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The Greek word apologia (from which we derive the English word
"apologetics") denotes a speech made in defense, a reply
(especially in the legal context of a courtroom) made to an
accusation. The word originated in the judicial operations of
ancient Athens, but the word occurs several times in the New Testament as well. The difference between the Greek and Christian
methods of apologetics can be illustrated by contrasting the Apology of Socrates (as Plato records it) with the approach of the
apostle Paul, who described himself as "set for the defense
(apologia) of the gospel."
Apologetics does not mean saying you're sorry for being a Christian. Christians are not called on to apologize for believing in God, the trust-worthiness of the Bible, the reality of miracles, and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ that saves sinners from final judgment. The Bible calls on Christians to defend its truths with an intensity and proficiency similar to the way a lawyer would defend a client who is on trial for his life.
Some claim that Christians should not be involved in arguments about the Christian faith because it's not "spiritual" or the loving thing to do. Support for this opinion cannot be found in the Bible. In fact, Christians are commanded to defend the faith: "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). In Jude we are told to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
There are numerous accounts in the New Testament where such defenses-arguments and contentions-are made, even though there was a high price to pay. The apostles defended the faith and were beaten and imprisoned for their efforts (Acts 4). Stephen contended "earnestly for the faith," and his own countrymen stoned him to death (Acts 7). Paul offered his defense of Christianity before Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22-34), his own countrymen (Acts 22-23), and Roman civil officials (Acts 24-26). He was ready and eager to defend the faith before Caesar himself (Acts 25:11, 32).
Christians are called on to "examine everything carefully" (1 Thess. 5:21). John warns us not to "believe every spirit" but to "test" them "to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Notice that we are to examine everything, not just so-called "religious" issues. Furthermore, we are not to assume that just because a person has a string of degrees after his name or has compiled what he claims is "conclusive evidence" in support of his worldview that we should fail to put his dogmatic theories to the test. "Testing theories against the evidence never ends. The National Academy [of Sciences] booklet [on science] correctly states that 'all scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available.' It doesn't matter how long, or how many scientists currently believe it. If contradictory evidence turns up, the theory must be reevaluated or even abandoned."
Christian apologists give reasons as to why beginning with any presupposition other than the God of the Bible is impossible, irrational, and immoral. The audiences may vary-genuine seekers, skeptics, or hostile unbelievers-but the message and starting point are the same. The apologist's job, like a lawyer before a judge and jury, is to present sound arguments that testify to the truth.
Man in the Dock
But on what does the apologist stand to make his case? He cannot use himself as the standard or even the expert opinion of others. Furthermore, the Christian apologist must recognize that his opponent is not the final arbiter of truth. We should never entertain the thought that our philosophical foes are the designated cosmic judge and jury in determining whether God is just and His Word is true. Our task is not to present the Christian faith as a debatable hypothesis, a study in probability, or just one religious option among many. We should never say, "You be the judge." In a biblical defense of the Christian faith, God is not the one on trial. Modern man, however, does not see it this way, as C. S. Lewis points out:
The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock [the enclosure where a prisoner is placed in an English criminal trial]. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.
How can a finite, fallible, and fallen being ever be a qualified judge of eternal things? How is it possible that the creature can legitimately question the Creator? God asks Job: "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it" (Job 40:1). Job responded, knowing the limitations of his own nature, the only way he could: "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth" (40:4). God asks Job a series of questions that demonstrate how limited he is in knowledge and experience. God inquires of Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth! Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements, since you know?" (38:4). Job was trying to figure out the world and the way it works based on his own limited frame of reference. This is an impossible and immoral task.
The Neutrality Myth
The Christian apologist does not have the option of taking a so-called neutral position when defending the faith. Even if a Christian wanted to be neutral, he couldn't be, since neutrality is impossible. Even in the scientific field, where objectivity is thought to be synonymous with impartiality, neutrality is unobtainable. The following example describes what many scientists would claim as objective analysis:
Louis Leakey, director of Kenya's Centre for Prehistory and Paleontology in Nairobi, described his discovery, together with his wife Mary, of a bit of skull and two teeth, in these words: "We knelt together to examine the treasure ... and almost cried with sheer joy. For years people had been telling us that we'd better stop looking, but I felt deep down that it had to be there. You must be patient about these things." The time was July 17, 1959. This scene is a curious one on two accounts. First, the scientist Leakey knew what he had found before he examined it: he worked by faith, and viewed his findings by faith. He was finding "proof" for a theory already accepted, and he accepted his finding as "proof" on sight. Second, the intense emotionalism and joy sound more like a revival experience than a scientific analysis.
Christians can never adopt the strategy that neutrality is possible, and they can never allow those who hold contrary worldviews to argue as if they are being neutral.
