as rational answers for the gospel are not constructed on a biblical presupposition. We will look at that in just a minute.
That answers a second question, “Why should we learn about apologetics?” First and foremost, God says so—that should end the discussion.
Third question is, “Why do some people object to apologetics?”
I think that, initially, as we look at this, the main reason a lot of people object to apologetics is they just don’t understand it. They misunderstand the word apologetics, perhaps, and they think, “Well, we don’t need to apologize for God.” That is what some people think. They just have a misunderstanding of the concept, or they have a fallacious epistemology. What does that mean?
The word epistemology talks about how we know what we know. There a lot of Christians who don’t realize it, but they have some form of a subjective mysticism that lurks in the basement of their thinking. I hear this all the time. People aren’t aware of it, that this leaks in; they think it’s part of revelation, but really it’s not. It’s very subtle. We’ll talk about that in just a minute.
So if you have a mystical or subjective viewpoint on the Bible, your ultimate knowledge of truth is subjective and not objective, then that’s going to govern this, and it’s a form of mysticism. There is actually a name for it. It’s called fideism from the Latin word for faith, and it’s, “Just believe it! Just believe it!” We will get into this in a little more detail, but the major advocates of this kind of thinking are all liberals.
This may surprise you, because a lot of the people who think this way are not liberal, but the major advocates for this are because mysticism is the flipside of rationalism. I got into an argument; it was really interesting. Mark Musser and I were talking about this because of the nature of his paper at the Pre-Trib Rapture Study Group.
Mark always stays with me when he comes down for the conference, and we were talking about this. I said, “You know, there used to be a professor in the Historical Theology Department at Dallas Seminary when I was working on my doctorate there.” At that point I already had a Master’s degree in philosophy. He was well educated; I forget where he got his PhD, but it was one of those important academically accredited schools. He was teaching a course on liberalism, and I made the comment, I said, “Well, theological liberalism is rationalism gone to seed, which is mysticism.” He said, “No. You’re completely wrong.” And I said, “No, I’m not.” We argued about it for a long time, and Mark laughed about it. He said, “Yeah. That’s the problem—people who have sucked up rationalism don’t understand that rationalism goes to seed—it is always mysticism.”
In rationalism, your ultimate authority is where? Think about this. In rationalism, which emphasizes reason as the ultimate source of truth, where does reason take place? Right here [points to brain]. In mysticism, you have some sort of—I always get in trouble for this—you have some sort of intellectual hot flash and you know, “Ahh … this is true.” Where does it take place? Right here [points to brain]. Same place.
Mysticism is what you get when rationalism can’t answer—you just make an existential leap of faith into mysticism, and its pure subjectivism. It’s true because, “Oh, I feel it in my heart.” Their claim is that it's truth isn't based on objective reality only subjective feelings. So that’s fideism. Fideism says you don’t need to give an answer for the faith because you just believe it. That’s all you need to do—you just believe it. But the Bible says we have to give a rational defense for that; you don’t park your brain in neutral.
Other people come up with these kinds of objections. They say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t need to be defended.” Well, how come so many people defended biblical truth? It’s defended from Genesis 1, as we will see as we go forward.
The Bible says you are to be able to give an answer. It’s not defending it because it’s weak. It’s because when people ask questions, you need to be able to give answers; and that’s called a defense. When people say, “You’re an idiot for believing in Jesus,” then you need to present a reason why you’re not an idiot and not call them an idiot in the process. Because remember, were told in 1 Peter that we’re to do this with gentleness and grace orientation.
Other people will object and say, “Well, you can’t use reason, because God can’t be known by reason.” Reason is a function of your brain. If you’re going to use the word “know” in a proposition, to “know” God means you are using reason. You can’t know something apart from reason; they are interdependent—knowledge and reason. So that is a meaningless statement.
