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Christian apologetics (Greek: ἀπολογία, "verbal defence, speech in defence") is a field of Christian theology which aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections.
Christian apologetics has taken many forms over the centuries, starting with Paul the Apostle in the early church and Patristic writers such as Origen, Augustine of Hippo, Justin Martyr and Tertullian, then continuing with writers such as Thomas Aquinas and Anselm of Canterbury during Scholasticism. Blaise Pascal was active before and during the Age of Enlightenment, and in the modern period Christianity was defended through the efforts of many authors such as G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis. In contemporary times Christianity has been defended through the work of figures such as Ravi Zacharias, Doug Wilson, Alvin Plantinga, James White and William Lane Craig.
Apologists have based their defense of Christianity on historical evidence, philosophical arguments, and arguments from other disciplines. Christian polemic is a branch of apologetics aimed at criticizing or attacking other belief systems.
- 1 Terminology and origin
- 2 Biblical basis
- 3 History
- 4 Varieties
- 5 References
Terminology and origin
The Greek apologia (ἀπολογία, from ἀπολογέομαι, apologeomai, "speak in return, defend oneself") was a formal defense, either in response to prosecution in a court of law or by extension as a literary mode. The defense of Socrates as presented by Plato and Xenophon was an apologia against charges of "corrupting the young, and … not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel".
The use of the literary form in early Christian discourse is an example of the integration of educated Christians into the cultural life of the Roman Empire, particularly during the "little peace" of the 3rd century, and of their participation in the Greek intellectual movement broadly known as the Second Sophistic. The Christian apologists of the early Church did not reject Greek philosophy, but attempted to show the positive value of Christianity in dynamic relation to the Greek rationalist tradition. Christianity, however, privileged divine revelation above human reason and apologetic literature often maintains a tension between the two.
In the 2nd century, apologetics was both a defense and an explanation of Christianity, addressed to those who had attacked it, but also to those yet to form an opinion, such as emperors and other authority figures, or potential converts. The earliest martyr narrative has the spokesman for the persecuted present a defense in the apologetic mode: Christianity was a rational religion that worshipped only God as "the supreme ruler of the cosmos", and although Christians were law-abiding citizens willing to honor the emperor, their belief in a single divinity prevented them from taking the loyalty oaths that acknowledged the emperor's Genius or divine aspect.
The apologetic historiography in the Acts of the Apostles presented Christianity as a religious movement at home within the Roman Empire and no threat to it, and was a model for the first major historian of the Church, Eusebius. Apologetics might also be directed toward insiders, helping Christians already within the community explain their beliefs and justify their position. Origen's apologetic Contra Celsum, for instance, took on the arguments of a critic who had been dead for decades, but was intended to address vacillating Christians who might lack immediate answers to the kinds of questions he had raised. Apologetic literature was thus an important medium for the formation of early Christian identity.
In addition to Origen and Tertullian, early Christian apologists include Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and the author of the Epistle to Diognetus. Augustine of Hippo was a significant apologist of the Patristic era. Some scholars regard apologetics as a distinct literary genre exhibiting commonalities of style and form, content, and strategies of argumentation. Others view it primarily as a form of discourse characterized by its tone and purpose.
In its strictest sense, an apologia is a defense against a prior attack, whether actual or merely perceived: Christian apologetics would arise from anti-Christian polemic. Christian polemic is an attack against other belief systems, and not framed as a direct rebuttal of criticism. In a mode similar to polemic are treatises that attack or argue against Christian beliefs regarded as heretical. In practice, apologetics may veer into polemic. Tertullian, called a "master of the apologetic genre", was nevertheless inclined toward counter-attack, minimizing common ground between Romans and Christians.
In the forced Disputation of Barcelona (1263) at the royal palace of King James I of Aragon, the Dominican friar Pablo Christiani, a convert from Judaism to Christianity, failed to prove the truth of Christianity from the Torah, Talmud and other rabbinical writings. His adversary was the leading medieval Jewish scholar, physician, philosopher, kabbalist and biblical commentator, Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi (Nachmanides or Ramban). Nachmanides hinted that the prophecies of the Messianic Age, universal peace and justice, had not yet been fulfilled by Jesus. He also argued that Pablo Christiani's polemics were per-se false apologetics, because Judaism would not allude that man-God Jesus was Messiah while, at the same time, explicitly opposing the idea of the divinity of the Messiah as such:
"Does he mean to say that the sages of the Talmud believed in Jesus as the messiah and believed that he is both human and divine, as held by the Christians? However, it is well known that the incident of Jesus took place during the period of the Second Temple. He was born and killed prior to the destruction of the Temple, while the sages of the Talmud, like R. Akiba and his associates, followed this destruction. Those who compiled the Mishnah, Rabbi and R. Nathan, lived many years after the destruction. All the more so R. Ashi who compiled the Talmud, who lived about four hundred years after the destruction. If these sages believed that Jesus was the messiah and that his faith and religion were true and if they wrote these things from which Friar Paul intends to prove this, then how did they remain in the Jewish faith and in their former practice? For they were Jews, remained in the Jewish faith all their lives, and died Jews—they and their children and their students who heard their teachings. Why did they not convert and turn to the faith of Jesus, as Friar Paul did? ... If these sages believed in Jesus and in his faith, how is it that they did not do as Friar Paul, who understands their teachings better than they themselves do?"
