I was attracted to a Facebook post on my timeline by a friend who had made a comment concerning the rising issue of prosperity gospel generally in the world, and particularly, in Africa.[1] In his comment section, he made the case that Christian bloggers should pursue apologetics and polemics for the sake of the body of Christ. This was a good challenge for me, especially because the nature of this blog has a firm basis for apologetics. Under the submission to scripture, I enjoy and seek to learn more concerning faith seeking understanding a phrase employed by the 11th Century theologian, St. Anselm of Canterbury. To take up this challenge, I have decided to do a mini-series of posts on apologetics as follows:

This is the first post in a series of posts whose aim is to both demystify apologetics as well as offer scriptural examples of how it can be of benefit to both believers and unbelievers. To begin, I’d like to take a very practical example on how apologetics may come into play. Two friends are sitting in a matatu and soon they start engaging in a conversation.

Korir begins, “and you seem to like that chic. You’re always with her. Si you move in with her.”

 “I don’t think that’s the best thing for me to do. God would not allow me to do that,” replies Omondi.

 Before Omondi even finishes, Korir responds, “I knew you’d start talking about this God person, or thing, that’s if even he exists in the first place.”

Omondi, maintaining his calm, continues, “For me he exists because the Bible clearly teaches that. If he wouldn’t exist, life wouldn’t even make sense. I have a deep sense of conviction that God has led me to Wairimu and so I want to pursue her in a right way.”

 “Ah, you you like being too serious with these things. We are just here to have fun, no need of bringing God into these things. Live, Laugh, Let be. Move in with Wairimu, wacha siasa.”

 It is clear from this conversation that both Korir and Omondi have different assumptions about pursuing a lady. Korir believes that man is here for the pursuit of pleasure, while Omondi believes that man is here for the pursuit of God. Korir has no basis for his ethical standards while Omondi anchors his ethics on God’s character. These fundamental presuppositions dictate even their approach to the area of building relationships. For both the believer and unbeliever alike, we can see that each person has their underlying set of convictions. These underlying assumptions about the makeup of reality is what is sometimes referred to as a worldview. The two major ones are theism and atheism, that is, where the former holds that reality is defined by the existence of a God, whereas the latter has no place for a God. In our interactions with people, such conversations can easily get heated and out of hand. Apologetics then can aid us in communicating our passion for the things of God, while maintaining the cool of reason. But what is this apologetics?

Definitions (Yawn!)

Apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia meaning “to make a defense, commonly used in the context of a court case. In Christian use, some have defined it as defense of the Faith.”[2] However, apologetics may have an offensive element to it.[3] In both these cases, the most helpful definition of apologetics which I think lies squarely with the scriptural go-to text for apologetics is given by the theologian John Frame as “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give the reason for their hope.”[4] Frame bases his definition from the text in 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Underlying Assumptions

            It is clear that in his conversation, Omondi has in his heart set apart Christ as Lord. In other words, his view of life and all that it entails, even relationships, is undergirded by the Lordship of Christ. This echoes Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” For the Christian, everything he does whether it be eating or drinking, or talking or relating, he should have Christ as the central anchorage of his life (Col. 3:23, 3:17). On the other hand, it is clear that from Korir’s commentary, he has a different loyalty at the center of his heart. The underlying assumptions are different between the believer and the unbeliever. Though both have an innate knowledge of God based on their nature as beings created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26, Rom. 1:19 f.), the unbeliever suppresses this truth while the believer lives in light of it. Note scripture’s basis for this:

“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 people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:20 – 21)

Further it is clear from scripture that what separates the believer and unbeliever from living in light of the knowledge of God is the inner testimony of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:7 – 10). The end result, to show the antithesis of the believer and the unbeliever, is found a few verses prior, where Paul observes, under the inspiration of God, “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) The point is that because of the underlying assumptions, there is no neutral ground when engaging in apologetics. It is important for the one who is engaging in apologetics to be aware of the fact that she stands on a different foundation with her interlocutor. We should not confuse this to mean that the unbeliever has no basis for some level of truth. He does, as he is made in God’s image and since all truth is God’s truth, there is some common ground among the two.[5] However, at the foundational level, there is no neutrality. For Korir, truth is relative while for Omondi, Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. When making an offense or defense, or when giving a proof, the foundations are different.

The Reason for the Hope . . .

            The message of the apologist is the gospel. The text we are looking at is written by Paul “to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered . . .” (1 Pet. 1:1 – 2) as a result of the persecution among the Christians during the siege in the city of Rome under emperor Nero in AD 64. This gospel, is based on the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that has been realized in the new birth of the believer on the basis of the mercy of God (1 Pet. 1:3-4). It is in this inheritance that we are now a part of, which can never perish, even when the place we call home, or the treasures of the earth, are plundered. The hope is that our lives are kept safe in Christ, in life or in death. What must have been of practical import to the audience of Peter’s letter is the reason of their hope. In fact the context of the verse is suffering among the saints. What is the only hope to the one who is suffering? Of course, Korir might dumb down suffering as only bad karma or to an extreme end, he may say that all is meaningless. For the unbeliever, the end result is a life of despair. And rightly so, for where there is no standard for a meaningful or an ethical life, or any purposeful design of the universe, there is only despair. For the believer, on the other hand, hope, Living hope.

