Apologetics is Unavoidable

Apologetics is Unavoidable August 6, 2012

If you are a Christian, and by that I mean if you “believe” in King Jesus and you follow him, apologetics will be unavoidable at two levels. The first level is in your own head as you seek to make sense of your Christian faith, and this “in your head” level of apologetics is a life-long process.

The second level is “in the cafe” where someone asks you about what you believe and you realize you are being asked in the ordinary plane of life why you believe what you believe. This is your public confession, and when I say there is often conflict between the “in your head” and “in the cafe” levels I mean many are not willing to trot out the doubts in their head when they are “in the cafe.” One could say “in the head” apologetics is less confident than “in the cafe” apologetics.

So most folks seek what might be called “cushions of confidence,” places in their faith where they find soft, comfortable places and where they can feel confident about their faith. Some folks seem to be totally confident about everything in the faith and I don’t think it would be anything but truthful to say this about someone like Norm Geisler. But for many there are places in the faith where they are not so confident — say atonement theories, views of Scripture that conflict with their instincts when they read the Bible, apocalyptic worldviews, homosexuality — and others (cushions of confidence) where they are confident — Jesus himself, his kingdom vision, loving God and others, redemption in Christ, the afterlife.

Do you see in yourself or others this “cushions of confidence” approach? Do you see the more comprehensive approach? Is apologetics unavoidable?

Those who are altogether confident and those who find only cushions of confidence, if they think about, are both doing apologetics.

This is why I was encouraged to see that Khaldoun Sweis and Chad Meister have edited an anthology of primary sources in apologetics, called Christian Apologetics. I was drawn to Jim Beilby’s essay first, one in which he examines varieties of apologetics. He sorts through in readable prose the three sorts of apologetics:

1. Evidentialist: Bill Craig
2. Presuppositionalist: Van Til
3. Experientiaist: he gives examples of those who use experientialist arguments, including Swinburne, Alston, and C.S. Lewis.

Leading me to the question: Which of these approaches has been most helpful to you?

There’s so much in this book: a long section on the existence of God and the various arguments, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Bible, Miracles, Resurrection of Jesus, Body/Soul and the argument from Mind, the Problem of Evil, Christianity and Science and Christianity and the World.

Frankly, this is the kind of book that many postmodern students in colleges would absolutely love to use as a full semester, if not full year, course on Christianity. These are many of the questions they are asking, though I’d like to see some of the sticky questions about Old Testament (God, war, election, historical reliability) addressed. The book is shaped toward the apologetics concerns of evangelicals students (a book from Zondervan tends to do that!).

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  • Jon Bartlett

    Looks interesting. I have just read “Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith” by Alister E. McGrath. Easy to read and really helpful – not giving the answers, but suggesting how to give a winsome account of ones faith.

  • Jon Bartlett

    And I’d be a balance of evidentialist and experientiaist! Presuppositionalism doesn’t work for me.

  • I think that we can be and need to be eclectic regarding these different approaches to apologetics. We have to go with the argument or challenge. This may require that we draw from a logical critique (presuppositional apologetics), our experience, or from more objectively verifiable evidence. Why be limited to just one?

  • DRT

    Scot, nice article, I would like to see more posts from you on the practical side of being a Christian.

  • Paul W

    Personally, I have found the presuppositional/existential approach of Hans Kung (Does God Exist?) to be profoundly intriguing. His work “Does God Exist” is massive (800 plus pages) and brilliantly researched. At the same time his work is mystifyingly (to me at least) ignored by students of the field and those mapping the apologetic landscape.

  • I’m drawn to what Robert Webber called incarnational apologetics–faith lived out well–and its effects on both levels as described in your post.

  • I presuppose that experience and evidence matter.

  • AHH

    Agree with Chad @6 about incarnational, which I suppose may be considered a subset of “experiential”. In an increasingly postmodern age, that probably gets more traction with more people than rigid logical argument.

    My complaint is the prevalence of Jesus-free apologetics. Often (especially on the evidentialist front) the effort is entirely to show the “existence of God” or of some anonymous “intelligent designer”. Not that such arguments can’t sometimes be a part of a larger picture, but when Christian apologetics operate in a manner where Christ is an afterthought at best, something is wrong.

  • Juniper

    I’m currently going through Groothuis’ book on Apologetics. I don’t know that I adopt any one of the above more than the others although I suppose I find one and two more immediately useful than three as I’ve seen some pretty strange things. I find that apologetics is something I need to do on an ongoing basis as the topics of the existence of God and different objections to Christianity or “religion” cross into the public arena. Questions need to be answered and there are always more of them.

  • T

    Jeff Cook,


    I agree, Scot, that apologetics matter. I’m reminded of some posts here lately that reference studies showing that we use our reasoning (most frequently) to justify conclusions we’ve already accepted rather than coming to conclusions to begin with. This certainly puts apologetics (for oneself, and for others) in a new light.

    I personally think we would be better served if we could make progress:

    – making “in the cafe” and “in your head” apologetics much the same (i.e., be more transparent)
    – being altogether confident about everything is unrealistic and (therefore) hard for folks who have been around the block to believe. Coming accross that way hurts credibility, in the long run.