Today this kind of Christian polemics against the Jews has its reverberation in the light of organized evangelical conversion of Jews to Christianity, and Jewish counter-missionary initiatives.
Several biblical passages have historically motivated Christian apologetics. R. C. Sproul, quoting the First Epistle of Peter ([1 Pet3:15]), writes that "The defense of the faith is not a luxury or intellectual vanity. It is a task appointed by God that you should be able to give a reason for the hope that is in you as you bear witness before the world." The verse quoted here reads in full: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."
Another passage sometimes used as a Biblical basis for Christian apologetics is God's entreaty in the Book of Isaiah: "Come now, let us reason together."[Is 1:18] Other scriptural passages which have been taken as a basis for Christian apologetics include Psalm 19, which begins "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,"[Ps 19:1] and Romans 1, which reads "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."[Rom 1:20]
Some scholars regard apologetics as a distinct literary genre exhibiting commonalities of style and form, content, and strategies of argumentation. Others view it primarily as a form of discourse characterized by its tone and purpose.
Thomas Aquinas, an influential Catholic philosopher, presented five ways, or arguments for God's existence, in the Summa Theologica, while his Summa contra Gentiles was a major apologetic work. Blaise Pascal outlined an approach to apologetics in his Pensées: "Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason; that it is venerable, to inspire respect for it; then we must make it lovable, to make good men hope it is true; finally, we must prove it is true."
Christian apologetics continues in modern times in a wide variety of forms. The Roman Catholics G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Karl Keating, Peter Kreeft, and Dr. Scott Hahn, the Anglican C. S. Lewis (who popularized the argument now known as Lewis's trilemma). The evangelical Norman Geisler, the Lutheran John Warwick Montgomery, and the Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer were among the most prolific Christian apologists in the 20th century, while Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til started a new school of philosophical apologetics called presuppositionalism, which is popular in Calvinist circles.
There are a variety of Christian apologetic styles and schools of thought. The major types of Christian apologetics include: historical and legal evidentialist apologetics, presuppositional apologetics, philosophical apologetics, prophetic apologetics, doctrinal apologetics, biblical apologetics, moral apologetics, and scientific apologetics.
Historical and legal evidentialism
Various arguments have been put forth by legal scholars such as Simon Greenleaf and John Warwick Montgomery and others claiming that Western legal standards argue for the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. In addition, legal authorities' opinions regarding the resurrection of Christ are appealed to. Christian scholar Edwin M. Yamauchi and others argue against the pagan myth hypothesis for the origin of Christianity.
For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.... The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time.... Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, [showing that] even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core.
Defense of miracles
C. S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig and Christians who engage in jurisprudence Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible wherever an all-powerful Creator is postulated.
In his book Science Speaks, Peter Stoner argues that only God knows the future and that Biblical prophecies of a compelling nature have been fulfilled. Apologist Josh McDowell documents the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, relating to his ancestral line, birthplace, virgin birth, miracles, death and resurrection. Apologist Blaise Pascal believed that the prophecies are the strongest evidence for Christianity. He notes that Jesus not only foretold, but was foretold, unlike in other religions, and that these prophecies came from a succession of people over a span of four thousand years.
Biblical apologetics include issues concerned with the authorship and date of biblical books, biblical canon and biblical inerrancy. Christian apologists defend and comment on various books of the Bible. Some scholars who have engaged in the defense of biblical inerrancy include Robert Dick Wilson, Gleason Archer, Norman Geisler and R. C. Sproul. There are several resources that Christians offer defending inerrancy in regard to specific verses. Authors defending the reliability of the Gospels include Craig Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels and Mark D. Roberts in Can We Trust the Gospels?
Philosophical apologetics concerns itself primarily with arguments for the existence of God, although they do not exclusively focus on this area. They do not argue for the veracity of Christianity over other religions but merely for the existence of a Creator deity. Omnipotence and omniscience are inferred in these arguments to greater or lesser degrees: some argue for an interventionist god, some are equally relevant to a Deist conception of god.
