Why Does God Want Our Defense?
I am a Christian apologist. When people discover that, they often make the joke, “Do you apologize for being a Christian?” Or, the runner up, “What are you apologizing for?” Although said in jest, their comments reveal the fact that the word apologetics and its role in the Christian life are foreign to many believers. In fact, after I explain that an apologist defends Christianity against objections, some people respond, “Why does God need our defense? He has the Holy Spirit to convict and convince unbelievers; He doesn’t need ‘evidences.’”
Before we go any further, we need to understand one thing: God doesn’t need anything from us, much less a defense. The Bible is very clear about this. God “gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). We need Him, even to keep breathing moment by moment, since He sustains all of creation in existence (Col. 1:17). But there’s nothing we have that He needs.
So let’s rephrase the question. Does God want our defense? Does He want us to exert time and energy offering evidence to support the validity of Christianity?
If not, apologetics is at best a waste of time and at worse interferes with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, if the Holy Spirit uses apologetics to convict and convince people of the truth, it is vital that we arm ourselves from the apologetic arsenal accumulated by the church over the past two millenniums.
Our first task, then, is to discover what apologetics is and what an apologist does, so we can answer the question, “Does God want our defense and, if so, why?”
COMING TO TERMS
The term apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia, which is found seven times in the New Testament (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Cor. 9:3; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:15). The English equivalent of apologia is defense (literally, “a speech for the defense”), and it’s translated that way in 1 Peter 3:15 in the New American Standard and New King James versions of the Bible. In the original Greek language, apologia had a definite legal connotation. It was a technical term in ancient Greek law.1 When apologia is used in the New Testament, it describes a public defense of the gospel, as illustrated in Acts 22:1. Sometimes, in fact, this defense was carried out in a court of law (Acts 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16).
Of course, apologetics didn’t die out in the first century when the apostles left the scene. Christianity came under attack from numerous sources, so many believers took up the challenges and answered them with all the intellectual resources available. As a result of their courageous efforts, Christianity finally won political acceptance in the fourth century—a victory that allowed Christianity to spread throughout the world until even our own day.2
Over the centuries, the apologetic discipline has been understood in a variety of ways. But perhaps one of the best definitions in our time flowed from the mind of the late Edward John Carnell, former Professor of Apologetics at Fuller Theological Seminary. According to Carnell, apologetics “is that branch of Christian theology which answers the question, Is Christianity rationally defensible?”3
In other words, can Christianity be defended (and therefore substantiated) by using the same procedures reasonable people everywhere use to determine the truthfulness of anything—whether it be a scientific, historical, legal, philosophical, or religious question? For example, can Christians defend the authenticity and authority of the Bible? Can they demonstrate that the Bible contains accurate and truthful information and does not contradict itself? Can Christians defend their claim that Jesus Christ is God incarnate (that He took on bodily form) and that Jesus “died for our sins … and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4)? Can Christianity stand the test of critical scrutiny?
Although believers have answered yes to these questions, they have offered different arguments with differing assumptions. In part this has been the consequence of two broad and opposing approaches to apologetics. The differences between these approaches are very important. As we’ll see, they impact what we defend, how we defend it, and why. The two approaches are presuppositional and evidential.
The presuppositional approach to apologetics says that any defense of Christianity must begin with the assumption that God exists and that the Bible is His authentic and authoritative Word. A presuppositionalist will not attempt to demonstrate these two truths; instead he will assume their validity and build on them without ever accepting any challenges against them. Why? Because of his view of humanity and the effects of sin.
The presuppositionalist argues this way: Human rebellion against God caused a fundamental rift to occur between God and man. This rift was so traumatic and devastating that it rendered human beings incapable of responding to and thinking clearly about their Creator. The only way these terrible consequences can be overcome is by God reaching out to us, redeeming and restoring us to our right minds and a right relationship with Him.
Until He does that, however, we are not capable of accepting or even understanding Christianity, much less accurately considering whether its claims to truth are really valid or not. Consequently, the presuppositionalist contends that any attempt to present evidence supporting the truth-value of the gospel is wrong and actually muddies the water of good dialogue between Christians and non-Christians. You don’t present evidences supporting Christianity until after the non-Christian has accepted the existence of God and the authority of Scripture and possibly even Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Put another way, apologetics for the presuppositionalist is preaching to non-Christians and discipling to Christians. Evidences for the faith fall on deaf ears with nonbelievers, so you should simply share the gospel message with them while you draw on the faith’s facts to strengthen the belief of believers.
