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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Why You Need To Be An Apologist

Jun 17, 2018

No, I don’t want you to go around saying “sorry” all the time. That is not what I mean. My title is referring to this: ALL Christians should seek to know enough about their faith that when they get asked tough questions about it, or when objections and criticisms of it are raised, they can give some sort of a decent answer.

That is, defending the faith is NOT just the job of a few professionals, a few academics, or a few full-time Christian apologists. It is the job of every believer. But before I explain why, I better back up for those who might still be in the dark here. What exactly is an apologist?

In a general sense, an apologist is anyone who defends something, or offers an argument for something, especially if it is coming under attack, or if it is controversial, etc. It could be an unpopular idea, belief, or cause, which a person who champions it finds the need to defend.

So a person can be an apologist for something evil, such as fascism, or a person can be an apologist for something that is in fact good, but perhaps fallen out of favour, such as defending the right to life of the unborn. An apologist simply defends and gives reasons for something he believes in, and which is often under attack.

Here of course I have in mind Christian apologetics. So this is a defence of the Christian faith. It deals with criticisms, objections, misunderstandings, and direct attacks on the faith. It seeks to give solid reasons as to why Christianity is credible, rational and true.

It deals with attacks against it, barriers to it, and seeks to show why it is a valid, attractive and worthwhile belief system. Again, it has nothing to do with being sorry about something. It goes back to a set of Greek words. The two main ones are these:

apologia = a Greek noun for answer, reply, or defense

apologesthai = a Greek verb meaning to defend, to make a reply, to give an answer for, or to legally defend oneself

The words are used various times in the Greek New Testament. A key passage is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (NIV). Or as the ESV renders it, there is a need for “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”.

The words in bold are the English translations of the Greek word apologian. And often in the book of Acts we read about how Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues about the faith. That is the verb form of the Greek word.

So Peter has made it clear that all believers must be ready to give an answer. Sure, that does not mean we all must be trained apologists with massive libraries, and a thorough understanding to all objections and criticisms of the faith. But it does mean at least having a sound grasp of your own faith, so that you can offer some responses to the critics or accusers.

In her commentary on 1 Peter Karen Jobes says this about the passage in question:

Peter’s exhortation in 3:15 has been used to justify Christian philosophy and apologetics…. While that is a legitimate application of this verse, the apostle Peter did not have in mind the professional or academic field of Christian apologetics…. Rather, Peter is concerned that Christian believers be able humbly and respectfully to defend their hope in Christ to anyone who might ask, even if legal charges are in view for some.

Application

So what am I driving at here? I have a personal reason for urging all Christians to fulfil their obligations given in verses like 1 Peter 3:15. Because I am a bit of an apologist, I get Christians coming to me all the time for help. Often they have just had a family member or friend or associate throw a curly question at them or raise various objections to the faith.

They will get in touch with me therefore and ask for my help. Some of them may think I can provide an instant answer to everything. Some just want to know where to begin to find some information on this. Some have no clue how to answer, and they are hoping I can steer them in the right direction.

As I say, this happens all the time. But let me say two broad things about this: first, it is of course somewhat flattering that so many folks seem to think I might be some sort of “Bible Answer Man” who can bail them out of every challenge and deliver them from every objection.

And when and where possible I certainly do try to help these folks. Time permitting, I will answer the objection or question, or at least point them to resources (books, articles, websites, etc) where they can get some answers. So I do try to help as much as I can, but….!

The simple truth is, as just one person, I cannot fight every Christian’s battles for them. I certainly try to help when I can, but I can only do so much. Again, it may be flattering that so many believers seem to think that I can come to the rescue, but actually I am not an apologetics superman!

But second, and more importantly, my real concern is that Christians need to learn to do a bit of their own homework and be prepared, just as Peter commands us. Far too many believers are either lazy, or may feel totally unqualified. But hey, we can all read a bit more, we can all study a bit more, we can all seek to use the mind God has given us for his glory.

Some folks really are stumped and have no idea where to turn, so that is why they come to me. And as I say, I will try to help when and where possible. But some believers are just intellectual sloths, and they could not be bothered to do what Peter says.

Again, I am not talking about amassing a 6,500-volume library, and I am not talking about getting several academic degrees in theology, philosophy and apologetics. But I am talking about doing some basic homework in these areas. And if you say, “But I do not even know where to go for this,” well, I am glad you asked.

