Apologetics: Never Say You're Sorry for Believing

Janet Chismar | Senior Editor, News & Culture | Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Apologetics: Never Say You're Sorry for Believing

Depending on where you are in your journey of faith, you may or may not understand what apologetics is or what place it should occupy in a believer's life. At its most basic, apologetics is the defense of Christian truth and doctrine.
"It's about making a persuasive case for faith based on evidence," explains Norman Geisler, noted apologist and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary.
Apologists often take one of two approaches: equipping believers to defend their faith against questions and attacks - or explaining to non-Christians why they should believe. Apologists even vary in how they address non-believers: Are they helping people search for truth - or search for meaning?
"In today's world, non-rational concerns - such as a sense that life lacks focus, an unconscious fear of death, a deep sense of longing for something unknown - are effective points of contact," says theologian Alister McGrath, who has written numerous books on apologetics.
In "Intellectuals Don't Need God & Other Modern Myths," McGrath says that it is in the "marketplace of ideas, not the seminar rooms of universities, that Christianity must fight for its life." According to McGrath, traditional apologetics has served the church well through the ages and will continue to do so in the future. But too often, traditional apologetics has sought "to commend Christianity without asking why it is that so many people are not Christians.
"Traditional apologetics, which was conceived as a science, with timeless questions and timeless answers, seems to have become stranded in a backwater, bypassed by the real debate and ignored by the opinion-makers," says McGrath. "The science of apologetics needs to be complemented by the art of apologetics."
Os Guinness, an author, apologist, and vice chairman and senior fellow of The Trinity Forum, takes a similar approach in his book, "The Long Journey Home: A Quest to Your Search for the Meaning of Life." He agrees that there is "no point in just preaching to the choir."
Guinness says too many apologists speak only to Christians - they "assume" a basic interest in Christ. Yet, many seekers have not arrived at that place. The initial starting point with a non-believer involves addressing the questions, struggles and crises in life - not proving that Jesus is God.

'Why I Am a Christian'

Geisler's book, "Why I Am a Christian," attempts to combine the art and science of apologetics by providing scientific proof and the answer for difficulties in life. The author of more than 50 apologetics texts, Geisler says he is most proud of this offering.
"It is a virtual 'Who's Who' in evangelical apologetics," Geisler explains. The contributors are expert witnesses for the faith, such as Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, Gary Habermas, John Feinberg, Walter Bradley and William Lane Craig. The top people in the field each chose their best work for corresponding chapters.
This is Geisler's first project with Paul Hoffman, an attorney and author, who serves as the book's co-editor.
"Why I Am a Christian" starts at ground zero - why believe in truth - and ends with "Why I Have Chosen to Follow Christ" and "Jesus is the Ultimate Source of Meaning." Josh McDowell shares his personal testimony in the afterword. In between, readers travel along a logical path that addresses physical and scientific evidence for the existence of God, the possibility of miracles, biblical reliability, world religions, and proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
But, says Geisler, the key sticking point for non-believers is the postmodern belief that truth is relative. "You can't tell someone the Bible is true, or it is true that Christ is the Son of God, if there is no truth. Or if all truth is subjective or relative.
"Truth is truth -- and we show that truth is objective and you can know it." You can give your whole case for Christianity, Geisler adds, "and at the bottom line they are thinking 'That is true for him. That's not true for me.' So you didn't really communicate, you just ventilated your tonsils."
According to Geisler, "It's only been in the last decade that the media and the culture and our educational institutions have won the battle of relativism. Not only relativism in morals but relativism in truth, and we didn't realize it was happening."

For the Believer

Why should someone who's already a believer study apologetics? "Because the Bible commands it and the world demands it," Geisler explains.
The main biblical command is 1 Peter 3:15 - "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Colossians 4:6 says, "Let your conversation be … seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." As for the world, "Today we live in a non-Christian culture," says Geisler.
"People don't even believe in truth, let alone the existence of God, miracles and the Bible. All of those things are attacked by our culture. So if we are going to reach people in our culture, we're going to have to 'do' apologetics."
He adds: "The attacks on Christianity are becoming more intense and also they are from a very strong philosophical perspective. You need to be grounded in knowledge."
The first year that Geisler became a Christian, he also became an apologist. "I was standing on skid row in Detroit, witnessing to the bums and drunks on the streets, and a drunk staggered up to me and said, 'I'm a graduate of x Bible Institute and you're not supposed to be doing that.' And he took the Bible right out of my hand and pointed to a red letter edition where Jesus said, 'Go and tell no man.' "I looked at that and I didn't have the foggiest idea of what that meant. But there it was - Jesus said 'go and tell no man' - and I didn't know what to say to him. So I figured I better get some answers.
Jehovah's Witnesses tied me in knots when they tried to prove that Christ was Michael the Archangel, and Catholics told me only priests could forgive your sins. So I decided I am going to have to study the Bible - and more than the Bible - if I am going to continue to witness for Christ."
Geisler says that any Christian who witnesses will either become an apologist, or get discouraged and stop, "because people are going to ask you questions you can't answer."
There is help though. "When I started 51 years ago, there was not a single book on apologetics written by a contemporary American author," says Geisler. "Now we have literally hundreds of books. It is spreading like wildfire."