Proving the Existence of Apologetics

Shortly after my conversion, I became enamored with apologetics, like many Christians my age. I would drive twenty minutes to the nearest Christian bookstore to survey their shelves in the hope of finding a new volume to catch my eye.

As a sixteen-year-old, I remember purchasing and reading through Josh McDowell’s 743-page tome Evidence for Christianity. I was hooked. I knew I had confidence in my newfound faith, but I wanted more proof as to why it was viable and believable. I wanted my friends and family to believe as strongly as I did in Jesus Christ.

Now, nearly twice that age, I view apologetics from a slightly different perspective. I have the wonderful opportunity to teach an apologetics course at Welch College, which is always a highlight of my fall semesters. And while I still love to read books on the topic, I’m not as eager to scan the local bookstore for books on apologetics.

At first blush, you may think that my desire to defend and proclaim the faith has waned. I assure you that this is not the case. Instead, my understanding of apologetics has changed over time. Whereas I used to think apologetics could be learned only from a professional apologist, I now think differently.

In many ways, I now approach apologetics more broadly. It seems that everywhere I turn, there are new, helpful ways to defend the faith, but they don’t always fall under the traditional category of apologetics.

Where does apologetics fit within the catalog of academic disciplines? Is apologetics its own specialized discipline, able to live apart from other areas of study? Or as Cornelius Van Til asked, “Is there, then, no place for apologetics?”[1] This article will consider these important questions.

Where Does Apologetics Belong?

Thinking about Van Til’s question, one may wonder how to categorize the study of apologetics. Here’s how he addressed the issue:

By theological encyclopedia is meant the arrangement in the curriculum of the various theological disciplines. These disciplines are all centered on the Bible. . . . There are first of all the biblical departments dealing with the Old and New Testaments respectively. In these departments the original languages, exegesis, and biblical theology are taught. . . . Then comes systematic theology, which takes all the truths brought to light from Scripture by the biblical studies and forms them into one organic whole. . . . Then church history takes up the story as to how this preaching of the Word has fared throughout the centuries.[2]

Van Til proceeds to argue that apologetics is not a discipline in and of itself. Instead, he notes that we study apologetics as part and parcel of studying exegesis, Biblical languages, systematic and Biblical theology, and the entire “theological encyclopedia.”[3]

Interestingly, in light of Van Til’s view, renowned apologist William Lane Craig organizes his book Apologetics: An Introduction according to the loci communes (fundamental doctrinal themes) of systematic theology.[4] While Craig uses theological motifs to categorize his approach, he also emphasizes the expansive nature of defending the faith. That is, apologetics is more than training in rhetoric and argumentation. Craig notes,

Apologetics is primarily a theoretical discipline, though it has a practical application. That is to say, apologetics is that branch of theology that seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith. It is not the training in the art of answering questions, or debating, or evangelism, though all of these draw upon the science of apologetics and apply it practically.[5]

Similarly, Louis Markos writes, “At its best, the task of the apologist is a deeply humanistic one; it seeks not to abandon the physical, the human, and the ordinary for some abstract world of ideas, but to redeem the physical, the human, and the ordinary so that they might be glorified.”[6]

Let me be clear: These men approach apologetics differently. Yet they all seem to affirm the interdisciplinary nature of apologetics. All of these men, in different ways, emphasize a consistent thought: Apologetics should not be compartmentalized. Rather, it breaks the bonds of categories and reaches across all areas of knowledge. It’s the understanding and articulation of a wide range of disciplines for the benefit of the faith.

Necessarily Interdisciplinary

Apologetics requires a broad range of knowledge and study. Van Til notes, “The net result, then, seems to be that in apologetics we have the whole field to cover.”[7] I’d suggest going even a step beyond what he proposes: Apologetics not only functions across all theological disciplines but across all disciplines.

Apologetics is not only the convergence of theological categories, bringing together the study of the Old Testament, Biblical languages, systematic theology, and so forth. It’s also an integration of all academic disciplines through a Christian worldview. To do holistic, effective apologetics, one should integrate their systematic theology with theologically-informed psychology, theologically-informed sociology, theologically-informed biology, and so on.

Apologetics may begin with the teachings of Scripture, but it extends to anywhere God’s truth exists and then subsequently seeks to apply and articulate that truth for the defense of the faith. This is why I appreciate the broadness of John Frame’s definition of apologetics: “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.”[8] Defining apologetics as such allows for a wide sense of study.

For this reason, I find volumes like Mark Coppenger’s Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians compelling.[9] He states, “It is hard to open a newspaper, walk through a library or turn on the television without seeing fresh evidence that a Christian approach to life makes people and societies flourish.”[10] Coppenger leaves no cultural stone unturned in his pursuit to show the viability of the Christian faith, clearly seen in his book (and his teaching). We should follow this example.

For these reasons and more, I believe that higher education focused on a common core of Christian worldview teaching is so important; this core is a sort of “Christian liberal arts.” It helps students see the connection between all disciplines and how God’s truth fuses it all together. Courses that accomplish this not only reinforce a liberal arts approach, they also stand in the center of a curriculum to help tie up loose ends where students may not otherwise see connections.

In addition, students aren’t quarantined within their respective disciplines, be they biology, business, or psychology. While they do concentrate on their major, they also see the extensive worldview connections that reach across disciplines and areas of thought. In doing so, students can grasp the comprehensive nature of God’s truth and use it to defend their faith.

Conclusion

Some time ago, I remember a graduate course discussing issues in the Old Testament. Unlike an Old Testament Survey course, this one dealt largely with the critical issues facing those who study the Old Testament. We read differing views on issues like the documentary hypothesis, the authorship of Isaiah, and the critical dating of books. We read the critical scholars, the conservative scholars, and those who wished to remain in between. At the end of the course, I remarked to the teacher, “This is the best apologetics class I’ve ever taken.”

This might have sounded cheeky, but that was not my intent. As we read from a wide range of authors on hotly debated Biblical issues, I felt like I was prepared to defend my faith more than ever before, especially concerning the Old Testament. All the while, this wasn’t an “apologetics” course.

I read why a certain author disagreed with Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and why others still contended for this Biblical stance.[11] I read about how a Biblical epistemology informs our view of inerrancy. I studied how our presuppositions affect our view of Biblical archeology and its findings. I began to see how different spheres of knowledge were interwoven.

If approaching apologetics from an interdisciplinary stance is the most beneficial path forward, there are implications for the way we teach and minister. It means we can no longer allow apologetics to be an isolated topic in an otherwise broader curriculum.

Instead, we should embrace a more apologetic-oriented pedagogy. It means that we should seek, in virtually everything we teach, to equip students and congregants to defend their faith better. This form of teaching may often be more implicit than explicit. Nevertheless, we should be conscious of how our instruction is continually preparing believers to defend the faith.

____________________

[1] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003), 21.

[2] Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 20-21.

[3] Ibid., 20

[4] William Lane Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1984), xii.

[5] Ibid., xi.

[6] Louis Markos, Apologetics for the 21st Century (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 19.

[7] Van Til, 22.

[8] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1994), 1.

[9] Mark Coppenger, Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011)

[10] Ibid., 6.

[11] While we read a variety of authors for the course, one of the most influential was Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, eds. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Author: Chris Talbot

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