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Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. Early Christian writers (c. 120–220 C.E.) who defended their beliefs against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called Christian apologists. In 21st-century usage, apologetics is often identified with debates over religion and theology.
The term apologetics derives from the Ancient Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία). In the Classical Greek legal system, the prosecution delivered the kategoria (κατηγορία), the accusation or charge, and the defendant replied with an apologia, the defense. The apologia was a formal speech or explanation to reply to and rebut the charges. A famous example is Socrates‘ Apologia defense, as chronicled in Plato’s Apology.
In the Koine Greek of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul employs the term apologia in his trial speech to Festus and Agrippa when he says, “I make my defense” in Acts 26:2. A cognate form appears in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians as he is “defending the gospel” in Philippians 1:7, and in “giving an answer” in 1 Peter 3:15.
Although the term apologetics has Western, primarily Christian origins and is most frequently associated with the defense of Christianity, the term is sometimes used to refer to the defense of any religion in a formal debate involving religion.
Christian apologetics has taken many forms over the centuries, starting with Paul the Apostle in the early church and Patristic writers such as Origen, Augustine of Hippo, Justin Martyr and Tertullian, then continuing with writers such as Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Anselm of Canterbury during Scholasticism.
Blaise Pascal was an active Christian apologist during the 17th century. In the modern period, Christianity was defended through the efforts of many authors such as John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, and G. E. M. Anscombe.
According to Edgar J. Goodspeed, in the first century CE, Jewish apologetic elements could be seen in works such as The Wisdom of Solomon, Philo’s On the Contemplative Life, and more explicitly in Josephus’ Against Apion.
Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Period
Christian apologetics first appears in the New Testament (e.g., Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31). During the subapostolic age, Christianity was already competing with Judaism and various other religions and sects in the Greco-Roman world. Christian apologetics can be first seen in the ”Preaching of Peter” (Gospel of Peter). Still, the first explicitly apologetic work comes from Quadratus of Athens (c. 125 CE), in which he writes a defense of the faith to the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Only a fragment, quoted by Eusebius, has survived to our day:
“But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine:—those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day.” (Church History iv. 3. 2)
One of the first comprehensive attacks on Christianity came from the Greek philosopher Celsus, who wrote The True Word (c.175 CE), a polemic criticizing Christians as being unprofitable members of society. In response, the church father Origen published his apologetic treatise Contra Celsum, or Against Celsus, which systematically addressed Celsus’s criticisms and helped bring Christianity to a level of academic respectability. In the treatise, Origen writes from the perspective of a Platonic philosopher, drawing extensively on the teachings of Plato. Contra Celsum is widely regarded by modern scholars as one of the most important works of early Christian apologetics.
Other apologists from this period are Aristides of Athens, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, Aristo of Pella, Tatian, Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Athenagoras of Athens, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Origen, Hippolytus of Rome, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Cyprian, and Victorinus of Pettau.
Middle Ages and Early Modern Period
Anselm of Canterbury propounded the ontological argument in his Proslogion. Thomas Aquinas presented five ways, or arguments for God’s existence, in the Summa Theologica, while his Summa contra Gentiles was a major apologetic work. Aquinas also made significant criticisms of the ontological argument, resulting in its losing popularity until it was revived by Rene Descartes in his Meditations. Blaise Pascal outlined an approach to apologetics in his Pensées: “Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason; that it is venerable, to inspire respect for it; then we must make it lovable to make good men hope it is true; finally, we must prove it is true.”