The third thing—natural humanity can’t understand. From 1 Corinthians 2:14, the natural man, the unsaved man, can’t understand the things of the Spirit of God. That’s true, but the Holy Spirit is the sovereign executive of evangelism. He’s the One who is opening their mind to understand the truth. But our role is to give them the truth. So it’s part of that process.
Natural humanity can’t understand. They can understand some things. They clearly understand the existence of God according to Psalm 19. “The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Also Romans 1:18–20.
Then, some people will say, “Well, Jesus refused to give signs for evil men.” Yes, but Jesus gave signs, didn’t He? So that those who were positive would believe. These are some of the superficial arguments that people use for why they should not believe in apologetics.
Second, we see that some people argue from a false perception of the biblical presupposition. Let me explain that a minute. Whenever we talk as Christians, we should be standing on divine viewpoint. We should understand biblical truth. That doesn’t mean that we’re quoting Scripture, that doesn’t mean that we’re quoting theology, but whatever it is that we say, we’re not going to contradict a biblical truth or a biblical framework.
What happens is, when people have a false view of truth, especially a mystical view of truth, that’s when they will say, “Well, you don’t need apologetics. All they need to do is believe.” But the Bible relates belief to knowledge—you believe a proposition, you believe a statement.
Now there’s a technical definition for proposition. A proposition is like an indicative statement. A proposition is any statement that can be proved to be true or false. A question is not a proposition. Is it going to rain tomorrow? Can that be proved to be true or false? No.
It’s raining outside. Can that be proved to be true or false? Yes, that’s a proposition. Jesus is God. That’s a proposition. How are you going to determine whether it’s true or false? You’re going to have to look at the evidence that is presented in the Scripture. So when people are arguing from a false presupposition, or nonbiblical presupposition, then they are going to create some problems.
I want talk a little bit about this and use a chart that’s familiar to you. We will end with this tonight, because this gets heavy, and then we will come back and start with it again in our next class. The basis for knowledge [chart]. How do we know something is true? What is the ultimate authority for telling us that something is true? Okay, we have four options historically.
At the top of the box are autonomous or independent systems of perception. How do you perceive truth? How do you come to know truth? Then the bottom section—the reason I separate it is because it’s totally different from the top three; that’s divine viewpoint. The top is going to be human viewpoint, and the bottom is divine viewpoint. This also is demonstrated historically in philosophy.
Across the top of the chart were going to have in the left column the name of the system of thinking. Then, in the middle, we’re going to look at the starting point for that system. And then, in the third column, talk about the method—how you get from your starting point to final conclusions. What’s the method that is used?
The first system is called rationalism. In the ancient world this was articulated by Plato. He believed man was born with certain innate ideas and that by reasoning from those innate ideas you could come to truth. His great analogy was that man was in a cave, and through the use of reason, he could ultimately illuminate the cave and come to an understanding of truth. In the modern world this was exhibited by a man, a geometrist, a Jesuit theologian, by the name of René Descartes. “I think therefore I am.” “Because I can think, I know I exist. I must be real because I can think; I have self-consciousness.”
He thought that by starting there, through the rigorous use of logic, he could arrive at ultimate truth. So that’s the starting point in rationalism. You have these innate ideas, but ultimately it’s faith in human reasoning ability. That’s it. You start with human reasoning; you exclude anything else. You exclude the senses, you exclude revelation; it’s just reason alone. It’s based on the independent use of logic and reason.
The next system is called empiricism. We arrive at truth on the basis of sense perceptions—what we see, what we smell, what we taste, what we feel, and external experiences. It’s the scientific method. But again, it’s ultimately faith in human ability to properly interpret what our sense data tells us. We see something. How do you know you’ve properly interpreted that?
We see a lot of things. And we think we saw something. Go to a David Copperfield show—one of these illusionists. You think you see something, but you didn’t. Just because we think we saw something doesn’t mean that we do. We immediately interpret it. Okay? But that doesn’t mean that our experience was what we think it is. This is through the independent use of logic and reason again.
