And so it is that the white witch of the north is back, having rudely intruded with her polar vortex to break some uncomely arctic wind. It’s also reading week, so while it is always Winter out here, sometimes it does feel like Christmas. That isn’t to say that there is nothing to do this week, as there is, and plenty. It’s just very nice to have six days in a row to do things at my own pace. Actually, it is having the mornings to myself that is the most valuable. I’m the most productive before noon, the most capable of the sustained, and focused thought that much of our schoolwork requires. At least to do it well, anyways. You can fly through anything if you want to, including Berkhof, just like you can fly along an icy highway. But the risks are about the same.
One of the things I’ll be doing is studying for an Apologetics test we have next week. Apologetics is a brand new course here at CRTS taught by our nearly brand new prof, Dr. Van Raalte. There’s a great deal of philosophy that goes into understanding apologetics, which is another way of saying that the course is worth every minute. One of the central questions that must be answered is, what common ground does a believer have with an unbeliever, and where exactly is that common ground found? For example, I may agree with an unbelieving man that fly fishing is superior to all other forms of leisure, but we cannot agree that Christ is superior to all other forms of life. I cannot lead him to Christ through the beauty of fly fishing, even if my reasoning were so sound that it led to no other possible conclusion. That is because Christ is not the end of an argument, but its beginning, which is the great insight of presuppositional philosophy.
The presuppositionalist, then, works backwards from a conclusion to expose to the unbeliever that the roots of his argument lie in Christ, for they could lie nowhere else. I wonder how it would have gone if Ken Ham, for instance, had concentrated all firepower on pummeling (Hammering?) Bill Nye with presuppositional arguments. Impaled him with his own undeniable immateriality. Would have been messy, as those things tend to be, but also a marvelous display of taking captive every thought for Christ. Which is really what presuppositional apologetics does best, by showing that Christianity is the necessary foundation for any thinking whatsoever.
But this doesn’t always satisfy. For at the end of the day, I still do agree with that man about fly fishing. Can we not build somehow from that? We all inhabit the same reality, so can we not gather evidence from that reality to show that there is a God and a Saviour, rather than always going back to the roots? This is called evidentialist apologetics, and this is the much more familiar approach of men like C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias. This has been an undeniably fruitful branch of apologetics, a real blessing to the church. Personally, I think that different situations and different conversations will demand different approaches. If you’re dealing with an atheist who is convinced of his autonomy, then a presuppositional argument is probably the way to go. But in my own experience, most people believe that there is a God, that there is an afterlife, perhaps even that Jesus really lived. In that case, there are a lot of useful contact points to work from.
But really, what is the point of apologetics? You may convince somebody of the truth of a thing, but they still have to accept it. Romans 1 says that unbelieving man knows God, but suppresses this truth, and distorts it. So you may lay out a clear, unshakeable argument that can only lead to one conclusion, yet the unbeliever resists it. That is because you cannot reason a man to faith. Only the Spirit opening his eyes can cause him to believe, and then he will see that the cause was not his reasoning at all. So why do we bother with all of these arguments if they cannot produce faith?
One reason is that apologetics helps to put the gospel above reproach. Against the accusations of the unbelievers, we can show that Christianity is reasonable and that their arguments are unreasonable. You will end up with people like Richard Dawkins, who refuse to debate Christians anymore because they have no more arguments against them. But it’s also true that believers are sometimes weak, and we doubt. We listen to the arguments of the unbeliever, and they may worry us, perhaps even shake us deeply. So a further reason for apologetics is that it helps to remove obstacles in our minds, to reinforce our faith. Indeed, in an age that is fond of arguing against the gospel, God has richly blessed the church in answering those arguments. It is also true that after a while there are no new accusations at all, just recycled failures from the past. The devil has only a very limited number of arguments against God, which is made all the more striking in that the arguments for God can go on forever.
The most important reason for apologetics, though, is that God commands it of us. Peter famously admonishes us in his first letter always to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” That ancient apologist, Augsutine:
“The apostle tells us to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for an explanation of our faith, because if an unbeliever asks me a reason for my faith and hope and I perceive that he cannot accept it unless he believes, I give him that very reason, so that he may see how absurd it is for him to ask a reason for things which he cannot grasp until he believes.”
This is a great quote, because it makes it real simple. The only way that you can understand the Christian faith is by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. So when an unbeliever comes to us seeking to understand our faith, we must present him with that gospel. Not every Christian can answer every objection to the faith, by no means. But every Christian does know the gospel. And when we get lost in complicated philosophical or evidential arguments, it helps to remember that the answer lies nestled and shining deep within the four chambers, readily accessible and readily familiar.