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About the Author
Paul M. Gould (PhD, Purdue University) teaches philosophy and apologetics at Oklahoma Baptist University and is the founder and president of the Two Tasks Institute.
Travis Dickinson is associate professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Scarborough College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
R. Keith Loftin is associate professor of philosophy and humanities and associate dean, Scarborough College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Read an Excerpt
An Invitation to Apologetics
What comes to mind when you hear the word apologetics? What emotions surface when you think about doing apologetics? For some, apologetics is all the rage. It's fun, exciting, cutting-edge, essential. For others, the idea of apologetics elicits little enthusiasm or perhaps, worse, some suspicion or even disdain. It's "head over heart," too intellectual, passé, irrelevant. For most, however, apologetics is something they know to be important, something they want to learn more about, and something that may be a little intimidating.
We write this book with all three camps in mind — the enthusiast, the suspicious, the open but intimidated — hoping to show the relevancy and importance of apologetics to evangelism, spiritual formation, and indeed, all of life. In fact, what we find in Christianity is a perfect joining together of reason and romance. Nowhere in Scripture is there a call to separate head (reason) and heart (romance) in our love of God and man. This is good news! Christianity does not require us to abandon the intellect or emotions. Christianity is both true and satisfying. Consider C. S. Lewis's description of himself before conversion: "The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest conflict. On the one side a many-island sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow 'rationalism.' Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless." Lewis discovered that it was only in Christianity that his two hemispheres could be brought together into a coherent whole. In Christianity he had found a place to stand and a story that understood his longing for both how things are (truth) and how things ought to be (goodness and beauty). Christianity is true myth. That is why the first book Lewis wrote as a Christian, The Pilgrim's Regress, was subtitled An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romance. Lewis's point in writing the allegory, which is also partly autobiographical, is that Christianity and Christianity alone affirms and honors reason without falling into a kind of calculating disembodied rationality as well as romance without falling into a kind of narcissistic and base sentimentality. What encouragement! God wants us to be whole people who love him with all of our being — which includes our minds, hearts, and wills — and likewise, to love others with our whole being too (as Jesus himself calls us to in Matt 22:37–39). In this introductory chapter, we hope to whet your appetite and set the stage for what follows by clearly articulating what apologetics is and why it matters.
What Is Apologetics?
Apologetics is not about apologizing to someone for being a Christian. The English word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word apologia, which means "defense." The idea of presenting a credible defense of one's position is nothing new. For example, in Plato's Apology we read of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates's "apology," or defense of his innocence, before a jury of Athenians against the charge of atheism and the corruption of youth. On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which he defended his nonviolent approach to opposing racism. Today, the so-called New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Lawrence Krauss, are vocal apologists for atheism, as defended in best-selling books such as The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, and A Universe from Nothing.
So, what is apologetics? We define apologetics as an attempt to remove obstacles or doubts to, as well as offer positive reasons for, believing that Christianity is true and satisfying. In making a defense, the Christian apologist makes no explicit Christian assumptions; for example, she doesn't assume Scripture is true and simply appeal to chapter and verse in defense of Christianity's claims. Sometimes doubts or obstacles to faith will be intellectual, and sometimes they are due to a failure to imagine a world wherein Christianity is good and beautiful. Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft speaks of three prophets of the human soul: reason, which longs for truth; the conscience, which longs for goodness; and the imagination, which longs for beauty. All of these longings — for truth, goodness, and beauty — are fully satisfied in Christ. Thus, part of our job as apologists is to awaken these universal longings in those we seek to reach for Christ and point them, through reason (e.g., the deliverances of philosophy, history, science, and even commonsense observation), the conscience (e.g., through a life well lived and the pursuit of justice), and the imagination (e.g., through the use of literature, music, and art) to the One who is the ultimate object of our longings. This definition of Christian apologetics is broader than typical definitions, which focus merely on the rational defense of Christianity and the demonstration of its fundamental truth. Our suggestion is more holistic. By focusing on the whole person, we seek to provide a credible witness not only to the truth of Christianity but to its goodness and beauty as well. Additionally, our definition of apologetics is meant to be inclusive of both unbelievers and believers. Christians are not immune from struggling with doubts, misplaced desires, or failed imaginations. Apologetics, as we shall discuss momentarily, is beneficial to the believer as well as the unbeliever in helping to show the relevance of Christianity to all of life.
