What is Apologetics?

One of the things I am have been most interested in since becoming a Christian is the intellectual discipline of apologetics. I have found my study of apologetics deeply interesting and rewarding every dimension of my life intellectual, spiritual, and even emotional. In light of the great benefit apologetics has had in my own life, I’d like to share here a brief introduction to what Christian apologetics is, and why I have found it so valuable.

What is Apologetics?

I will lay out more specifics later, but a beginning definition of the term “Christian apologetics” is the practice of intellectual discussion about evidence in favor of the objective truth of the basic building blocks of the Christian worldview – like God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In apologetics, the evidence provided does not assume that you are already a Christian – rather, the purpose is to engage in reasonable discussion those who do and do not consider themselves followers of Jesus and in understanding the reasons why each person in the discussion believes as they do. The goal of the apologetic enterprise is that everybody involved come closer to understanding the truth, whatever that may be.

Apologetics in the Bible?

The place I’d like to start discussing apologetics is in the Bible. There are many places we can go, but there are two that are most commonly cited. The first of these is found in 1 Peter 3:15,

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

The key phrase in the English translation is ‘to make a defense,’ which is translated form the Greek verb apologia, (the Greek is \alpha \pi o \lambda o \gamma \acute{\iota} \alpha). This word is also used in legal settings – the witness would make a defense (apologia) for their innocence. So, this Biblical command to ‘always be prepared to apologia to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ is a command to actually be ready to explain what you believe and why you believe it, backed up with some reasons.

We can even see in the Bible itself that this is the intention of its authors. For example, near the end of the gospel of John, we have the following comments from the author,

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31, ESV)

Notice the claim. The purpose of the book is to provide evidence on the basis of which people come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’. Taken in the context of the whole gospel of John, the reader is being invited to consider this book as a report from someone who actually walked the earth with Jesus, an eyewitness.

These passages are from the New Testament. We even have Old Testament passages that directly encourage reasonable dialogue. Consider Isaiah 1:18a, which reads “Come, let us reason together, says the Lord” (ESV). In the context of the book, the Lord is speaking through the prophet Isaiah to a group of people who are disloyal and in rebellion against the Lord. My personal copy of the Bible (ESV) adds a footnote that the term ‘reason’ may also be translated ‘dispute’. This is a friendly invitation to engage in back-and-forth discussion.

There are also examples upon examples of important figures in the Bible engaging in disputes with those who oppose them – figures like Ezekiel, Jesus, and Paul in particular do this. We thus have a firm Biblical foundation for approaching at least some of our discussion around Christ in this apologetic manner.

Why is Apologetics Important?

First and foremost, the discipline of apologetics is important because truth is important, and the goal of apologetics is to find what is true. I care very deeply about truth, and so I am very attracted to studying apologetics and broader theological areas so that I may learn and grow closer to understanding the truth of the way the world is.

Secondly, learning apologetics has given me great confidence in my relationship with God, particularly in times of trouble. As I write this, the world is in quarantine due to the spread of COVID-19 virus, and the social isolation we are all facing is an immense challenge on top of the emotional burden of knowing that many are dying as a consequence of this pandemic. Painful circumstances like these do not cause me to doubt whether following Jesus is worthwhile or whether it is the correct path – because my reasons for following Jesus are not merely emotional and spiritual, but also intellectual. A famous quote of the great twentieth century Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis comes to mind:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – C.S. Lewis

Because of what I have learned over several years now of learning about apologetics, I can see more clearly what is around me. I can experience the full depth of my emotions while at the same time being swayed to and fro by them. I have gained a deeper appreciation for who God is, how awesome He is, and why I have chosen to be a follower of Jesus.

Thirdly, I deeply love learning, and apologetics is not an inherently narrow discipline, but reaches across all kinds of intellectual topics. In learning apologetics, I have immensely broadened my horizons, my reading, and my intellectual interests. My love for studying apologetics has brought me to learn much more extensively about world religions, world history, modern science, world history and the historical method, philosophy, theology, ethics, literature, and more. I personally find this of the utmost value, and I have developed a lot intellectually by spending time studying more broadly than the lone field of mathematics to which I am dedicating my career.

An Apologetic Exposition of Christianity

Now that I have given some personal commentary on why I have been so moved by the apologetic enterprise, let me now give an overview of the kinds of things I have spent time learning about. I will also make a remark here that it is vital to apologetics to listen to opposing viewpoints and answer questions, which I would be more than happy to do, but here I will mainly provide a summary of the positive case that the Christian apologist can offer for the reason for the hope that is in them.

