On today’s podcast, Kurt Jaros discusses the purpose of apologetics and its importance in our walk as Christians.
Kurt: Good morning to you all. Thanks for coming here to the Deeper Roots Conference. It’s a pleasure to be with you here. My name is Kurt Jaros and I’m the executive director of Defenders Media and the host of the Veracity Hill podcast which is a weekly podcast, every Saturday at 1 PM CT, so I guess 2 PM Eastern. This morning I want to go with the Scriptures at you and to look at the role that we see apologetics play, especially in the New Testament. It’s just all throughout. And so as I asked you before we got going here, many of you have heard of the word apologetics. Can you guess how many times that word, apologia, appears in the Bible? Any guesses?
None. Okay. It appears in the Scripture eight different times. Some of us are perhaps most familiar with 1 Peter 3:15, always be prepared to give a defense of the hope that’s within, so that word defense is the Greek word apologia. We also see it used in a legal context, sort of a judicial defense. So in Acts 22, “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I make before you.” And Acts 25:16, “Before the accusement, the accused faced to face and had opportunity to make his defense[NP1] .” 1 Corinthians 9. Paul uses it more broadly. “This is my defense to those who would examine me.” There are a number of other passages as well. 2 Corinthians 7:11, Philippians 1:7, 1:16, 2 Timothy 4:16, and as I mentioned before 1 Peter 3:15. Those are the passages that use that word.
In the Scripture, we see it have a judicial sense or meaning, but today it’s taken on a broader term. To simply refer to the defense of the Christian worldview. This, at least in the 20th century, has largely been the role of philosophers, maybe even theologians who play the role of the apologist, but Alister McGrath, the renowned Northern Irish theologian who’s at Oxford University, he says that the cutting edge of faith now lies with the preacher whose sermons aim to reassure the committed and challenge the outsider, the business executive who shares his faith with his colleagues at work, or the student who explains her faith on campus. Perhaps it may even mean that for us, it’s the role as a parent or grandparent to defend our faith to our family, to the young ones, and pass on our faith to them.
There’s been a sort of renaissance in Christian philosophy at the university level over the past forty or fifty years and as a result of that sort of renaissance, the information and the ideas have finally infiltrated down to the lay level. Now what we’re seeing is the rise of parachurch organizations. Right? Parachurch in addition to what the church is already doing. Parachurch organizations which are apologetic-based, say like Defenders Media, and others organizations such as Ratio Christi which is kind of like Campus Crusade or now CRU[NP2] organizations, but it’s apologetics based. Ratio Christi, all at university and college campuses across the nation, and now internationally as well.
What do we see as the purpose of apologetics in the Scripture? I’ve narrowed down to at least three purposes. Okay? I’ve had to do some alliteration. Mia wanted me to use alliteration to describe. So we’ve got edify, evangelize, and expose. Now before I continue on let me just say expose wasn’t my first church because it’s not so much like I’m trying to bring out what is secret. All of this is public information. If you want to look at the arguments from atheists, it’s not so much to expose, but more, and to use a word Paul uses in 2 Corinthians, to demolish the arguments, but we’ll get into that.
The first function, to edify. I know in the talk you just heard by J. Warner Wallace or even maybe it was Tim this morning, he cited from Luke 1. I want to read that to you again. “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us, it also seemed good to me since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first to write to you in orderly sequence most honorable Theophilus, so that may know the certainty about the things about which you have been instructed.” You see what Luke wrote there to Theophilus? Whether Theophilus was a person or a general person, what do I mean general person? Well the meaning of Theophilus, the name, is God friend, so some scholars think Luke could be referring simply to anybody who’s reading his work is a friend of God, so some scholars think that. Some others think it is an actual person with that name. Nevertheless, I’d like to think we all are God’s friends here if we’re exploring these topics. He carefully investigated by seeking out original eyewitnesses and for what purpose? So that we can know with certainty the things that have been taught.
In Paul’s writings, we see some really interesting things. Scholars think that 1 Corinthians 15 is one of the earliest creeds that existed in the early church and in 1 Corinthians 15, here’s what Paul writes. “For I passed on to you, as most important, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that He appeared to Cephas (or Peter) then to the twelve, then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep, then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.”
So here’s this early Christian creed which, of course, predates the letter itself of 1 Corinthians which scholars believe is one of the earliest epistles written. This creed existed, some scholars even say, within six months of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, within six months, this creed. Of course, Paul then adds to it. He says, “Then last of all he appeared to one abnormally born.”
