Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt.1

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Apologia: Defensive & Offensive

In 1st Peter 3:15, the apostle Peter commands all Christians to always be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ. The word translated as defense is the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), which Frederick W. Danker defines as —
‘response to charges of misconduct’, defense freq. In legal context —a. with focus on speaking in defense Ac 22:1 (legal); 1 Cor 9:3 (general sense). —b. the act of defensive response: in a legal venue Ac 25:16; 2 Ti 4:16; general sense 2 Cor 7:11; Phil 1:7, 16; 1 Pt 3:15.[1]
Peter is, then, commanding Christians to give a defense for the faith. But what precisely does this mean in 1st Peter’s context? If we want to understand what Peter is teaching us, we need to look at the passage in connection with its previous and succeeding verses.

Beginning in 1st Pet 3:8, Peter admonishes Christians to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Christians are not to “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.” We have been “called [to blessing others],” and we will “obtain a blessing,” for God blesses his people when they bless others. Peter goes on to cite Ps 32:12-16 in support of his statements, showing that this is the Christian’s duty according to the Word of God. He then goes on to ask —
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
Doing good is not grounds for fear, so obedience to God’s law should not be hindered by fear of being harmed/punished by those to whom we show kindness. In fact, the implication of any such harm/punishment coming to us for blessing our enemies is that they are acting unjustly and will, therefore, receive their due punishment in God’s time. Thus, Peter continues by arguing that “even if [we] should suffer for righteousness’ sake, [we] will be blessed.” Whether we are blessed in the present for blessing others, or we receive unjust punishment from those enemies of Christ whom we bless, we are and will be blessed by God for obeying his commandment to love our enemies. There is no justification for fearing or being troubled in our hearts, even in such circumstances, therefore, since we are and will be blessed. Rather, Peter says we are to “honor Christ the Lord as holy,” and “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us].”

In this passage, then, the goal of defending the faith is directly connected to (i.)our lives as Christians being distinct from the world, and (ii.)our enduring in hope in this world, even when we are unjustly persecuted, punished, ridiculed, and mocked by the enemies of God. Why do we continue to trust in Christ and show mercy and love toward our enemies in the world? Why do we not, as Job’s wife once commanded him to do, “curse God and die”?[2] Why not forsake the Lord Jesus Christ’s commandment of love and turn on those who unjustly harm us? Peter commands us to be ready to give a defense of the faith, of the hope we have. And this is what makes the word apologia so significant. We are not called to give a defense of a belief that we understand but do not ourselves embrace; we are commanded to give a defense of the beliefs that we fully embrace, to the extent that our lives are marked by adherence to its precepts and faithfulness to the giver of those precepts, despite what losses we will experience. An apologia, in other words, can only be given by a Christian, one whose hope is fully in the Word of God, and whose life, therefore, demonstrates this in no uncertain terms.

Given that Peter states that we are to be ready to give an apologia in the event that we are asked about the hope we have in Christ, some have taken this to mean that apologetics is only defensive and not offensive. But is this the case?
No, for there are passages of Scripture that command us to engage in offensive apologetics as well. The word offensive here is to be understood in the technical sense of an attack against an opponent, as is clear from what the apostle Jude writes in his epistle —
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.[3]
Note that the apostle is commanding the church to contend for the faith, because there are false teachers who have crept into the church with destructive heresies. The word he uses here is ἐπαγωνίζομαι (epagōnizomai) which means to struggle for,” a word derived from the sphere of athletics. As Gene L. Green explains —
The metaphor, drawn from competition in the games..., could be employed in the context of warfare..., of progress in virtue..., or of debate...The struggle Jude has in mind is the preservation of the faith over against the theological/moral novelty of the heretics..., the growth in that faith and the avoidance of error..., and the rescue of those who have been drawn in to the errorists’ snare...Jude’s call pertains to both the doctrinal and moral issues raised by the heretics.[4]
Note that whereas Peter commands that we always be ready to give an apologia for the hope we have in the truth, Jude commands us to contend earnestly for the truth. These two commands are not contradictory, but show us two different ways in which we are called to engage in apologetics.

We are not simply to defend the faith by being on the defensive when asked by others, but are also to do so by being on the offensive, and actively attacking teaching that opposes the doctrine of Scripture. We are engaged in “warfare” with enemies of the Word of Truth, as Paul the apostle explains elsewhere —
...though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ...[5]
Peter’s command to Christians to give a defense when we are asked about the faith is counterbalanced by Jude’s command to Christians to go on the offensive, attacking enemies of the faith first, knowing that we are engaged in spiritual warfare (even as Paul did).

Apologetics is, in other words, the intellectual defense of the faith. It is a reasoned defense of Christianity that can be accomplished either by responding to critics and interested unbelievers (i.e. defensively), or preemptively attacking critics and unbelievers (i.e. offensively).

§ II. What Apologetics is Not

Apologetics is a defense of the faith, therefore, and not a figuring out of the faith. It is, as John W. Robbins states the matter, “the discipline that establishes the exclusive truth of Christianity, on the basis of the information given to us in Scripture.”[6] As Jude’s command to the church makes clear, we operate from the basis of having already believed the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. Jude assumes that there is a body of individual who are rightly called the saints, ones to whom a singular body of doctrine called the faith has been bequeathed by other saints.

The influence of postmodern skepticism toward all forms of exclusivism, sadly, has colored much of what one finds in popular Christian literature, even some of that literature which is identified as apologetics. Rather than defending and contending for the truth, many have opted instead to discuss the merits of opposing doctrinal viewpoints, to have a dialogue with others who claim the name of Christ but hold to doctrines that historically have been rejected by the body of Christ. While there is nothing wrong with having “discussions” and “dialogues” in which two parties do not engage in doctrinal combat, these discussions and dialogues cannot properly be said to be apologetical engagements.
Apologetics is not a figuring-out of the faith; it is the intellectual defense of the faith.

[1] The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 48.
[2] cf. Job 2:9.
[3] Jude 3-4. (emphasis added)
[4] Jude and 2 Peter (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 56.
[5] 2nd Cor 10:3-5.
[6] “The Apologetics of Jesus and Paul” in The Trinity Review (May/June: 1996), 2.