Second Baptist Church
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
November 5, 2005
We need to undertake the role of Apologists with an appreciation for its importance and dignity. Current defenders stand in a long line of noble believers who risked reputation and safety to speak out for the cause of Jesus.
Defending the Christian faith has a rich history. The list of Apologists includes some of our earliest heroes, such as Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) and Tertullian (160-230 A.D.).
Justin Martyr appealed to philosophers of the second century. The first Christian writer to combine faith and reason, he tried to sway the upper class. Justin was finally beheaded for his faith.
Tertullian was the first great writer of Christian literature in Latin. He coined the word “Trinity.” Tertullian appealed to the conscience of the Roman ruling class.
The son of a pagan Roman government official, Tertullian converted to Christianity at age 37, after being awed at the courage of Christian martyrs. This helps us understand his later quote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
In Acts 19:8-10 we see a good model for Apologists to follow. At Ephesus, Paul (spoke boldly” in the Synagogue. He was convinced of the truth of his material. Paul engaged “in discussion.” Respecting the views of others, Paul used dialogue, not diatribe.
He was “trying to persuade them.” Our objective is to lead others to become Christ-followers. We are not merely debaters, we are persuaders.
When some of his listeners began “slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them.” Paul would not fight them, nor did he give them a forum to espouse their views before the weak.
He withdrew into a lecture hall and had “discussions every day” with those willing to discuss the issue rationally. This went on for two years. What he said in these sessions was repeated by the hearers again and again, thus resulting in the whole province hearing “the word of the Lord.”
Apologists are driven by various motives, including to strengthen doubting believers, woo seeking unbelievers, and keep persecutors at bay. An Apologist yearns to know truth, and to defend it whenever and wherever needed.
We might be forced to go head to head with a bitter atheist on an Internet Message Board or a Pastor’s blog in order to protect the weak who could be swayed by Satanic arguments. We may have to stand before a college group, youth group, New Age group, and defend the faith in order to help those who may be easily swayed. We may have to engage a neighbor, a newspaper editorialist, a school teacher, a college professor.
To know truth, and not defend it when it is falsely assailed, is betrayal. This is our heritage as Apologists.
OUR SECRET WEAPON
The Christian Apologist has a huge advantage over other religious teachers and philosophers. Our faith is based on historical events, not ideas or theories.
The foundation of Christianity is events that were not done in a corner. Biblical faith is distilled from history.
Let’s be precise. To say Christianity is a historical religion is not to say it has a long history. Other religions can say this, but they do not derive their key premises from interpreting historical events.
Christian faith is more than intellectual acceptance of dogmas, ideas, theories, or philosophies. It is bound up with events in the past. If these things happened, or did not happen, Christianity is affected to its core.
Christianity is based on the recorded activities of God within history. We alone believe God Himself has invaded the human experience.
The Hebrews did not begin their religion with a self-produced idea about God. They saw YHWH moving in history, and correctly interpreted His actions.
The Israelites believed in God because He repeatedly interrupted their lives. Visible, recordable, verifiable events kept happening.
Christian faith is a historical faith. It hinges on events, especially on one in particular, the resurrection of Jesus. If Christ rose from the dead, Christianity is all true.
If Jesus did not rise, none of Christianity is true. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).
Christianity being well grounded in history is one reason I believe becoming a Christian requires a step of faith, not a leap of faith. We establish history, interpret its events, and then draw logical conclusions to become a believer.
C. S. Lewis, after an extended period of examining Christianity, decided it was much easier to take one more step into faith than it would have been to walk all the way back to the bitter atheism he had once embraced.
History is on our side. This is why conservative, Bible-believing Christians do not fear historical examination. The archeologist’s spade is our friend.
An important consideration is not only truth, but also how do we arrive at truth. What process must we follow to reach our desired destination?
We have to begin any study of truth by deciding if God can be rightly known and understood through natural means, or if revealed knowledge is necessary. Natural theology says we can figure out the divine Being by powers of human reason alone. Revealed theology, as in Christianity, teaches we can know of God only what He chooses to reveal to us.
For 1800 years, believers unanimously agreed God’s nature could be known solely on the basis of truth supernaturally communicated to people.
Knowledge of God was deemed beyond the possibility of being discovered by unaided human reason. The Bible was considered the God-inspired source-book for our knowledge of revealed truth.
In the nineteenth century, some Christian thinkers began to espouse a different view of authority. Deeming an infallible Scriptural revelation to be an antiquated notion, they sought a new alternate authority in Christian religious and mental experience.
This off-beat thinking did not rise from a vacuum. It was the theological backwash from Renaissance (1500s) philosophy.
The Renaissance laid the foundation for an understanding of all of life, including religion, that was totally humanistic. The assumption was, human reason can by itself, by following rules of its own inherent nature, arrive at a true philosophy of God, the world, human experience, and life.
This theory sounds clever, but has always proven fallacious. No satisfying explanation for life, meaning, purpose, eternity, suffering, etc., has ever risen from unaided human thought. One reason Christianity commends itself to many reflective thinkers is its ability to make a rational, reasonable understanding of the universe possible.
To refute natural theology, we must sensitively and gently point out weaknesses in its arguments and worldview. We also have to defend the Bible. The best place to attack anything is at its source, and in many ways the source of Christianity is the Bible.
If the Bible can be proven false, Christianity’s foundation crumbles. Therefore, skeptics say it is nothing more than the mere words of men and that it has no right to the claim it is the unique Word of God. The task of the Apologist is to prove otherwise.