In this series of posts I will address the questions of whether and how Christians should defend the Christian faith in the public square of ideas. This field of study has traditionally been known as “apologetics,” from the Greek word apologia, which refers to an answer or defense of oneself or one’s position on some matter. Those who seek to provide a defense of the Christian faith in the public square of ideas are, therefore, known as Christian apologists. If you are a Christian, should you seek to be an apologist? My answer to that question is yes, and I will explain why shortly. But first let’s imagine what reasons might be given for a Christian believer not to seek to defend the Christian faith.
First, some Christians might assume that an attempt to give a rational defense of Christian belief actually undermines faith. Anti-apologists might argue that Christian apologists take what is supposed to be accepted on faith and make it a matter of reason. It might appear that God does not want us to believe in his Word because there are good reasons to do so. He wants us to accept his Word by faith, in spite of the fact that we may find no good reason to do so. Faith that has no reasons, or irrational faith, may be considered a more authentic kind of faith, on the anti-apologist view.
Second, some Christians might assume that Christian apologetics is an important discipline, but only for those who specialize in that sort of thing. The average rank-and-file believer should not worry about defending the faith in the public square. Leave that to the handful of people who are good at that sort of thing.
Both of these objections have some measure of truth in them. Yes, faith believes the Word of God even when God promises that which is humanly impossible, or even absurd. In Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed God’s promise that his wife Sarah, well past childbearing years, would conceive and bear a son and that from this son would come a multitude of descendants that would rival the number of stars in the heavens. He believed, and his faith was counted as righteousness. But Abraham’s faith, though it was in a promise of the humanly impossible, nevertheless was not an irrational faith. It took place in the context of a relationship with God. Knowing God as he did, Abraham knew that it is far more rational to believe what God says than to believe that God has been careless with his words and has promised too much. In other words, once you have a proper understanding of God, your whole understanding of what is rational and what is not is defined by that understanding. You cannot begin with an idea of rationality that excludes from the beginning God’s ability to bring about extraordinary events (like sons being born to 90-year-old women) and then conclude that believing in such things is irrational. Far from being irrational, faith in the promise of God is the most rational act of which the mind is capable.
Concerning the second objection, namely, that apologetics is the task of the few and that it can be avoided by most Christians, again I would say that such a view is not totally false. Some are called to focus more acutely on the ministry of apologetics, and some Christians in particular are placed in positions where defending the faith is a more urgent necessity. But in spite of this truth, hear what the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15-16:
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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Peter does not address these words to a narrow subset of Christians called to be apologists. He addresses whole churches with these instructions, churches full of believers from all walks of life, many of whom have little or no formal education, and he tells them to be ready in any circumstance to defend the faith by giving a reason for the hope that is in them. This task is particularly important when Christians are suffering, as many of those to whom Peter was writing certainly were. When the faith is being challenged by opposition, every Christian is called to adorn the gospel with his words and his life. This is nothing other than doing apologetics. It is something commanded of all of us who believe in Christ. In the upcoming posts I will explain my understanding of an apologetic method that is faithful to the teaching of Scripture.