In every era of church history, Christians have faced intellectual attacks that seek to undermine their faith. In contemporary Western culture, Christians have become accustomed to hearing that Christianity is unscientific, that its ethical standards are backward, and that its exclusive message of salvation is intolerant. Taking up the Apostle Peter’s command to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” 1 Peter 3:15, (ESV), Christians have responded to and countered the criticisms of unbelieving culture, an endeavor that has earned its own title – apologetics, the defense of the faith (from the Greek word apologia, “defense”).
Christians differ on the proper approach to apologetics, and its goal has sometimes been unclear. Too often the objective of apologetics has been to rationally demolish the arguments of unbelievers in order to convince them that they must accept the gospel. If only we could clear away the intellectual barriers, so the thinking goes, people will believe. But Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (ESV). Salvation occurs when God shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV). To engage in apologetics with the aim of logically persuading people into the kingdom of heaven is futile – man’s fallen heart cannot understand God’s truth, and requires spiritual enlightenment in order to believe the gospel.
This approach to apologetics does not begin and end with a proper understanding of why we challenge unbelief and proclaim the truth to a darkened world: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV). All human thoughts and ideologies that defy God must be brought into obedience to Christ. Our task when we expose the lies underlying atheism, secularism, Islam, or any other anti-Christian philosophy or religion, is to show that God’s glory shines forth in every area of human life, and every part of the universe. Science cannot disprove God – “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, ESV). History cannot be used to argue against God’s existence, since historical events are from his hand – “[he] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV). The human heart cannot escape God – our longing for purpose, meaning, and goodness shows that God “has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).
Everywhere we turn, we find God. John Frame explains this phenomenon in his book, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (P&R Publishing, 1987):
Because he controls all things, God enters His world – our world – without being relativized by it, without losing His divinity. Thus in knowing our world, we know God. Because God is the supreme authority, the author of all the criteria by which we make judgments or come to conclusions, we know Him more certainly than we know any other fact about the world. And because God is the supremely present one, He is inescapable. God is not shut out by the world; He is not rendered incapable of revealing himself because of the finitude of the human mind. On the contrary, all reality reveals God (p. 20).
Our apologetics, then, should strive to reveal that every part of reality proclaims the Triune God. Paul writes, “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5, ESV). Ultimately, apologetics must point to the gospel, the gospel that is “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV). As we proclaim God’s glory in every part of reality, we also hope and pray that God would use the truth we share to save those who hear it. Our mission is not to win intellectual debates, but to preach Christ. When we rely exclusively on reason and method to save people, we are ultimately preaching ourselves. Since “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16, ESV), everything leads back to Christ. If we engage in apologetics to show Jesus’ presence in every part of life, and to direct people toward the gospel of his glory, we are fulfilling the goal of apologetics.
Guest post from Charles E. Edmisten, III