What’s interesting about this creed is that Paul is talking about, when he mentions the people who remain here to the present. Right? Most of whom remain to the present of these 500 brothers. Why does he say that? Why does he say most of whom remain to the present? What reason? Well, none other than, if you’re reading this letter and these guys are still alive, go talk to them. They can confirm for you what had happened. They were eyewitnesses because Jesus appeared to them so go talk to them. Right? This is for the edification, the building up of the believers’ faith.
Paul didn’t always sound so certain in his writings. We think very highly of Paul. Especially, he’s an author of what’s in the Scripture, but believe it or not, Paul had his own doubts about what he believed and maybe some of you at some point in your life or some of you right now have doubts about whether Christianity is true. In chapter 2 of Galatians, we read of Paul’s experience. He writes when he had the Damascus Road experience, that he didn’t immediately consult with anyone. He did not go up to Jerusalem. He said he went out to Arabia and then he came back to Damascus and after three years, he met with Peter, and he stayed with him for 15 days, and he writes that he didn’t see any other apostle except for James, the Lord’s brother. So here he had this meeting with Peter and James and then some 14 years later, this is sort of Paul’s first introduction to Christian theology or Christian teaching in the early church, he writes here in Galatians 2, after 14 years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas taking Titus along also. I went up because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those recognized leaders, so that I might not be running in vain. So that he might not be running in vain. He was practicing in front of the church leaders, Peter and James. Right? After 14 years he was practicing what he had been taught because he wasn’t sure. Maybe you or someone you know, a Christian, isn’t sure exactly what they believe, how they even believe it, why they believe it, and so as Christians, it’s okay to doubt. Doubt is not a sin by any means, and sadly I think some churches have maybe put sort of a peer-pressure on that, that it’s bad to doubt. Go cite Galatians 2. Paul doubted himself and he consulted with Christians so that those Christians, the church leaders, could edify him and make sure that his teaching was correct.
Lastly, and I know I didn’t mention this first on your handout. It was a late addition here. Write this down. 2 Peter 1:16. “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” So here I think this verse really touches upon the modern phenomenon, the modern argument that Jesus is a retelling, is a copycat myth, of pagan gods. We did not follow cleverly devised stories. Other translations say cleverly devised myths, the genre of myth when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
Alright. So in these numerous passages in 1 Corinthians 15, in Galatians, and again in 2 Peter, we read of how apologetics is used to edify believers, to confirm their faith, including the apostle Paul himself. Secondly, we see apologetics used in the context of evangelism, to tell people and persuade people of the good news. In Peter’s speech to the crowd in the book of Acts, he tells them that God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this, and they’re witnessing their testimony. I’m not thinking here, today we use that word testimony in sort of a religious context. Let me tell you my testimony. He’s using it in again a judicial sense. He is an eyewitness. This is his testimony. This is his record. Alright? In a court of law, testimonial evidence counts as evidence. I know a lot of people today think that eyewitness evidence is not reliable. That’s simply not true. Testimonial evidence is reliable. It doesn’t have to be perfect, even in a court of law when someone forgets something or makes a mistake in their recounting, that’s not counted against the whole. Okay? A testimony is still considered reliable.
Paul is also seen a lot of times in the Scripture to persuade people of the truth in the resurrection. He grew more capable and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that this one is the Messiah. Luke tells us that every Sabbath, Paul reasoned in the synagogue and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks. He entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things related to the Kingdom of God. I want to read here to you from Acts 17 which is just chockful of apologetic vocabulary. Paul going in and persuading, going into the synagogues and persuading the Jews.
But of course, as he did this, the Jews began to get angry and so they began to hunt out him, to take his life. Let me read here, in verse 17, Acts 17:17, he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks as well as those in the marketplace. Day by day, and those who happened to be there, in the marketplace. In the public area, he would go and evangelize and talk to people. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting. You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears and we would like to know what they mean.” All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.
This was perhaps, the modern day university. Right? Where academics can discuss ideas and meet with one another. At the Areopagus this wasn’t necessarily a place where they were teaching students, but this was just the high-level minded folks engaging in these weighty ideas, so Paul stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:” And you know what it says? “to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” And then he goes to lay it out. He lays out the gospel them, that this unknown god that you have worshiped, I’m here to tell you about.
So that’s how we can see how apologetics is used to evangelize and persuade those of the gospel message. Thirdly, apologetics is useful for exposing or what I prefer is the demolishing of false arguments, of those who have rejected the truth. This even includes false Christian teachers. Okay? In Acts 18 we read of a man named Apollos who vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. Paul comments that we demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Moreover, he gives instructions to Titus of the requirements of a church overseer. He will be able to both encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it. Right?
The job description of an overseer or an elder of a church is to refute those who contradict the teaching. How many elders in today’s, at least American Christian church, are prepared to contradict and refute the teaching that’s against it? Not many, I’ll be honest. Not many. We see here again that the third purpose of apologetics is to expose. Again, I prefer that word demolish, but expose the false arguments and everything that sets itself up against Christ.