Let me offer just a few of many resources that you can put to good use. As to books, there are many hundreds of great titles to choose from in apologetics. I list some of the better ones here: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/02/13/the-christian-apologetics-arsenal-a-select-bibliography/

And I offer some more titles here: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/07/13/fifteen-helpful-new-books-on-apologetics/

While many topics arise in apologetics, such as the problem of evil, questions of origins, and other religions, many deal with Scripture and its reliability. Just today for example I had a concerned Christian say she was challenged on the genealogies in the Gospels, with a critic saying they are full of contradictions.

Image of The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics)
The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics) by Craig L. Blomberg Amazon logo

Good books dealing with the reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture will deal with those sorts of objections. And there are plenty to choose from here. Let me just mention four such titles by one New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg (in order of their appearance):

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. IVP, 1987.
The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. Apollos, 2001.
Can We Still Believe the Bible? Brazos Press, 2014.
The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. B&H, 2016.

If you can only get one, buy his latest volume. It is very helpful indeed. And since so many critics of the Bible will claim it is filled with mistakes and contradictions, etc., there are a number of good books that deal with hundreds of these supposed discrepancies and errors. See these seven books for example:

Archer, Gleason, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan, 1982.
De Haan, M. R., 508 Answers to Bible Questions. Zondervan, 1952.
Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask. Baker, 1992.
Haley, John, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Baker, 1874, 1977.
Kaiser, Walter, et. al., Hard Sayings of the Bible. IVP, 1996.
Rhodes, Ron, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages. Harvest House, 2008.
Richards, Larry, 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered. Revell, 1993.

And there are many good apologetics websites which deal with all sorts of questions, objections and issues. One is the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: carm.org/

They list further websites to go to: carm.org/recommended-websites

Quest Ministries lists five top sites: www.questpa.org/148/

This site lists 23 key sites: shatteredparadigm.blogspot.com/2008/06/23-of-very-best-christian-apologetics.html

Other helpful sites include:

Stand to Reason – www.str.org/

James White’s Alpha and Omega Ministries – www.aomin.org/

Norman Geisler’s site – normangeisler.com/

There is just so much available – be it books or websites or whatever – that Christians really are without excuse. There is no shortage of really helpful information out there, dealing with every single objection and criticism that has ever been raised against the Christian faith.

Again, I am not asking you all to be scholars or full-time apologists. But I am exhorting you to perhaps be a bit less lazy and overly reliant on others, and fulfil your duties as given by Peter. As times get more and more dark in the West, we will need more and more Christians to stand up and be counted here.

The days of solely relying on others to bail you out when you get stuck or when someone poses a toughie to you are now over. Yes, for sure, I will still be available to help whenever I can, so if you need to, please get in touch with me – or others. But you also have an obligation to do some of your own reading and your own study.

This is invaluable for two reasons: it not only prepares you to answer some of the questions and objections thrown at you by critics or even friends, but it also greatly strengthens your own faith. So please, start reading. If you don’t like to read, there are plenty of audio books out there, and plenty of videos on line that you can make use of.

Let me conclude with three useful quotes on all this:

“If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up – from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill.” Chuck Colson

“Here is the sum of the matter: We must earnestly endeavor to know the truth of the biblical worldview and to make it known with integrity to as many people as possible with the best arguments available. To know God in Christ means that we desire to make Christian truth available to others in the most compelling form possible. To be created in God’s rational, moral and relational image means that our entire being should be aimed at the glorification of God in Christian witness. A significant part of that witness is Christian apologetics.” Douglas Groothuis

“The apologetic task is difficult, complex, and never-ending. Yet it is the mandate of God to us. The responsibility is ours; its success is God’s.” R.C. Sproul

Always be ready!

[1890 words]

21 Responses to Why You Need To Be An Apologist

  • Good advice, Bill. I try and do this at all times and end up being shunned more and more but even this gets easier with time.

  • Good stuff, Bill. You’re obviously not an apologetics God (i.e. omniscient and infallible), but perhaps you do qualify as an apologetics superman, despite your protestation, at least in certain areas such as the LGBTetc. nonsense.
    I frequently debate critics online, and when they throw an objection at me that I haven’t an answer for, I research it, and get an answer, and then I have an answer next time. One example was when I first encountered the claim that there are 40,000 Christian denominations that all disagree with each other, so obviously the Christian god hasn’t made His message clear. I tracked down where that figure came from, and it turns out that there are 40,000 different Christian organisations, in which the Baptist Union of Victoria would be one and the Baptist Union of Queensland is another. So they all disagree? Absolutely not. There’s more to that answer than just that, but the point is that the figure was being misused to give the wrong idea, and since I researched it, I have encountered that claim (or variants of it) possibly a dozen times since, and in each case, of course, I already knew the answer and could refute it immediately.

