When it comes to apologetics and the Christian faith, one must understand the limitations that are involved. There are two basic limitations to the efforts of making the Bible and Christianity acceptable to mankind and that is: human depravity and Satan. The fact is that God’s Word is true but our interpretation of God’s Word can be flawed due to our sin nature. This is something that is often times hard for the Christian apologetic or theologian to accept. All students of the Bible have a tendency to be dogmatic in defending their view of scripture. This is the real cause of the divisions in the church today. The reason why there are so many denominations is due to the fact of man’s sinful pride. All students of the Bible also approach the Bible with certain preconceived notions and presuppositions. One who grows up in a Christian home and in a certain denominational belief will most likely follow the particular belief and doctrine of which they grew up with. The challenge for the true Christian apologetic is to view the Bible with an open heart and mind and to receive it for what it says without any bias toward one view or another. For the Christian in search of truth in Biblical interpretation he or she must surrender what they have been taught by sinful men and study the Bible for themselves and draw their own conclusions through complete surrender to the Holy Spirit who is our Divine teacher. Interestingly enough, if all believers are completely filled with the Holy Spirit as they approach scripture, they will all come to the same conclusions. The Bible says what it says and means what it says. There are no multiple interpretations of scripture, you are either right or you are wrong. If we are all living lives of complete surrender to the Spirit of God we would then all have the same interpretation of scripture. Unfortunately, this is not possible in this life due to our sin nature which limits are yielding to the Spirit, which in turn hinders our understanding of the scriptures. This limitation that comes from our sin nature does have an impact on our ability to convince the lost of the truth. Another limitation to Christian apologetics is none other than the great deceiver himself, Satan. From the beginning of time, Satan has been bringing into question the Word of God. He thrives on causing confusion and division. Satan will use the differences within Christendom in order to hinder the true message of the Gospel sounding forth into all the world.
How do we respond to the limitations on Christian apologetics? The answer is one that is very clear and that is that it is a matter of the heart. It must be understood that you cannot detach the human mind from the human heart. The big mistake in Christian apologetics today is the effort to prove what we believe through man’s own intellect. Acceptance of the Gospel does make intellectual sense but a change of mind does not bring salvation. Salvation requires a change of the heart which produces a change of the mind. It is the heart of man that is set against God. Jesus Himself said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts.” Man’s heart is corrupt and sinful. Man’s heart is naturally inclined to rebel against God. Therefore, an appeal to man’s mind is useless without first an appeal to man’s heart. Unbelievers do not need more information they simply need a change of heart. This heart change is completely the work of the Holy Spirit, for no one can be saved unless the Holy Spirit draws him. The responsibility of the Christian is to proclaim the Gospel, which is the entire Word of God, to the world so that the Holy Spirit can do His work in drawing people to the truth. A good Christian apologetic is going to keep this in mind when presenting his arguments. He will use his intellectual defense of the Gospel in such a way that it brings the Gospel to the forefront. All apologetic arguments for the truth should have as its goal the proclamation of the Gospel not simply proving or defending the Gospel from an intellectual standpoint. As John Whitcomb states, “The Biblical method of winning men to Christ (including the intellectuals of our day) is to lovingly, patiently and prayerfully present the true Gospel according to the scriptures.”
This understanding leads us to the conclusion that what we need is a presuppositional apologetic. This approach can in fact be proven in scripture as God’s way for Christian apologetics. The conversion of Paul is one such example as seen in the book of Acts. When Paul saw Christ on the Damascus road, he did not present a list of questions. Instead, Paul was overwhelmed by the presence of God. Nothing had to be proved to him, he simply believed. Another example of the presuppostional approach in scripture is Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 14. In this passage we see that seeing signs does not bring one to faith in Christ. Dr. Whitcomb says, “It is perfectly obvious from this remarkable passage that neither human wisdom nor empirical signs were an adequate substitute for the clear proclamation of God’s Word.” The key to bring one to faith in Christ is to proclaim God’s Word not just proof for God’s Word.
There are those who would suggest that this presuppositional approach to apologetics is just simply circular reasoning. After all, if the unbeliever refuses to accept the inspired Word of God, should we not appeal to the vast array of archaeological, historical, and scientific facts that prove the claims of scripture? The answer to this question is no. Dr. John Whitcomb writes, “If Christianity is merely a circle of truth which is conditioned and defined and judged by other circles of truth, then it is not a ‘truth circle’ at all; for the scriptures boldly and consistently claim that they are God’s eternal all-inclusive, unique, final, and thus absolutely authoritative Word. This is the utterly crucial, yet widely neglected, foundation of Christian apologetics.” Dr. Whitcomb goes on to say, “To turn off the light of God’s Word, as it were, in order to establish first a ‘common ground’ with the unbeliever is thus to abandon Truth in order to grope together with an unregenerate mind in the darkness that characterizes this world-system apart from God. Revealed Truth is self-authenticating and self-vindicating, like light.” When an individual is introduced to Christ through the light of God’s Word, but then asks to see through another light first before he believes, he should not be taken seriously. In other words, the person must believe the scriptures. For the Christian apologist turn off the light of God’s Word and turn on the light of reasoning, proof, ‘common ground’, etc. is to grope in the darkness. If the unbeliever does not respond to the infallible Word of God then he will not respond to various theistic proofs and historical evidence. The unbeliever must come to grips with God’s Word. True Christian apologetics has as its foundation the authority of God’s Word. Does it is use the light of evidences? Yes. But, it does so without turning off the light of God’s Word.
