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Apologetic Methods

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Sharing our faith in Christ leads many Christians to mortal fear. People have questions that we might not have an answer for. Not every Christian is an expert at repeating the historical evidence that supports the Bible. The contentiousness of men can lead to philosophical arguments. These types of concerns strike at the very heart of apologetics. It leads to the ultimate question, “What is the best method for proclaiming our faith?”

It is an axiomatic truth that no two witnessing situations are exactly the same. This can be witnessed as we briefly survey the lives of the Apostles in the New Testament. In Acts 2 the Apostles of Christ found themselves in a unique position. Luke records that the Jewish men gathered in Jerusalem were, “devout men” (Acts 2:5). On this occasion there was no need to prove the existence of God. The task at hand was to simply point the Jewish people to their Messiah (Acts 2:22-36).

Again, we observe a similar situation with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. The eunuch was clearly ready to receive Christ as Savior.

Saul of Tarsus took center stage in Acts 9. More than most, this man knew what to look for in a Messiah. He would later testify, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:4b-6). Yet, Acts reveals that Saul was still kicking against the goads until he was directly confronted by Christ (Acts 9:5; 26:14). The reason is simple; Saul had all of the evidence he needed. What he lacked was faith in Jesus as the Christ.

In Athens we witness that the Apostle Paul used a pagan statue to the unknown god to reason with the people, but even in this instance he used it to point people to the one true God (Acts 17:23-24). Paul started with a point of familiarity to lead the people to the Creator. These examples illustrate that while the circumstances may change, it does not mean that our basic approach must be inconsistent. The peculiarities found in various witnessing encounters, and the burden to reach all men with the Gospel of Christ, have given rise to the different methods of apologetics.

Apologetics can be defined as, “the discipline that deals with a rational defense of Christian faith” (Geisler 1999, 37). The Scriptures teach us of our ultimate purpose in this endeavor, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). To this end, three broad approaches to apologetics have been embraced by believers in Christ. All of these approaches have some merit, but one method stands above the rest.

Classical evidentialism is a popular method of apologetics. This is what we witness today in many Christian circles with creation science and biblical archaeology. The basic idea behind this form of apologetics is using the evidence to convince an unbeliever of the truth. It operates under the assumption that if people will honestly look at the facts they will come to the right conclusions regarding the Christian faith. This method certainly can be helpful, at times, in answering the questions of the more scientifically or historically minded. However, the great weakness of this system is that it largely ignores the one ultimate standard of truth, the Word of God (John 17:17). Evidentialism relies on the ability of fallen men and women to make sound conclusions based on the evidence from experience, history, and science.

A second method of apologetics is classical rationalism. Rationalism is, “not merely a view that says we use reason to test truth. Rationalism says that we can determine all truth by logic. It says that we can rationally prove the existence and nature of God” (Geisler 1990, 266). Once again, there are benefits to this approach in certain situations, but ultimately this method of apologetics often falls short. It clearly underestimates the effect of sin on mankind’s ability to think or reason through the facts at hand. Like evidentialism, rationalism often fails to point men and women to the Word of God as the standard for truth. The basic principles of this world (Col. 2:8) can never replace Christ as revealed in the Word of God.

The overall approach that I believe should be used in most cases is presuppositionalism. Consider the following definition, “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” (Story 1997, 3). Ultimately, any decision of which apologetic method is best should be based on God’s Word.

The Apostle Peter instructs, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). It should be acknowledged that this text is found amidst the instructions by Peter on how to endure persecution as a believer in Christ. Fear of persecution is overcome by choosing to trust God. The hope of eternal life in Christ is to be on display to the lost. This hope is only revealed in the written Word of God (Titus 1:2). It cannot be obtained by merely looking at external evidence or by rational logical thought. Hope comes from Christ and His Word.

Let it not be missed that Proverbs teaches us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). This is central to the discussion of apologetics. Without the fear of the Lord a person is unable to comprehend the significance of what Christ has done for us. Certainly unsaved men and women can understand the words recorded in the Bible, but without the fear of the Lord they are unable to grasp the significance of faith in Christ. No amount of historical, scientific, or rational evidence will convince a person of the truth of Christ if they do not fear the Lord.

Evidentialism and rationalism both face a glaring problem. It is the reality of this fallen world that men and women suppress the truth of God. This is why the Psalmist proclaimed, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).  The sinful nature of men leads them to, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Rom. 18b-19). Therefore, it should not be reasoned that men will look at the rationalistic, historical, or scientific evidence and come to a belief in God.

Relying on evidence (experiential or rational) external to the Bible underestimates the reality of the deception of Satan in this world. Jesus said to the first century Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Satan is hard at work blinding the lost to the Gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-4). It is hard for man to know truth apart from the revelation of God in His Word.

There is a time and a place for appealing to the overwhelming external evidence regarding the Bible and the truth of Jesus Christ. There are times when our witnessing will lead us to reason with people. However, no amount of human logic can ever supplant the written Word of God. It is, “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Our confidence must be in the unwavering truth of Scripture and in the Gospel of Christ. The message of faith in the Savior Jesus Christ is, “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). No amount of reasoning or evidence could ever produce life without faith! May it be that we all learn to use God’s Word as the roadmap to point people to life in Christ.

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The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990.

Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997.

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