Evidential apologists strongly disagree with the presuppositionalist approach. They insist that non-Christians deserve to hear and can understand the case for Christianity. And when nonbelievers voice intellectual objections (real or imagined), they should receive concrete, verifiable answers that support the authenticity and authority of Christianity. We live in a world with many contradicting beliefs and claims.
If we don’t provide answers to the non-Christian’s objections, he will assume we don’t have any answers, so he’ll seek religious truth elsewhere. Too much is at stake to allow this to happen, especially when we have the evidential resources to provide adequate answers to honest questions.
Presuppositional vs. Evidential Apologetics
Assumes God exists
Offers evidence for the existence of God
Assumes Bible true
Offers evidence for the reliability of the Bible
Holy Spirit convicts and convinces people of the truth only through the Bible and personal testimony
Holy Spirit also convicts and convinces people of the truth through extra-biblical evidences
Evangelizes by appealing only to the Bible; does not attempt to overcome objections to Christianity
Evangelizes by also appealing to extra-biblical evidences; seeks to overcome objections to convince nonbelievers of gospel’s truthfulness
WHICH APPROACH IS BEST?
You can probably already tell which approach I side with. Though one can find dedicated, thoughtful Christians on each side of this debate, the evidentialist approach has a much longer track record in church history, and I think it has several advantages over the presuppositional approach. Indeed, I have found the evidential approach much more dependable and most likely to bear fruit in witnessing situations. Let me explain.
The presuppositional view takes the steam out of evangelism. If non-Christians really are unwilling or even unable to understand revealed truth, then when they ask us questions, we should say, “Sorry, I cannot answer your questions. You just have to accept Christianity on ‘faith,’ and later, if God wishes, you will just know in your heart that it is true. Even if I gave you an answer now, you will still not believe the truth of Christianity.”
A consistent presuppositionalist must respond this way. Put yourself in the place of the non-Christian who already doubts the authenticity of Christianity. How would you respond to the presuppositionalist? Would you find his answer satisfactory? Not likely. And why should you? If someone told you to accept a view different from Christianity and to embrace it on faith with no evidence, would you? Christianity would see few converts on the presuppositionalist approach.
Another problem with this position is that it assumes the Holy Spirit is unable to minister and convict through Christian evidences. It limits God to working only subjectively in the lives of unbelievers. This is absurd, unbiblical, and contrary to reality. Many Christians contribute their ultimate acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior to objective means such as unpleasant circumstances in their lives, Christian literature other than the Bible, the testimonies of others, and even the presentation of confirming factual evidence.4
Moreover, the writers of Scripture commonly used evidential apologetic methods with non-Christians, as we will soon see. Although we’ll look in detail at the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics shortly, it seems clear enough that He uses a vast variety of means to bring people to salvation, and that variety mix includes objective evidence.
One other serious problem with presuppositionalism is that it can be turned against itself. If I presuppose God exists, and I ask you to presuppose that too, what’s to keep you from saying, “Well I presuppose that God does not exist, and I think you should presuppose that also. In fact, I think Christianity is a man-made religion and the Bible is a mythical book. Why should I—or, for that matter, you—presuppose differently?” That’s a great question. And if I was a presuppositionalist, I could give no reason against accepting your position.
You see, simply because you or I claim something is true doesn’t make it so. Presuppositions don’t justify or authenticate themselves anymore than you can lift yourself into the air without outside help. Presuppositions need outside help too and that must come in the form of supporting evidence—reasons to accept them as true. Without such help, we have no way to determine which presuppositions are correct. Let me put this another way.
Because we live in a world that embraces a profusion of opposing world views, people have an incredible smorgasbord of options. When religious convictions clash—when contradicting beliefs all declare to reflect divine truth—logic says that only one side can be right. But which set of beliefs should someone accept? Without any clear, objective way of choosing, we might throw up our arms in despair and reject all religions, believing that there is no way to intelligently discern which, if any, really is true.
Or we might arbitrarily choose one, or even sample several options to try and discover what we like best. But then truth would be abandoned in favor of personal preference. Our only real hope is to have some way of examining the qualifications of the various contenders to determine which religion can validate its claims. Presuppositionalism can’t provide that criteria, but evidentialism can.
Finally, because apologetics is directed to unbelievers, it must start where they are. Unbelievers reject Christianity for any number of reasons, but presuppositional apologetics demands they accept the truth of the Bible before communication can begin. Evidential apologetics, on the other hand, meets non-Christians where they are and seeks to meet their challenges to Christianity. The evidentialist opens the door for dialogue, whereas the presuppositional shouts through a closed door, telling all who knock that the door will remain shut and locked until they accept the validity of the very beliefs they question. Which invitation would you accept?
