Biblical Apologetics, Part 1
Logical, philosophically reasonable arguments can – and indeed, must – be used in the defense of the Christian faith. But are Christians able to claim Biblical precedent for apologetics? Is it right for Christians to understand that Holy Writ teaches and uses(widely) apologetics as opposed to something merely read into the text? And does a Lutheran apologetic entail more (but certainly not less) than arguments and intellectual understanding? Yes, unequivocally. Biblical examples of apologetics are numerous, not to mention prescriptive and descriptive. The list below is a first step towards an annotated collection of Biblical apologetics’ passages.
This is why, when it comes to developing and inculcating ourselves in a Biblical apologetic approach, two things are vital:
- A lucid, robust, steadfast, Christ-centered Biblical confession of the Christian faith and,
- An objectively Christ-centered, winsome, well-reasoned, bold defense of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Anything less than would mean certain ecclesial and evangelistic suicide. Both are necessary.
“In a secular world where numerous religious options are vying for attention, it is never sufficient just to proclaim the message of the gospel. That message must be offered together with the reasons why it is true, as contrasted with the many false solutions to the human dilemma that are inconsistent with it. This is exactly what the apostles did–think of Paul on the Areopagus” (John W. Montgomery).
The Church must sacrifice neither gospel proclamation nor its defense; a failure to do either one results in the loss of both. To paraphrase LC-MS president Al Barry, “Get the message straight and get the message out, Missouri; and defend that message when necessary.” For we see that in the New Testament, gospel proclamation is never alone. It is always accompanied with evidence: healing, miracles, the tangible and physical, etc. This should come as no surprise to hearers of the Word. After all, as Lewis reminds us, “God likes matter; He created it” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
This is why, among the myriad of tools we can use to defend the Christian faith the best singular approach which captures the Christo-centric thrust of Lutheran proclamation is evidential apologetics.
- St. Paul used evidential methods in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 when delivering to the Corinthians what he received from others, namely, the proclamation of the historical facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul makes a particular point to mention specific people by name who had seen the risen Lord: James, Cephas, the apostles and five hundred others, most of whom were still living. In other words, Paul is telling people: “Don’t want to take my word for it, fine; go talk to these guys. They saw him dead on Friday and alive on Sunday or soon after.”
- Jesus also used this method repeatedly. In Matthew 11:4-5, Jesus responded to the messengers of John the Baptizer who had inquired about whether or not He was the Messiah by saying, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (emphasis added).
“In short, Jesus pointed to the empirical evidence of His miraculous work from which John could conclude He was indeed the Messiah. Jesus did not tell John’s disciples simply to have “faith” that He was the Promised One, apart from pointing them to empirical evidence.” [endnote 1]
- Mark 2:1-12 and the healing of the paralytic is also empirical. “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”
The man went away healed in body and soul. And it is precisely through an empirical, evidential method – healing the man – that Jesus demonstrates his claim to have the authority to forgive sin. Once again, gospel miracles accompany gospel proclamation. (i.e. evidence). For our subjective faith must always be grounded in the objective reality of the gospel. This is why evidence matters.
- Now of course, a miracle – or any other piece of evidence for that matter – does not automatically mean the person witnessing the miracle will come to faith. Lutheran apologetics does not claim to create faith ex opera operato for faith is created by the Holy Spirit where and when He pleases (AC V). And no one can say that Jesus Christ is Lord, unless it is by the Holy Spirit. In fact, many who saw the miracles of Jesus rejected him all the more because his teaching and miracles.
Jesus says as much in Luke 16:29-31:“They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Apologetics has both benefits and limitations. Evidence can only go so far. Proclamation is the primary task, but when called for, a defense is necessary nonetheless. “Using the categories of the period of Lutheran orthodox, saving faith involves (1) notitia, (2) assensus and (3) fiducia. Any apologist worth his salt knows that the highest level his work can reach is (2) assensus– no more. Fiducia is beyond his reach, is God’s business” (Rod Rosenbladt).
And yet our Lord and his apostles always proclaim the gospel and provide an objective, factual basis for their claims. Done faithfully, apologetics is evangelism; both proclamation and defense go hand in hand. What we believe is always allied with why we believe it. The subjective gift of faith is grounded in the objective historical, theological reality of the person and work of Jesus on our behalf.
- 1 Peter 3:15 we are commanded to “always be ready to give a reasoned defense to anyone who asks you for a reason of the hope that is within you.” That little Greek word translated , defense, is the where we get the word apologia – and apologetics from.
- This word apologia also shows up in Philippians 1:17 as well as St. Paul tells the Christians in Philippi that he has been “appointed for the defense (apologia) of the gospel.
Stay tuned for more in Biblical Apologetics, Part 2 as Steadfast in Defense continues to add to the growing list of Scriptural examples as we pray, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.” And by all means, feel free to submit further examples.
 Alvin Schmidt, Christianity Needs More Lutheran Apologetes, p.500. Tough Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery, ed. William Dembski and Thomas Schirrmacher, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2008.