Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
Christians seem to have mixed feelings about Apologetics. Some think it is divisive and fuels arrogant debate that drives people away from Christianity. Others think that Apologetics is the end all be all to evangelism. To be frank, both sides are wrong. Yet two questions remain: Is there a Biblical mandate for Apologetics? Do the Scriptures provide examples of Apologetics in practice? I contend that the answers are Yes and Yes.
Biblical Mandate for Apologetics
The traditional passage used as the biblical mandate for apologetics is of course 1 Peter 3:15: “always be prepared to give an απολογία…” This means to give a defense, an answer, or a reason. However, one merely has to read a few of the narratives in scripture to realize that apologetics is an integral element of Christian faith and practice. From Joshua to Elijah to Peter we see apologetics at work. Joshua is seen presenting a historical argument in defense of God to the children of Israel in chapter 24 of the book that bears his name. Elijah uses evidence, namely fire coming down from Heaven on Mt. Carmel, when defending the truth and existence of God against the prophets of Baal. Paul uses reason when conversing with the Greeks on Mars Hill to defend the faith.
These men not only defended the faith, but also contended for the faith. This is to say that they did not merely wait around for someone to come challenge their faith, but they went and challenged the ideas and belief systems held by the various people groups of their day. The biblical mandate for apologetics is evident in the use of apologetics in some form by the numerous heroes of the faith whose stories are told throughout the scriptures.
Apologetics in Practice
Looking closer at the three aforementioned men allows for a better understanding of the type of apologetics argument used by each. In Joshua 24:1-15 the Israelites have recently conquered the land of Canaan and divided up the land between each of the twelve tribes. Joshua then gathers all of the tribes, elders, judges, leaders, and so on to speak to them all at once. He concludes his speech by challenging the people to do away with the false pagan gods they had been worshipping, and instead to serve the one true God. The argument he presents that leads to this conclusion is actually an apologetic argument from history. In other words, he lays at a historical narrative starting with Abraham and working his way to the present moment in which he is speaking. Within this historical narrative he lays out facts of history while detailing how God has worked in, through, and on behalf of the people of Israel in contrast to the false gods that have done nothing for them. So he uses a historical argument in order to affirm the existence and presence of God while proving the falsity of the pagan gods.
Elijah’s apologetic tactic is a very straightforward argument from evidence. He challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest of sorts in which their god must provide evidence of his existence, and Elijah’s God must provide evidence of His existence. This evidence is to come in the form of each god sending down fire from the sky to consume the altar each one’s prophet/prophets have built. The prophets of Baal, and Baal himself, fail miserably at meeting the challenge. Elijah, in what had to be an intent to patronize Baal’s prophets, stacks the odds against his God by having his altar soaked in water until a mini moat surrounds it. Of course, as the story goes, God sends down a fire that consumes everything, and provides undeniable evidence that He is the true and living God.
Paul on Mars Hill uses an argument from reason that actually blends evidential and historical arguments. He first highlights that the people there are religious, he then leverages their own beliefs against them by utilizing their worship of the “unknown god.” From here he uses the evidence of the created world to point to a creator God. He continues by making arguments about the irrationality of a divine being that can be contained by the material constructs of man or having a dependence on man. Next, he lays out the historical facts of mankind’s creation, and then he uses the teachings of their own philosophers and poets against them to again show the irrationality of a divine being that can be fashioned from created materials or the imaginations of men. Finally, he concludes with the historical fact of the resurrection. Paul pulls in several elements to suggest that reason leads to the truth of the gospel rather than the Greek gods the people currently worshipped.
These three scripture passages present a few methods and tactics that can be used when engaging with people and “doing” apologetics.