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Summary in 400 words or less:
Objections towards apologetics come in many forms, but one is a misunderstanding as to what apologetics ideally means. Douglas Groothuis defines apologetics and those who carry it out (apologists) as offering “…answers based on rational arguments” for essential Christian truths by being “both theoretical and personal” and “intellectual and relational.” (Groothuis, 23, emphasis added). Largely, this definition is not new. Peter was led to convey one should be Christ-centered and “always being prepared to make a defense” for the faith, but with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15-ESV). Put another way, it’s a rational defense of primary truth claims concerning Christianity, made by those who adhere to them, in a relational way.
Considering this, we hope one may be open to reevaluating their stance, given that it is mainly based on other non-ideal definitions or interactions with apologists who were overbearing or argumentative vs. offering rational arguments for the Christian worldview with truth and grace. However, some will still object, primarily by citing Scripture.
Since the apologist obtains a certain amount of knowledge through careful study to defend, objectors may quote 1 Cor 8:1. It says, “…Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (NASB). However, looking at another translation, the ESV states, “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” (emphasis-added) “This” knowledge Paul is talking about is probably gnostic teaching (ultimate knowledge=salvation) as Anthony Thiselton points out, “It may well be that the Corinthian ‘knowledge’ had a gnostic, antirealist tinge…”. This does not mean that apologetic knowledge, as applied in paragraph one, is condemned. Rather, like sermons, it is a tool for God to use through an apologist to save the lost by applying 1 Peter 3:15 and aid the believer through periods of doubt.
In conclusion, 1 Cor 8:1 and other verses, considered in context, are not a condemnation of critical thinking practiced by Paul (Acts 17) and Jesus (Matt 22:23-33). They usually warn against using empty speech and immoral motives when conveying many different truths, particularly eternal ones. In other words, apologetics is not a liability, but an intellectual asset for the Holy Spirit to use for the gospel.
Scripture for YouVersion:
1 Peter 3:15, Philippians 1:7, Jude 3, Romans 12:2, Isaiah 1:18
http://oneminuteapologist.com/searchpage#apologetics video #389 with Mary Jo Sharp
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, and one discussion question):
1. Because many intellectual non-believers, at least in in part, came to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior such as Aurelius Augustine (354–430), Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), Francis Schaeffer (1912–84), J. S. Bach (1685–1750), Lewis Wallace (1827–1905), and finally C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)* through Christian apologetics, what does this suggest?
- A) Despite these believers coming to faith, at least in part, apologetics is still not needed and is condemned.
- B) This suggests that apologetics plays a major role, in certain settings, in proclaiming the good news.
- C) This suggests that these believers were helped by apologetics, but its usefulness is still very limited.
2. After considering the immediate and remote (other parts of Scripture) context, Paul was warning against a kind of “__________________” that was based on obtaining salvation (gnosticism) and not all knowledge (i.e. apologetic study) is negative.
3. With the first paragraph’s definition of apologetics in mind, what objections, if any, would you have against the practice of this type of apologetics? If you do, would you be willing to discuss those with a relational and rational apologist?
References for further reading:
- Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2011), 23.
- Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 622.
- James L. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2011), 113-156.
*Owe this list to Chad Owen Brand who contributed to the Apologetics Study Bible (Holman, 2007), 975-976.
Collaborators: Jonathan Hanna
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