Before we can go anywhere, it's important to understand what apologetics in the first place. The American Heritage Dictionary defines apologetics as follows:
"The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines."
This definition is taken from the Greek word apologia (απολογία), which means "a speaking in defense". To find this word used in the New Testament, look at 1 Peter 3:15-16, which says:
15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
In this verse, we not only see that we are to be ready to give a reason (an apologia) for the hope that we have, but we are to do it with gentleness and respect. This is an essential concept to bear in mind as we meet non-believers and skeptics of our faith.
Why Study Apologetics?
Now that we understand apologetics, the next thing to address is "why apologetics?" This is especially important because of the number of people in Christian fellowships today who see no value in learning and practicing this discipline. In contrast to this position, consider the words of Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is one of the leading Christian apologists living today. In his ministry, he has put together a defense of apologetics (an apologetic of apologetics, if you will). In his article God is Not Dead Yet Dr. Craig offers the following observation:
"Christians who depreciate natural theology because "no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments" are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one's immediate evangelistic contacts. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved."
But I Don't Know Any Atheists
Some people, when they first consider the study of apologetics, aren't aware of the extreme upswing in the popularity of atheism. In fact, this new movement has been called the New Atheism and touts popular names of leading scientists and philosophers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Vitcor Stenger and Sam Harris. These men, along with many others, have in recent years devoted much time and effort into undermining the credibility of Christianity through a series of popular books, television interviews, and online websites and videos.
In commenting on this problem, Dinesh D'Souza wrote in his book What's So Great About Christianity the following:
"But a group of prominent atheists - many of them evolutionary biologists - has launched a powerful public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice. A new set of anti-religious books - The God Delusion, The End of Faith, God Is Not Great, and so on - now shapes public debate."
If D'Souza is right, then we're in a war whether we like it or not. Like the aftermath of September 11, when America realized it was at war with an enemy it knew nothing about, Christians are under attack from a very well organized and deliberate foe. These self-professed atheists aren't simply content to reject God in their own lives. They are determined to reach us, our families, our friends, and our children to achieve the same ends.
In case further evidence is needed of this imminent threat, consider the following quotes from some of the leaders of the New Atheism movement:
“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion” - Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation)
"God is a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser , a misogynistic, homophobic racist, an infanticidal, genocidal, phillicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" - Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion)
"If we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or a pig, for example, we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and anything else that can plausibly be considered morally significant." - Peter Singer (animal rights activist)
“The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us (all creatures great and small) and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight-that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.” - Daniel Dennett (Darwin's Dangerous Idea)
“Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals…What we have are copies made later – much later…These copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament…We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them…in thousands of ways.” - Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus)
“My goal in this course is to knock God out of you. And if you don’t like it, I will give you a pass to drop the class.” - unnamed university professor
These quotes should frighten all Christians. It demonstrates that the enemy is very real and won't go away if we simply duck our heads and hope for the best.
So What Should We Do?
Simply this, prepare your mind. This is a very sound Biblical concept. We've already seen the quote from 1 Peter 3:15-16, but consider these additional verses:
He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" - Luke 10:27 - 27
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Romans 12:1-2 - 1
There is no question that God wants our minds to be engaged. Unfortunately, we seem to be at a period of extreme decline in intellectual skills. Fewer and fewer people are rising to the challenge of preparing our minds for battle. But this is exactly what is needed today.
Preparing our Minds
So how do we prepare our minds? Consider this quote from the ancient Japanese General and Philosopher Sun Tzu. Quoting from his Book of War, we read:
“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril."
Better advice couldn't be offered today. What Sun Tzu is telling us is that we need not only to know ourselves, but to know our enemy. This means studying the works of writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, listening to lectures by Christian Apologists such as William Lane Craig and JP Moreland, watching debates in order to understand the fine points of the arguments presented by both the theist and the non-theist. In doing this, we will come to know not only ourself, but our enemy as well.
Where Do I Start?
First of all, stay close to the Word of God and be fervent in prayer. The Bible is our ultimate source of truth and any day spent apart from it is a day in which the opportunity to deepen your understanding has been wasted. But, unfortunately, in today's climate, the Bible won't get us very far if the person we're talking to says "I don't believe in the Bible". What do we do then?
To help get in becoming prepared to deal with questions like the one above, I have provided a list of books and websites that I have found useful. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it provides a good foundation.
- Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
- There is a God by Antony Flew
- I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
- Why I Am a Christian edited by Norman Geisler
- Why the Universe Is the Way It Is by Hugh Ross
- Books by Lee Strobel: The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus
- Books by C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce
- Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias
- The End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias
- The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer
The study of Christian Apologetics is a rich field to which many Christians devote their lives and careers. However, being a Christian apologist does not demand that we all get a Ph.D. in our respective fields. All it requires is that we engage our minds and be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us.
Whether we like it or not, nonbelievers are on the march and are engaged in efforts to discredit Christianity. If we, as believers, don't take up the challenge and learn to defend our beliefs rationally and convincingly (but with love), we stand to lose many battles and many more potential followers of Christ. The soul of our children, of our friends, and of our family is at stake. It truly is that serious.