    In earlier days I found the Tektonics apologetics website very useful, but another stalwart not mentioned is Creation.com. Ostensibly it covers the creation/evolution/long-ages issues, but in fact with over 10,000 articles it has a fair bit of very-well-written stuff on other areas, such as refuting claims that Jesus had a wife, the James Ossary, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument, to mention just a few. Also, many of the articles are actual responses to actual people who have made actual objections, such as the reply to Daniel who claimed that Scripture does not teach that polygamy is wrong, and these sorts of responses also often provide good examples of how to answer someone graciously.

  • Thanks Philip. Yes it is not just atheists and secularists who raise the issue of so many denominations, but of course Catholics as well. While not wishing to get into more sectarian warfare here, I do strongly advise everyone to read this important article written by a Catholic, showing how the claim that there are zillions of Protestant denominations is simply wrong. His title says it all: “We Need to Stop Saying That There Are 33,000 Protestant Denominations”.

    http://www.ncregister.com/blog/scottericalt/we-need-to-stop-saying-that-there-are-33000-protestant-denominations

  • The biggest problem I find is retention. A couple of the 2008 list titles look familiar as ones I own and have read, but despite that I can’t remember the contents. Even where I do remember something e.g. a vague recollection of something in Scripture pertaining to a particular subject, I usually have to search for it because I can’t remember the specifics let alone the passage in question. 🙁

  • Thanks Andrew, and yes, a fair point. One way to deal with this, if circumstances permit, is to tell your critic or questioner that you are happy to get back to him with an answer. Not everyone has total recall! To help me remember stuff I underline the important bits in the books I read, and I also have lists of quotes on various topics I have gathered from my reading.

    Those who engage in apologetics as their main ministry would all be not just well read, intelligent, and quick on their feet, but would likely have pretty good memories as well.

  • I am in agreement with Andrew and no problem with saying Bill ‘I will get back to you on that matter..’. I would suggest Christians will be helped to remember if they seek to train themselves and share their struggles with others which is why it is so important for the church generally to encourage this sort of work and activity. Bill, I think all committed Christians need to take it more seriously and work at it but it will take the leadership of the church to encourage that focus on apologetic work if churches are to be more like light houses in the dark work and seasoning salt for the decaying stuff all around. Training ourselves and with others to be defenders of the faith knowing that our labours will not be in vain. Worth a mention that ‘Stand to Reason’ has an online training course to help people become better ambassadors for Christ. A good ambassador not just have sufficient knowledge (an accurate informed mind) and that is the first of three aspects of this training. Paul uses the analogy in 2 Corinthians 6 seeking to explain his ministry and encourage the same in the Corinthian Church. A good ambassador should use wisdom to engage others in conversations (an artful method) and third should have an attitude or character that is winsome or attractive compared to the alternatives the world offers. Just have to go to their web site and click on training. We need all three – knowledge is helpful but Greg Koukl’s training I think, is very helpful.

  • According to the creationist resources like creation.com and answersingenesis.com (that are mysteriously missing in this article about apologetics), many people keep asking the same old questions. For example “Where did Cain get his wife?” The answer is childishly simple, as is the answer to most “difficult” questions, so there is no reason every Christian should not be equipped to answer these easy ones on the spot.
    So we could just compile 100 easily answered “difficult” questions, make a quiz and get Christians to practise the quiz until they know the answers. This is not rocket science.
    The tricky ones are usually coming from a more academic questioner who can always be referred to the existing websites to get an answer – if they really want one.

  • Thanks Tim. But there is no mystery here at all. I listed a few titles on Scripture in particular, and a few websites that offer general apologetics information. This article was NOT meant to be an exhaustive list of either books or websites, since I have done that so often elsewhere. Thus I have all sorts of bibliographies that I have penned over the years on more specialised apologetics issues, whether it is on Islam, or atheism, or the problem of suffering and evil, or the issue of creation and evolution, etc.

  • Sometimes I just wish we could change the title ‘Apologetics’ to ‘Reasoning’ (as in ‘come let us reason’ says the Lord) or Aitia so that Christians in general don’t interpret it to mean apologising for their faith (not everyone can or will be a scholar).

  • The first step in apologetics is to tell the truth about truth, truthfully. Australians, especially Australian politicians, need to understand that what is true remains true, whether or not you believe it.

    I emailed my MP recently, saying “From conception, the unborn child is a separate human being with a unique genetic code, not part of its mother’s body.” Apparently, MPs no longer believe in objective reality, for he replied, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts”. Hello? The beginning of a human life is an objective fact of science. What I think or believe about this is won’t stop it from being true.