  • Doug Hendricks

    With Daniel #3 I think we can be eclectic. I have always taken a “What is the best explanation of everything” approach. In the past I have thought of this in terms of rationality and the “big C’s”- consistency, coherence, congruentcy… More recently I am putting rationality under the rubic of Beauty and Love. Love is intimately connected with knowledge and understanding- the more you love something the better you understand it. True not only of the marriage relationship but of all relationships (IMO) whether God, people, things, or ideas. So love and epistimology are inseperable. In turn, love and rationality are aspects of beauty- much like symmetry is an aspect of a beautiful work of art. Rationality is beautiful and so are loving relationships between individuals, in communities, with nature. I’m probably not expressing this well enough, still putting it all together in my own mind (open to any suggestions or reading along this line). Both “in my head” and “in the cafe” I’m beginning to ask questions like What does worldview/story “X” have to say to the person who wants to see peace and justice instead of violence prevail around the world, who wants to see love and gentleness instead of alienation and abuse in families, who wants to see respect and beauty instead of economic use and ugliness in our relation to nature? Also, along with Chad #6, incarnational, the doorway to a fair hearing. Both with myself and others I try to be honest about my “confidence” levels on various issues (still many questions). And a big yes to more O.T. issues- the the “how” and “why” of the way God did/is doing things speaks to who he is.

  • Mark Farmer

    One thing that Francis Schaeffer wrote that I can still agree with is that “Love is the final apologetic.”

    Parts of the NT can be read as a collection of apologetic works, explaining how Jesus could be the Messiah and yet die by crucifixion rather than fulfill OT prophecies as expected.

    And a question: At what point does apologetics become rationalization?

  • Jon G

    For me, this post hits close to home as well as did Jeff Cook’s book which, I think, he wrote the first 42 pages directly from within my brain (nice trick, Jeff!).

    I spent the last 3 years thoroughly exploring as many apologetic arguments that I could (intellectual, historical, philosophical, etc) until I became a convinced agnostic. Ultimately, I decided that life made more sense as a believer and that I would rather be wrong about God while committed to him than to be right about God and non-committed.

    I’ll let you know how it turns out…

  • CGC

    Hi Jon,
    Do you ever experience God? I heard this somewhere that a man with an experience trumps a man with an argument.

  • Doug Hendricks

    Mark #12 I’m sure apologetics functions as rationalization for some. At an introductory level some books (and classes within the church I’ve been to) only deal with strawmen. For myself, I try to be as open, honest, and humble with myself as I can. I also try to read the best from a differing perspective. Reading people much smarter than myself who see things differently makes me have to ask harder questions. It also makes humility easier to come by.

  • Jon G. (#13),

    That sounds like a painful and confusing way to live – “I would rather be wrong about God while committed to him than to be right about God and non-committed.”

    Similarly, others have said that they had to shut off their mind in order to trust in God. However, from a Scriptural point of view, truth and truth go together, and they must. Otherwise, we would be torn asunder by the dissonance.

    Please pray that God will help you to resolve this conflict. You might once again pursue apologetics more proactively or simply spend more time in the Word. I have a Facebook page – Apologetics for Today – that might be of some help.

  • Doug,

    I think you’re right about the beauty of rationality. As the laws of physics are highly elegant – and these have provoked some, including Einstein, to believe in God – the moral laws are also elegant, so-much-so, they serve as pointers to God: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-dharma-of-happiness.html

  • Jon G

    Hi CGC,

    Yeah, I think I do…but then, sometimes I wonder whether or not I’m “experiencing” God or just imagining what I think it is like to experience God. I know before all my searching, I felt as if I often experienced God (and Satan trying to get me to resist God). Now, I’m much less certain.

    But one thing I’ve come to decide is that God, like any person I want to be close to, requires my time, attention, and commitment for there to be relationship. I will never experience him if I’m not open to experiencing him.


  • CGC

    Hi Jon,
    I hear both humility and uncertainty and we all experience various forms of doubt that either lead us closer to God or farther way in one’s Christian faith. If there is a growing desparity between those who work and those who don’t work in the world of politics, I see a difference between those who are religious and those who talk about their faith in relational terms. I see a growing difference between those who say they experience God at whatever level and those who either say they don’t (and no-one else should either) or they simply are unsure of the many ways God reveals himself in the world today).

    Maybe the biggest concern people should examine is how are we growing in our faith and discipleship? Even if people feel lost in this area, I would hope that this would drive people to seek and search. Maybe the answer is in the searching that leads to the finding?

  • Jon G

    Daniel Mann @16

    Firstly, yes, it is a difficult way to live, but I don’t see any easy way out of it. I’ve done the apologetic thing (as I mentioned) thoroughly and, while I still hold that there is more evidence for the existence of God than against…those arguments did nothing to draw me closer to him.

    Secondly, sorry if I was ambiguous. I don’t in any way suggest or subscribe to the idea that one should “shut off their mind in order to trust in God” – quite the contrary. I’m simply saying that the apologetic argument can only take someone so far…that my relationship with God does not depend on my certainty of his existence. Pursuing apologetic arguments instead of relationship with God only served to make him an object of inquiry…like a hidden treasure or something. I think the best way to know the truth about someone is to commit to doing life with them…not studying them under a microscope.

    I see my best chance for certainty coming from living my life as if God exists and loves me – and then I believe I’ll see if the fruit of that commitment.

    Much love,

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel, in my post today I called attention to two kinds of Christian postures in apologetics, and it would be good for us to be sensitive to those who instead of your more approach can find only cushions of confidence. I see that at work in Jon Gombis’ statements today, and I believe there are many like him and we need to be sensitive about that approach, while respecting others — like you — seem more confident.

