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I. The Scope of Apologetics. § 1
(1.) APOLOGETICS is concerned with the previous questions of Christianity. It is that important branch of theological inquiry that investigates the great questions that lie at the Christian system’s very foundations. At times, it ventures into the very heart of that system and undertakes to unfold its inner reasonableness and sufficiency.
The questions which thus come before it are many and varied, and they urgently press for satisfactory answers. In seeking to supply these answers, Apologetics has to deal with the intelligible grounds of the Christian religion and consider the varied pieces of evidence that provide its rational vindication. In rendering this useful service, it finds itself face to face with philosophical, historical, ethical, and religious problems of the deepest import.
(2.) It has to make an earnest inquiry regarding God’s existence and nature and concerning man’s existence, purpose, and destiny. It has to grapple with many perplexing problems which are involved in the relations of God to man and the universe. The questions of what knowledge man can obtain concerning God and of how far God can make himself known to man have also to be considered. The claim that the sacred Scriptures make to set forth a special message from God must be examined with care. In this connection, Apologetics has to make good the complete historicity of these Scriptures and simultaneously vindicate their divine authority.
It also deals with Jesus Christ, and it is called upon to give some satisfactory account of his unique personality and his most remarkable historical career. His wonderful influence on human affairs, as seen in the history of the Christian church, in the personal experience of its members, and in its splendid fruitage in modern civilization, calls for careful study. Nor can Apologetics be indifferent to the dark facts of moral evil as it appears in its various degrading aspects in the world. Of this, it must give some reasonable account and dare not overlook the far-reaching issues of immortality for man. The abiding moral relations between God and man, and man’s proper place in the scale of existing things, must be seriously pondered.
IMMORTALITY Quality or state of being exempt from death. In the true sense of the word, only God is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16; 1:17; 2 Tim. 1:10), for only God is living in the true sense of the word. Humans may be considered immortal only insofar as immortality is the gift of God. Paul points us in this direction. In Rom. 2:7 Paul says, “To those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (NRSV). Paul also explained that the perishable nature of human life will put on the imperishable and that the mortal nature of human life will put on immortality. When that happens, the saying concerning victory over death will have been fulfilled (1 Cor. 15:53–55; Isa. 25:8; Hos. 13:14). As it is, humans in their earthly life are mortal; they are subject to death. Thus, eternal life is not ours because we have the inherent power to live forever; eternal life and immortality are ours only because God chooses to give them to us. Those who escaped death—Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:10–11)—did so only by the power of God and not by some inherent power they had to live forever.—Phil Logan, “Immortality,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 810.
(3.) And are not these momentous questions? They are not merely theoretical speculations far removed from the affairs of men, but they are significant with vital practical meaning for this life and with vast import for that which is to come. If knowledge has any relation to the activity of men, and if belief has any bearing upon their conduct, then the questions to be considered and settled by Apologetics are of profound interest and of vital meaning. They cannot be set aside hurriedly, nor is a superficial treatment of them likely to be satisfactory. Is Christianity true? Has it claims upon my attention which I dare not disregard, save at my peril? Is there a supreme and perfect Being who has made me and still upholds me and everything else in the world? Am I endowed with a moral and religious nature, through which I find myself placed in definite relations of responsibility to a moral ruler who is over me? Am I so constantly and completely dependent upon this ruler that, by no possible effort of mine, can I shake myself free from his oversight and control? Is the Bible not only true and excellent, as a matter of fact, but does it also unfold a divine revelation of the holiness and love, of the power and saving grace, of God in Christ, over against the sin and woe of men? Is the gospel message, with its divine and gracious remedy for this sin and woe, really needed by men? Is there proper ground for confidently accepting what the Bible says regarding the salvation in Christ, and are there good reasons why men should act upon the warnings and invitation of the gospel? Above all, is there a future state of reward and punishment, wherein the issues of this life will have their proper completion and realization, and is a personal interest in the Lord Jesus Christ necessary for the present and eternal welfare of men?
