I’m hesitant to write on apologetics. A common critique of the apologetics I practice is that we spend all our time discussing and debating apologetical methodology instead of actually going out there and doing apologetics. A renowned cultural critic and apologist, Os Guinness, told himself that he’d never write a book on apologetics because he’d rather spend his time doing apologetics instead of just talking about it. Well, Os eventually did write a book and since I get a lot of questions about how we should do apologetics, I guess I can write a short piece on my own apologetic methodology; let’s call my method “Christian Worldview apologetics”.
Some of you may be wondering what all these strange words mean, so let’s define our terms. What is a worldview? A worldview is how you see the world. “Oh, ok that really clears it up Park…” Actually it kind of does. We all have a way we see the world, a conceptual framework that guides how we interpret information. We all have paradigms and presuppositions that make up the foundation for our beliefs. This is a worldview.
A worldview consists of our answers to life’s big questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? What happened and is broken in the world? Is there any hope, and if so what is it? Where is history headed? Can we know truth? Is there a God? The Christian worldview finds it’s answers to these questions in the Bible and from it’s logical deductions and implications.
Ok, we get what a worldview is, now what is apologetics? Apologetics, has historically been understood as the defense of the Christian faith. “So, how does apologizing help us defend our faith, Park?” Yeah, so we all make that initial mistake when we see the word, but apologetics is not about apologizing in the modern understanding of the word. We get our word apologetics from the Greek word “apologia”, which means “defense”.
This word shows up in “thee” apologetics verse, 1 Peter 3:15. If you’re going to talk about apologetics you have to talk about this verse, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (ἀπολογίαν, apologian) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”.
“Ok, Park, so apologetics is all about defending the Christian faith?” Yes, apologetics is about making a defense, but it’s not merely about making a defense. I think it’s easiest to understand apologetics as worldview apologetics because we are putting forth our worldview over against other worldviews. When we do this, we will undoubtedly need to make a defense of our Christian worldview, but in so doing we also challenge their presuppositions and try to convince them of the truth of our own.
Christian Worldview Apologetics can be understood through three perspectives: defending, contending, and commending. We defend the truth we’ve put our hope in against attacks from other worldviews, we contend with other systems of thought that are set up in opposition to ours and show their inadequacy, and we commend and seek to persuade others to turn from their worldviews to trust in Jesus Christ.
“Ok, well that’s all well and good but where’d you get these perspectives from?” Great question! Let’s look at defending first since that’s the most obvious perspective on apologetics. For understanding the Christian imperative to defend one’s faith we need to look no further than 1 Peter 3:15. Like I said earlier, this is “thee” verse for apologetics. Everyone quotes it, but they usually only quote the middle portion as, “always be prepared to make a reasoned defense of the hope that is in you”. However, the start of the verse is of utmost importance! “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy”, if we miss this, then we miss the importance of worldview apologetics. We are to honor Christ as the Lord first and foremost, this means we don’t abandon our faith or the Bible or God in order to defend our faith or the Bible or God! On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand… so defend your faith in the God of the Bible! Not the idea of a god or some impersonal divine clock maker or first cause. We honor Christ, our hope is in him and that is the hope we are called to defend.
Another important point in this verse is the last section, “yet do it with gentleness and respect”. Worldview apologetics can be pretty devastating. You’re not just debating minor details or little facts, you are setting your worldview against theirs, and if done properly, and with God’s blessing, their worldview will be utterly destroyed. As Christians we aren’t called to be jerks, but to be persuasive; we don’t revel in the anguish of our interlocutors, we offer them the hope of Jesus Christ! We are called to defend our faith with gentleness and respect; we are called to act like Christ.
With gentleness and respect fresh in our mind let’s look at the second perspective, Contending. The verse I chose for contending is 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every though captive to obey Christ”. Here the Apostle Paul is talking about the weapons of our warfare, which are not physical weapons like swords or knifes, but spiritual weapons that have divine power to destroy strongholds. This is such an epic verse! We are called to destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds that people use to hide from the gospel. We are called to go out on the offensive and destroy other conceptual systems that are raised against the Knowledge of God, whether secular or religious.
So while Apologetics definitely involves defending against attacks from unbelief, it also involves contending with unbelief, or “polemics”. In verse 3 of Jude’s letter he says to his audience, “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”. Jude would have rather written to encourage them in their mutual faith but he had to tell them to fight for their faith, to do polemics against people who were sneaking in to the congregation to pervert God’s truth. We are called to do the same, to fight for the faith. “Ok, but maybe that was just for Jude’s audience, Park. Aren’t you being anachronistic?” Jude’s letter is written to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ”… so if that describes you then you are called to contend for the faith.