So which apologetic approach is best? The evidentialist one, and that is the approach I’ll take throughout this book.
A JOB DESCRIPTION
The task of apologetics, then, is to give a reasoned defense of historic, biblical Christianity. As R. C. Sproul explains, apologetics demonstrates “why Christians are Christians and why non-Christians should be Christians.”5 In order to do this, we need to learn what an unbeliever believes and what obstacles are preventing him from seriously considering Christianity. Once we identify these obstacles, we can attempt to overcome them through the appropriate means. Intellectual objections require intellectual answers; emotional problems require emotional support and sensitivity.
The apologetic job description is no mystery: communicate Christian truths to non-Christians in such a way that they will listen; the goal is always evangelistic—to lead non-Christians to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Apologetics is not preaching. But apologetics does clear the way for the proclamation of the Christian message. You might say, if Jesus is the message, apologetics is the John the Baptist to Jesus; it rids the path of obstacles to the Savior as it points to Him as the one and only way.
I will expand on this job description as we move ahead, but I want to emphasize here that the responsibility of giving a reasoned defense of Christianity is not the job of a select few theologians who specialize in apologetics. The Bible makes it clear that the job of defending Christianity belongs to every Christian and that all of us should be prepared to do this at any time. In 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle Peter instructs us to always be “ready to give a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” Just as all Christians are called to evangelize, so all are called to defend their faith.
Jude supports Peter’s exhortation and expands on it too. He tells us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In his letter, Jude instructs his readers to defend Christianity against the false teachings that were arising in the church. So not only are we to defend Christianity against the attacks of those who distance themselves from Christianity (such as atheists and skeptics), but we are to defend it against those who call themselves friends of the faith while undermining its historic, orthodox teachings (two examples would be Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses).
WHY THE EFFORT?
This may sound like a lot of effort. And frankly, it is. So why do it? Don’t we have enough to do already? Trying to understand our spouse, raising our kids, hacking our way through school, maintaining our sanity on the job, paying the bills, finding time to pray and study the Bible. … And now you want to add one more responsibility? I’m afraid so. But please note this, and this is extremely important: God commands you and I to defend the faith; it’s not my idea. The passages cited above from 1 Peter and Jude are enough to confirm that.
“Okay,” you might say. “Granted God tells me to give reasons for my faith and answer challenges to it. If I do that, what’s the payoff? What will it accomplish?” More than you or I could ever imagine, but let me give you a taste.
The foremost purpose of apologetics is to bring glory to God by honoring and serving His Son, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul tells us that “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Elsewhere he adds, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17, nasv). By defending the truths of God, we defend His honor and name.
Challenges to the faith may come in the form of a false religion claiming to supersede Christianity as the one true religion. They may come from secular humanism or atheistic evolution, which claim God doesn’t exist and all religions are human creations. They may come from Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing the neighborhood. Or they may flow from your next-door neighbor in the form of objections to the Jesus of the Gospels. No matter what form challenges take, when apologetics confronts them effectively, it exonerates Christianity.
Many Christians are comfortable in their faith and don’t feel a need to corroborate it with evidence. This is certainly admirable. Jesus Himself said to doubting Thomas, who demanded “proof” that Jesus rose from the grave: “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). But even Jesus provided Thomas with the evidence he desired (vv. 24–27).
Likewise, many of us desire the affirmation of apologetics to strengthen our faith. Much of the world rejects Jesus Christ as God and all the other major tenets of the Christian faith. Believers are confronted with non-Christian ideologies that contradict or attempt to refute our sacred beliefs. God can and does use apologetics to help believers whose faith is wavering and to ease the suffering caused by doubt.
Apologetics can be especially reassuring to new believers seeking to rationally justify their step of faith. It is a wonderful and joyful experience to discover that our faith is firmly grounded on objective truths that are confirmed by sensible, verifiable evidence.
MAKES CHRISTIANITY RELEVANT
Although many of the current attacks against Christianity are the same as those that confronted the early church, nevertheless, each generation has its own set of particular objections. And Christians of each generation have a responsibility to address those objections.
Cultures and societies change, so we shouldn’t expect the problems of this generation to be the same as the former one or the next. For example, second-century apologists debated pagans who accused Christians of atheism, incest, and cannibalism (because believers claimed to “eat” the body of Christ). Obviously, second-century unbelievers either misunderstood or purposely perverted the true meaning of certain Christian beliefs and practices. Today, these accusations against Christians are nonexistent.