(4.) To ask these questions is to reveal the tremendous importance of the issues which are wrapped up in Christianity, for each one of them is freighted with the deepest significance. Christianity is either everything for mankind or nothing. It is either the highest certainty or the greatest delusion. If it is an old and trite superstition from which advancing modern thought is slowly but surely delivering us, we ought to examine cautiously, prudently, and carefully the grounds upon which such a conclusion rests, lest we be found acting hastily and heedlessly casting away the pearl of greatest price. While this demand of modern thought cannot be ignored, yet it should not be too readily conceded, lest we be found guilty of treating with contempt those priceless realities of the Christian faith which have long had such an abiding place in the living experience and dying hopes of multitudes of men and women. A persistent delusion should at least be treated with consideration and respect.
But if Christianity is everything for mankind, it is important for every man to be able to give a good reason for the hope that is in him regarding the eternal truths and facts of the Christian faith. To accept these truths and facts in an unthinking way, or to receive them simply on authority, is not enough for an intelligent and stable faith in these restless times. If our Christian heritage is a treasure of unspeakable value for us, we should examine carefully whether it is rational, historical, moral, and religious titles are valid and complete. The task of Apologetics is not so much to draw up these titles as to exhibit them in an orderly and intelligible way. A clear head, a brave heart, and a strong hand are needed for this task. To make good the title in which reason and conscience, as well as heart and life, unite in giving to the reality, validity, and adequacy of the Christian truths and facts is an undertaking of widest scope and deepest moment. One cannot but ask, earnestly though not hopelessly, Who is sufficient for such a task?
II. The Domain of Apologetics. § 2
Preliminarily, the precise point of departure for Apologetics may now be indicated. This leads to the deepest view of the Apologetics domain and raises inquiry about its fundamental source. In making this inquiry, the underlying conditions which render the service of Apologetics to Christianity necessary will be unfolded. Setting forth these fundamental conditions will make it plain that the service thus rendered is neither needless nor optional but essential and necessary. It will be made evident that deep and abiding conditions pertain to the very nature of Christianity, which constitutes the fundamental sphere wherein the genesis of Apologetics is to be found. These conditions form its point of departure and constitute its real source.
(1.) These underlying conditions are involved in that deep-seated and age-long conflict between good and evil going on in the universe. They are conditions that really grow out of this conflict. In the universe, there are operative two principles or agencies, which are sometimes conceived of as two kingdoms or sets of organized forces. They are now, and long has been, in truceless antagonism against each other. These antagonistic principles, or sets of agencies, are denoted by various terms. Sometimes the symbols of light and darkness are used to denote them. Again, they are called good and evil, truth and error, right and wrong, sin and holiness. As the universe now exists as an object of reflection, there is observed in it a deeply seated dualism, wherein opposing forces are in irrepressible opposition. The Persian, the Hindoo (a follower of Hinduism; a Hindu), and the Norse (Scandinavian) forms of expressing this dualism are undoubted witnesses to this incessant conflict. In certain philosophical systems, like Gnosticism and in pagan forms of demon worship, there are pieces of evidence of the same deep-rooted contest. With this conflict, Christianity is directly and vitally concerned. The very reason for Christianity, to a large extent, lies in the fact of this conflict, for it is the very evils that give rise to it that Christianity proposes to remedy or conquer. These evils, however, are not inherent in the universe at its deepest roots; they are rather abnormal and destructive agencies with which Christianity proposes to deal. Apologetics undertakes to plead the cause of Christianity in this conflict.
The profound question of the origin and precise nature of those evil and destructive agencies with which Christianity finds itself in conflict is not now formally raised. The fact that this deadly conflict exists is simply assumed as the domain in which Christianity finds her appointed mission. Light and darkness, truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong, sin and holiness, are in such inherent opposition that peace between them is not possible, save by the defeat of the one and the victory of the other. Light can have no fellowship with darkness, and good can have no agreement with evil. In the last analysis, the real function of Apologetics is to vindicate Christianity and to exhibit her defensive and offensive resources for this conflict.