At this point, you are defending the faith in gentleness and respect, and you are contending for the faith as well, time to look at third perspective, commending. For this emphasis we’ll look at 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we pursued others”. Christian worldview apologetics is about defending the faith, of course, it’s also about going on the offense and tearing down opposing worldviews as we’ve seen. But Christian worldview apologetics is not merely about being vindicated or vanquishing our theological foes; the end goal of apologetics is to persuade our opponents, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God.
If defending is protecting our worldview, and contending is about destroying their worldview, then commending is about displaying the beauty, coherence, and practicality of the Christian worldview. This perspective focuses more on proofs and putting forth arguments for our faith. This is where we can show the utter rationality of the Christian belief system, how we can account for logic, and science, and morality. This is where we compel unbelievers to come and experience a worldview that can make sense of their own human experience, both external and internal. We compel them and persuade them that Christianity alone can provide the hope they were looking for, but couldn’t find, in their own worldview.
When I think of commending, I always think of Acts 17:22-34. Paul in the Areopagus is a perfect example of commending the faith. He shows the Athenian philosophers that the God of the Bible is the one true God. He uses their own poets to show that only the Living God can make sense of their desires. Paul earned an audience in the ancient amphitheater after reasoning with the locals in the markets and the synagogues. His spirit was provoked because he saw all the idolatry around him and instead of condemning them all to hell right there on the spot, he chose to reason and persuade so that he might win some of them over to belief in Christ. He even studied their own authors to get a feel for the ethos of the culture; he became all things to all people that he might win some. If we are to be used of God to win some, then we ought to follow Paul’s example as he followed Christ; we ought to be winsome to win some. Christian Worldview Apologetics is about defending, contending, and commending.
“Ok, Park, you’ve showed us the three perspectives of apologetics, but how do we actually go about doing apologetics? Is that like a 4 step method? A booklet you can give us? How the heck am I supposed to defend, contend, and commend?” I hear you, but this post is already getting kind of long as it is. “Shut up, Park! Just tells us the method!” Ok, ok, someone’s snippy today! To answer your question, no, I don’t have a 4 step booklet for you. However, I do have a 2 step approach to guide you in doing Christian Worldview Apologetics.
The two step approach comes from Proverbs 26:4,5, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” “Ummmmm, what? Park, how are you gonna point to what looks like a complete contradiction in the Bible in order to help me understand the method of apologetics!?” Yo, you really need to calm down so I can explain.
Step 1: don’t answer the fool according to his foolishness or you will be foolish like him.
Step 2: answer the fool according to his foolishness so that he sees it for what it is, foolishness.
So, when doing Christian Worldview Apologetics we don’t necessarily jump right into defense right away. Debaters know that letting your opponent frame the debate is deadly, so we make qualifications where we can, and we define our terms from our own worldview not theirs. For instance, if someone says that “the God of the Bible is actually evil”, instead of jumping right in to say “no He’s not!”, we start with some clarifying questions.
Step 1 Ask your accuser to define evil, after all their definition of evil comes from their worldview and ours comes from our worldview, which is guided by and founded on the Bible. They will most likely have a very hard time defining what evil actually is. They can give instances of evil but without an ultimate standard of good, evil can’t be defined. Without a definition of evil, their claim makes no sense.
Step 2 Once we show them that their worldview can’t account for evil, then we can defend our faith and give our definition of evil; sin is evil. Sin against God is evil, even when we sin against each other we are ultimately sinning against God and His righteous decrees. And we seek to persuade our accuser to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their own sins.
The two step approach allows us to avoid taking on our interlocutors premises uncritically and to show them that their own worldview is found wanting, and then to answer them according to their folly (for any argument or lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God is foolishness) so that they aren’t wise in their own eyes.
Christian Worldview Apologetics is biblical, practical, and persuasive when done properly, but like everything, it takes practice. It’s not going to be easy, but it is worth it. We are called to grow up in the faith, not to be tossed around by every wind of new teaching and doctrine, by human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes. We are called to be discerning and wise; we are called to defend, to contend for, and to commend the Christian faith. As the author of Hebrews says, “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
And that’s all I have to say about that.