On the other hand, twentieth-century apologists deal with issues that didn’t plague the second-century church. Today’s unique apologetic challenges include philosophical naturalism (the belief that nothing exists outside the material world, including the supernatural) and the various New Age philosophies that have evolved out of Eastern pantheism.
We also have to confront the thoroughly unchurched, non-religious individuals who have little outward concern for spiritual things and no interest at all in Christianity. At the other extreme, we find militant secular humanists—people out to rid society of any remnant of Christianity. We even have to deal with a host of heretical cults that try to appear Christian while subverting the orthodox understanding of the faith.
We certainly have much to handle, but apologetics provides the resources we need to meet these challenges head-on.
EVANGELIZES THE LOST
The final purpose I’ll touch on is what apologetics does for evangelism.
Christianity has a lot of competitors. Many millions of people worldwide are bypassing Christianity and sampling as well as aligning themselves with cults and other false religions. Bouncing from one unhealthy and unfulfilling ideology to another, Christianity is just another item on the menu of available religions. So tempting is the smorgasbord of religious beliefs that even many Christians are tasting these religious flavors. Some Christians bring these erroneous ideas into the church, while others abandon the faith altogether. Sadly, many of those who join the cults come from the Christian church.
In light of this, the purpose of apologetics is to lay a factual foundation for faith so non-Christians searching for spiritual truth will find good reasons to believe. We must do more than try to “out shine” other beliefs. We must, on the one hand, give convincing reasons why other religions are fraudulent, and, on the other hand, give convincing reasons why Christianity is authentic. Apologetics involves not only defending Christianity against skeptics and critics but also challenging the truth-claims of other world views and religions.
If we do our job well, we will present such compelling evidence for Christianity that if one chooses to reject Jesus Christ, he will know why he is doing so. He will not be able to cite intellectual reasons because the overwhelming preponderance of evidence endorses Christianity. He will realize, however, that his rejection of the faith is based on his unwillingness to make the sacrifices that a commitment to Christ will ultimately convict him to do.
His unbelief is ultimately moral and willful, not intellectual. Once he sees this, we have done our job as an apologist. And, hopefully, the unbeliever will be ready to listen to why he needs Jesus Christ and how Jesus will change his life if he will only let Him.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Now that we know what apologetics is, why the evidential approach is best, and what apologetics can do, let’s make sure it has a firm foundation in the Christian’s most important book—the Bible.
Apologetics played an essential part in the spread and life of the early church, we can see that in the Scriptures. In fact, much of the New Testament was written as an apologetic response to challenges to Christianity. We can see this in the evangelistic endeavors of the apostles and even in the ministry of Jesus. Let’s take a look, beginning with Jesus.
JESUS AS AN APOLOGIST
Unlike many Christians today, who think their only responsibility in evangelism is to give the plan of salvation along with their personal testimony, Jesus spent much of His time answering questions and rebuking the religious leaders for their distortion of God’s Word. When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and others who wanted to discredit Him, He never hesitated to argue for the truth of Scripture. Throughout His ministry, Jesus endorsed His divine credentials with “proofs” (signs and wonders; see John 5:36; 20:30–31). For example, Jesus proved His divine right to forgive sins by healing a paralytic (Luke 5:17–24).
The most explicit example of Jesus’ offering evidence to support His claim to deity is His response to doubting Thomas. In John 20, Jesus first appears to the other disciples before He appears to Thomas (vv. 19–24). When the disciples tell Thomas they have seen the Lord alive, Thomas responds, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (v. 25). In a word, Thomas would not accept the good news of the risen Christ unless he had empirical proof.
How did Jesus respond? Did He ignore Thomas and turn away from him because he wanted evidence for belief? Did He say that Thomas’s desire for proof was a sign of spiritual immaturity? Not at all. Instead, our Lord gave Thomas exactly the kind of evidence he requested; He responded specifically to Thomas’s particular obstacle to faith. He appeared to Thomas and invited him to examine the signs of His crucifixion. Thomas was immediately convinced and pronounced the very words that Jesus calls all unbelievers to utter: “My Lord and my God!” Afterwards, Jesus reminded Thomas that he should have accepted the testimony of the other disciples, but Jesus first gave Thomas the evidence he needed to encourage a step of faith.
