There are a significant number of newly “converted” (to presup, at least) folks that are quite zealous for the defense of the faith. This, I consider good. On the other hand, Scripture warns us against “zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge”, in Rom 10:2. This is especially important for us to consider. All too often, we have a tendency to “jump right in,” whether we are prepared to do so, or not. Zealousness leads us, with inadequate preparation, all too often to imbalance, and from or along with imbalance, to a sub-Biblical defense. Additionally, there is the problem of not knowing what it is you are to be defending! As putative apologists, we must not overestimate our own abilities, knowledge, or proficiency. This isn’t to say that I consider myself to be “perfect” – or that anyone else should, this side of glory; What I am saying is, we must be very watchful that our desire doesn’t outrun our wisdom.
When we have something we desire to do, we often run ahead, to the detriment of our preparation for doing so. Similarly, we often dismiss preparation for either pragmatic or pietistic aims, at the expense of doctrinal orthodoxy. Part of an adequate apologetic is the ability to teach. If you aren’t convinced of that, I would point you to the instances of apologetic encounters in Scripture. If you are defending the faith, there are certain preconditions for doing so. Principally, there is the precondition of knowing what you are defending. Secondarily, there is the precondition of an ability to teach what Christian doctrine is, so that it may be clear to your audience what in fact it is to be defended. Thirdly, it must be clearly said that there is the precondition of grace; and that graciousness is the product of sanctification, not of formal study. None of these aspects can be overlooked or dismissed; and they must not be dismissed, because Scripture clearly commands them of us. In fact, dismissal of these requirements is tantamount to rebellion. To overlook these requirements is a function of ignorance – but the intent of this post is to render you, the apologist, without excuse – and hence, repentant. We cannot afford ignorance in the cause of Christ.
So, let us look at what we are called to do. Those who are called to apologetic ministry must be within, and under the authority of, the local church. They cannot be “lone rangers,” and they cannot be “loose cannons”, or “independents”. If we are of those who believe, we must be within the fellowship, and be in fellowship (Acts 4:32). If we are of those who believe, we must be under the authority of elders (Acts 14:23). Apollos, we know, was a powerful advocate for the cause of Christ. Yet, he was amenable to being instructed by those who were older and wiser than himself. In addition, he was willing to be sent, and not to send himself. It was the brethren that sent him, and encouraged him – and in that fellowshipped sending, he in turn encouraged the elect, and refuted their opponents. (Acts 18)
Next, we must see that only those with adequate preparation should be engaging unbelievers. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. Paul, of course, had intensive training as a Pharisaical student – but even that did not suffice, did it? He spent 3 years being “taught of God” before he began his ministry – interestingly, roughly the same amount of time the other Apostles spent with Christ. I’m not trying to say we should all go be desert dwellers of some sort – or that we are all called to be seminarians, either. What I am saying, however, is that we cannot neglect an intensive, intentional course of study in the foundations of our faith, if we are to be apologists. This is not negotiable. In order to defend the faith, we must know what we believe, and be unshakably convinced of the truth of what we know before we are involved in ministry of this sort. Apologetics is no ministry for neophytes. The Christian life is likened to warfare, in Ephesians and elsewhere. Front-line troops are experienced, well-trained soldiers. They know precisely where they fit into the ranks, what their duties are, and have undergone systematic training in the art of war. No soldier learns his trade by osmosis. His trade is soldiery. Soldiers are trained; so must we be. This training is primarily not in the assemblage of arguments, philosophical justifications, or evidenciary studies. Those of you who are in the military; where did your training start? It started with the discipline a soldier required. Next, it moved to the care and operation of your equipment. Then, training moves to the proper movements of troops, of which you are a part.
The disciplines required of the apologist are both mental and spiritual. The primary discipline is the systematic study of the Word of God, and the doctrines therein. We must also be as fervent and constant in prayer and the confession of sin as we are fervent and constant in study. We must systematically practice the spiritual disciplines along with the mental disciplines we work to cultivate.