Late Modern Period
Christian apologetics continues in modern times in a wide variety of forms. Among the Roman Catholics there are Bishop Robert Barron, G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Taylor Marshall, Arnold Lunn, Karl Keating, Michael Voris, Peter Kreeft, Frank Sheed, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Patrick Madrid. The Russian Orthodox Seraphim Rose is perhaps the best-known modern, English-speaking Eastern Orthodox apologist. There is the Anglican C. S. Lewis (who popularized the argument now known as Lewis’s trilemma) among the Evangelicals. Among Protestant apologists of the 19th century, there was William Paley, who popularized the Watchmaker analogy. Many Christian fundamentalists became well-known apologists in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the best-known are R. A. Torrey and John Gresham Machen. Evangelical Norman Geisler, Lutheran John Warwick Montgomery, and Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer were among the most prolific Christian apologists in the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st. At the same time, Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til started a new school of philosophical apologetics called presuppositionalism, which is popular in Calvinist circles.
Others include William Lane Craig, Douglas Groothuis, Josh McDowell, Hugo Anthony Meynell, Timothy J. Keller, Francis Collins, Vishal Mangalwadi, Richard Bauckham, Craig Evans, Darrell Bock, John F. MacArthur, Gary Habermas, John Lennox, F. David Farnell, Daniel Janosik, and Edward D. Andrews.
Terminology and Origin Review
The original Greek apologia (ἀπολογία, from ἀπολογέομαι, apologeomai, “speak in return, defend oneself”) was a formal verbal defense, either in response to accusation or prosecution in a court of law. The defense of Socrates as presented by Plato and Xenophon, was an apologia against charges of “corrupting the young, and … not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel.”
In later use ‘apologia’ sometimes took a literary form in early Christian discourse as an example of the integration of educated Christians into the cultural life of the Roman Empire, particularly during the “little peace” of the 3rd century, and of their participation in the Greek intellectual movement broadly known as the Second Sophistic. The Christian apologists of the early Church did not reject Greek philosophy but attempted to show the positive value of Christianity in dynamic relation to the Greek rationalist tradition.
In the 2nd century, apologetics was a defense or explanation of Christianity, addressing those standing in opposition and those yet to form an opinion, such as emperors, other authority figures, or potential converts. The earliest martyr narrative has the spokesman for the persecuted present a defense in the apologetic mode: Christianity was a rational religion that worshiped only God, and although Christians were law-abiding citizens willing to honor the emperor, their belief in a single divinity prevented them from taking the loyalty oaths that acknowledged the emperor’s divinity.
The apologetic historiography in the Acts of the Apostles presented Christianity as a religious movement at home within the Roman Empire and no threat to it and was a model for the first major historian of the Church, Eusebius. Apologetics might also be directed to Christians already within the community explain their beliefs and justify positions. For instance, Origen’s apologetic Contra Celsum provided a defense against the arguments of a critic dead for decades to provide answers to doubting Christians lacking immediate answers to the questions raised. Apologetic literature was an important medium for the formation of early Christian identity.
In addition to Origen and Tertullian, early Christian apologists include Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and the author of the Epistle to Diognetus. Augustine of Hippo was a significant apologist of the Patristic era. Some scholars regard apologetics as a distinct literary genre exhibiting commonalities of style and form, content, and argumentation strategies. Others viewed it as a form of discourse characterized by its tone and purpose.
R. C. Sproul, quoting the First Epistle of Peter, writes that “The defense of the faith is not a luxury or intellectual vanity. It is a task appointed by God that you should be able to give a reason for the hope that is in you as you bear witness before the world.” The verse quoted here reads in full: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
Another passage sometimes used as a biblical basis for Christian apologetics is God’s entreaty in the Book of Isaiah: “Come now, let us reason together.” (ASV, ESV, CSB and NASB similar) The New English Bible says, “Let us argue it out.” (LEB similar) These are actually a poor rendering of the Hebrew, which should be translated as “Come now, let us set matters straight.” These first two renderings give the impression that God must make concessions to rebellious ones. God has no fault in anything, especially in his dealings with these disobedient, insincere people. (Deuteronomy 32:4-5) Other scriptural passages which have been taken as a basis for Christian apologetics include Psalm 19, which begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” and Romans 1, which reads, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
There are a variety of Christian apologetic styles and schools of thought. The major types of Christian apologetics include historical and legal evidentialist apologetics, presuppositional apologetics, philosophical apologetics, prophetic apologetics, doctrinal apologetics, biblical apologetics, moral apologetics, and scientific apologetics.
