Apologetics 103: The How – Biblical Examples

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 of 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 third part of this series. We will be looking at some few biblical examples of how to do apologetics.

At first glance, we may think that since apologia may be a reality that is to be limited only to the New Testament and beyond. However, from the first part definition of apologetics as giving reason for our hope, some Old Testament narratives are instructive in this matter.

How to look at the Old Testament

At the outset it is good to observe that the Old Testament (OT) foretold the coming of the Messiah. While modern day believers’  faith in Jesus looks backward, the OT believers looked forward. Their hope was anchored on the reality that in the future, there would be One who would redeem them and reign supreme (Gen. 3:15, Isaiah 40:9-11, Zech. 9:9). In these texts, we see that Yahweh would bring deliverance to his people in the Messiah, the promised one. No wonder then Jesus sees the Old Testament as being centered on him:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).

 Therefore, though the Israelites did not have the gospel in its far-reaching reality, their faith was still in the God who redeems. Walter Kaiser Jr., Professor emeritus and an Old Testament scholar looks at the ramifications of Jesus in the OT.[2] This affected their relationship with God and with the nations around them.

The Zeal of the Levites

The narrative in Exodus 32 gives us a picture of the zeal required to stand up for God. The Israelites had chilled long enough for Moses, and having gotten exhausted, asked the assistant-CEO, Aaron, to build them a golden calf, using the gold rings among their clans thereby creating the ultimate setting for a moment of debauchery. Moses comes down the mountain of God upon instruction from God, and is appalled by the state of affairs. God’s wrath burns to the point of ordering a mass killing of those who had shown such contempt for his character. The Levites prove themselves to be on the Lord’s side in their response: “then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.” (Verse 26). Some may have more questions about this account here, and I have provided useful links.[3] In sum, we see that the hope we have in Christ should cause us to stand up for the truth in the face of falsehood, justice in the place of injustice and righteousness in the place of moral decadence. The Levites are honored by God for their zeal in standing up for him. (Ezekiel 44:15)

Elijah and the Baals

A TIME-worthy power encounter, similar to perhaps a Mohamed Ali versus Joe Frazier match, the episode in 1 Kings 18 hits closer home with regards to our discussion. We see here a logical conundrum, very much similar to the differing assumptions between Korir and Omondi in Part 1.

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word (1 Kings 18:21).

In effect the conditional clause IF shows that there are only two outcomes, without any middle ground: God or Baal. Several other stories in the Old Testament show this power encounter between Yahweh and the other gods of the Ancient Near Eastern nations. Just like the obliterating of the Egyptian gods (each synonymous with the 10 plagues), Baal is defeated by the Living God in a comical way. A commentary on this verse notes that “Elijah stood in the breach between two mutually exclusive truth claims. He did not ask for arbitrary decision or an existential leap into the abyss of subjectivity. He called for a decision based on evidence, pleading with his God to provide it.”[4] God vindicates himself on the behalf of those who stand up for him. This theme carries forward to the New Testament.

New Testament Examples

The inspiration of the scriptures is clear even in the different color of the New Testament writers. Luke for instance writes to Theophilus, to give an account of his gospel witness. His name is derived from two words, theo (God) and phileo (love) hence lover of God. The systematic presentation of the gospel by Luke was to help Theophilus distinguish the reality of Jesus Christ as fact or fiction, a reason that is needed very much today in our times.

In his apologia, Luke writes for various reasons: (1) internally, for the Christian community against divisive issues such as circumcision (Acts 11:1-4 f.); (2) as a self-defense against other sects such as the Judaizers (Stephen and the Sanhedrin Acts 6 & 7; Paul in the Jewish Synagogue, Acts 17:2-4); (3) as an apologia to the Greeks (Paul in Athens Acts 17:16-34, Paul in Lystra and Derbe Acts 14:11-18), and (4) for the political innocence of the Christians in the Roman empire (Acts 16:20 f., 17:6-7. Jesus and Paul are presented as innocent participants in this political narrative cf. Acts 2:22-23; 22:22 especially vv. 25, 29).

Bridging the Time Gap: Contemporary Reflections

In contemporary culture such reasons are instructive in the current and often divisive and grace-less theological debates between various Christian sects or denominations, in the response to other competing worldviews and philosophies and lastly, in the activism for the human rights of Christians in persecuted nations. The Christian Post has reported on the shocking persecution of Christians in North Korea. The topic of the headline itself is harrowing: Christians ‘Crushed Under Steamroller’ and ‘Hung on a Cross Over Fire’ in North Korea.

The context of all these biblical examples is usually that of suffering – suffering for believing in the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and confirmed through his Spirit. And yet those who stand up for God in the face of suffering are happy.[5] Paul as a biblical example of a bold apologist shows us that the purpose of his defense, in light of his chains, is the confirmation of the good news that for all of us sinners deserving God’s just wrath, God’s love has been shed abroad in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary (Philippians 1:7). These biblical examples serve to show us that the gospel is God’s grace for those who receive it.

My prayer for you with Paul is that:

Your love may abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)


End 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] Walter Kaiser Jr., “Jesus in the Old Testament,” Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (2009), accessed here http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Jesus-in-the-Old-Testament.cfm. See also Josh McDowell Ministry, “How did Jesus View the Old Testament,” bethinking (2001), accessed from http://www.bethinking.org/bible/q-how-did-jesus-view-the-old-testament.

[3] These verses show God’s just wrath towards sin. Contemporary culture looks down upon the idea of wrath because of our sense of entitlement and sentimental view of love. Here we see both truths as one, that God’s love and God’s wrath are elements of his justice. This is a plea for anyone who desires to escape God’s wrath to believe in Jesus Christ. God’s wrath towards the believer is taken away as a result of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on his behalf, for which Moses foreshadows here (Exodus 32:30). See Paul Coulter, “Old Testament Mass Killings,” bethinking (2010), accessed here http://www.bethinking.org/bible/old-testament-mass-killings which responds to issues raised concerning God’s sanctioning of mass killings in the Old Testament.

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

[5] Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness: Defending Faith in the Manner of Jesus (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 31

3 responses to “Apologetics 103: The How – Biblical Examples”

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