(2.) In this same domain, there is evidence that divine redeeming activity is, silently but surely, at work. For it is to be remembered that Christianity is not to be conceived of as merely a principle or set of agencies that can well hold its own against the opposing forces of evil in the universe. Rather, it is thought of as a set of redeeming and restoring agencies with the ability not only to defeat and destroy evil but also to conserve and construct the good. Ever since the introduction of moral evil into the current of human history, there has been evidence of persistent conflict and a potent redeeming and restoring activity. As the conflict continues from age to age, there are indications in the onward march of Christianity that the victory is declaring itself more and more plainly in favor of truth and righteousness. There appears to be a far-off glorious goal, where the light shines undimmed by the darkness; nearby that goal, there stands a noble palace, where truth and goodness are enthroned; besides that palace, there is a splendid temple, whose walls and pillars are righteousness; and in that temple there is a shrine of holiness, on whose altar the pure fires of devotion ever burn. Christianity has her face towards that goal; with her heart full of faith and hope, amid the moral conflict of the ages, she leads the universe, by the persistent power of her redeeming agencies, towards that glorious goal.
This divine redeeming activity resident in Christianity must be considered as we seek to get a deeper view of the real sphere of Apologetics. This activity has appeared in the world in various historical forms, culminating in Christianity, but the redeeming activity itself has always been essentially the same. This makes the conflict not merely a contest from without but a restoration of the good and subjugation of the evil from within. It is overcoming evil with good. The Evangelism which Christianity proclaims represents this redeeming activity, and Apologetics is commissioned and prepared to vindicate Christianity as adequate for her task.
(3.) From all this, it follows that the task of Apologetics is not self-imposed but arises naturally from the nature of the case. The conflict already described is a persistent fact, and Christianity is committed to her long and arduous campaign. If the serpent is bruising the heel of the woman’s seed, the seed of the woman will, in the end, surely bruise the serpent’s head. In this moral warfare, Apologetics vindicates the ability of Christianity to conquer in due time. Even though it is true that the redeeming activity operative through the gospel in the world is, in a sense, its own effective advocate and valiant defender, yet the exposition of the resources of Christianity for her divine mission made by Apologetics is of great value. Evidence of this value has appeared in all the periods of this conflict. The redeeming activity of God in the world, as it appeared in Old Testament times, in the hands of the prophets, is sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously, a distinctively apologetical service. In like manner, the apologetics of the apostolic and patristic ages were well-fitted to serve the same purpose. These apologetics were not the redeeming activities themselves, yet they served to vindicate and exhibit these redemptive activities. The same is true in modern times. The gospel, which is the heart of Christianity, exerts its renovating and subduing agency in the world, and, in the very nature of the case, Apologetics finds its call to exhibit Christianity in a defensive and vindicatory way.
(4.) It is evident that the mode in which Apologetics shall undertake and best discharge its task will vary from age to age. As already indicated, the redeeming activity is always essentially the same, but the circumstances in which it is exhibited are subject to change. This naturally requires that Apologetics should be prepared to show how fully Christianity is qualified for every emergency in the conflict. Hence, Apologetics must be ever watchful and ready to discern the signs of the times. In this service, to be forewarned is often to be forearmed. The assault may now be at one point and again at another. Hence, Apologetics must be always alert and ready for the foe at every turn, for the defenses of one age may not suit another, and the vindication which served at one time may not be sufficient for another.
In our own age, when the service of Apologetics is greatly enlarged, and its resources are so fully drawn on, it is of the utmost importance to have the methods and materials of apologetical service carefully adapted to our own restless and inquiring age. We do no injustice to the Apologetics of a century ago when we say that it scarcely serves the demands of the present day, though it nobly served the needs of the day in which its service was called for. But in our own age, new phases of the conflict have emerged, and a fresh set of the defenses is needed, and additional forms of vindication may be required. The Apologetics, which was effective against the deism, materialism, and rationalism of a century ago, may not be altogether effective against the monistic philosophy, evolutionary science, and the historical criticism of current times. Hence, an extension of the lines, and a recasting of the materials of Apologetics, is a service that presses upon the modern apologetical activity so that it may render as useful a service in the newer conditions as it did in the older.