THE APOSTLES AS APOLOGISTS
Like Jesus, the apostles actively used apologetics in their evangelism. They gave their personal testimonies, not to evangelize or defend Christianity, but to confirm their message. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul furnishes the most explicit examples of this.
Paul’s custom was to “reason” with the Jews in the synagogues of the various cities he visited. In Acts 19:8, for example, Paul “went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (emphasis mine). In Acts 26:1, Paul stood before Agrippa and “proceeded to make his defense” (nasv; see Phil. 1:16). Perhaps the best example of New Testament apologetics is Paul’s defense of Jesus’ resurrection before the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16–31). Paul builds his case for Christ by appealing to the Greeks’ sense of reasoning, to empirical evidences, and even to their own poets (v. 28).
The apostles used many other apologetic techniques as well to make their case. They referred to eyewitness accounts (1 John 1:1), well-known historical data (Luke 3:1–2), the common knowledge of their audience (Acts 26:26), fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (v. 22), and legal reasoning (25:16). The apostles also instructed their followers to defend the gospel as they did (see 2 Tim. 2:24–26; 4:2–5; Titus 1:9–14).
IS APOLOGETICS NECESSARY?
In spite of all this support for doing apologetics, many Christians hold on to the belief that apologetics is anti-faith and anti-Holy Spirit. These Christians think apologetics is unnecessary because they claim that (1) non-Christians don’t need it as a foundation for a step of faith, and (2) in evangelism the Holy Spirit works only as an agent of conviction when one gives his personal testimony and shares the plan of salvation right from Scripture.
These claims disturb me. They reveal a lack of understanding of apologetics’ role in evangelism and the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of unbelievers. This is such an important issue that I want to spend some time commenting on it. Here’s why I reject this.
Consider the first objection, that apologetics plays no important role in an unbeliever’s step of faith. Underlying this is a confusion between faith and reason. The argument goes something like this: A person becomes a Christian by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior only by faith. If reason is involved, the faith element is missing. Consequently, any attempt to reason a person into accepting Jesus is at best a useless endeavor and at worst is unspiritual—it usurps the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. A person cannot be argued into the kingdom.
I do not deny that people are ultimately saved by a step of faith. Nor do I question the fact that innumerable people have become Christians without ever questioning the truth of Christianity. I’ll even admit that the most sophisticated and thorough apologetic arguments provide probable, not air-tight, evidence for Christianity’s truth-claims. On the other hand, I side with Clark Pinnock when he says, “The notion that nobody is ever converted to Christ by argument is a foolish platitude.”6 The fact is, reason and faith are inseparable—you cannot have one without the other. Let me explain what I mean.
First, Christianity affirms that we were created with a free will, the ability to choose. Therefore, any of us can refuse to accept evidences for Christianity no matter how compelling they are. Furthermore, if a person insists on having absolute proof that Jesus is Lord and Savior, he will never get it. Absolute proof, in the sense that most critics mean it, would necessitate Jesus Himself physically confronting every unsaved person face-to-face and demonstrating, as He did to Thomas, that He really is the risen Lord. That just doesn’t happen. So somewhere along the pilgrimage to salvation, a person must accept Christ on faith—she must trust in Him with the evidence available.
However, God is the author of human reason just as He is the author of our faith. Although because of the Fall, human sin has weakened our ability to reason (see Eph. 4:18), this faculty is not so impaired that we cannot make rational decisions or discern truth from error. Otherwise, any attempt God would have made to communicate to us would have been in vain, for none of us would ever have been able to understand Him.
But Scripture reveals that shortly after the Fall, God looked for Adam in the Garden. In spite of Adam’s recent separation from God through sin, he still heard God call him and understood precisely what God was saying. The Fall “did not render Adam incapable of comprehending a word from God. Had it done so, subsequent divine revelation would have been impossible in principle.”7
The foremost commandment, according to Jesus, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, emphasis mine; see Deut. 6:5). Our minds are an important part of our love and acceptance of the Lord. God created us as rational creatures capable of processing and understanding data. In fact, by virtue of being created in God’s image, our ability to think is a God-given attribute that separates human beings from all other creatures. This is why things need to make sense to us if we are to accept them. We violate our created human nature when we embrace something that our mind rejects as irrational. This is one source of nagging doubts.
Am I saying that faith is dependent on reason? No. But I am saying that faith is impossible without knowledge, and knowledge comes through our ability to reason. Faith and knowledge are bedfellows; they are not enemies. Is it possible to become a Christian without understanding what Christianity is all about? The apostle Paul didn’t think so: “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14, 17, nasv).