The Fool and His Folly
Given that neutrality is impossible, how is the Christian apologist to argue with someone who holds a contradictory set of presuppositions? The Christian apologist is commanded not to "answer a fool according to his folly." Why? He'll be "like him" in his misguided assumptions and will also be classified as a "fool" (Prov. 26:4). The Bible assumes that worldviews based on presuppositions that are contrary to the Bible are foolishness. This is why Scripture states emphatically and without apology that the professed atheist is a "fool" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). How can an insignificant creature who is smaller than an atom when compared to the vastness of the universe be so dogmatic?
There's not much maneuvering room here. If we abandon the governing assumptions of the Christian worldview from the start and argue from a supposed neutral starting point, we place ourselves in the same category as the atheist, all in the name of "defending the Christian faith"! This means that the starting point in the Christian worldview is not subjective; it's not just one debatable opinion among many others.
Of course, the unbeliever doesn't like to hear this. It means that he is not in control. It's no wonder that the Apostle Paul explains the reality of unbelieving thought in stark and uncompromising terms:
For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Greeks foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
An apologetic methodology that claims a Christian should be "open," "objective," and "tolerant" of all opinions when the faith is defended is like a person who hopes to stop a man from committing suicide by taking the hundred-story plunge with him, hoping to convince the lost soul on the way down. No one in his right mind would make such a concession to foolishness. But Christians do it all the time when they adopt the operating presuppositions of unbelieving thought as if they were neutral assumptions about reality.
While the Bible maintains that the Christian apologist is prohibited from adopting the starting point of unbelieving thought, he is encouraged to show the unbeliever the end result of his foolish philosophical principles if they are consistently followed. As defenders of the only true faith, we are to "answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Prov. 26:5). That is, we are to put the unbeliever's worldview to the test, showing how absurd it is when followed consistently. A world without God and moral absolutes leads to despair and moral anarchy.
Ted Turner, founder of CNN, had this to say about the Ten Commandments when he addressed the National Press Association in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988: "We're living with outmoded rules. The rules we're living under [are] the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to 'em, because they are too old. When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Nobody around likes to be commanded." Does Ted Turner really believe, for example, that laws against murder (sixth commandment) and theft (eighth commandment) are "outmoded rules"? I wonder how he would respond if some of his employees began to steal from him? What if one of his children was murdered? Would he feel that the perpetrator was justified by claiming that the Ten Commandments are "outmoded rules"? Philosopher Isaiah Berlin demonstrates how impossible it is to claim worldview neutrality.
The world of a man who believes that God created him for a specific purpose, that he has an immortal soul, that there is an afterlife in which his sins will be visited upon him, is radically different from the world of a man who believes in none of these things; and the reasons for action, the moral codes, the political beliefs, the tastes, the personal relationships of the former will deeply and systematically differ from those of the latter. Men's views of one another will differ profoundly as a very consequence of their general conception of the world: the notions of cause and purpose, good and evil, freedom and slavery, things and persons, rights, duties, laws, justice, truth, falsehood, to take some central ideas completely at random, depend entirely upon the general framework within which they form, as it were, nodal points.
There is no escape from the reality that all of life is evaluated in terms of an already adopted worldview.
We All Believe in Something
All worldviews are by definition belief systems. A person does not have to believe in God to be considered religious. John H. Dietrich, for example, admits that he is a religious humanist.
For centuries the idea of God has been the very heart of religion; it has been said, "No God, no religion." But humanism thinks of religion as something very different and far deeper than any belief in God. To it, religion is not the attempt to establish right relations with a supernatural being, but rather the unpreaching and aspiring impulse in a human life. It is the striving for its completest fulfillment, and anything which contributes to this fulfillment is religious, whether it be associated with the idea of God or not.
Since we are all limited in knowledge and restrained by our inability to be everywhere (omnipresence) and know everything (omniscience), an atheist puts forth his claim that God does not exist in terms of a faith commitment. When the late Carl Sagan wrote, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be," he was making a declaration of faith, a statement of his ultimate presupposition. There is no way he could be assured that God does not exist based on his limited knowledge and experience and the limited knowledge and experience of others. In the first line of the next paragraph of his best selling book Cosmos, Sagan admitted that "the size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding." Even so, Sagan was convinced that the material world was all that existed. He believed one thing to be true and dismissed any worldview that did not conform to it without having all the facts or the ability to understand fully what he did know. Sagan's assertions do not conform to reality. Greg Koukl writes:
Everybody believes something, and even what appears to be a rejection of all beliefs is a kind of belief. We all hold something to be true. Maybe what you hold true is that nothing else is true, but that is nonetheless something you believe.
Even if you are agnostic, you believe that it is not possible to know things about ultimate issues like the existence of God.
Excerpted from Thinking Straight in a Crooked World by Gary DeMar Copyright © 2001 by American Vision, Inc.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.