            It is for this reason that apologetics is grounded in scripture and is necessary for our witness and evangelism. Many believers shy away from apologetics, since it can be so abstract at times (and trust me as I’ve muddled through technical tomes of this nature), but in the sense of giving the reason of our hope it is practical for us all. It is this living hope that gives the believer an assurance of faith when he goes through difficulty, because at the heart of things, he is aware that there is one who stands on his behalf. Thus, in whatever circumstance that comes, we may in this sense be of illuminating and persevering value to this world: Light and salt.

Calm Nerves . . .

            Occasionally, in our defense/offense, veins sprout and voices bulge. One needs only to read some Facebook posts that contain conversations between the unbeliever and believer, to conclude that apologetics can be a messy affair. Frame observes the misunderstood nature of apologetics to attract quarrelsome people. In his own words “to defend the Christian faith with a quarrelsome spirit is to defend Christianity plus quarrelsomeness – a self-destructive hybrid.”[6] Far from this, the scripture reorients our apologetics to the nature of the Christian character: apologetics should be done with gentleness and respect. No doubt, there is a place for using strong language, as Paul does for instance in many places in the New Testament, but being peaceable is equally important.[7] In William Barclay’s commentary on this verse, he notes: “The only compelling argument is the argument of the Christian life.”[8] As much as apologetics makes use of logical reasoning in light of the Spirit’s illumination, our deeds speak as much as our reasoning. This is not a gentleness that is passive, but a gentleness aglow with shoulder-to-shoulder journeying together over steep hills and through dark valleys hand in hand to those who ask us to give the reason for our hope.[9] The apologist is thereby not an ivory tower scholar, but a disciple of Jesus walking life-on-life with others. This quote by the late Dallas Willard, a Christian Philosopher, gives the basis for apologetics in Love. That the knowledge we seek to espouse is not beating people into intellectual submission (in the words of Willard) but to exemplify love that builds up. (1 Cor. 8:1) An extended quote here will serve to unpack the notion of gentleness, a trait that makes me go back, time and again, to Willard’s spirit of doing apologetics:

As we give our explanation, our apologetic, as an act of neighbor love with gentleness and reverence, Jesus tells us we are to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16, NIV). The serpent’s wisdom, shrewdness, is timeliness based on watchful observation. And doves are innocent in that they are incapable of guile or of misleading anyone. So are we to be. Love of those we deal with will help us to observe them accurately and refrain from manipulating them. . . at the same time we long and pray for them to recognize that Jesus Christ is the master of the cosmos in which they live. What does it mean that we are to be characterized by gentleness? To begin with, it means being humble. Love will purge us of any desire merely to win as well as of intellectual self-righteousness and contempt for the opinions and abilities of others. The apologist for Christ is one characterized by humbleness of mind (tapeinophrosunen; Col. 3:12; Acts 20:19; 1 Pet. 5:5) – a vital New Testament concept that cannot be captured by our word ‘humility’ alone.[10]

Thus, as we give proof for the reason of our hope, or as we make our offense or defense of the faith, we are to be Christ-centered and Christ-formed by having a humble opinion of ourselves. I hope that this post has cleared the fog that sometimes scares many away from apologetics, and I hope that in the forthcoming posts, we shall pursue Christ more and delve into the field of apologetics so that we can be in a position to give the reason for our hope.

Reflection Questions

  1. Can you remember a conversation you had with an unbeliever? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your gentleness?
  2. As a believer, what is the reason for the hope that you have? Can you explain this hope to someone holding to a non-Christian religion?
  3. How do you think the body of Christ can be equipped to defend the faith?
  4. Do you see any relationship between apologetics and evangelism? How are they related?
  5. Do you think the scripture gives a clear basis for apologetics? Why or why not?
  6. What is the role of the Spirit in engaging in apologetics? Any scriptures you can ask teacher google to give?

Feel free to leave any comments on these questions or the post on the comment section below.

___

Notes

[1] The “prosperity gospel” in summary is the wealth and health gospel that focuses primarily on God’s gifts instead of God himself. For an article that traces the African traditional worldview that underlies much of this gospel in charismatic circles, see Conrad Mbewe, “Why is the Charismatic Movement Thriving in Africa?” in Banner of Truth. Nov 2015 accessed here. The story of Job in the Bible can be seen as a practical defense against prosperity gospel. See Vaneetha Rendall Risner, “The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel,” in Desiring God, June 2015. Accessed here.

[2] R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner & Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1984), 13

[3] As defensive, apologetics answers objections of unbelief. As offensive, it attacks the foolishness of unbelief (1 Cor. 1:18. see also 2:16). A third element is giving proof for the reasonableness of faith. John Frame observes that in our apologetics, the three elements come into play together.

[4] John Frame, Apologetics for the Glory of God (P&R Publishing: New Jersey, 1994), 1

[5] Common Grace is a doctrine that teaches that God extends his general or common grace to all men, believers and unbelievers alike. This is taken from the scriptural text in Mat. 5:45 “. . . He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Yet, God in a special way extends his grace (specific or effective) grace to believers for their salvation and preservation in faith. In fact only this specific grace can lead to any works of righteousness that begin at salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8 – 9); “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. . .” (Rom. 3:21 – 22)

[6] John Frame, 29.

[7] Frame observes that strong language is appropriate against people (1) who claim to have some religious teaching authority, and (2) are proclaiming false doctrine on serious matters, leading believers astray, or are dishonoring orthodox doctrine by ungodly lives, and (3) have ignored clear and graciously expressed warnings that their conduct displeased God.

[8] William Barclay, The Daily Bible Study Series: The Letters of James and Peter (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1976), 231

[9] Introduction to Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus (HarperOne: New York, 2015)

[10] Ibid., 3

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