(5.) It is proper to add, even at this early stage of the discussion, that the domain of Apologetics is not fully apprehended until it undertakes to present the vindication of Christianity to supply a valid defense against every possible assault. As the real nature of the moral conflict going on in the universe is more fully understood, and as the true genius and inner resources of Christianity are more and more adequately exhibited, it will be shown, to ever-increasing degree, what the domain of Apologetics is. The result will surely be that just as Christianity represents an all-conquering and ever-renovating spiritual activity in the world, so will Apologetics undertake to exhibit its ability to present a rationally complete defense and vindication of Christianity. With no lower an ambition should modern Apologetics be content.
III. The Spirit of Apologetics. § 3
It is important that Apologetics should possess the right temper for its work, so this opening chapter may properly conclude with some remarks upon the true apologetical spirit. It is well to catch the best spirit at the outset of our work, for the temper in which we commend Christianity to others often does more than anything else to win them. In general, no sentiment inconsistent with the mind of Christ, or the spirit of the gospel, should ever enter into Apologetics.
(1.) Apologetics should be calm and elevated in spirit. There should be no bitterness in its tone, nor should it ever be unkind. It should be firm yet gentle; always alert, yet never hasty. If called to repel attacks that are bitter and unjust, it should never lose its temper but ever maintain a calm and peaceful spirit and exhibit a calm self-possession. Apologetics should always remember that to rule its own spirit is better than taking a city. Such a spirit will give strength to the service it renders and afford it satisfaction in that service, for it is humiliating to lose temper, even in defense of a good cause.
So also, the spirit of Apologetics should be elevated and maintain true dignity and nobility. Only by this elevated spirit can it obtain a wide outlook over its extensive field and secure that comprehensive view of its necessary work. If Apologetics is to vindicate Christianity at every point, it must not be content to take narrow views or spend its strength on unimportant details. Rather, it should engage itself with the main defenses in the noblest manner possible. In a well-balanced way, and with nobility and elevation of mind, Apologetics should look at all the lines of assault and defense and, with a brave spirit and hopeful temper, address itself to its work. A wide outlook, an elevated temper, and a strong, manly grasp of its task are what Apologetics needs at this time.
(2.) In spirit, Apologetics should be candid and impartial. It ought not to play the part of a mere advocate or special pleader, nor should it enter upon its task in an apologetic way, as if it thought that Christianity rested on somewhat insecure foundations. It should rather seek to exhibit, fairly and judicially, the rational grounds, the historical facts, and the experimental realities upon which Christianity securely rests. Nothing will be gained by unfair advocacy of a good cause nor by taking any undue advantage of an antagonist. The candor and directness of the Scripture narratives, and especially of our Lord himself, may well be heeded by Apologetics. No defense that is not founded on sound reason, even though it may silence an adversary for a time, is ever likely to do Christianity much permanent good. Christianity, as the cause of truth and righteousness, needs no doubtful defenses, and care should be taken that her good cause does not suffer from unfair advocacy. Apologetics is not an attorney or special pleader serving for a fee but rather a judge seeking to render a just and candid verdict.
(3.) In the spirit of Apologetics, there should be no bigotry nor prejudice. The spirit of the bigot is bad, and the temper of prejudice may be hurtful. There may be the bigotry of the reason, and the prejudice of the heart arrayed against Christianity. Still, the Apologetic for Christianity should not cherish narrow bigotry or perverting prejudice. If it does, it may not see things at quite the right angle and by an intolerant spirit, may wound Christianity in the house of its friends. If the opponents of Christianity have anything to say and say it in a courteous way, Apologetics should patiently listen and faithfully seek to make a reply. To abuse, these opponents is not to answer their objections and to call disrespectful names or to talk down to tactlessly does not serve to refute error. If the attack on Christianity is bold, impudent, and blasphemous, silence may be the golden response that Apologetics ought to make. Only in rare and extreme cases should Apologetics be cutting and sarcastic, answering a fool according to his folly. Patience is usually power for Apologetics. It should be noted though in the day of the internet and social media, absolute silence and removing ourselves from the conversation may not be the best option. We must remember that the post or comments of the opponent will be there for others to see and the others might assume that our not responding at all means that we have no answer and the critic is correct. So, a good reasonable, logical, rational response, and then removing ourselves from the conversation is best.