Biblical apologetics includes issues concerned with the authorship and date of biblical books, the biblical canon, and the inerrancy of Scripture. Christian apologists defend and comment on various books of the Bible. Some scholars who have engaged the in defense of biblical inerrancy include Robert Dick Wilson, Gleason Archer, Norman Geisler, Edward D. Andrews, and R. C. Sproul. Christians offer several resources to defend inerrancy in regard to specific verses (Bible Difficulties, Edward D. Andrews). Authors defending the Gospels’ reliability include Craig Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and Mark D. Roberts in Can We Trust the Gospels? Richard Bauckham, Craig Evans, F. David Farnell, and Darrell Bock.
Experiential apologetics refers to an appeal “primarily, if not exclusively, to experience as evidence for Christian faith.” Moreover, “they spurn rational arguments or factual evidence in favor of what they believe to be a self-verifying experience.” This view stresses experiences that other apologists have not made as explicit. Ultimately, the concept that the Holy Spirit convinces the heart of truth becomes the central theme of the apologetic argument.
Historical and legal Evidentialism
A variety of arguments has been forwarded by legal scholars such as Simon Greenleaf and John Warwick Montgomery, by expert forensic investigators such as cold case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace, and academic historical scholars such as Edwin M. Yamauchi. These arguments present a case for the historicity of the resurrection of Christ (Gary Habermas and Edward D. Andrews) per current legal standards of evidence or undermining the pagan myth hypothesis for the origin of Christianity.
Regarding evidence for the historicity of the resurrection, A. N. Sherwin-White states:
For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted…. The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time…. Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, [showing that] even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core.
Moral apologetics states that real moral obligation is a fact. Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft said, “We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.” In moral apologetics, the arguments for man’s sinfulness and man’s need for redemption are stressed. Example of this type of apologetic would be Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The Four Spiritual Laws religious tract (Campus Crusade for Christ) would be another example.
Defense of Miracles
C. S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in jurisprudence Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible wherever an all-powerful Creator is postulated. In other words, it is postulated that miracles cannot be postulated if God exists as impossible or inherently improbable.
Philosophical apologetics concerns itself primarily with arguments for the existence of God, although they do not exclusively focus on this area. They do not argue for the veracity of Christianity over other religions but merely for the existence of a Creator deity. Omnipotence and omniscience are implied in these arguments to greater or lesser degrees: some argue for an interventionist god, and some are equally relevant to a Deist conception of God.
They do not support hard polytheism, but could be used to describe the first god who created many other gods; however, the arguments are only relevant when applied to the first god (the first cause, pure act, and unmoved mover; it is a contradiction a priori to suppose a plurality of “pure acts” or “first causes” or “unmoved movers”).
These arguments can be grouped into several categories:
- Cosmological Argument – Argues that the universe’s existence demonstrates that God exists. Various primary arguments from cosmology and the nature of causation are often offered to support the cosmological argument.
- Teleological Argument – Argues that there is a purposeful design in the world around us, and a design requires a designer. Cicero, William Paley, and Michael Behe use this argument as well as others.
- Ontological Argument – Argues that the very concept of God demands that there is an actual existent God.
- Moral Argument – Argues that there are objectively valid moral values; therefore, there must be an absolute from which they are derived.
- Transcendental Argument – Argues that all our abilities to think and reason require the existence of God.
- Presuppositional Arguments – Argues that the basic beliefs of theists and nontheists require God as a necessary pre-condition.
Other philosophical arguments include:
- Alvin Plantinga’s argument that belief in God is properly basic, reformed epistemology.
- Pascal’s wager is an argument that posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or that he does not. Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists.