    Instead of truth, we now have legalised lying, falsified families, genderless genitals, orphaned offspring, and meaningless marriage. The LGBTIQA dictators and their dupes in Federal parliament, have tried to change the meanings of the words we must use to communicate. If people can’t understand the self-evident truth about their own bodies, they won’t be able see the truth about anything else. The LGBTIQA goal is to make people forget, or be blinded to, the meanings of words, so they can’t understand the Bible, or God’s truth as revealed through creation and everyday life.

    In Australia today, murder is choice; blasphemy is art; darkness is light; and perversion is righteousness. Reality has been replaced with identity; biology with sexuality; morality with consent; investigation with interpretation; learning with education; and difference with sameness.

    Apologetics begins with the truth about truth, as John Locke wrote:–

    Light, true light, in the mind is, or can be, nothing else but the evidence of the truth of any proposition; and if it be not a self-evident proposition, all the light it has, or can have, is from the clearness and validity of those proofs upon which is it received. To talk of any other light in the understanding is to put ourselves in the dark, or in the power of the Prince of Darkness, and, by our own consent, to give ourselves up to delusion to believe a lie. (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 4.19.13)

  • Why don’t the Christians pray and ask God to help them with the answers?
    John 14:26
    But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

  • Thanks Lisa. It of course goes without saying that we always pray and seek God’s help as we try to deal with tough questions from non-Christians and others. But that is NEVER to take the place of proper study and a willingness to learn. Everywhere in the New Testament we are told to ‘study to show ourselves approved’ and the like. We are told about teachers given to the Body of Christ and the need for good teaching. So prayer is never a substitute for actually using our minds for the glory of God, but a supplement. We always need to do both, in other words.

    A university student for example who might be overly hyper-spiritual may think that he or she does not need to study for the exam, or even read any of the required textbooks, but just pray and presto: 100% top grades on all assignments and exams. Sorry, but it just does not work that way. God requires of us to do the hard yards – in this case, to study and read and prepare. He never blesses laziness, even if we over-spiritualise things.

    It is of course the same in every area of life: God expects us to be responsible and to use our brains as well as pray. If a Christian wants to buy a new car, he or she will of course do some homework first. They will shop around, compare prices, look at options. Sure, they will pray as well, but God normally does NOT bypass our minds – he works with our minds. That is how he made us.

    In the same way you might be preparing a fancy dinner for some very fancy guests, and making a very fancy and sophisticated meal. Any normal Christian will not JUST pray and then start cooking. They will pray AND carefully consult some good recipes and use some good cookbooks. Once again, God expects us to do both, not choose between one and the other.

    So yes thanks, yours is a good reminder to always make prayer and dependence on God a crucial part of our apologetics and evangelism. But we are always to do both in the Christian life: totally rely on God in all things, but also do those things that He requires of us. In this case that means actually doing some reading and some studying so that we are better equipped to answer the hard questions we may get, and to more accurately portray the beauty and truth of biblical Christianity.

  • 2 great books defending christianity very well against atheism not on the linked list obviously because they came out in the last 2 to 3 years are:

    Stealing from God by Frank Turek and
    The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister

    Both these books devastate atheism.

  • Great post Mr Muehlenberg. I can’t tell you how important apologetic training is for those my age. I would go as far as to say I might not even be a Christian now if I wasn’t taught the basics of philosophy and Christian apologetics. If your Sunday school teens do not have a copy of “On Guard” By William L Craig, and the seniors do not have a copy of Reasonable Faith by the same author. then all your hard work will be undone when they go off to uni or come up against a new atheist (new hatist), after digesting just On Guard I could confidently take on a new atheist with his copy of “The God Delusion” oh, and those like you in the church should have a copy of Natural Theology by WLC & JP Moreland. it’s more reference book than a read, however.

    A book I would recommend that those in the church has access to is- Evidence That Demands A Verdict. The new version.

    It’s important to understand that the attacks I have to repel (and your Sunday school children) (I’m not a child btw I’m a young woman who is very mature) do not come from seekers or from those from other faiths, but from those who want to destroy and they attempt to do so by attacking me and my reasoning and logic. when you are in your teens and still at school, your confidence is low and you are already at a disadvantage as what boy wants to date a Christian when they can date Easy Lucy, the more boys who like you the higher your confidence, what I learnt from those books is that every generation that came before me had the same problems as I and overcame, and my dad said its best to be “rated” by Jesus than Tommy Goodlines!