We must also be able to teach. In a Biblical apologetic, we are responding to the anti-Christian from, and with, Christian doctrine. As I have said for some time, it seems to be the case that the vast majority of objections stem from a fundamental ignorance of Christian doctrine. As Christians, we must admit that this is often the fault of those whom we have championed; and those champions themselves are either unable, or unwilling, to defend the Christian faith as a system of doctrine, rather than a philosophical abstraction. The defense of “a god” flies directly in the face of the Scriptural testimony. Keeping the doctrines of Christianity at “arms length” in their putative defense is nothing more than folly, if that is what we are truly defending. We cannot make an arbitrary distinction between what we believe and what we defend. We can do only damage to the doctrines we love by defending an abstraction rather than the reality. If you do not know, love, and cherish the doctrines of Scripture, you are simply fighting for yourself, not the fellowship of Christ. If what you defend is unrecognizable in comparison to the God you claim to know – it is readily apparent, and worse than useless. The knowledge of the Holy is understanding, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Do not forget it for an instant.
When we as apologists engage in the defense of the faith we must be able to both recognize and correct the misconceptions that are foundational to, and undergird the objections raised to that faith. When we hear an objection, we must compare it to what it is we know. We waste an enormous amount of time responding to things that we know are inapplicable, or false. We waste so much energy that could be better used in teaching these objectors what it is they need to know about the God they reject. Objections should be filtered through the matrix of sound doctrine – and responded to as they warrant, not as the unbeliever assumes. We all too often consider the unbeliever’s conception of God to be “plausible”, or “possible” – while in reality, they are objecting to a man of straw. Instead of letting this pass unchallenged, take the opportunity to correct their misapprehensions. This is helpful to your fellow believers, as well! It is quite a redemption of the time (that unbelievers waste for themselves in their ignorance) to grasp that opportunity to teach what it is they should be addressing, and to outline for your fellows (and for other unbelievers) where it is they went wrong in their approach. Granted, we know that unbelievers both applaud and prefer their ignorance – but in responding in such a way, we leave them without an excuse, don’t we?
Lastly, we are to answer with gentleness and reverence. This does not mean that we do not step up boldly to answer; it does, however, mean that we are not to savage our opponent on a personal level, or to respond in kind when we are personally attacked. This does not proscribe a righteous zealousness for the doctrines of God; it does, however, proscribe an unrighteousness zealousness for personal vengeance and returning offense when it is given. It is often the case that unbelievers act like fools. We are to answer a fool according to *their* folly – as it deserves – but NOT to become like them. This is a trap many fall into – myself included. We are to be reverent of God, and mild in our responses.
We must also see that the Lord’s slave must NOT be quarrelsome; must be able to teach; must be patient when wronged; and must gently correct those in opposition. They must not engage in foolish or ignorant speculations – they produce the quarrels warned against.(2 Tim 2) Be mindful of your limits. Be watchful of your temper. Be wise concerning where and when you engage with unbelievers. Be discerning in your responses, and teach whenever and wherever it is appropriate. Be patient when you are attacked, or offended, or wronged. Do not engage in endless quarrels; know when and where to enter, and when and where to leave a discussion.
All of this I have given above is the product of the work of God, friends, not of your own efforts. It is the work of God; sanctifying and preparing you for His own work, not your own. We are bought and paid for – we are not our own possession, but His. Whatever you think you might be, you are either His, or you are your own – and God surely knows His own. You think you’re a presuppositionalist? Let me tell you what a presuppositionalist is.
We are to be those who have a deep, abiding love for the Scriptures, and the God whose revelation they are. We are to have a healthy, humble assessment of where we are in our relationship to God, and a deep understanding of whose we are. We are to immerse ourselves in the doctrines of Scripture; We are to flee speculation, and embrace the certainty Scripture provides us. We are to teach patiently, correct patiently, and learn patiently. We are not to be self-serving, not arrogant, and always mindful of the grace which we ourselves have received. We are to understand that what we have, is ours by the grace of God, and by no other means. We are not to coddle doubt, but to destroy it by the means God has provided. We are to know, to the depths of our soul, that what we defend is that which God has given – and how we are to defend it is also given by that same grace. Does all of this humble you? Does all of this make you feel inadequate? Does it remind you that we are, indeed, bought with a price, and not our won, and must thus work to the benefit of His church? If so, you might be a presuppositionalist – but be wary, lest you fall. We are all warned, and we must heed those warnings.
I’ve mentioned before that Presup is Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context. If you study Ephesians 6, the only weapon we have is Scripture. Hence, that is the only weapon we use. All of defenses are also God-wrought, so we have nothing to fear. Fear not – and stand.