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Why Apologetics?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 6, 2023 12:01 am

Why Apologetics?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 6, 2023 12:01 am

As Christians, we must tell the world not only what we believe but also why we believe it. Today, R.C. Sproul discusses the role of apologetics in the Christian life.

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If Christianity is true, ladies and gentlemen, as I believe it is, then we shouldn't be afraid of the normal tools of learning or of scientific inquiry because an objective, non-biased application of the tools of learning should verify and corroborate the truth claims of Christianity rather than demolish them. In other words, we shouldn't have anything to be afraid of from reason or from scientific inquiry. Apologetics can be an intimidating subject. Perhaps for some of us, we even think it's a little bit irrelevant for just our practical Christian lives. But in 1 Peter 3.15, we're told that each of us must be ready to give a defense for the hope that's within us.

Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us this week on Renewing Your Mind. In that verse in 1 Peter 3.15, Peter is not speaking to those who are studied or learned in the church. That command is for each of us, and that's why Dr. Sproul was so passionate about helping Christians know not just what they believe but why they believe it and how to give a defense for that hope that's within them.

Here's Dr. Sproul. We're going to continue today now with our study of apologetics. The term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia.

We find it in the New Testament where the Apostle Peter gives the admonition to the Christian to be ready always to give a defense for the reason of the hope that lies within us. And I mentioned that the task of the early church in many cases was to answer the critics who were giving distorted reports about the actual behavior and beliefs of the Christian community within the Roman Empire. But also I mentioned how the early church fathers who were intellectually inclined engaged in a duel with the philosophy philosophers from the Hellenistic Empire, and that those philosophical debates also contributed to the church's developing a full-orbed apologetic.

Now, what I mean by that is this. One way in which the church engages in apologetics is every time somebody raises an objection, whatever that objection is, we have to respond to it point by point by point. I remember being on a college campus many years ago with John Guest, the British preacher and evangelist, and John was doing an evangelistic outreach mission on this university campus, and I had been with him. And I was standing next to him when one of the more intellectually inclined students began to confront John with questions and objections to the truth claims of Christianity. And patiently, one by one, John answered this fellow's questions. And after about twenty of those responses, and the fellow went to number twenty-one, I interrupted and I said, hold it just a second. He said, what? I said, you know, he's just answered twenty of your objections to you to your satisfaction, but no sooner does he answer one than you're right ready for the next one. How long is this going to go on? Somehow I have the feeling that you really are biased against the truth claims of Christianity, and what you just want to do is debate it all day, no matter how well your objections have been answered.

I'm going to stop them short right there. Well, the point is that that is our task, because as many objections as come, we're going to have to reply to them as long as history continues and people are making objections. But on the other hand, there is what I call the positive task of apologetics, where Christian philosophy constructs a whole philosophical defense for the truth claims of Christianity that should be applicable to every culture, every theological or philosophical environment in which the church ever finds itself. So in that sense, that's when the apologist goes on the offense and constructs some kind of case for Christianity.

Now in the history of the church, we've seen this. We've seen apologetics be both defensive and offensive, answering the objections that people raise and at the same time setting forth its own case for the truth. And there have been different approaches to this science of apologetics, and Christians throughout history have disagreed as to what is the best method or strategy for presenting a case for Christianity. I was on a radio program recently with a Lutheran scholar, and one of the things that we were discussing was where you start in apologetics. And of course, I've always taken the position that the starting point of Christian apologetics is the demonstration of the existence of God.

If you can get that established at the beginning, the rest is easy. And the approach that I take for establishing the existence of God, as we will see in this course, is basically through rational argumentation. But my friend the Lutheran said, no, no, no, no, no. The best way is to argue historically, from the historical Jesus back to the God who sent this historical Jesus. And of course, he and I differed on whether this was the most appropriate method. Others argue that the first thing you should establish is the authority of the Bible, because if you get the Bible established, then you've got the existence of God, you have the deity of Christ, and you've got all the rest of the things established by virtue of that authority.

So we will spend some time in this course looking at the different approaches. And I will point out along the way how people differ from my approach on this. But one of the questions that I get frequently, since I'm known to embrace Reformed theology, and Reformed theology teaches that no one has the moral power to respond positively to the gospel or to the truth claims of Christianity unless or until God the Holy Spirit changes their heart. And so if we believe that, that you can't argue somebody into a conviction of Christianity or into conversion, you can't simply persuade them through rational arguments or the charm that you bring to the discussion, but rather you're impotent to change the soul of another human being, that only the Holy Ghost can do that. Many have come to the conclusion in saying, well then it would seem that apologetics is a Herculean waste of time. Since we can't convert anybody with it, why bother?