Unfortunately, those who pursue a Bible centered apologetic will often times be confronted with criticism even from other Christians. It goes against the grain of the natural born sinner to bring logic and rationalistic argumentation under the authority of scripture. The question many may ask, ‘Is it not the right and responsibility of an intelligent person to investigate and carefully validate Christianity in comparison with other beliefs before making a decision? The answer is, no, it is not the right of the intelligent person to do such a thing. We must understand that Christianity is not one of many religious truth systems, it is the only truth. Jesus is the only way to heaven, period. He is not one of many ways. God’s Word simply says to repent! We have not right to bring into question the Word of the Creator. Sinful man has no right to demand proper ‘credentials’ or ‘proofs’ when God simply says to repent. God’s Word demands obedience not investigation.
In light of all of this, what then is the proper interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15 when it says that we are to be ready at all times to give a defense for our faith. In the study of scripture one must look at the context of the text. Peter was writing to persecuted Christians. They were encouraged to not live in fear and despair. Does the attitude of the believer come from the fact that they could out debate their pagan enemies? Of course not. The confidence that these believers had was based upon the hope they had in Christ. This ‘defense of the faith’ that Peter describes is to be done in ‘gentleness and reverence’ and with a ‘good conscience’. The reason for this is so that those who questioned the validity of belief in Christ would see the good behavior of those who believed. They would see the difference in their lives and their amazing holy conduct. Peter was not saying that we should be ready to debate or provide proof for what we believe. He was saying that we defend our faith through the way in which we live. There is no greater witness than a changed life. When people see the change in us, they are then drawn to Christ. You see, a believer cannot convert people through mere human reasoning. Only God Himself can do the work of converting a lost soul. Our attitude should be that we would provide a defense for the faith through our godly lifestyle and leave the convincing up to the Holy Spirit as ‘no one can be saved unless the Holy Spirit draws him.’ So what is the answer that we are to give to those who ask us to give an account for the hope that is in us? The answer is simply, God’s Word. Our prayer should be that God’s Word would penetrate into the heart of unbelievers rather than our own words.
What exactly is then the Biblical method for Christian apologetics? Dr. Whitcomb puts it this way, “The Biblical method of winning men (including intellectuals and honest doubters) is to present the true Gospel prayerfully and from the context of a godly life. Only the ‘living and powerful’ Word of God can puncture the unbeliever’s shield of defense and penetrate into his heart, and only God may receive the glory for the conversion of sinful men, Once converted by God’s Holy Spirit, a man will see his intellectual problems in a new and proper perspective.” The only true and God-honoring and effective form of Christian apologetics is to give a clear testimony of God’s plan of salvation and of Christ’s power to save.
Back to the issue of whether or not this Bible-based presuppostional approach to apologetics is circular reasoning, we are faced with the obvious question. If the unbeliever refuses to believe the truth of God’s Word, should we not attempt to ‘prove’ the faith through logic, history, archaeology, and science? The answer is a definite, no! To abandon scripture in order to prove scripture is to abandon the truth. “Truth is self-authenticating and self-vindicating like a light.” Dr. Whitcomb gives the following illustration: “When seeking to rescue a man lost in the deep recesses of a dark cave, it is best to bring along a powerful flashlight. And if, by chance, he refuses to believe that you posses such a flashlight and that you can lead the way out of the cave, it is best not to argue about the dimensions, price, make, and past qualities of the flashlight. Since he still has the capacity for physical sight, the best answer to his question is to invite him to look at the light as you turn it on.” In other words, if someone ask you to prove the Bible, simply invite him to read it for himself. If this is not effective then certainly the ‘proofs’ for God’s Word would also not be effective. It must be understood, again, that Jesus is not one of many ways, He is the only way! Man is not a neutral, unbiased observer of spiritual matters. He does not sit as judge as one religion after another presents their arguments. He does not wait until there is some logical proof before he believes. Sinful man cannot innocently claim that God is unknown to him. Man bears God’s image, therefore, deep down, everyone knows who the true God is. The only reason that one does not accept Christ when they are confronted with the truth is because of their own willful rebellion to the Creator.
In conclusion, how can the Christian effectively win the lost to Christ? “The Christian who will be most effective in winning the lost to Christ is not necessarily the one who knows most about philosophy, history, archaeology, and science, but the one who knows most about God’s Word and who humbly seeks God’s help in obeying it. In other words, the best Christian apologist is the best Christian theologian, who is skillful in the word of righteousness.” My friend, that, is real Christian apologetics