Kurt: How exactly do we go about apologetics? What are some resources for us? Let me ask you this and if you’re uncomfortable feel free not to raise your hands. How many of you believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God? It is without error. Now let me ask you this. How many of you believe that the natural world is infallible? One hand raised. Okay. The natural world.
Think about it. Who’s the author of Scripture? God. Alright. Who’s the author of the natural world? It’s the same author. Is the same author going to screw up in this case? No. So even the natural world, believe it or not, is without error. We need to make sure that we’re recognizing the fact of a matter from our interpretation of that fact. When we look to the natural world we shouldn’t be scared to understand it. We should be weary though of people that interpret the natural world and interpret it the wrong way. Both things, believe it or not, are infallible, the Bible and the natural world.
When we talk about the natural world being designed by God, what do we mean? We’re looking at the book of Scripture and the book of nature. What does the book of Scripture have to say about the book of nature? In Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the Earth and their words to the end of the world.”
In Romans, Paul writes, “For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them for His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made so they are without excuse.”
Romans 2. “For when Gentiles do not have the Law, by nature, do what the Law requires they are a Law unto themselves.”
Paul’s saying here that even they have the ethical code that God has designed humans to have and to recognize. There’s a natural law here which even non-Christians can recognize.
Also I think here too in Acts 17, Paul’s speech at the Areopagus. He talks about the unknown god and then what does he do? In his presentation of the gospel message, who is his audience? The Epicurean and Stoics? Who does he quote? What type of poets? The Epicurean and Stoic poets. Right? He uses their material to help guide them. He says, “Look. You recognize it this much. Let me give you more. Let me tell you more.” So we see here that the book of nature provides for us evidence of God’s existence. It’s a great resource, but is it enough?
Sadly, it’s not on its own and this is why God working through the course of history, through working through the people of Israel, brought forth the Messiah. Right? And so now we have the good news, that God has come to save us. Right? The Messiah has come. This is the good news. Right? We’re talking about the book of nature but also the book of Scripture now. What are some other ways that God has given us these resources?
The book of Scripture tells us that there are miraculous means. These are recorded for us, which we can know. God appears to Abraham in Genesis 18. God appears through the exodus in the burning bush in Exodus 3 and we can think of all these other times in the Scripture which God has appeared in history to people which have been recorded for our benefit. We can use this Scripture. It is a resource. Hebrews 4 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The Scripture itself is a resource for history. In addition to history too, there is something when you read the text of Scripture and you go look in a mirror and you say, “Yes. That’s right. It correctly recognizes who I am.” I think everyone realizes it, or if they don’t realize it, they’re looking for it. They’re looking for it until they can realize it. So the Scripture itself. Now I don’t think it’s saying, “Well just read your Bible and you’ll see.” That’s not a good enough response, but I think we still should be encouraging people to read the Bible. We don’t read it enough. Numerous studies have shown this. We’re simply becoming a Biblically literate society, and when you read it and you reflect upon how much it mirrors reality, you begin to see its testimony to human nature.
Lastly, again I want to consider this. The author of the book of nature and the author of the book of Scripture is one and the same. In Colossians Paul writes, “For by him, this is Christ Jesus, all things were created that are in Heaven and that are on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” So when we speak of God’s handiwork in the natural world, we’re speaking of Christ’s work. Some apologists and theologians, they tend to draw this distinction. “We can look at nature here to learn more about God’s existence and we can look here to learn more about Christianity.” I want to suggest to you is that we can also look to nature to see Jesus’s handiwork. He is the creator of the universe.
When we recognize these attributes about God, about how powerful He is, about how all-knowing He is, about how gracious He is to us by giving us these blessings, we’re also ascribing those attributes to Jesus at the same time because He is the creator of the universe. Those I believe are the great resources that we have, the book of Scripture and the book of nature that we can use when we’re doing apologetics. To edify believers, to evangelize to seekers and those that are open to the Gospels, and finally to expose the false arguments of those who simply won’t believe. The Scripture tells us that. Some people just will not believe and it’s a matter of the will, but nevertheless, we still should respond to those people, because we don’t necessarily know who’s listening or who’s lurking on the internet reading those discussion.
Thank. I think I’ve got maybe just a minute or two here for questions. If there are any, of course, you’re welcome to see me throughout the rest of the day and if any of this has piqued your interest. Alright. Thank you so much for coming and I hope that you have a good rest of your conference here. Thanks so much.
[NP1]This is around 1:50. I can’t tell what translation you’re using and I couldn’t find anything like this in BibleHub even.)
[NP2]Check at 3:55
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