Apologetics is the formal word for “making a defense” of something or to someone. We use it as a convenient term for “defending the Christian faith”. It’s used that way in the Bible’s book of I Peter in chapter 3 and verse 15: In your hearts (which means: In your inmost being – including your mind) honor Christ the Lord as holy (Which is a very strong expression meaning: In every area of your life Jesus Christ is to be honored as Lord – including your thought life and the way you speak). And then the biblical text says, always being ready to make a defense (The Greek text uses the word of apologetics here – Christians must always be ready to defend the Christian faith before others) – to do apologetics with anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (And let’s never forget those last few words. They tell us the attitude we’re to have as we defend the faith before those who can be very hostile to us: Gentleness: With a humble spirit, and always with courtesy – even toward those who hate everything we are and stand for. The word means “self-control under pressure.” And respect: The word is, literally, fear: Defending the faith out of a proper fear of or reverence for God, and with respect for the fact that, even in our dealings with ardent opponents of Christianity, we’re speaking to people who are made in God’s image. Be respectful!
If you want a picture of what this looks like in practice, read the apostle Paul’s defense – his apologetic – to Greek philosophers in the first century city of Athens. You’ll find that in the Bible’s book of Acts, chapter 17, beginning at verse 16. That’s a rich portion of Scripture for your own personal or group Bible study.
Now, when we use the word apologetics – in no way are we speaking about being “apologetic” for the Christian faith! You don’t need to be apologetic about the truths of the Word of God! In fact, we don’t even need to actually “defend” those truths. God certainly has the power to defend Himself and His Word! But, in doing apologetics, we listen carefully to the questions and the objections that come from those who don’t believe the Christian faith – at least they don’t believe it yet – and even from those who claim they have major objections to Christianity. And, having listened carefully – with gentleness and respect – in the same spirit we seek to answer those questions and objections. That’s apologetics.
But how do you do apologetics? What’s the right way to “defend the Christian faith.”?
One way is to gather all the information you need to answer the questions and criticisms that come to you. Then you respond with this information, and you call critics to believe in Christ.
While this very common – and very natural – method seems like the right thing to do (and no doubt God has used it so that people “come to their senses” and believe the Gospel) – there’s lots of problems with doing apologetics that way. (I learned this from experience early on in my Christian life).
- It assumes that people are “neutral” as they consider the evidence before them. But, in fact, those in a state of unbelief actively “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” – as the apostle Paul says in the Bible book of Romans, chapter 1. Their minds are like pressure cookers that keep the ingredients of the Christian faith sealed inside, even though there’s a lot of steam created inside as they grapple with truths of the Word of God – truths they know in their inmost beings they cannot avoid.
- It only deals with people’s heads, and rarely goes to their hearts. And the heart of true Christian faith really is a matter of the heart!
- It fails to get to the underlying faith commitments all people have – whether or not they are Christians. And, therefore, this method of apologetics never really gets down to why people think the way they do (and feel the way they do) about everything. Until these things are exposed and shown to be deficient, it will be difficult (humanly speaking) to get a person to think seriously about your defense – your apologetic.
A far better (and far more biblical) way to defend the Christian faith – to do apologetics – is to listen carefully to the concerns or problems expressed to us by those with whom we are speaking. (Remember: Gentleness and respect.) Then – usually by asking questions – we expose the underlying beliefs (actually, faith commitments) that our friends have. Whatever these are – whether it’s a faith commitment that we can only believe what we can see, hear, taste, smell, or feel, or whether it’s a faith commitment that all ideas are relative, or whether it’s a faith commitment that our only ethic is love – we show that they’re faith commitments that have their origin in the creature, not the Creator; and they’re absolutely insufficient to explain reality. In fact, there’s no real way to even justify these faith commitments:
- How do we know that we can only believe what we can see, hear, taste, smell, or feel?
- How do we know that all ideas are relative? (And doesn’t that very belief negate the belief itself?)
- And how does a person even define love by some absolute standard?
Then – remembering that you are to set apart Christ as Lord in your heart and in all of your thinking – you ask the person (remember: Gentleness and respect!) – you ask the person to think about things on the basis of your faith commitments. Explain the Gospel: Jesus Christ, the God man, was born into this world. He lived a perfect life and he died as a sacrifice to pay the punishment for the sins of His people. He rose again from the dead, and He ascended into heaven where He now reigns as King – and one day He’ll return to judge all of humankind. These are sure truths of history – and they change everything. The call of God is that we repent of our various forms of worship of the creature, believe in the God who has revealed Himself in human history (and in our own beings, and in Holy Scripure, and – supremely – in Jesus Christ), and give ourselves to Jesus Christ the King in the surrender of true faith.
Wow! That’s a lot! It’s easy to give you the big picture of doing apologetics. But there’s a lot more to it when we deal with real “down on the ground questions” that come from our culture and from those around us.
The phrase you hear over and over again on this program (and the phrase is very true) is that Everyone needs a pastor. And in the field of apologetics – as in any other aspect of the Christian life (and remember that every Christian must be ready to do apologetics according to the Apostle Peter) – everyone needs a pastor. As much as we appreciate those teachers who work in the very challenging philosophical departments of apologetics, most of us need a wise and experienced pastor who can help us deal with the common objections to (and questions about) Christianity that we get every day. That department of theology is what I call Pastoral Apologetics. It’s greatly needed in our day; and it’s both practical, mentally stimulating, and – in most cases – a lot of fun!
We’ve had an amazing response to Pastor Paul Viggiano’s first program on Pastoral Apologetics on A Visit to the Pastor’s Study. Listeners appreciated the emphasis on how we’re to deal with those who oppose the Christian faith; and they also appreciated the specific guidance Pastor Paul gave to help us with the kinds of issues we face every day. (I was able to use a number of his points that very day in an extended family gathering.) Pastor Paul Viggiano, who pastors Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Torrance, California, and who has his Master’s degree in apologetics, is our guest again today on our weekly Visit to the Pastors’ Study. For round two we’ll be getting into a number of challenges to the Christian faith that you receive on a regular basis (or, at least you hear of them). Pastor Paul will help you think biblically about the issues, and also think biblically about how to answer – how you can be ready to defend the faith – to do apologetics – before a watching and listening world.
Pastor Paul Viggiano from Branch of Hope OPC, Torrance, California – welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study….
Listen to the full program here:
Yours in Christ, The Way, The Truth, and The Life,