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I don't think I'll be wrong to say that many, even among the doctrinally healthy and biblically rooted folk, don’t know what to make of apologetics. There are several cases where young people in the church are really interested in getting into apologetics, but the elders don't have much to offer as counsel with regard to it. Also, can you really blame them? As if feeding the sheep, teaching and preaching, counselling, conducting weddings and funerals, interceding for the sheep, and keeping minds theologically sharp isn't enough, now they have to learn a ton of comparative philosophy, "isms," and several big words. That's too much work for an elder whose primary task is to teach and preach.
I can think of three reasons why young men may be interested in apologetics. First, it could make them seem cool, and they can have the final say. Second, they can finally persuade all those atheists who use words they never understood — like “evolution” and “the big bang.” And finally, the Bible asks them "to make a defence of faith to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope" of the gospel. Now, it is possible that the vast majority of them might be interested in apologetics for the first two reasons. But what we can't ignore is that there is a valid biblical reason, the third reason, and something has to be done with it. Reasons one and two are heart issues that pastors may be skilled at dealing with, but the third reason might leave them desiring answers and counsel.
Also, there is the problem of unclear categories. Humans, by design, love categories. This pattern runs right through redemptive history. The Bible has in it sinners and the righteous, fools and the wise, the first Adam and the second Adam (Christ), weed and harvest, old and the new covenant, law and the gospel, and several countless categories and distinctions. With apologetics, people hit a roadblock not knowing where to place it. To many, it is a weird category of philosophy with some theological undertones. This is why people dismiss it as merely the wisdom of the world. For another set of people, this kind of apologetics would be the default go-to, as they believe that only worldly philosophy and scientific argument can convince the hearts of people who deny God.
So far, I have only listed problems and causes for concern. However, as I attempt to explore what the Bible teaches about apologetics and apologetic methods, I will divide my discussion into two parts. This article will focus on the Christian mission and the spiritual state of humanity. In the second article, we will delve into apologetic methods.
The Great Commission & Biblical Anthropology
Since apologetics is something we do as Christians, it is only fair that we consider what we ought to do as Christians. What is it that we ought to do? The Great Commission of course! We are called to evangelize and make disciples of nations. So that makes our mission and target clear. Now, what does Scripture say about these people whom we evangelize? We can think of three things that are of relevance to evangelism - First, they suppress the truth, second, they are unable to have Spiritual discernment and third, they are dead in their sins and trespasses.
They Suppress Truth
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20, ESV)
Many apologists and ministers cater to their audience, forgetting that according to Scripture, "what can be known about God is plain to them." Thus, it is not a matter of evidence any longer. Sufficient evidence has already been provided to them through creation, yet they choose not to believe. They are without excuse for their unbelief. This makes it clear that apologetics cannot be about dumping a truckload of evidence on the unbeliever. Cosmological arguments and archaeological evidence are not what will help us fulfil the great commission.
They Are Unable to Have Spiritual Discernment
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)
The people at the receiving end of apologetics aren't spiritually minded. Knowing this is key, as this informs us that without a changed heart, evidence of God amounts to nothing. Our audience is not a neutral audience who just need to be empirically and scientifically convinced of God. Even with the knowledge of God, "the natural man does not accept the things of God.'' All our evidence and reasoning would be "folly to (them), and (they are) not able to understand" any of it. According to the commission, our evangelism should lead to discipleship. But if our means of evangelism is just providing them with evidence then, in-effect, we just leave a lot of information with men who can't discern it. If we are to look at Romans 1:19-20 closely, we'll see that evidence of God is in fact what brings judgment to the unbeliever — they are left "without excuse." So wouldn't that mean that evidence-based apologetics brings only judgment on the believer?
They Are Dead in Their Sins and Trespasses
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
The fall did not merely weaken man's spiritual self, it led to his spiritual death. It is not just that man can't discern spiritual matters, but he simply doesn't have the slightest pulse of life in him that he may move his fingers in response to God. He is simply dead. Any apologist who thinks his oratory skills, his deep scientific acumen, or his vast knowledge of scientific and archaeological evidence can save people is only kidding themselves. Spiritually dead people lie numb, cold and unresponsive in the face of evidence.
What should we conclude about apologetics? Is it a hopeless cause? Should we avoid studying apologetics, reasoning, and logic because it only condemns unbelievers? The answer to all of these questions is no. We should look to the Bible not only for understanding the mission gi ven to the church and the spiritual state of humankind but also for guidance on the method of apologetics. In the next article, we will discuss the apologetic method.