Summary: Basic elements of preaching to defend the Christian faith
Introduce some basic elements of preaching apologetically.
In Philippians 1:7, 17 Paul defended the Christian faith. Defending the Christian faith has a long history. Those who have a particular gift in this area have served the church well throughout Christian history. Today, the church is being attacked on so many different fronts, that the need for dedicated apologists continues.
This chapter combines the two chapters on proof and rebuttal, and adds an overview of the history of Christian apologetics from early biblical history to some of our modern challenges. We also look at several of the more popular varieties of Christian apologetics and give an example apologetic sermon.
The reality is that no apologist will ever convince every hearer. Skeptics can find as many excuses not to believe as believers can find reasons for faith. Not every argument that a preacher gives will be 100% bullet-proof, but that is not a major concern. The Christian apologist can only demonstrate that our faith is reasonable, not that it is infallibly proven beyond every skeptic's doubts.
On the other hand, apologetics can only demonstrate that Christianity is reasonable and why objections against it are unreasonable. It is also helpful for believers to know that reason and faith do not conflict, that faith is not irrational. Peter Kreeft, author of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (1994, IVP) wrote that apologetics can lead a person to the water's edge, but only faith will let him jump into the sea of God.
A. History of Christian Apologetics
1. Paul's Defense
In everyday language, an apology means an expression of regret. However, we will be using the academic meaning: an explanation, or a formal defense. A defender of the faith can also be an apologist. One of the first Christian apologists was the apostle Paul. One of his defenses of the gospel in the face of religious persecution is recorded in Acts 22. Part of his calling was as an apologist defending the gospel (Philippians 1:7, 17). The Greek word for Paul's verbal defense here is apologia and also means an answer, reply, a reasoned statement or argument.
2. Justin Martyr
Justin of Caesarea (ca. 100-165) was another early Christian apologist. Two of his works, the First Apology and the Second Apology, were written to the government of the day which was actively persecuting Christians. His purpose was to prove that the persecution of Christians was unjust. Justin did this with culturally appropriate arguments using the popular philosophy of the day, an explanation of true Christianity and proof that Jesus is the Son of God.
Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 275-339) is often called the father of early church history, because of his extensive writings on that subject. He also wrote or co-wrote a number of apologies, including Apology for Origen, Preparation for the Gospel, Proof of the Gospel, and On the Theology of the Church.
4. Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm (ca. 1034-1109) became Archbishop of Canterbury and had conflicts with the government of his day. His apologetic works Monologion and Proslogion develop the ontological argument (proof by deduction and reasoning alone) for God's existence. This is also known as a priori reasoning, which is independent of experience, as opposed to a posteriori logic, which is dependent upon prior experience.
5. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas of Aquino (ca. 1225-1274) was so influential that a whole school of Christian philosophy is named after him. Thomism has had great influence on the Catholic Church and to some extent Protestantism. His Summa Theologica was a summary of Christian theology in his time. It contributes to apologetics with the quinquae viae (5 ways) or five arguments for the existence of God: 1) the unmoved mover, 2) the first cause, 3) the necessity of a being that does not depend on the existence other beings, 4) perfection presumes the existence of a perfect being, and 5) design demands a designer.
6. Blaise Pascal
French mathematician and champion of the scientific method, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was so influential in calling for religious reform in his brilliantly written Provincial Letters (Lettres Provinciales) that even Rome was impressed. The Pope forced the revision of the Church's casuistic texts which had tolerated moral laxity. Pascal is famous for his unique excuse, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."
Pascal's most influential work Thoughts (Pensées) was unfinished when he died. As a defense of Christianity, the collection of Thoughts seeks to humble a know-it-all humanity by showing paradoxes which science had not been able to answer. A famous section of the Thoughts is Pascal's Wager, a mock bet that it is better to believe in a non-existent God than offend one who does exist. The Wager is sometimes called Pascal's Flaw because it is not meant to be a complete argument, but rather a taunt at the incompleteness of arguments by those who claim that God does not exist.