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Making an apology

August 29, 2012 No Comment

by William Mundt

Apologetics is the art and science of making an apology. Christian apologetics is the art and science and scriptural guidelines enabling Christians to make an apology for their faith.

But a Christian apology is not, as modern English usage suggests, saying you are sorry for what you believe because it makes you sound old-fashioned or even bigoted. We Christians have made that kind of apology far too often. It is, sadly, the most common form of “apology” Christians seem compelled to make in a secular but supposedly religiously-inclusive society which seems to accommodate everyone except Christians.

The mantra of multiculturalism means one is not permitted to point out the deficiencies in another’s faith—even if, for example, that faith’s holy book advocates beating women and donkeys to teach them submission. The modern cry for tolerance means one must not only allow divergent viewpoints and lifestyles (unless either happens to be Christian) but also enthusiastically support and promote them. Hence Christians seem to have fallen into the habit of saying, “I’m sorry!” whenever their opposition to biblically immoral lifestyle choices upsets someone or creates hurt feelings.

To apologize in the classic sense means to “defend” the faith that we confess and hold dear. Apologetics is not about telling others how stupid they are so believers can boast of having a corner on the truth. Rather, apologetics is an extension of Christian love and kindness, keeping in mind that God does indeed desire “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Please note that the verse does not say “come to the knowledge of a truth,” as if there were many truths and one were free to choose or disregard them according to wish or whim. Instead, Jesus Himself declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Christian apologetics is designed to help unbelievers consider how that claim applies to their own life circumstances.

What Scripture says

There’s a clear scriptural mandate for Christian apologetics. St. Peter, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, encourages his readers: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:14-17).

Be always prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.

From a pastor’s or professor’s point of view, Christian apologetics is part of what may be called pre-evangelism. If one defines evangelism as proclaiming the saving knowledge of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us all—that is, the Gospel—then apologetics may be viewed as another form of Law. The main intent or purpose of Christian apologetics is to lead the listener or reader to have second thoughts about a position held. Gentleness is important because people often just believe what they have heard others say. One tactic for fostering unbelief and immorality is to repeat something so often that after a while few bother to question the claim.

Secular humanism’s desire to escape God’s scrutiny and to depose Him, for example, led to the creation of the evolution myth. For years and years people have heard that “given enough time” evolution is perfectly logical. Advances in cybernetics and computer science have disproven that claim. Nevertheless, in The Greatest Show on Earth, ardent atheist Richard Dawkins begins the first chapter with a simple statement: “Evolution is a fact.” Most of the rest of the book is a rant against narrow-minded, supposedly unscientific simpletons (read “Christians”) who continue to believe that there is a God. But is it unscientific to believe that the complexity, order, and beauty inherent in creation defy a belief in gradual change by natural selection and argue instead for an intelligent designer?

An alternate explanation for the existence of the universe is important to those who hope there is no God because, until Darwin popularized evolution, morality was largely enforced by the fear that there just might be a Creator, a Creator who will call us to account. As St. Paul writes, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12).

Friends, not enemies

Christian apologetics is an art, not a science. Just as there are not twelve Bible verses to memorize which answer everyone’s concerns in time of need, so there are no magic methods for winning a more sympathetic hearing for the Christian point of view. As in every form of evangelism and outreach, establishing relationships, being a friend, and continuing to care are the most important tools.

James Kennedy, founder of the Evangelism Explosion programme, once stated that the words people least want to hear are “You are wrong.” Kennedy proposed couching corrections in positive forms and using carefully-crafted questions to steer a conversation in the right direction. This is a useful apologetic approach also.

When people go on and on about evolution it might be useful to ask if they are aware of the second law of thermodynamics (the one about a natural tendency to maximum randomness). In other words, if a house is built in the jungle, then later abandoned, will one return in twenty years to find a full-blown plantation or instead an overgrown pile of stones and kindling? If the evolutionary process can defy nature, then perhaps I can stop fussing over uncut lawns and unkempt rooms because, “given enough time” they will take care of themselves.

Someone who insists upon his right to live a certain way (note that the word “responsibility” is almost always omitted from such a discussion), needs to be asked to consider what happens when my insistence overrides his. For example, he says, extra-marital sexual relations of any kind are fine expressions of love. What if I love killing people and he is on my hit list? Does might really make right? What kind of world would this be if each person acted only on impulses and feelings at any given moment? Ravi Zacharias in Jesus Among Other Gods argues that certain types of actions seem reprehensible to everyone regardless of background or belief system. He mentions killing and eating babies as an example. These inescapable realities continue to reinforce the notion that God’s Law is indeed written upon everyone’s heart, even if the proper interpretation and application of that Law sometimes gets confused.

Christian apologetics calls opponents of the faith to give an account of what they believe and to exam that profession in the light of reason and common sense. Listening carefully and then reflecting upon what is said can be a simple yet powerful tool: “So, if I understand you correctly,” you might say, “according to your explanation of how earth formed gradually and without guidance, if I put a load of silicon sand in the dryer on no heat and let it run, in time I will get a computer? Or at least a chip?”

Believers should not shy away from “loving the Lord with all their minds.

As you may guess, Christian apologetics can be fun. Therein lies the danger. The immediate goal of apologetics is to assist another person in understanding that a certain way of thinking is illogical and untenable. It is too easy to relish making someone look like a fool. The real goal though is to prepare people to hear and, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, receive the Gospel. But believers should not shy away from “loving the Lord with all … your mind.” As John Warwick Montgomery once explained in a book of the same name, Christianity is for the Tough Minded. That means, God’s Word and ways can withstand scrutiny, questioning and doubt. So stop apologizing and start making an apology!

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Ref. Dr. William Mundt is a professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario). This fall, he is teaching a course on Apologetics, which will be streamed live online. Lay people and pastors are welcome to take part. For more information, contact Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary at 1-905-688-2362 or Concordia Lutheran Seminary (Edmonton, Alberta) at 1-780-474-1468.