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel, one more: one of the most important books in my own reading life was Daniel Taylor’s The Myth of Certainty, so while you may not agree I’d think it would be a good act of empathy on your part to read it.

  • MatthewS

    I like Jeff’s wit at #7.

    I think some of this goes back to the people you have been around who used the different styles, and how those people affected you. I had a prof who was into the presuppositionalist method. This prof was very intelligent and could go the distance in any discussion he chose to join. He was lively, energetic, funny. A lot of people were drawn to him. I have a soft spot for that style, very much influenced by how I remember him engaging it. I wonder if other people might have had similar experiences with the other methods.

  • Juniper

    Doubts, I find, rear their heads now and again and sometimes more frequently. Occasionally, I have to ask myself what I believe without analyzing the arguments.

  • Scot,

    I read Daniel Taylor’s book and was deeply troubled by it. In contrast the Bible says a lot about assurance and certainty. This, however, doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced many years of struggle with uncertainty. Doubts about God and my salvation where so intense that I often wanted to die. In fact, He taught me much about my struggle with uncertainty and doubt.

    However, instead of imploring God for a way through the doubt, Taylor enthrones doubt as the principle virtue. He embraces the search but disdains the finding. In response to this, please read: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2011/02/certainty-isnt-unrealistic-or-even.html

  • Jon G.

    I certainty can endorse your strategy. Jesus, in fact affirms it:

    **John 7:17 If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

    But please don’t set living the life against thinking through the life. They go together. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and MIND!

  • AHH

    Daniel Taylor’s book is wonderfully encouraging for those of us who don’t seem to be “wired” for unreflective 100% black/white certainty (and who are sometimes made to feel like our faith is therefore inferior).
    I also found Lesslie Newbigen’s Proper Confidence helpful in that regard.

    Returning to the topic of the post, I think sensitivity to personality, to whether someone is a black/white thinker or sees shades of gray, must affect how we share Jesus with people.
    Reflective shades-of-gray people are generally made to feel unwelcome by much of the modern conservative evangelical church; maybe reaching such people is one good reason for the existence of the “emergent” church.

  • Jon G

    Don’t worry, Daniel. As I said, I don’t believe in ignoring the mind issue. I just see “knowing about” God as a less fruitful pursuit than “knowing” God although they certainly do overlap in places.


  • AHH,

    I actually feel as you do, that those of us who lack a sense of certainly and assurance shouldn’t feel marginalized or even that they are missing-it. God has His on very special path for each of us. Some have to spend long periods in the “Valley of the Shadow of Death.” I did.

    However, while I can understand how Taylor’s book can be comforting, I think that he offers the wrong comfort – the comfort of the day, a postmodern comfort. He writes:

    • “When people defend their world view, they are not defending reason, or God, or an abstract system; they are defending their own fragile sense of security and self-respect.” (25) (http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2010/09/spiritual-insecurity.html)

    This is not divine counsel. We have Biblical admonitions to defend the faith (Jude 3). Ironically, Taylor merely marginalizes a different group of people.

  • I have had trouble with “Apologetics” lately, as I’ve become more and more convinced that, as Mark Farmer quoted, “Love is the final apologetic”. The moment apologetics become defensive or argumentative we lead other’s away, not towards the Truth no matter how sound the argument. To use the apologetic of Love is to seek to understand another person, to enter into their mind, experience, and world, and to be Love within that space by being WITH them rather than trying to CHANGE them.

    I think Paul’s claim that he becomes all things to all people is meant very literally. I used to assume it to mean that he would take on the outward appearance or mannerisms of those he was reaching out to while knowing in his heart it was all a show, but now I think that when we are able to differentiate the Spirit of Christ from the religious Christ we are literally free to become all things. We don’t need to argue with anyone because, in the end, we’re all looking for the same thing, feeling the same loss.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot, Daniel, and all,
    I suspect that Daniel finds Taylor’s book potentially dangerous while many others have been greatly encouraged by it (I feel the same way about the book as Scot does). I would also add another good read in this area, especially Jon’s more Kierkegaardian approach would be Kierkegaard’s “Provocations.” It seems like many Christians view Jesus resurrection as a kind of evidentialist “proof” (typically, a claim for Jesus divinity). And with the focus on proofs and facts, one wonders how faith operates if there is nothing left uncertain?

    I sometimes wonder how confident modernist Christians and unconfident postmodernist Christians are really to get along? Their presuppositions, worldview and how much can we really know are often very different starting points. And what about people who are not confident modernists or unconfident postmodernists? (some of us don’t fit either of these two very neatly).

    I think the place that Daniel Taylor’s book is helpful (and some still miss it) is the difference between psychological certainty (which we all have to varying degrees to confidence to less confident) to ontological certainty (how comprehensive is our knowledge of reality and the objects or mysteries of the universe?). Taylor is not saying Christians can not have assurance of their faith or have certainty. He wants to challenge our idols of our own ideals where we get so caught up thinking we have to defend God (like God needs our defending) when what we are really doing is defending our own ideas about God. Taylor wants us all to take a good, long look in the mirror and this can be very frightening for some of us.

  • CGC,

    You raise a very important point: “I sometimes wonder how confident modernist Christians and unconfident postmodernist Christians are really to get along? Their presuppositions, worldview and how much can we really know are often very different starting points.”