In addition to arguments for the existence of God, Christian apologists have also attempted to respond successfully to arguments against the existence of God. Two very popular arguments against the existence of God are the hiddenness argument and the argument from evil. The hiddenness argument tries to show that a perfectly loving God’s existence is incompatible with the existence of nonresistant nonbelievers. The argument from evil tries to show that the existence of evil renders God’s existence unlikely or impossible.
Presuppositional apologetics is a Reformed Protestant methodology that claims that presuppositions are essential to any philosophical position and that there are no “neutral” assumptions from which a Christian can reason in common with a non-Christian. There are two main schools of presuppositional apologetics, that of Cornelius Van Til (and his students Greg Bahnsen and John Frame) and that of Gordon Haddon Clark.
Van Til drew upon but did not always agree with, the work of Dutch Calvinist philosophers and theologians such as D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, Herman Dooyeweerd, Hendrik G. Stoker, Herman Bavinck, and Abraham Kuyper. Bahnsen describes Van Til’s approach to Christian apologetics as pointing out the difference in ultimate principles between Christians and non-Christians and then showing that the non-Christian principles reduce to absurdity. In practice, this school utilizes what has come to be known as the transcendental argument for the existence of God.
Clark held that the Scriptures constituted the axioms of Christian thought, which could not be questioned, though their consistency could be discussed. A consequence of this position is that God’s existence can never be demonstrated by empirical means or philosophical arguments. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not even attempt such proofs.
In his book Science Speaks, Peter Stoner argues that only God knows the future and that Biblical prophecies of a compelling nature have been fulfilled. Apologist Josh McDowell documents the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, relating to his ancestral line, birthplace, virgin birth, miracles, death, and resurrection. Apologist Blaise Pascal believed that the prophecies were the strongest evidence for Christianity. He notes that Jesus not only foretold but was foretold, unlike in other religions, and that these prophecies came from a succession of people over a span of four thousand years.
Many Christians contend that science and the Bible do not contradict each other and that scientific fact supports Christian apologetics. The Catholic Church’s Catechism states, “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge… These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator.” The theologian and mathematician Marin Mersenne used celestial mechanics as evidence in his apologetic work, while Matteo Ricci engaged in scientific apologetics in China. In modern times, the theory of the Big Bang has been used in support of Christian apologetics.
Several Christian apologists have sought to reconcile Christianity and science concerning the question of origins. Theistic Evolution claims that classical religious teachings about God are compatible with the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution and that the Creator God uses the process of evolution. Denis Lamoureux, in Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution states that “This view of origins fully embraces both the religious beliefs of biblical Christianity and the scientific theories of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution. It contends that the Creator established and maintains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of a teleological evolution.”
The most radical example of a Christian-evolutionary synthesis is the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which was intended as apologetics to the world of science, but which was later condemned by the Catholic Church.
Creationist apologetics aims to defend views of origins such as Young Earth creationism and Old Earth creationism that run counter to mainstream science.
Young Earth creationists believe the Bible teaches that the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old and reject the scientific consensus for the age of the Earth. They apply a literal interpretation to the primordial history in Genesis 1–11 – such as the long life spans of people such as Methuselah, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Among the biggest young Earth creation apologetic organizations are Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Ministries International. While the long life spans of individuals such as Methuselah are literally true, the Flood was worldwide, and the Tower of Babel is biblically true, nothing in the Hebrew demand that the creation days be taken as literal 24-hour days.
Genesis 1:1 BDC: Is the earth only 6,000 to 10,000 years old? Are the creative days literally, only 24 hours long?
Old Earth creationists believe it is possible to harmonize the Bible’s six-day creation account with the scientific consensus that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and Earth is 4.54 billion years old. Old Earth creationists, such as astrophysicist Hugh Ross, see each of the six days of creation as being a long but finite period of time, based on the multiple meanings of the Hebrew word yom (day light hours/24 hours/age of time) and other Biblical creation passages.