The Bible clearly teaches that knowledge is needed prior to salvation. Historically, the church has never separated knowledge from belief. The goal of Christian apologetics (indeed, the goal of all evangelism) is not to coerce a person into accepting Christ on blind faith but to lead him to make an informed decision for the Lord. The kind of faith believers receive from the Holy Spirit is an intelligent faith. Our apologetic job is to help unbelievers arrive at saving faith by appealing to their God-given capacity to reason. When one takes the step from intellectual evidences to emotional certainty, he has taken a step of faith. Not blind faith, but faith resting on a foundation of facts.
God the Source
God the Source
Act of Will
Act of Mind
Involves Logic and Evidence
Founded on Fact
Deals with Facts
Consistent with Reason
Consistent with Faith
End of Reason
Beginning of Faith
Now let’s consider the second and closely related objection: the Holy Spirit acts as an agent of conviction only when one shares his testimony and witnesses directly from Scripture. There are no biblical grounds for this belief, and it flies in the face of what we observe in the ordinary world. As I already pointed out, an untold number of Christians can testify to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives through unpleasant circumstances and other life experiences, through Christian literature other than the Bible, through observing the lifestyles of Christians, and through a variety of other methods. In other words, the Holy Spirit convicts anyway He deems best for the individual He is calling.
Christians, then, need to understand that the Holy Spirit can also work just as effectively and actively through the medium of apologetics as He can through the “Four Spiritual Laws” or any other structured presentation of the biblical plan of salvation. As Edward Carnell puts it, “when one defends his faith, he is not in competition with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God draws men through the convicting power of evidences.”8
What a preacher or an apologist says doesn’t bring a person to saving faith or cause a sinner to repent, no matter what a fine orator one is or how trained in theology or the art of evangelism one happens to be (see John 16:7–15). The Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation, and He can just as easily use a well-presented apologetic defense to overcome an obstacle to faith as the most eloquent sermon. The words of a preacher or an apologist are only as good as the degree to which the Holy Spirit has prepared a person to receive them (see Acts 16:14).
Consequently, the claim that apologetics is void of the Holy Spirit is simply theologically naive. It puts God in a box by limiting the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through any circumstance or message He chooses. Our responsibility is to create an environment in which the Holy Spirit is set free to work in the lives of non-Christians regardless of the obstacles that separate them from accepting the love of Jesus Christ. We must convey saving truth to them. The Holy Spirit’s responsibility is to open their hearts and minds so they will be willing to receive it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Christianity is not a mystical religion, such as many Eastern religions and their New Age clones. Neither is it a mythical religion with idols and man-made gods. Nor is Christianity a misinformed religion, such as the various cults. Rather, Christianity is an historic religion, and its truth-claims are grounded on objective, historical facts.
When God came to earth as the incarnate Son, Jesus, He did so in a discernible way. It was a space/time advent perceptible by ordinary senses. Jesus was a physical man, and His deeds, including His resurrection, were witnessed by ordinary people (see 1 Cor. 15:6). His coming was not an esoteric event seen by a privileged few. His advent and the documents that record and comment on it can be checked out by the normal methods of investigation.
This book is written to do just that. In the remaining chapters, I will present historical, legal, scientific, and other concrete, verifiable evidences for the central claims of Christianity. And you will be able to take these evidences into the marketplace of religious ideas and philosophical assumptions and use them to defend the faith and the hope that lies in each of us who believe.
1 John Warwick Montgomery, LAW AND GOSPEL: A STUDY FOR INTEGRATING FAITH AND PRACTICE (Merrifield, VA: Christian Legal Society, 1986), 34.
2 For a brief but fascinating history of Christian apologetics, complete with selected readings from the major apologists, see CLASSICAL READINGS IN CHRISTIAN NAPOLOGETICS: A.D. 100–1800, ed. L. Russ Bush (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983).
3 Edward John Carnell, AN INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1952), 7.
4 For some examples, see Saint Augustine’s CONFESSIONS, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1979); C. S. Lewis’s SURPRISED BY JOY (New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955); and THE INTELLECTUALS SPEAK OUT ABOUT GOD, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Chicago, IL: Regnery Gateway, 1984).
5 R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, CLASSICAL APOLOGETICS (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 16.
6 Clark H. Pinnock, SET FORTH YOUR CASE (Nutley, NJ: Craig, 1968), 88.
7 John Warwick Montgomery, FAITH FOUNDED ON FACT: ESSAYS IN EVIDENTIAL APOLOGETICS (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 123.
8 Carnell, ibid.