    I think that this is a barrier that needs to be scaled for the glory of our Lord. Perhaps for starters, I think that one important thing that separates us is our generation. I think that I have experienced much the same kind of thing that many of you clearly have. Struggling with doubts and depression, I felt that I too didn’t fit into the church. It seemed that the experiences of other Christians were very different from mine. They seemed to experience a joy in believing. I didn’t, and therefore wanted to flee.

    Fortunately for me, postmodern Christianity wasn’t an option. It just wasn’t available. Yes, it would have made things easier for me. I would have gobbled up Daniel Taylor and his assurances that I felt alienated because I was a “thinking, contemplative, and sensitive Christian.”

    However, I don’t think that this ego-building is the comfort we need. Instead, I think that it’s the comfort that comes from squarely confronting the trials and weaknesses of our faith (2 Cor. 12:9-10) and wrestling with God for wisdom (James 1:5-8).

    We have not because we ask not (James 4:2-3). I fear that we ask not because we are comforted by a false and misleading comfort that assurance and boldness in the faith isn’t a possibility for us.

    I write these provocative words in hope of provoking dialogue.

  • Nate W.

    Love is an important apologetic, but Jesus seemed to be showing us that evidential/logical apologetics is equally important:

    John 14:28-29: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. [29] I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. ”

    Perhaps the evidence of His resurrection appearances was the greatest apologetic of all:

    Acts 1:3: After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

  • d

    Theology and Apologetics are not to be confused because they are not the same thing.
    Apologetics is restricted to the defence of the Christian Faith and incorporates Theology.
    One of the greatest teachers I have read, and I have read many, is Kenneth E. Bailey.
    No one introduces the study of scriptur, with cultural context included, like Bailey.No one can tear down and analyze a parable like Bailey. I am a huge fan of his.
    Katherine Kroger and Mary J. Evens do a great job in the study of scripture and
    incorporating historical writings and events in their explanation.

    Carl Brateen does an indepth job of explaining the Lutheran perspective.
    Hahn is considered by many a great Catholic Apologist and Theologian.

    An Apologists is a true believer and will defend the Christian Faith no matter what.
    The great apologists of the early christian church are must reads. .
    They include Justin Martyr, Marcion, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Tertullian, and Origen.

    Theologians may or may not believe in the God of the Christian faith.
    Many popular modern day Christian Authors spend more time promoting their personal held convictions then they do teaching how to incorporate all the element necessay to understand scripture.
    The ones that do are my favorites.

  • MatthewS

    Doubt – on one hand, I think any good story depends on a healthy amount of it. Star Trek, for example, goes to great lengths to create plausible (in a science fiction sort of way) explanations precisely because they expect inquiring minds to push against the story. If the viewer brings no curiosity or doubt, everything underneath the surface of the story goes unexplored, unappreciated. God the great story-teller doesn’t seem interested in lobotomizing all of our doubt.

    The other hand is that an “unbelieving heart” (Heb 3:12) becomes a hard heart and misses out on God’s rest.

    I had mostly avoided apologetics for a while but find it increasingly unavoidable. For example, on facebook, I can ignore 99 out of 100 posts from someone who just discovered Dawkins et al and thinks that Christianity is well and truly conquered. But there are a few conversations that result where real questions and concerns are raised; those concerns deserve careful interaction.

    I personally find the resurrection very important. I think that Paul presents the resurrection as the linchpin of Christianity in 1 Cor 15:12-18, something that I think accords with the “convincing proofs” quoted above.

    It seems to me that the resurrection and the fruit of the Spirit are 2 things that distinguish Christianity from other religions (true love and grace figure into the mix as well). If Christianity at its core is one more code of moralism then I don’t know why I wouldn’t trade it in for a self-help fad or perhaps an ancient religion with culture and tradition on its side.

  • CGC

    Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for provoking discussion. On the one hand, I have no problem with a bolder type of Christianity as long as its humble confidence or bold-love. Secondly, Acts 1:3 sounds like modern “infallible proof” or the master narrative of modernity where people can posses absolute truth or know by “facts” that all supposedly reasonable people should understand and believe. I would be curious for others to exegete Acts 1:3 some more but I for one am doubtful that Acts 1:3 written in the first century means what many modern Christians after the Enlightenment take it to mean? Anybody up for the task?

  • CGC,

    Acts 1:3 is just one verse out of many regarding proofs and evidences:

    • Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

    • Hebrews 2:4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

    • Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

    • John 10:37 If I [Jesus] do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me;

    • John 20:31 But these [miracles] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    In many places in the OT, God explains that He had performed miracles so that Israel would KNOW that He is God.

    What does “humble confidence” look like?

  • CGC

    Hi Daniel,
    If you are walking in signs and wonders and miracles then more power to you. If not, then why not?

  • MatthewS,

    I agree with just all that you have written. However, let me just add onto what you wrote about “doubt.” I agree with you that doubt can be a very useful tool, but this depends upon how we respond to it. If it leads us to search more deeply and to find answers, then I think it accomplishes its intended purpose, as least one of them. But if instead, we indulge it, it would be like delighting in the pain we get from placing our hand on a hot stove. Pain is good if it leads us to remove our hand before damage is done. Doubt is good if it provokes us to resolve the conflict.

  • CGC,

    I admit that we can’t require “walking in signs and wonders and miracles.” I certainly don’t walk in this manner. Instead, “we walk by faith and not by sight.”