Philosopher Greg Ganssle pushes toward this more robust view of apologetics when he speaks of three different sets of issues to consider in the doing of apologetics. First, there are theological issues, such as the nature and scope of common grace, the nature of man, the effects of sin, and the nature of general revelation, that inform our understanding and practice of apologetics. For example, in his speech to the god-fearing Greeks in Lystra (Acts 14:15–17), the apostle Paul appealed to the goodness of God and the common grace available to all: "... although [God] did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy" (v. 17). This is an example of what Randy Newman calls "joy-based apologetics": appealing to the goodness and joy of life, available to all, as evidence for God. It also encourages us to think about our evangelism in terms of all that "we" share as humans, instead of the differences between "you" and "me."
Second, according to Ganssle, apologetic issues include the academic or intellectual. This area encompasses most of what people think of when they think about apologetics. Staples include arguments for God's existence, discussions of the problem of evil and hell, a defense of the historicity of the Bible, and the resurrection of Christ. Often what begins as a brief comment on some topic quickly turns into detailed discussions related to history, philosophy, science, archaeology, New Testament studies, sociology, mathematics, and more. This demonstrates that apologetics is very much a multidisciplinary field of study. This is as it should be. Since God is the creator of all distinct reality, it follows that all truths discovered (all knowledge gained) in every academic discipline somehow connect back to and illuminate the divine. Everything points to God!
Finally, there are missional issues relevant to the nature and task of apologetics. This area involves seeking to build bridges from a particular audience to the gospel. We must become "cultural exegetes," learning about those we seek to reach — their beliefs, values, and emotional response patterns — so we can identify relevant starting points, adequate bridges (using the planks of reason, conscience, and imagination), and the various barriers to belief to be cleared so the gospel will get a fair hearing. One helpful diagnostic tool, suggested by Ganssle, is the idea of a spiritual mapquest. Just as you can input your current location and any desired destination into the website Mapquest and directions will pop up, so too we must learn accurately to diagnose where an unbeliever is spiritually — his or her "current location"— so we can accurately discern the stages and processes the person must go through in order to grasp and apply the message of the gospel — the destination. Something like the Diagnostic Scale provided by Ganssle will help us think more carefully about the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional condition of those we seek to reach with the gospel.
In this book we hope to bring together all of these considerations related to the nature and task of apologetics in such a way that a person, as a whole person, will, with the help of the Holy Spirit, see and believe that Christianity is true and satisfying.
Is Apologetics Biblical?
Part of our goal in this book is to offer a more robust view of apologetics. Apologetics is a rational enterprise, but it is not merely a rational enterprise. It is much more. We think apologetics is essential to faithfulness unto Christ. It points us to the brilliance, beauty, and truth of the gospel. Still, there are some who think apologetics is unbiblical. The idea behind the "apologetics is unbiblical" charge is that our job as Christians is simply to preach the gospel, or merely repeat the words of Scripture, and to sit back and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the unbeliever's heart. Any appeal to a rational defense (as apologetics is often characterized) is to put the case in man's hands instead of God's. We reject this dichotomy. We believe that it is the Holy Spirit that moves in a person's heart in response to the gospel message — yet God has called us to be faithful witnesses, sometimes even expert witnesses, and part of faithfulness, as we shall now argue, includes providing reasons for belief in Christ.
In Exodus 20 we learn that apologetics is grounded in the existence and nature of the one true God. "Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me" (Exod 20:1–3). Apologetics, it seems, is rooted in our desire to represent faithfully the reality of God. Part of what it means to flourish as humans is to be rightly related to reality. Apologetics can help by pointing to the One who stands at the center of reality as its Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
Moreover, apologetics is commanded in Scripture. Peter implored, "In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet 3:15–16). Peter specifically instructed believers to make a reasoned case for their beliefs. Believers are to give a "defense" (apologia) by providing a "reason" (logos) for the hope within.
Peter also instructed us to engage with a proper attitude toward both the unbelievers with whom we are speaking and the Lord about whom we are speaking. We are to be gentle and respectful toward those we seek to reach for Christ. Further, we are to conduct our defense of the faith with an attitude of reverence or holy fear toward Christ, whom we honor as Lord. We are not to be "gunslinger apologists." We have seen gunslingers in our day; in fact, we've engaged in gunslinging ourselves. Let us explain. Often, we take arguments for God or replies to objections to belief in God and load them like bullets into a pair of imaginary Colt .45s, which we place, like those proud and brave cowboys of the Wild West, into the double holsters around our waists. We then walk around town, like Wyatt Earp, with our hands at our sides, looking for an atheist, a skeptic, or a doubting believer — a bad guy — in need of correction. When we find the hapless unbeliever (or doubting believer), in the blink of an eye we draw, unload both guns, blow away the smoke, re-holster, and move on in search of our next victim. The unbeliever, riddled with imaginary bullet holes, is left standing speechless and shaking his head. This imaginary story of the gunslinger apologist is tragic but unfortunately all too close to reality at times. We must resist the temptation to be gunslinger apologists. We are to engage unbelievers in the way we would want to be engaged if we were in their shoes: with gentleness and respect. We can do this without compromising on truth.