They do not support hard polytheism, but could be used to describe the first god who created many other gods; however, the arguments are only relevant when applied to the first god (the First Cause, Pure Act and Unmoved Mover; it is a contradiction a priori to suppose a plurality of "Pure Acts" or "First Causes" or "Unmoved Movers").
These arguments can be grouped into several categories:
- Cosmological argument – Argues that the existence of the universe demonstrates that God exists. Various primary arguments from cosmology and the nature of causation are often offered to support the cosmological argument.
- Teleological argument – Argues that there is a purposeful design in the world around us, and a design requires a designer. Cicero, William Paley, and Michael Behe use this argument as well as others.
- Ontological argument – Argues that the very concept of God demands that there is an actual existent God.
- Moral Argument – Argues that if there are any real objectively valid moral values, then there must be an absolute from which they are derived.
- Transcendental Argument – Argues that all our abilities to think and reason require the existence of God.
- Presuppositional Arguments – Argues that the basic beliefs of theists and nontheists require God as a necessary precondition.
Other philosophical arguments include:
- Alvin Plantinga's argument that belief in God is properly basic.
- Pascal's wager, an argument that, given neither theism nor atheism has an evidential advantage, theism is the wiser position.
Presuppositional apologetics claims that presuppositions are essential to any philosophical position, and that there are no "neutral" assumptions from which a Christian can reason with a non-Christian. There are two main schools of presuppositional apologetics, that of Cornelius Van Til (and his students Greg Bahnsen and John Frame) and that of Gordon Haddon Clark.
Van Til drew upon, but did not always agree with, the work of Dutch Calvinist philosophers and theologians such as D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, Herman Dooyeweerd, Hendrik G. Stoker, Herman Bavinck, and Abraham Kuyper. Bahnsen describes Van Til's approach to Christian apologetics as pointing out the difference in ultimate principles between Christians and non-Christians, and then showing that the non-Christian principles reduce to absurdity. In practice this school utilizes what has come to be known as the transcendental argument for the existence of God.
Clark held that the Scriptures constituted the axioms of Christian thought, which could not be questioned, though their consistency could be discussed. A consequence of this position is that God's existence can never be demonstrated, either by empirical means or by philosophical argument. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not even attempt such proofs.
Moral apologetics states that real moral obligation is a fact. Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft said, "We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil." In moral apologetics, the arguments for man's sinfulness and man's need for redemption are stressed. Examples of this type of apologetic would be Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The Four Spiritual Laws religious tract (Campus Crusade for Christ) would be another example.
Many Christians contend that science and the Bible do not contradict each other, and that scientific fact supports Christian apologetics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge... These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator." The theologian and mathematician Marin Mersenne, used celestial mechanics as evidence in his apologetic work, while Matteo Ricci engaged in scientific apologetics in China. In modern times, the theory of the Big Bang has been used in support of Christian apologetics.
Several Christian apologists have sought to reconcile Christianity and science in regard to the question of origins. Theistic Evolution claims that classical religious teachings about God are compatible with the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution and that the Creator God uses the process of evolution. Denis Lamoureux, in Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution states that "This view of origins fully embraces both the religious beliefs of biblical Christianity and the scientific theories of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution. It contends that the Creator established and maintains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of a teleological evolution." The most radical example of a Christian-evolutionary synthesis is the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which was intended as apologetics to the world of science, but which was later condemned by the Catholic Church.
Creation apologetics include young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and theistic evolution. Young Earth creationists believe the Bible teaches that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, and reject the scientific consensus for the age of the Earth. Young Earth creationists also engage in Biblical apologetics with regard to various parts of the primordial history in Genesis 1-11 – such as the long life spans of people such as Methuselah. the Flood, and the Tower of Babel Old Earth creationists believe it is possible to harmonize the Bible's six-day account of creation with the scientific evidence that the universe is 13.8 billion-years-old and Earth is 4.54 billion-years-old.
According to Psalms 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, "a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day" with God. If the number 1,000 is interpreted as an arbitrarily large number, then the age of the universe and earth can be long periods of time. Other old Earth creationists, such as astrophysicist Hugh Ross, see each of the six days of creation as being a long, but finite period of time, based on the multiple meanings of the Hebrew word "yom" (day light hours/24 hours/age of time) and other Biblical creation passages.
Experiential apologetics is a reference to an appeal “primarily, if not exclusively, to experience as evidence for Christian faith.” Also, “they spurn rational arguments or factual evidence in favor of what they believe to be a self-verifying experience.” This view stresses experience that other apologists have not made as explicit, and in the end the concept that the Holy Spirit convinces the heart of truth becomes the central theme of the apologetic argument.
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