    But the evidential basis of the Christian faith still stands. We believe because we have REASONS to believe. Even Jesus stated that we shouldn’t believe simply because of His say-so:

    • John 5:31 “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.

    However, in accordance with the OT principle that everything needed to be corroborated by 2-3 witnesses, Jesus then asserts the reasons why we should believe – miracles and the testimonies of John, the Father, and of Scripture.

  • MatthewS

    CGC, certainly we have to take care as post-Enlightenment readers of the ancient text. Something to remember along with that, as we all know, is that Paul and the Pharisees and other leaders and philosophers he reasoned with (from synagogues to Mars Hill) were not cave men. They were the careful thinkers of their day. Post-Enlightenment they were not, but neither were they mentally lazy or incurious. This touches on your point because while “proofs” would mean something different today and we don’t want to be uncritical about that gap, even so, the perlocutionary effect (to borrow a term) would have been confidence, would it not? The essential property of a proof is that it gives an inquiring mind some degree of assurance – some “cushion of confidence.”

  • CGC

    Hi Daniel,
    The testimony of scriptures you listed are what we are to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we do that, we will witness signs and wonders of various sorts. This is not a reguirement, just the results of what a cruciform life for God looks like. Somehow there is now a strange twist or irony in the conversation. You are suddenly talking the talk without the very demonstrations or evidences you believe in. Did these evidences stop 2000 years ago? I believe we will convince more people by them seeing the power of God in our lives rather than others simply listenen to our intellectual gifts of persuasion?

  • CGC,

    Certainly, it isn’t a matter of EITHER living the life of Christ or the evidences of Christ. I just want to make a case for the role of intellect, certainty, and assurance, and I think Scripture makes this very case for us.

    I don’t deny miracles. They have been very pivotal in my own life, and I speak of them as I give my testimony. However, I am not daily bathed by miracles. I think that the Christian life tends to be miracle-lean. However, Scripture also talks about the testimonial evidences of Scripture, like John stated:

    • John 20:31 But these [miracles] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    Therefore, even if I haven’t seen the miracles myself, the testimony of Scripture carries evidential weight.

    You also mentioned the power of the Spirit in our lives. I think that this power is most potently exhibited in the presentation of the Gospel (although not to deny what you are saying):

    • Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

    Sorry, I didn’t understand your first to sentences. (I must now leave for several hours.)

  • Is there any other “religion” besides Christianity that finds the need for a discipline called “apologetics?”

  • d

    I so agree apologetics plays a primary role in discipleship at all levels and it is important to know where you stand , why you stand there and the supporting evidence.
    Using the Methodist Wesley method of learning and sharing is a lifetime endeavor.
    My experience has been with those questioning Christianity is.

    1. Resistance and antagonism toward the believer…but they are interested.
    Does God exist?
    Who is to decide what God is the true and only God?
    Who are you to tell me and make such judgments?

    2. The return of the seeker with more questions. …
    If the believer ( apologists at any level) has answered the questions of the seeker with facts, logic, and conviction chances are they will be back again. A good apologist will send a seeker or unbeliever away “not so sure of themselves”. The apologist has shaken the foundations of the seeker.
    Some seekers are satisfied with personal testimony but I have found that will not satisfy the test of time when the seeker, in the future is put on the spot and asked to explain why they believe in this Holy God we worship. It requires much more to be an apologist and much more to sustain the convert.

    The apologists will know scripture.
    The apologists has already been convinced and convicted of the authenticity of scripture.
    The apologists will have read and studied all the pros and cons.
    The study will lead to historical church writings, culture, word origin, history, archeology, language, Jewish thought and a few other things I am sure I have not include.
    The study of all of the above are what make a great apologist.
    This is the path to unshakable faith that is realizes in men and women like Wesley, Luther, Kroeger, MacArthur, Evens and Calvin. Study and the guiding spirit of God. One with out the other will lead to now where.

    Paul to the church:
    15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.1 Peter 3:15

    Read Pauls dismay at what he sees :
    You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. Hebrews 5:12

    Is what Paul saw then …..what we see now?

  • d

    There is Theology and there is Apologetics.
    The two are not the same.]
    Apologetics is defence of the Christian Faith.
    I find many modern writer fall way short of the questions I want answered.
    They spend more time on spreaching and defending their position then anything else.
    The best Theologeon I have read that opens the mind to how to study scripture for me was Kenneth E. Bailey.
    No one I have ever read (and I have read many) breaks down, analyses, incorporates historical, culture and defends the faith like Bailey.

  • JamesB

    @Jon G,

    I haven’t read through every post here but I did read all of the ones you submitted. It sounds like you are in a place similar to where I was up until about a year ago. In fact, your statement, “I see my best chance for certainty coming from living my life as if God exists and loves me,” almost perfectly describes my state of mind.

    Are you familiar with Darin Hufford and The Free Believers Network or Wayne Jacobsen? Both were very helpful me during that period of my life.

    I ultimately became an agnostic and am currently very comfortable there (although it took awhile to get comfortable with it), but everyone has a different journey and story to tell. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • Very thought provoking post, Scot. Thanks.

    In my fifties now, I think I’m more certain on what I might call the basics: Jesus, in Jesus, the kingdom of God. But I need cushion in many other areas so that when I speak of such areas I want to take great care. And emphasize grace.

    This helps me understand why some who know a lot, and seem so firm in all they know, just don’t resonate with me. But it seems like some insist on this, and others are attracted to it. But by and large, an apologetics with profound humility is needed, I think.