The third category is mysticism. Historically, when rationalism fails to provide ultimate answers, then the shift goes to empiricism—we went from Plato to Aristotle. Then when Aristotle’s empiricism doesn’t answer, it goes to skepticism. But nobody can live as a skeptic. What do you have to do? You have to live as if it’s still true even though it can’t be proved rationally or empirically.
That’s just called a subjective leap of faith into nothingness, or it’s mysticism. It is based on some sort of inner private experience of intuition or faith in human ability. It’s based on an independent use of thought; but it’s a nonlogical, it’s an irrational, it’s a non-verifiable form. “It’s true because I believe it’s true, and therefore it is true. It’s my truth. You can’t challenge it because it’s my truth. I know what happened, and I don’t care what you say. It’s not what you say it is; I know it because I know it.” Okay? That’s mysticism.
But as Christians, we believe our ultimate authority is not based on our thinking or our experiences; it is based on revelation. Now here’s the key point: Things are what they are because God says so, not because we experience them that way. Therefore, my experience must always be judged by the Word of God, and not the Word of God by my experience.
That’s an important concept: We have to judge our experience by the Word of God. The Bible points this out in Deuteronomy 13. People can have all kinds of experiences, but that doesn’t mean it’s from God or it’s true. The Bible is what’s true, and that evaluates our experience.
So revelation is the objective revelation of God, and it’s based on logic and reason. We’re not irrational, but it’s dependent upon that revelation. Each one of these ways of thinking has a related system of apologetics. Rationalism produces classic apologetics. Classic apologetics says that the point of commonality between the believer and the unbeliever is the use of logic and reason. We will get into this in more detail next time—that I can appeal to logic. “The unbeliever’s logic is the same as mine, and that’s our common ground.” The problem is the unbeliever’s logic isn’t the same as ours, because he has different presuppositions. That’s classic apologetics.
Second category is empiricism. That produced an approach to apologetics as evidentialism. If we just appeal to facts; if we appeal to history or science. Now that doesn’t mean that using evidences is wrong, but the wrong use of evidences is wrong. It’s like waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning and you hear somebody in the house. It’s what you do with your weapon that’s important. It’s, “Do you understand the right use of strategy and tactics to defend your home?” If you have the wrong strategy, then you’re going to do a poor job defending the home. So the problem here is not that this won’t work at times, but it’s not a biblically consistent pattern.
Now, mysticism produces fideism, “Just believe it.” Apart from any reason or evidence, just believe it because you’ve got the burning in your bosom. Do you know what denomination in America produces the greatest number of converts to Mormonism? They get a lot of converts. There’s one denomination that produces more converts than any other denomination. Guess what? It’s the Southern Baptists.
I know a lot of Southern Baptists, and they’re wonderful people. They love the Lord, but they have a soft mysticism, and they can get suckered by that soft mysticism. That’s why that little Baptist deacon that took me through Joseph Smith’s house said that he was never taught the real truth. It’s because he got suckered by subjectivism.
Now, I believe that the most biblically consistent approach to apologetics is what’s called presupposition. It presupposes the truth of Scripture, and it’s based on the Word of God. That is important to understand these distinctions.
Now, I could teach whole courses on each one of these. We’re not going to do that. I’m giving you an overview of apologetics. I’m going to give you a little bit of an understanding. In each of these you have different well-known theologians and scholars, and we’ll cover that a little bit.
But I’m going to start next time with these two verses. Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.” And then the very next verse seems to contradict it. “Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.” How do you reconcile those two verses? Well, this is critical for thinking and critical in apologetics. We will start there next time.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to think about our thinking, to think about how we can biblically express the truth of Your Word to those who are unbelievers, how we can come to understand the right use of reason versus the wrong use of reason, the right use of evidence versus the wrong use of evidence.
And, Father, we pray that we may be grace oriented, gentle, humble, as we explain the gospel to people, that You might graciously use us in the process of guiding people to the truth of Scripture and eternal life. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”