Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apologetics and holiness

Apologetics, for those of you who don’t know this about me yet, is my favorite area of theology. Apologetics has to do with defending the truth of the Christian worldview. It’s an essential area for believers to study. What is true and what is not is of fundamental importance in answering the big questions of life.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible related to apologetics is this one from 1 Peter 3:15:

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

The word for apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which is translated as "defense" in this verse. It's the word that was used for legal defenses in a court of law. So this verse calls us to be prepared to defend the Gospel by giving sound arguments or reasons for our hope. You don't have to be an apologetics expert to do this, but some basic training in this area definitely helps, especially given the skeptical world that we live in.

Often when I use this verse in teaching, I tend to gloss over the first part, "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts." It means to make Christ the Lord of our lives in our own heart. In other words, it means to make sure that our heart is right with God, and that our spiritual walk is right with Him. This is the essential first part of apologetics. Our words are of little value if our lives do not reflect the lordship of Christ in our behavior and attitudes. This is not a one-time thing, but a daily surrender to Christ's lordship. If we fail at this step we will fail altogether, no matter how good our arguments are.

I've been hearing about some former evangelical Christian scholars and even former apologists who have fallen away from the faith and are now fighting against Christianity. When listening to their stories, I believe they all failed at the first step above. It wasn't that they encountered arguments for atheism that were so irrefutable that they were compelled to lose their faith by force of reason. In fact, the former apologists that I've heard don't have any better arguments against the Gospel than any run-of-the-mill skeptic. But in one case, a former Christian apologist who was the pastor of an evangelical church fell into an adulterous relationship with a woman in his church. When he finally confessed, the church was (understandably I think) quite upset by it. He became bitter because of their response to him and, to make a long story short, he eventually divorced his wife and became an anti-apologist against Christianity. He had failed to live a life that was surrendered to the lordship of Christ even though he may have been good at apologetics.

Good apologetics doesn't start with good arguments, but rather with a surrendered life that is lived under the lordship of Christ. We do need good arguments, and we do need to have some idea of how to respond to skeptics (though I often struggle with being both “gentle” and “respectful”, which is something that we also need to be careful to do). But first and foremost we need to be people of holiness, people who are living in constant, daily communion with Jesus Christ.

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About me

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My ministry in Hungary involved teaching theology and training Hungarian church planters. I have a great interest in apologetics as well as missions.