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Christian ApologeticsAn anthology of primary sources
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister
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Chapter OneA First Century Apologetic: Acts 17
1 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah," he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead."
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
From the New International Version
Chapter TwoA Short History of Apologetics
John Warwick Montgomery
The history of the defence of Christian faith is coterminous with the history of Christianity itself. This is the case because Christianity, unlike religions of the East, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, is nonsyncretic: Christianity asserts that religious truth can ultimately be found only in Jesus Christ and Christian revelation (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). From this it follows that religious claims contradicting Christian faith cannot be true and must be opposed, and negative criticisms of the truth of the Christian position must be answered.
Covenant theology bifurcates the history of salvation, treating it in terms of Old Testament or Covenant, and New Testament. Dispensationalists prefer to divide salvation history into numerous epochs, often seven in number. We shall try to satisfy both! The major divide in the history of apologetics occurs at the time of the 18th-century so-called "Enlightenment," when secular thinkers such as Thomas Paine endeavoured to replace the "Book of Scripture" with the "Book of Nature"; subsequently, apologetics followed a very different path from that of the preceding centuries. Prior to that massive ideological divide, Christianity had occupied stage centre in Western intellectual history; afterwards, it found itself relegated to the wings.
But the expanse of apologetic history from biblical times to the 21st century can also be discussed in terms of seven epochs or styles of defence, and we shall briefly comment on each of them in turn: (1) Apologetics in the Bible itself; (2) Patristic defence of the faith; (3) Medieval apologetics; (4) Renaissance and Reformation; (5) Apologetics at the zenith of the "classical Christian era"; (6) Response to the Enlightenment in the 18th and 19th centuries; (7) Apologetics today. In our final section, we shall have opportunity to reflect on the weaknesses of the apologetic situation in today's church.
Apologetics in the Bible
Charles Finney was supposed to have downgraded apologetic argument by remarking: "Defend the Bible? How would you defend a lion? Let it out of its cage and it'll defend itself!" But, in point of fact, the Bible, unlike the Qur'an and the "holy books" of other religions, does not expect its readers to accept its revelational character simply because the text claims to be true. In the Old Testament, Elijah competes with the false prophets of Baal, and the superior miraculous demonstration by the power of the God of Israel wins the day (I Kings 18). In the Gospels, Jesus makes the truth of his entire ministry depend on a single sign —that of his resurrection from the dead (Matthew 12:39–40). In the Epistles, not only is Christ's physical resurrection asserted, but the Apostle is concerned as well to provide a list of eyewitnesses to the risen Christ (I Cor. 15:4–8).
The biblical apologetic focuses in four areas, and these are subsequently employed throughout Christian history: miracle, fulfilled prophecy, natural revelation, and personal experience (what the philosophers term "subjective immediacy"). Three caveats: (1) natural revelation (proofs of God from nature), though present in the Bible (e.g., Ps. 19:1), is the least emphasised apologetic; (2) personal experience never "floats free": the subjective is always grounded in one or more of the objective areas of proof—generally miracle and prophecy; (3) occasionally, a "double-barreled" argument is made through miracle being the object of prophecy, as in the case of the Virgin Birth of our Lord (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1; Lk. 1–2).
Since the biblical plan of salvation centres on God's revealing himself in real history, through prophets, priests, and finally by the incarnation of his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, the biblical apologetic is essentially one of asserting and demonstrating the factual nature of the events recounted. The Apostle is willing to make the entire truth of the faith turn on the reality of Jesus' resurrection (I Cor. 15:17–20). The case for biblical truth, then, connects with the nature of Christianity as "historical religion": it is in principle falsifiable—and, in this case, verifiable—thereby removing Christianity from the analytical philosophers' category of a meaningless metaphysical claim and placing it in the realm of the empirical and the synthetic, along with historical events in general.
