For the next few posts, I'd like to begin discussing the various purposes of and approaches to apologetics. The fact that Blogger just highlighted that word as one that it doesn't recognize only confirms to me that this is necessary.
As most of the readers of this blog are probably aware, the word 'apologetics' comes from the Greek apologia (ἀπολογία), which is usually translated 'defense.' It is used in this sense, for example, in 1 Peter 3:15, the verse that has sort-of become the credo of Christian intellectualism.
Apologetics as a discipline, however, is more nuanced than a simple word-study implies. It has various uses, defense being only one among them. However, it is this one with which I will begin.
Apologetics as defense is the function of apologetics that responds to the various criticisms that are leveled against the Christian faith. When employed in this way, the job of apologetics is not to show that Christianity is true, per se, but only that it is not unreasonable.
In fact, the first three posts of this blog were written with this very purpose in mind (along with the first video). This is important because it is easy to mistake the intention of the apologist from time to time and critique a defense that he gives as though it were meant to be a persuasive argument. 1
When using apologetics as defense, we are not attempting to persuade anyone to convert to Christianity, although this is still an important step in that process. What we are doing is clearing away the major objections that keep people from even seriously considering Christianity in the first place. As such, we should not expect arguments offered to this end to be ultimately persuasive regarding Christianity itself.
For example, if someone refuses to even consider the claims of Christ because she believes that Christianity is at bottom irrational (e.g. because the doctrine of the Trinity is logically incoherent), then the first step in talking with this person might be to deal with this objection first.
I've heard it said like this: "The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false." 2 Our friend will have a very hard time trusting in Christ's promises if she is still convinced that His nature is contradictory. But it would also be wrong to expect a clear understanding of what Christians think about God's nature to lead this person to repentance.
Another use of apologetics as defense is clarification of Christian doctrine. Often, the unbeliever (and sadly, many times even the believer) has wrong ideas about what Christians believe. In these cases, it might be best to simply share what we actually believe, and more often than not, merely seeing our true position does the job itself. For example, if the person above believed that Christians thought that God was both one and three in the same sense, then a clear explanation of the real doctrine of the Trinity should clear this up. 3
But defense is not the only purpose of apologetics, nor is it always the best route to take in dealing with an unbeliever. I'll move on to another primary use of apologetics next time.
1 In fact, this happened in the comments that followed those first posts.
2 I have had some trouble tracking down this quote, although it may belong to Clark Pinnock, Set Forth Your Case (The Craig Press, 1967), p. 3.
3 I'll try to post on this soon.
* Be sure to check out the new video in the 'Featured Video' section.