Major colleges and universities offering Christian apologetics programs
|Biola University||Southern California, US||Christian Apologetics||Certificate, M.A.|
|Santa Ana, CA||Christian Apologetics||MA, MDiv, DMin, Ph.D.|
|Clarks Summit University||South Abington Township, PA, US||Biblical Apologetics||M.A.|
|Colorado Christian University||Colorado, US||Applied Apologetics||Certificate, Bachelors, MA|
|Denver Seminary||Colorado, US||Apologetics and Ethics||M.A., M.Div. with Emphasis|
|Christian Apologetics||A.A., MA, Ph.D.|
|Luther Rice College and Seminary||Lithonia, GA||Christian Apologetics||BA, BS, MA|
|Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary||Fort Worth, TX||Christian Apologetics||MA|
|New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary||New Orleans, Louisiana||Christian Apologetics||M.A., M.Div., D.Min., Ph.D.|
|Oklahoma Wesleyan University||Bartlesville, Oklahoma||Christian Apologetics||M.A.|
|Westminster Theological Seminary||Philadelphia, US||Apologetics||Doctoral, Masters, Certificate Programs|
|South African Theological Seminary||Johannesburg, South Africa||Apologetics||Th.M.|
|Southern Baptist Theological Seminary||Louisville, KY||Apologetics/Apologetics & Worldviews||M.A., Ph.D.|
|Southern Evangelical Seminary||Charlotte, North Carolina||Apologetics/Scientific Apologetics||Certificate, MA, M.Div., D.Min.|
|Birmingham, AL||Masters of Arts Apologetics||MA|
Attribution: This article incorporates some text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Edward D. Andrews
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 Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the essence of teachings in a given branch of knowledge or in a belief system. The etymological Greek analogue is “catechism.”
 An argument is a statement or group of statements called premises intended to determine the degree of truth or acceptability of another statement called conclusion. Arguments can be studied from three main perspectives: the logical, the dialectical and the rhetorical perspective.
 Various Early Christian writers wrote gospels and other books, some of which were canonized as the New Testament canon developed. The Apostolic Fathers were prominent writers who are traditionally understood to have met and learned from Jesus’ personal disciples. The Church Fathers are later writers. Early Christian apologists tried to defend Christianity against its critics, especially the Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Dates given, if not otherwise specified, are of their writings or bishopric, not of their lives.
 Religion is usually defined as a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, beliefs, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that generally relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements. Christianity specifically is the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, its beliefs and practices, the Holy Bible of 66 books as their Word that was inspired by God, as 40+ men were moved along by the Holy Spirit.
 In a civil proceeding or criminal prosecution under the common law or under statute, a defendant may raise a defense in an effort to avert civil liability or criminal conviction. A defense is put forward by a party to defeat a suit or action brought against the party and may be based on legal grounds or on factual claims
 Socrates was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is credited as the founder of Western philosophy and among the first moral philosophers of the ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, Socrates authored no texts and is known mainly through the posthumous accounts of classical writers, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon.
 The Apology of Socrates, written by Plato, is a Socratic dialogue of the speech of legal self-defense which Socrates spoke at his trial for impiety and corruption in 399 BC.
 The Apology of Socrates, written by Plato, is a Socratic dialogue of the speech of legal self-defense which Socrates spoke at his trial for impiety and corruption in 399 BC.
 Koine Greek, also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, Hellenistic, or Biblical Greek, was the common supra-regional form of Greek spoken and written during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empire. It evolved from the spread of Greek following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, and served as the lingua franca of much of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East during the following centuries. It was based mainly on Attic and related Ionic speech forms, with various admixtures brought about through dialect levelling with other varieties. – Bubenik, V. (2007). “The rise of Koiné”. In A. F. Christidis (ed.). A history of Ancient Greek: from the beginnings to late antiquity. Cambridge: University Press. pp. 342–345.
 Paul, commonly known as Paul the Apostle and Saint Paul, was a Christian apostle who spread the teachings of Jesus in the first-century world. Generally regarded as one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age, he founded many Christian communities throughout the Roman Empire.