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Christian Apologetics

“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…” 1 Peter 3:15

What it is and is not

The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means defense. Just as the Lutheran Reformers wrote the Apology to the Augsburg Confession to defend what they wrote in the Augsburg Confession, so the Christian’s calling includes defending his belief in God and His Word.  Even more so, the Lord wants His people to always be ready to do this important work.

Is there a way for the Christian to defend the faith in aGod-pleasing manner while still being  logical, scientific, and philosophical?

So, if someone asked us to “prove” that God exists, would we, as Peter exhorts, be ready to do so?

While Christianity is growing in other parts of the world, it does seem to be under attack in our own country. This makes defending the faith as important as it has ever been, since we will very likely run into those who either reject Christianity or are downright hostile to the hope we have in us.

Consider the young Christian who has to attend a class where on the first day the university professor takes a Bible, kicks it across the classroom, and announces to the students that if anyone is offended by this, he should leave right now.

* From the editor —

Mr. James Arndt, a graduate of Immanuel Lutheran College, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, taught for some years in our Christian Day Schools. He and his wife Rachel with their children Caleb and Audrey reside in Madison, Wisconsin, where they are members of our CLC congregation, Peace Thru Christ Lutheran Church and School, in Middleton, WI.

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Consider the Christian who gets mocked and ridiculed for being illogical and unscientific or for believing in “some supposedly loving God” who yet allows evil in this world.

Is there a way for the Christian to defend the faith in a God-pleasing manner while still being logical, scientific, and philosophical?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” This is what Christian apologetics is all about.

To begin with, it is very important to know what apologetics is not. Apologetics is not—I repeat, not—a way that someone becomes a believer. Unfortunately, many Christian apologists tend to rely solely on extra-biblical arguments in an attempt to change the minds of unbelievers. I submit that this comes from the false notion that if the unbeliever won’t accept God’s Word as the authority on all matters, then supposedly it is necessary to convince him by going outside of God’s Word, making one’s point by logic and evidence.

However, it is not logic and evidence that must be the heart of the Christian’s defense but God’s Word. This is what Peter meant when he told us to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”  We rely on God’s Word not only for our theology but also for the foundation of a faithful and God-pleasing apologetic.

On reason and philosophy

Luther has called reason “a big, red murderess,” “the devil’s bride,” and “the greatest and most invincible enemy of God.” Luther came to use such terms because he spent much of his time writing against the Roman Catholic scholastic theologians of his day.  These theologians were enamored with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who believed that man’s unaided reason could come up with truths about God. While Aquinas put man’s unaided reason on a pedestal, Luther correctly acknowledged that reason has been corrupted by the fall of man into sin. Without Christ to enlighten our reason, those who do not have that light, says Luther, “must err more and more.”

Some have taken Luther’s views on reason (above) to mean that he does not place any value at all on reason. This is certainly not the case, as elsewhere the Reformer calls reason “God’s greatest and most important gift to man,” “a glorious light,” and “a most useful servant in theology.”

How do we understand Luther’s apparent paradox when he calls reason “the devil’s bride,” on the one hand, and “a most useful servant,” on the other hand?

A Christian would never want to say, “I believe in God even if it doesn’t make sense” or, even worse, “I believe in God because it doesn’t make sense.” God is rational, has created an orderly universe, and has created us as rational creatures who can function successfully in His creation. Man is able to figure out the scientific workings of the universe only because the universe reflects and our minds are attuned to God’s orderliness. We are able to arrange God’s Word into doctrinal statements because we have an orderly God. While it is true that we are not able to fully comprehend all of what God has revealed through His Word, that does not mean that we are not able to apprehend it.

We use our reason to study the Bible, teach the Bible, and even write about the Bible, but this is most certainly not because of our own autonomous and self-authoritative reasoning. Many a philosopher (one who loves wisdom) throughout history has tried to explain the world around him without reference to the world’s Creator. Paul warns us to “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

This does not mean that philosophy (the love of wisdom) is something that Christians are to avoid.  We are to get wisdom and understanding even though it cost all we have. (Proverbs 4:7). Thankfully, God has told us where to start.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10).

So when Luther labels reason a blind guide or the enemy of faith, he is addressing the notion that man’s autonomous reason is sufficient to find out truths of the universe. Those are the sort of “hollow and deceptive” philosophies that, according to the apostle, will rob us of the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) that are in Christ.

Since we are called upon to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, we will want to have a distinctly Christian approach toward philosophy and reason. It is only Christ who can bring blessings out of our reasoning and philosophy in the first place. All knowledge is in Christ (Colossians 2:3) and the only way to know if we are thinking correctly is to consider whether our thoughts are reflecting God’s thoughts as He has revealed them to us in His Word. Philosophy which rests on God’s Word will teach us to be aware of—and beware of—the “fine-sounding arguments” (2:4) so prevalent in our culture today.

Regarding Apologetical Encounters

Since God has revealed Himself to us in His creation (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20), in our hearts (Romans 2:15), and through His Word (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16), all people know the existence of their Creator (whether it is saving knowledge or not). This is the point of contact that a believer has with the unbeliever. The Christian can use this natural knowledge of God’s existence to show that, while the unbeliever lives in God’s creation, he is not honoring his Creator as he ought.

In what might be called “our apologetical encounters,” our calling as Christ’s witnesses includes  showing that only Christianity makes sense of anything. Yet…

How can it be shown that it is only the Christian worldview that can make sense of ethics?

How can it be shown that only God’s existence can make sense of immaterial and universal laws of logic?

How can it be shown that only the Christian God can account for science being able to work?

As Christians there will be many opportunities for us to faithfully preach
the gospel and teach sound biblical doctrine. But are we ready to defend the hope that we have? God willing, in a series of articles we plan to effectively defend the hope that we have in us.

Thank the Lord that He has given us the one tool needed to preach, teach, and defend our faith…

His Word!

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  1. Pingback: Editor’s Note – Christian Apologetics « Lutheran Spokeman

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