I’ll start with the biggest pull for me, the idea that really gave the initial spark to my interest in apologetics, the cosmological argument. More specifically the Kalam cosmological argument. This was initially developed in the context of medieval Islamic philosophy and has remained an interesting argument for centuries, and in light of modern cosmology and astrophysics it has come roaring to a prominent place in public discourse. The Kalam, as it is normally called, has several forms and flavors, but the most well known is a logical deduction developed in modern times by philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig and by many more after him. The most basic form of the argument consists of three statements:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

I will give a brief summary of how the discussion flows. Statement (1) is basically a core principle of metaphysics, which is a discipline of philosophy that studies the nature of what is real, and can also be viewed as a core principle of modern science. When things happen, we naturally want to understand why they happen and how they became the way that they are. Denying (1) would undermine the core scientific principle that we are capable of understanding why things happen the way they do. So, we all ought to accept that (1) is true. Statement (2) has multiple lines of evidence in its favor – the evidence of modern astrophysics and cosmology points entirely to some version of the Big Bang, which just is to say that the universe began to exist. There are also very strange philosophical paradoxes that emerge from the idea of physical time going backwards forever – it would amount to a claim that by the process adding one second after another, you can eventually reach a genuinely infinite number, which as a mathematician I deny is possible. If you then apply (1) to (2), then (3) follows by the laws of logic. That is, if (1) and (2) are true, then arriving at (3) is as unavoidable as 2+2=4. If you then spend some time thinking about what it means to be a ’cause of the universe’ (without going into all of the logic now) this cause is spaceless, eternal, immaterial, enormously powerful, uncaused, and personal. There is only one concept I am aware of in the history of human thought that truly fits with these properties – and that is a monotheistic God, as is worshipped in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

I find the Kalam deeply fascinating, and learning more deeply about the Kalam leads to a solid education in both modern physics and various areas of philosophy, particularly metaphysics. There are a huge variety of other reasons to hold that God exists and even that Christianity is true. I’ll now try to list some of these in abbreviated form, along with the intellectual disciplines that play a role in the discussions of these reasons.

Kalam Cosmological Argument: God is the best explanation of the beginning of the universe. (cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy of science)

The Resurrection of Jesus: The only plausible account of the facts of Jesus’ life that are accepted as true by majority of modern secular historians is the one offered by Jesus’ followers – that God raised Jesus from the dead. (historical studies, ancient history)

Teleological Argument: God is the best explanation of the remarkably finely tuned physical constants in the universe that allow for life to exist. (cosmology/astrophysics, philosophy of science, metaphysics)

Personal Testimony: God is the best explanation for why so many people throughout history have spiritual experiences which lead them to conclude that a deity exists. (history of religion,

Moral Argument: God is the best explanation of why there are moral values, like the evilness of torturing a child for fun, that are objectively binding. (ethics, metaethics, theology)

Argument From Evil: The existence of objective evil implies the existence of a universal moral law, which points towards God and His nature as its source. (ethics, metaethics)

Applicability of Mathematics: God is the best explanation of why there are harmonious mathematical laws that describe the universe that we are capable of understanding (mathematics, philosophy of mathematics)

Ontological Argument: If the definition/concept of God is coherent, then God is the kind of being that absolutely must exist. (ontology, modal logic)

Argument from Rationality: God is the best explanation of why the human mind is capable of abstract reasoning and accumulating knowledge of the world. (epistemology, evolutionary science, philosophy of mind)

Argument from Induction: God is the best explanation of why there are law-like patterns that hold in our universe, like the laws of physics. (metaphysics, mathematics, science)

Argument from Beauty: Beauty is not plausibly accounted for by evolutionary psychology, and the only plausible grounding for objective beauty is God. (art, literature, aesthetics)

Hopefully this sparks some interest for people. I will hopefully go much more in depth with many of these in the future, but I hope that this summary has given some good reasons that the basic beliefs held by theists, and Christians in particular, are true, interesting, and relevant to our daily lives.

Some Sources

  • “Two Dozen (Or So) Theistic Arguments,” an essay by renowned philosopher Alvin Plantinga
  • Reasonable Faith, by philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig
  • Cold Case Christianity, by cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace
  • Mere Christianity, by philosopher and novelist CS Lewis
  • The Case for Christ, by journalist Lee Strobel
  • There is a God, by the former atheist philosopher Antony Flew

2 thoughts on “What is Apologetics?

  1. You should have left out the Lane in Dr. Craig. That would’ve been funny to me. I don’t buy (2) in the Kalam argument. Although infinite time is a little weird it’s better than the idea of time starting to me. Also there are several theories consistent with the big bang that don’t posit it as the beginning of everything.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! I’d agree that (2) is the real hinge of the argument – (1) seems to me virtually undeniable. I definitely didn’t do a full discussion of (2) here, the idea of the article is more just do give a general idea of what the discipline of apologetics is about. I am extremely interested in the cosmological theories, I think I know which ones you are referencing. In my current understanding, the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems and the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem rule out most of those, though not perhaps all of them. I’ll definitely try to write something much more in-depth eventually, once I have done enough research to feel confident I understand what the physics is all about.

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