It should be added that when we exhort Apologetics to be free from bigotry and prejudice, it does not mean that we are to cast away that splendid heritage of religious truth of which this age is the heir. In no case are we to cast this away at the bidding of the skeptical opponent of Christianity. Apologetics holds this heritage dearly and will allow no rude hand to take it away. Still, we hold it not only as a heritage but as a truth that can be defended without intolerance or bigotry. Yet, in holding to our heritage of Christianity, this does not mean that we deny the atrocities in the name of Christianity that had nothing to do with true Christians and true Christianity.
(4.) Apologetics must cherish an earnest and reverent spirit. The subjects with which Apologetics deals are the noblest about which the human mind can be engaged, and the issues involved in Christianity are of immense importance. No flippant temper, no irreverent spirit, and no half-hearted manner are harmonizing with the discussions in which Apologetics must engage. These discussions are concerned with the great problems of God, of the world, of man, the relations of the universe and man to God, revelation and miracles, sin and redemption, Jesus Christ and his career, a future state, and of rewards and penalties therein. Surely Apologetics shall feel that it is in the presence of majestic realities and realize that the place where it stands is holy ground. The assault may often be made in a frivolous spirit or with a sneering tone, and the temptation to make a reply in the same spirit may often be strong. But it is usually best to treat all questions that are worthy of treatment at all by Apologetics in an earnest and reverent way. If the objections do not deserve such a treatment, it will usually be best to pass them over in silence. In presenting the positive strength of the grounds for accepting Christianity, thorough work is needed in the present day, for the controversy often concerns the very foundations of Christianity rather than regarding the superstructure itself. Such being the case, Apologetics must gird on its whole armor and take its best weapons. The strenuous effort, earnest purpose, and profound reverence must mark modern Apologetics if it is to serve its day in a strong, powerful, and heroic manner.
(5.) Apologetics must always be conducted in a very practical spirit. It is not to enter upon its defense and debate merely for the sake of the discussions which arise. The service that it renders is not simply a speculative one. The apologetical arena is not a mere intellectual amphitheater where the contestants meet for an exhibition of their skill in controversy; it is rather a battlefield, where the contest is serious, and the issues of the conflict are weighty. Apologetics thus seeks an end beyond itself in the defense and vindication of the Christian system. As the task of Apologetics in pleading the cause of Christianity grows out of the conflict with evil in which she is engaged, that task partakes of the nature of that conflict, and it calls for a practical performance of the duty thereby imposed. Apologetics does not exhibit Christianity on dress parade or fighting a sham battle; it rather presents her in campaign service or on the battlefield in actual conflict with real foes.
This does not mean that men are made Christians by Apologetics or that it is the real spiritual agent in gaining victories over evil. The gospel of the grace of God, and the energy of the Spirit of life, alone secure these results. But Apologetics renders useful service in removing stumbling blocks out of the way, showing the inadequacy of the proposed substitutes for Christianity, and in exhibiting the reasonableness and sufficiency of the Christian religion.
(6.) Apologetics should be courageous and never forget its true function. It has no excuse to make for true Christianity but a brave and heroic defense. It is to be animated by the spirit of the martyr and the hero. While the antagonist is always to be treated with courtesy, he is to be confronted boldly and bravely. Christianity, in one sense, needs no apology, for in the last analysis, the Christian system is independent of Apologetics. The real foundations of the Christian system lie deeper than the results of Apologetics, but the service it renders is nonetheless valuable on this account. It exhibits the stability of these foundations and enables us in various ways to test their security. With a brave heart and with its eye ever steadily fixed on its true function, Apologetics seeks to do her noble duty. The Mount Zion of the Christian system rests securely upon the enduring foundation of the redeeming activity of God in Christ by the Spirit, seeking to remedy and conquer the evil that is in the world. But Apologetics takes us by the hand as we,
Psalm 48:12–14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadel fortresses,
that you may tell the next generation
14 that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He himself will guide us until death.