  • I’m a little with Karen Mitchell about the term “apologetics”. It even comes up as an spelling error while I am writing here and I always cringe a little with the use of the term. I have never particularly liked jargon in any circumstance especially when there are perfectly good and more accessible words to use and it always reminds me of apologizing and I don’t believe there is the slightest reason to apologize for God. I tend to say a “defender of the faith.” Not that God needs us to defend Him either but we defend the faith in discussions for the benefit of the person we are speaking with just like I tend to not use jargon for the benefit of the person I am speaking with.

  • Thanks guys. To supplement this piece on the importance of apologetics I have just penned a new bibliography on this subject:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/06/18/an-apologetics-reader/

  • Bill, while I agree with most of what you post above, I am wondering what your take is on the argument between the Presuppositional apologetics of Van Til and his followers, and the Evidentialist approach espoused by e.g. Ravi Zacharias, the Ligonier school, and Norman Geisler?
    For my part I have never been enamoured in any way by Van Til’s philosophy and apologetic method, where he endlessly crosses swords with people most of us have never heard of, and finishes up simply saying, “Start with the infallible Bible” (which he rarely cites), and let people fall into line by abandoning their non-Christian presuppositions. This hardly meets non-Christian people where they are, and really only slams the door in their faces. Pointing out the invalidity of non-Christian presuppositions does not thereby prove the validity of Christian ones, but Presuppositionalism seems to imagine that it does.
    One of the most helpful books on the subject to me was R.C. Sproul’s “Classical Apologetics”, which was a full-scale critique of Van Til, and it confirmed for me the approach to the unbelieving world which I see taught in Scripture.
    One of the most distressing features of the followers and defenders of Van Til and Presuppositionalism is when they deal with any critics, including R.C. Sproul: the response is either, “You’re misrepresenting him; this is not his position”, or “You have misunderstood him. You’re attacking a straw man”. In other words, any would be critic just has to be either a knave or a fool.
    I would welcome some comments along this line, especially as I notice that your bibliography on the subsequent post has mostly titles from the “Evidentialist” side.

  • Thanks Murray. As to the presuppositionalism verses evidentialism debate, let me say five brief things.

    One, there of course already exists a small library of books on that particular debate. I have a number of those volumes, and needless to say, the discussion can become rather complex and nuanced – as one would expect.

    Two, I have never been a big fan of an either-or approach here, but a both-and. While there are more types of apologetics systems than just these two, I see no strong reason why we must be forced to choose one or the other. I believe both can have a role to play, and both can be used, depending on the circumstances, who you are speaking with, and so on.

    Three, I therefore tend to side with you on this, and yes, I too quite like that book by Sproul.

    Four, as you suggest, the extreme presuppositionalists can end up talking to themselves. That is, they seem to have zero common ground with the non-Christian, and they end up expecting the pagan to effectible take a leap of faith and embrace their worldview first. That sort of shuts down all debate and any middle ground, and sort of rules out what theologians call the place of common grace. Then one ends up in a Barthian sort of fideism. Like you, I do not find that to be all that helpful.

    Five, given that quite a few of titles listed in the second section of my recent bibliography have to do with comparing worldviews and the like, those can be much more properly classified as presuppostional apologetics than evidentialism. And I certainly have in my own library many hundreds of volumes on apologetics – many of which are presuppositional in nature. And in past articles I have featured a number of presuppositionalists, including of course Van Til’s most famous student, Francis Schaeffer. They also had their run-ins with each other as you know. So I am not myself biased to one school over the other, although I won’t try to do a count of how many volumes I have in each camp!

    So thanks for your remarks.

  • I’m a bit inclined to think that everybody is trying to reinvent the wheel.
    Look at your own life and if you are brutally truthful you will realize that you have been or are ‘a thief a cheat & a lier’ You will also know that you have lusted for the flesh, the eyes & the pride of life. If the people with whom you socialize cannot see that then they need reminding of their youth & if that does’nt strike a chord you can’t do much. You will be wasting your time. All the denominations know the core. Any deviation is suspect.

  • > Mr wood,
    Hmm, I think the confusion here is that you are confusing the term with the meaning as though there is some error between the two, using the meaning of a word in place of the term would be like describing say a female thus- someone having two X chromosomes and having the capacity to give birth, rather than the term, female. Remember you would hardly ever use the term apologist but you would often carry out what the meaning of apologist meant. I probably have explained that badly but hopefully you will get my point. Finally, this comment you made challenged me, Mr Wood- “I tend to not use jargon for the benefit of the person I am speaking with.” I never do anything to benefit the one I am debating with!

  • Great article Bill.

    I’m amazed at how many Christians have virtually no interest at all in anything other than ‘worshipping God’ (listening to pop worship music), or just ‘doing life’ together as Christians. As if either of these things have any meaning when they’re not grounded in spending time learning the Word of God, and learning to defend it.

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