  • Profound humility doesn’t mean without firm conviction in reference to God’s revelation in King Jesus, the good news of King Jesus.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Amen d#46 on Kenneth Bailey!

    Reading the multiple comments by Thomas Mann, I find myself asking, “How do I have CERTAINTY about the transcendence of God on any level?” I have great CONFIDENCE, due to the testimony of scripture, my experience, the witness of the church through time, etc. and that feels to me to be enough. But, certainty, how is that possible?

    And, I too loved Taylor’s book, though by the time I encountered it, just a couple years ago, it felt more like a clearer statement of how the world already seemed to be than an epiphany.

  • Jon G


    No, I hadn’t heard of them but I’ll check them out. Thanks!


  • Andrew

    For anyone who (like me) has had his confidence shaken in his own ability to know truth, experiential apologetics is, while necessary, insufficient. I had to work through N.T. Wright’s defense of the historical resurrection to find a cushion of confidence that I could sit on.

    At the same time, I think Pauline apologetics involves more than mere rationality. Two verses come to mind that I think should take a more central place in discussions of these nature: (1) Titus 2:10, where we find the notion of “adorn(ing) the doctrine of God” or making it “attractive.” This is an apologetics of beauty; and (2) 2 Corinthians 2:15, where we are described as the “aroma of Christ.” Aroma again speaks of sensory (here, olfactory) beauty.

    Has anyone seen these verses brought to bear in a theology of apologetics?

  • Andrew,

    You’re right about the apologetic significance of these verses. I would take it further thought – everything that God created points back to Him. Every sunset and flowered field sings His glory. Even our own artistic creations depend upon the capacity that He has given us to enjoy and resonate to them. The beauty of every chord reflects the wisdom – the mathematical relations He has breathed into them.

    Every formula of physics displays an imponderable elegance that gestures back to His wise design. Consciousness, free will, life and the fine tuning of all existence all testify of His artistry.

    Even the Bible exudes evidence of His presence – its miracles before thousands, fulfilled prophesy, changed lives and societies, uncanny wisdom, internal and external consistency.

    I pray that the people here would not be so quick to embrace doubt and non-certainty as virtues – as goals in themselves – but would beseech Him to open their eyes to the great assemblage of God that surrounds them.

  • Steve and others,

    For me certainty isn’t absolute but functional. I never had any defense against the doubts that would dislodge me from any sense of confidence I might have had. I had had a powerful encounter with God, but my doubts and skepticism would even overwhelm what I had experienced.

    I doubted everything – God, His love for me, and consequently my salvation. For the first 15 years of my Christian walk, I had been living on scorched earth. I thank God that I hadn’t been exposed to Taylor during this period. He would have enabled me to believe that scorched earth was the norm, the Promised Land – rather than the functional confidence and assurance I now enjoy.

    Without this assurance, we are unable to live the Christian life in joy, peace and confidence. We are unable to witness, unable to share our faith coherently. After all, why should the Muslim acknowledge that your experience is any more valid than His!

  • Jon G

    Btw, this came in my mailbox this morning from Tim Keller:

  • Bev Mitchell

    This is a good coffee shop! The honesty here is inspiring. I hope many are following this discussion. Having read a good number of the comments, it’s highly unlikely that I will say anything new – but how we say things is often just as important. We all think differently so we speak and hear differently too. God loves diversity.

    It is possible to give faith and doubt too high a billing. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Both faith and doubt are results of a complex of things, some external, some internal. Doubt is not overcome by increasing our faith in our faith. Our faith in our faith can even be idolatrous. 

    The parable of the sower tells us something about faith as a product of something more fundamental – in that case the environment in which we are immersed. The prodigal son in the pig pen showed more faith than the stay at home son who didn’t recognize that he had everything – this was the result of experience. But an even better example is from the sermon on the mount – “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” KJV and Is. 55.1, 2 “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters..” NIV

    We are all seekers – atheists, agnostics, believers or the honestly confused. The Holy Spirit is prepared to meet us where we are, as the Psalm says “…if I descend to Sheol. You are there too.” Tanakh Ps. 139. Our faith is not a static thing, it grows in true seekers. It is a gift from God, so it is also a limitless gift. The not-yet believer, the new believer and the old tree all need to see their faith grow from the same source and through the same obedience, experience and environment. It comes from a relationship as well as a discipline. And, we should never forget that the one whose love makes faith possible is also patient “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you…” 2 Peter 3:9 NRSV

    James says “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” KJV  In Genesis 15, to which James alludes Abraham says “Sovereign Lord, how can I know….?” and the answer was “Bring me a heifer…..etc.” Abraham did not start with faith, he started with obedience. The fact that Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for wanting proof, and the fact that Jesus had earlier shown the other disciples the proof Thomas demanded, should nuance our interpretation of “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” NIV Our faith is a product of our obedience. Of course it comes from God, where else would reliable faith come from? But it results from our turning from ourselves to God, and it grows and flourishes in obedience. Our obedience is evidence that we are seekers.

    The old song that many of the young people on this blog may not ever have heard says it well. 

    “We have an anchor that keeps the soul
    Stedfast and sure while the billows roll,
    Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
    Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”

    It’s easy to think of this anchor as faith, but faith  is not our anchor. Consider the last line. If our faith is our hope we are lost, but because our hope is the love of Christ, we are surely saved.

