I am to talk about Apologetics. Apologetics means of course Defense. The first question is – what do you propose to defend? Christianity, of course.
– C.S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics from God in the Dock.
Welcome to Steadfast in Defense, the Lutheran Apologetics corner of The Brothers of John the Steadfast. For many this is an oxymoron, a fool-hardy attempt to argue with the unbeliever, or worse, a blasphemous confluence of faith and reason. For others this is nonsense. They have no idea what apologetics means, much less how to discuss it.
But I submit to you a third alternative. Lutheran apologetics is neither an oxymoron nor gibberish. Lutheran apologetics is essential and evangelical, Scriptural and Christocentric.
In The Bondage of the Will, Luther responds to Erasmus’ lack of satisfaction with assertions (an ironic statement in itself) by saying:
Nothing is better known or more common among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.
Christianity is full of assertions: the Divine Service, ecumenical creeds, even the Book of Concord. This we believe, teach and confess as true. This we condemn as false. Jesus made assertions. And his Church follows her master accordingly. The central teaching and claim of Christianity is an assertion:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
This is what separates Christianity from the world’s religions, a faith founded on fact. The Christian claim is historically verifiable and veracious. And unlike most other world religions, it is also falsifiable. That’s what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. If Christ is not raised your faith is futile. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.
Christians declare and defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) for we should “always be prepared to make a defense (apologia) for the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15).
How do we articulate the truth of the Christian faith clearly in the face of skepticism? What should Christians say when their faith is challenged?
Apologetics answers in two ways. Negatively, logic and reason are used to tear down arguments, rebut presuppositions and remove obstacles in front of the cross. In the end, however, a Lutheran will always find a way to steer the conversation back to the only legitimate offense: Christ Crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22).
It is not enough, however, to tear down arguments. St. Peter also reminds us to defend the faith with “gentleness and respect.” Positively, apologetics makes a defense (Acts 1:3), arguing for Christianity and as well as against the din of false truth claims. Lutheran apologetics are unabashedly Christ-centered, always in service to the Gospel.
Therefore, Lutheran apologetics does not:
- Attempt to argue someone into the Christian faith or sideline the work of the Holy Spirit. Lutheran apologetics is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian.
- Give the unbeliever the impression that he can think himself into Christian faith.
- Pit reason against faith. Rather, it seeks a proper use of reason in all realms. Thus, Luther called reason the “devil’s whore” when used magisterially. And yet, Luther also highly praises reason as a 1st Article gift, when used ministerially.
It is just as important to say what apologetics is in addition to what it is not. Lutheran apologetics:
- Acknowledges reason as a gift of God’s creation. Although man (will, emotions and intellect) is dead in trespasses and sin after the fall, he did not lose inferential capabilities. Man can understand, interpret and assert facts correctly.
- Values notitia (knowledge based on fact and historical faith) and fiducia (faith and personal trust). The objective reality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection ground the subjective faith in the Gospel which is extra nos.
- Understands the ministerial use of reason. That we declare the facts of the Christian faith as verifiable and historical in no way undermines the solas. On can examine the evidence in favor of Christianity, for these events did not occur in a corner (Acts 26:26).
- Is epistemologically objective and inductive, allowing the facts and evidence to move from the objective to the subjective. In other words, a bottom up approach, such as Luther advocated in his arguments concerning the Sacrament of the altar. What does the text say? What are the historical facts? The data must precede the interpretation.
Why go to all the trouble? Daily, Christians fight a war on three fronts. The devil, the world and our sinful flesh work hard to stir up doubt, skepticism and outright lies. Our youth in the Church are bombarded with assaults on the Christian faith from the classroom to the playground. College students fall prey to professors, friends and the trendy new atheist movement. Whether it’s Bill Maher’s movies, Richard Dawkins’ books, Penn Jillette’s Youtube videos, local billboards or the local bar, Christians will come into contact with those who make assertions against the faith.
The question isn’t whether or not we should engage in apologetics as Lutherans, but how? Lutherans have no reason to fear apologetics and every reason to engage in lively discussion. What’s more, we have every room for confidence and certainty, a living hope in Christ Crucified and Risen. Lutheran apologetics is essential – now more than ever. And it’s evangelical: We proclaim Christ Crucified. When the opportunity arises we bring the preponderance of historical evidence to bear on history’s most important event: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. History is for you. Jesus’ death is for you. Apologetics is for you.
What will our answer be when we are called to give a defense for the reason for the hope that is within us? That is the ongoing work of Steadfast in Defense.
If you want to read more about apologetics, here are a few good books:
The Defense Never Rests, Craig Parton, CPH.
Religion on Trial, Craig Parton, Wipf and Stock.
History, Law and Christianity, John W. Montgomery, Wipf and Stock.
And stay tuned to Steadfast in Defense for the forthcoming posts:
- Apologetics in the Scriptures
- Will the Real Apologist Please Stand Up: Lutheran vs. Reformed Apologetics
- Christopher Hitchens and the Miraculous
- A Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
Have suggestions or questions? Feel free to post your questions and topics for future posts.
[note 1] Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther’s Works, Vol. 33 : Career of the Reformer III. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1972 (Luther’s Works 33), S. 33:21
Associate Editor’s Note: With this post we introduce Pastor Sam Schuldheisz as a regular writer for BJS in the category of “Steadfast in Defense”. He will be writing on Lutheran apologetics and from this first posting it looks like he will do just fine.
Pastor Schuldheisz serves as Associate Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Huntington Beach, CA. He graduated in 2004 from Concordia University Irvine. And he is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pastor Schuldheisz is also blessed in marriage to his wife of 7 years, Natasha. Together they enjoy the blessings of parenthood with their daughter Zoe. And when he’s not writing sermons or changing diapers, he enjoys reading and writing about the works of the Inklings and other belletristic literature, and Christian apologetics. He’s even been known to answer to Pastor Samwise on occasion.