Finally, apologetics is demonstrated in Scripture. In fact, in the New Testament there is not a single person who does not give a defense for his faith (especially given a proper and broad understanding of evidence, as we develop in chapter 2). Jesus pointed to miracles and fulfilled prophecy to validate his claims. In John 14:11, Jesus states, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Otherwise, believe because of the works themselves." In effect, Jesus was saying, "Look, if you don't believe me based on what I am telling you, at least believe in light of the evidence of the miracles I've performed." Jesus appealed to evidence to support the reasonableness of the belief that he is the Messiah. Moreover, the disciples used fulfilled prophecy, Jesus's miracles, and the resurrection to prove that Jesus is the Messiah (when engaging fellow Jews) as well as the evidence from nature (when engaging non-Jews). We've seen the apostle Paul's appeal to nature before the god-fearing Greeks in Lystra. When Paul reasoned with his fellow Jews, he "reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead." Paul concluded: "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah" (Acts 17:2–3). It is apparent from these examples, and many more like them, that neither Jesus nor the disciples hesitated to use evidence in making their case. Did they trust in their arguments to win unbelievers to God? Not at all. As William Lane Craig puts it, "they trusted the Holy Spirit to use their arguments" to draw unbelievers to God.
Why Does Apologetics Matter?
Apologetics is not only biblical; it is vital for a vibrant faith and witness. We offer three reasons why apologetics is important. First, apologetics addresses the ideas and values embraced by a culture that shape its receptivity to the gospel. As Tim Keller has helpfully pointed out, every culture, and every individual within culture, has a set of "defeater beliefs" that, if true, rule out or "defeat" belief in Christianity. Moreover, this set of defeater beliefs is culturally or individually relative. For example, in the West the belief that "all religions are equally valid" is a defeater belief for Christianity. This defeater is an obstacle to faith that needs to be addressed in helping others see the truth and beauty of the gospel. In the Middle East, however, no one believes that all religions are equally valid. Instead, the belief that "everyone in the West believes in Christianity" is an obstacle to the gospel. Whatever the nature of the defeater beliefs, the apologist must address these beliefs so that the gospel will get a fair hearing. This further underscores the importance of being diagnosticians of an individual or culture in order to address the actual obstacles to faith for the unbeliever, as well as the doubts and challenges to faith for the believer.
Second, apologetics contributes to our spiritual formation unto Christ. Knowing both what you believe and why you believe it helps you grow into Christlikeness. The apostle Paul highlighted the importance of the mind in the process of spiritual formation when he implored believers to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). What you believe about God, the world, and the self will, in a large part, determine the course of your life and the shape of your soul. As J. P. Moreland puts it, "beliefs are the rails upon which our lives run." Apologetics can help you think more deeply about the content of your mental life in order to root out error, strengthen beliefs, and bring a deeper appreciation of the lure and enchantment of Jesus and the gospel.
Finally, apologetics helps win unbelievers to Christ. Speaking personally (Paul), God used apologetics in my own journey toward faith in Jesus. As a freshman in college, I was confronted with the gospel message for the first time in a clear and concise way. I realized, again for the first time, that the half-hearted and half-baked religiosity of my youth was not sufficient. I was trying to be "religious," effectively trying to earn salvation by being a (mostly) good person. I realized that I had misunderstood the essence of the gospel. I further realized that I was a sinner and that nothing I could do on my own would earn me salvation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stand Firm"
Copyright © 2018 Paul M. Gould, Travis Dickinson, and R. Keith Loftin.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Academic.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. An Invitation to Apologetics,
Chapter 2. Truth, Knowledge, and Faith,
Chapter 3. God,
Chapter 4. Miracles,
Chapter 5. The Reliability of the New Testament,
Chapter 6. Jesus,
Chapter 7. Jesus's Resurrection,
Chapter 8. Is Jesus the Only Way?,
Chapter 9. The Problem of Evil,
Chapter 10. Counterfeit Gospels: World Religions,
Chapter 11. Counterfeit Gospels: Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses,
Chapter 12. Standing Firm and Going Out,
Paul Gould Aledo, TX Travis Dickinson Burleson, TX Keith Loftin Fort Worth, TX