    Think of this metaphor a little more. We often admire people grounded in their faith, and in a sense this is appropriate. But an anchored ship is much safer in a storm than a grounded one. With the kind of anchor the hymn speaks of, we can even weigh anchor and sail the wide seas, never being separated from Christ’s love. 

    Just yesterday an e-mail correspondent closed with the wonderful phrase “With you on the journey”. Maybe I’m out of some loop, but I had not encountered this particular valediction before. I like it!

    We indeed must be with each other on the journey.

  • Let me try to cut through all of my verbiage. It’s all about our Savior. He is capable of lifting us out of our doubts, skepticism and uncertainty:

    • And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)

    He enabled doubting Thomas to stand with just His appearance and a few words. He was able to make Job stand after the most intense trials.

    He is also able to convert the “Myth of Certainty” into certainty. If He is the God of all creation, why couldn’t He. As Nebuchadnezzar confessed:

    • All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)

  • Andrew

    Daniel Mann,

    Thank you for interacting with my comment. I think you and I are talking about two different things, though.

    If I understand you correctly, you’re talking about beauty as evidence of God that can be used in rational apologetics. I’m talking about beauty being itself what draws people to Christ at an altogether different and more visceral level than mere rationality — in the vein of T’s comment #10 above. People are drawn in by beauty, and then use apologetics to show that what they’ve been drawn to is, in fact, rationally defensible. Beauty here is broadly construed as in Doug Hendricks’ comment #11 above, including love and anything else that makes faith in Christ attractive.

    You’ve already disagreed with Doug (in fact, you misunderstood him in your comment #17 just as you did me in your comment #53), so I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I did want to point out that we were, in fact, talking about two different things.

  • John A.

    To whomever wishes to respond:

    When in the “cafe” which option is more faithfull to I Peter 3:15 (about giving a reason for the hope that is in us) – 1. Being completely honest about my doubts/struggles, or 2. Stay clear of what are my issues and more directed on Christ…., or 3. just don’t visit the “cafe”?

    John A.

  • Thai families that are selling their daughters into the sex trade were offered money by a Christian group to not do so. However, they scorned the offer and continued to do what had become culturally acceptable.

    I wanted to understand what was so culturally inductive that they would continue in this destructive behavior. I struggle with the same perplexity as I try to understand the influence of Daniel Taylor’s “The Myth of Certainty.”

    While I understand that his thesis enables us to accept our less-than-optimal Christian experience – he tells us that we lack certainty because we are the deep, sensitive and contemplative Christians – I fail to understand why you all continue in this “certainty” that undermines the very joy and confidence you can have in believing. However, it is not merely a matter of the fact that Taylor’s thesis will hurt you in the long run; it is actually problematic on other levels:

    1. Most obviously, it is incoherent. Taylor claims “certainty” about his thesis while he denies certainty regarding the Christian faith. How is it that he expects his readers to embrace certainty about Christian uncertainty? Meanwhile, his certainty is destructive of the Christian faith and of Christians who try to embrace both Christ and Taylor at the same time.

    2. Taylor’s thesis is entirely unbiblical. Although the Christian life is filled with struggles – doubts, uncertainty, fears, temptations – this doesn’t mean that certainty or assurance aren’t possibilities. The Bible talks much about the reality of certainty, confidence and assurance:

    • Moses’ father-in-law confessed assurance: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” (Exodus 18:11)

    • God made it possible that even the “whole world” would know of Him: “Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:46)

    • He gave Israel unassailable proofs of His protection: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire.” (Deut. 4:35-36)

    • Paul expressed a high level of confidence in the things of God (Phil. 1:25; 2:23; 2 Tim. 1:12).

    • We too are promised this confidence and assurance (Eph. 3:12): “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

    • Assurance is also something to pursue: “Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:10)

    3. Sadly, Taylor’s embrace of uncertainty undermines this pursuit of certainty. “We have not because we ask not” (James 4:3). Taylor instead wants to make us comfortable with our uncertainty.

    I write these unsettling words because I want to build bridges among Christians. Even more importantly, to show you that you have found the wrong “comfort.” I pray that you will understand.

  • John A.

    An addition to Posting 59:

    One other option while in the “cafe” is a blending of sorts between option 1 and 2 – Simply have the willingness to share who you are in terms of how and why you became a Christian. It amounts to knowing yourself well enough to be able to share your faith story. (I’m still not very good at this.) For me all the intellectual stuff suddenly becomes personal and compassionate. It’s more like a confession than a systematic argument. From looking at Acts 26 it appears that Paul does something like that when he addresses King Agrippa.

  • Rob

    Good article, Scot. Love talking about apologetics. And yes, I think it is unavoidable if you’re serious about faith in Christ. I’m a big Geisler fan, but there’s nothing like getting blown away by Tom Wright and having everything you grew up believing challenged and found inadequate. Makes for a bigger view of God.