The church fathers closest to the New Testament understandably followed its apologetic lead: prophecy and miracle were their preferred arguments. The earliest of them (Irenaeus, for example) favoured the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ, since in his time the gospel was being proclaimed and defended "to the Jew first." Moreover, the Gnostic heretics employed pseudo-miracles (sherbet in Eucharistic wine!), but had no fulfilled prophecies to support their views. As Christian evangelism reached a predominately Gentile audience, miracle evidence came to the fore. Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, employs a testimonial argument in support of Christ's miraculous resurrection from the dead, sarcastically asking whether it would be reasonable to suppose that the Apostles, had they known that Jesus did not rise from the dead, would have lost all they had and ultimately been martyred whilst maintaining that he had in fact conquered death. Tertullian's oft-quoted phrase, "Credo quia absurdum," rather than being an invitation to irrationality, expressed the belief that the Christian gospel was almost too good to be true—as the children in C. S. Lewis' Narnian chronicles would later discover.
The bridge between the Patristic and medieval worlds was Augustine of Hippo. He was converted from neo-Platonism to Christianity and offered an apologetic of a Platonic nature to the intellectuals of his time, convinced as they were that Plato was the summation of classical philosophy. For Plato, one must rationally (and for neo-Platonists, rationally and spiritually) rise from the world of phenomena to the world of ideas/ideals—of which the highest expression is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Augustine identified that realm with the God of the Bible. He also, in his Confessions, made a compelling argument from personal experience: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." In the 20th century, Edward John Carnell would expand on this in his axiological apologetic, A Philosophy of the Christian Religion.
Medieval Defense of the Faith
Theodore Abu Qurra, an Eastern theologian (9th century) set forth an apologetic parable demonstrating comprehension of the apologetic task well in advance of his time; it raises the critical question as to how one can test multiple revelation claims (in his case, Islam vs. Christianity). For Abu Qurra, one asks each religion what it says of God, what it says of sin, and what sort of remedy it offers for the human condition—thereby demonstrating the superiority of Christianity.
Although a primitive form of the ontological argument for God's existence can be found in St. Augustine, St. Anselm of Canterbury provided its classic formulation in the 11th century. The argument purports to prove God's existence from the concept of God itself: God is "that than which no greater can be conceived"; he must therefore have all properties; and since existence is a property, God exists! The argument rests on the idealistic assumption that ideas have reality untouched by the phenomenal world (so rational idealists have been somewhat comfortable with it), but the overwhelming fallacy in the argument is simply that "existence" is not a property alongside other properties; existence is the name we give to something that in fact has properties. To determine whether a something (God?) exists, we need to investigate the empirical evidences of its/his reality. Thus the far better Christian argument is that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (II Cor. 5:19). This critique having been offered, it is worth noting that neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth (Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum) was quite wrong that Anselm was not trying to do apologetics but was simply preaching to the converted.
The most influential medieval apologist of western Christendom was its most influential theologian: Thomas Aquinas. Though probably having never met a pagan, he wrote his Summa contra gentiles ("Summation against the pagans"). By his time—the 13th century—Aristotle had replaced Plato as the most favoured classical philosopher, so Aquinas developed his apologetic along Aristotelian lines. He took over Aristotle's traditional proofs for God's existence, and argued that they can establish a foundation of Reason upon which Faith can operate. This stress on the Aristotelian proofs would have a tremendous influence on all subsequent Christian apologetics.
Contemporaneous with Aquinas was Ramon Lull (or Lullius), a Catalonian who is considered to be the first European missionary to the Muslims. Lull was a philosopher, but not a scholastic in the Aristotelian tradition. He developed an original "method" for the conversion of the infidel through the combining of theological and philosophical concepts and the illustrative use of rotating, interlocking disks. He now figures in the prehistory of the modern computer. Lull also practiced literary apologetics by way of his apologetic novel, Blanquerna.
Renaissance and Reformation
By the time of the Italian Renaissance (15th – 16th centuries), the world was opening up to exploration and Plato had returned to philosophical prominence. Thus the apologists of that era directed their efforts to adventurous thinkers committed to a Platonic view of the world. Thomas More, in his Utopia, well illustrates this. The Utopians pray each night that "if there is a better and truer faith, may God bring it to us." More's explorers reach Utopia and present the Christian religion as that better faith. The Utopians, in seeking the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, accept the God of Christian revelation.
Excerpted from Christian Apologetics Copyright © 2012 by Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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