  • CGC

    Hi Daniel,
    You can continue to disagree with Taylor but from my perspective, you don’t undertstand Taylor and therefore I understand your concerns for why in the world could any of the rest of us follow Taylor down the road of doubt and uncertainty you believe he takes. But here are some nuances and distinctions to understand concerning Taylor:

    1. There is a difference between our knowledge of God and knowing God.
    2. There is a difference of our possesing God and God possesing us.
    3. There is a difference between the mental action of believing and the bodily action of following.
    4. There is a difference between doubt that leads to faith and a doubt that destroys faith.
    5. There is a difference between epistemological certainty and epistemological humility.
    6. There is a difference between a knowing of the mind and a knowing of the heart.
    7. There is a difference between confidence in our own knowing and confidence in the One who knows us.
    8. There is a difference between claims of final truth and the claim to be on a journey toward final truth.
    9. There is a difference in the Christian faith as a demonstratable fact of rational certainty and an act of grace received by faith.
    10. There is a difference between faith within the bounds of Reason and reason within the bounds of faith.

    This last one is what Taylor I believe is especially aiming at! It’s not that Taylor believes all these are either/or’s (many are both/ands) but he is challenging the wrong-sided focus post-enlighentment Christians have taken in their quest to defend truth.

  • CGC,

    Thanks for the response. However, the dichotomies you set forth are quite abstract for me, and I’m not sure what to get out of them.

    Clearly, our generations have set us apart. Perhaps you can bring it down to earth for me by explaining what you have personally derived from Taylor. Although I’m very entrenched in my own point of view, I do sincerely want to understand yours.

    From my present perspective, Taylor is willing to embrace the life of Jesus but not the intellectual rigor of Jesus. To me, this seems very limiting.

  • Bev Mitchell

    CRC (63)

    “Let this be coppied out, And keepe it safe for our remembrance.” from “King John”  William Shakespeare

    Please try again. These are not obscure, they are very real and very workable. The generation gap is also real but nothing like insurmountable.

  • Steve Sherwood

    The last two summers I have had the unique opportunity of teaching a freshman level Bible Survey class to Chinese students attending the university where I teach. They are not Christians, though some become Christians during their time here. They have not ever read the Bible. They didn’t know anyone growing up that was a Christian, read the Bible or, often, believed in any god at all. In teaching them, it is of no help to tell them of the certainty of the truth of the Bible by quoting Bible verses to them, even where I am convinced by those passages. I have found that they have been most helped by my laying out for them why I personally believe, what makes the Bible credible to me, what personal experiences have supported the God portrayed in scripture, how have others, because of their faith in Jesus impacted the world AND, be honest with them about aspects of faith that are difficult. While these 8 week classes bring these issues into sharp focus, it seems like, as the original post suggested, this is what we do with ourselves and anyone we share our faith with. When I talk with non-Christian American students, even those that grew up in the church, they are rarely impressed by “I am certain because this passage in the Bible tells me to be/I can be.”

  • JamesB

    “It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.” –Richard Feynman

  • scotmcknight

    Steve, I love your comment. Thanks.

  • Bev,

    I have Taylor’s book. If instead, you were to provide me with quotes and page numbers, it would be far easier for me to digest what he is saying, rather than serving up a bunch of one-liners, which can be understood in many different ways.

    I am still struggling to understand the contribution that he makes – the positive difference he has made in your lives.

  • Doug Hendricks

    Daniel #58 Thanks for understanding me 🙂 and better said. Beauty as a wholistic vision kind of thing- from how everything began, to how it will all end, to the way things are meant to be in the mean time, to the what and why of what Messiah has done for us (and it’s not bad on the rational level either).

    CGC #63 I have no problem understanding your list of 10 differences.

    Not sure why this “generational” thing keeps coming up. I am 52 and guess I would fall on the more “post-modern” side (though the terms modern/postmodern may be becoming as useless as conservative/liberal). I grew up on Schaeffer and though I still appreciate and value many things he taught me I have come to see that life and Scripture are not “either/or” all the time.

  • CGC

    Okay Doug,
    1. I’m 50 and you are 52.
    2. I could say I am post-post but this all gets ridiculous (so let’s say I like how EO’s try to have the mind of the early church fathers)
    3. I grew up with Schaeffer (and what happened to Franky? He’s Still EO as far as I know and the atheists love him too 🙂
    4. And since we sound so similar in our history, we both must be “both/and” kids of guys 🙂
    5. I went to Bible College and I suspect you did also? (by the way, what’s up with all the Christian schools now calling themselves “universities?”).

  • Doug Hendricks

    EO’s….. ya….. I don’t know what that means. None of my guesses at it are bringing enlightenment. I went to Moody, and arrived at L’Abri shortly thereafter out of frustration. I see that N.T. Wright spoke there not too long ago- that’s a move in the right direction.

  • CGC

    Hi Doug,
    EO’s = Eastern Orthodox; John Armstrong was one of the speakers at an “Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Dialogue” I helped put together. I find Catholics and EO’s help mentor me better in understanding church history than my own Protestant heritage (hey, I need all the help I can get!).

  • Doug Hendricks

    Thanks. I should have known from the Franky comment.

  • Doug Hendricks

    Correction to my #70: Andrew… thanks for understanding me.

    Daniel #17 I don’t necessarily dissagree with what you said, just meant a larger context. Andrew got it in #58.

  • Regarding certainty, this video demonstrates how God has made many of the poor of this world rich in faith: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuDtSC2LwvI

  • CGC

    Thanks Daniel,
    Loved the video 🙂

  • Bev Mitchell

    Daniel (69)

    I have not read Taylor’s book and was only commenting on CGC’s ten points. I thought those were what you thought to be obscure. As I meant to imply, they do not have to be. 

    And as for the movie, anyone who has goose bumps, chills or tears watching that video can understand those ten points. The verse at the end is a perfect choice “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

    Thank you.