And so anybody who is in the Reformed tradition frequently is called upon to answer that question. If it's true that apologetics can't convert anybody, then why do it? Why apologetics?

And that's what I want to look at today. If we go back to the text that I mentioned in our last meeting from 1 Peter chapter 3, verse 15, I remind you of what it says, "'Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ might be ashamed.'" So here in the biblical context in which apologetics is enjoined, one of the important purposes of it was to bring the enemies of Christ and of His church to open shame. Now that reminds me of John Calvin, who was usually considered to be the father of Calvinism if anybody ever believed that it required the Holy Spirit to convert somebody, it was John Calvin. If anyone believed that apologetics could never convert anybody, it was John Calvin.

But of course, John Calvin did not abandon this mandate that is given to us in the church. And in his Institutes, when he is defending his case for the authority of sacred Scripture, he goes through a series of specific arguments for the integrity of the Bible, including evidential arguments along the way, and acknowledges at one point that all of these arguments, as powerful as they may be, would never persuade somebody to acquiesce to the evidence unless or until God the Holy Spirit did His awakening work in that person's mind and in that person's soul. And yet, along the way, Calvin said that the evidence of which he was giving and the arguments that he was advancing were sufficient to stop the mouths of the obstreperous. Interesting phrase, to stop the mouths of the obstreperous, not to convert the hearts of the obstreperous, but to stop their mouths. Now, you live in a culture today where in the intellectual world the truth claims of Christianity are not only rejected, but they are ridiculed. Many of us have had the experience of sending our sons and daughters off to college where they became the object of the sport of the professors who made fun of them in the classroom for their naivete because they embraced their Christian religion on faith, and their religious commitment was not intellectually respectable.

And so today it's open season on Christians who are accused of leaving their brains in the parking lot and of having to crucify their minds in order to embrace Christianity in the first place. Now, when you go to the finest universities in the world today, step into the philosophy department, and you might have philosophers who don't embrace Christianity whatsoever. But when they are examining the thinking, for example, of Augustine or the thinking of Anselm or the thinking of Thomas Aquinas or of Jonathan Edwards, some of the greatest apologists that the church has ever produced, people may not agree with them or submit to their arguments, but it's rare that you find a serious scholar ridiculing Thomas Aquinas. People may not agree with him, but you cannot be intellectually honest even today without dealing with the apologetic arguments for theism set forth, for example, by Thomas Aquinas because he is recognized as an intellectual titan in all of the history of theoretical thought. And in the Middle Ages, in the university system in Europe, where theology was seen as the queen of the sciences and philosophy her handmaiden, namely where philosophy was seen as the maidservant to assist the queen, people were atheists.

There were atheists in the Middle Ages, but they were pretty quiet in the culture because the assumption was in the intellectual world that to deny the existence of God, for example, was to commit intellectual suicide because the case had been made so powerfully by Christian apologists at that time that people who didn't embrace the faith pretty much kept their mouths shut. And that's what Calvin is saying with respect to the task of apologetics to stop the mouths of the obstreperous, that is, to put restraints on those who are unbridled in their ridicule of the Christian faith. Now, remember what Peter is saying here in the first century is that the Christians are being reviled.

That is, they're being ridiculed. And he said, you need to be standing ready at every moment to give a response to that reviling and to that ridicule that you might present the reason for the hope that is within you, where you're not just standing there saying, you know, I believe because I took a leap of faith and I jumped into the abyss and hoped that Jesus would catch me. But rather, we are called as Christians to give solid answers to people who are raising questions and objections about the truth claims of Christianity and against those who are ridiculing the faith to put them to open shame. Because remember, in the Old Testament, Israel is declared by the psalmist that it is the fool who says in his heart, there is no God. In our culture today, somebody who says there is a God is regarded as a fool, unscientific, unsophisticated, irrational, and the like. And what has also happened in the last two centuries or so, I think, in our Christian culture is that the church has surrendered the tools of apologetic defense, or if you would say, the weapons of this warfare to the pagan. The pagans said for years and years and years that Christianity is not rational and that Christianity is not scientific.

And they've been telling us for centuries that the only reason you believe in the truth claims of Christianity is through some kind of gratuitous leap of faith. But what you don't have on your side, they say to us, is reason and science, where what I'm going to try to demonstrate in our course on apologetics is that it is irrational to deny the existence of God and unscientific to reject the historic truth claims of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, I'm not willing to surrender rationality and scientific empirical inquiry to the unbeliever.

These are the tools of knowledge that God has given the human person to think with, to study with, to embrace reality, and to discover truth with. And if Christianity is true, ladies and gentlemen, as I believe it is, then we shouldn't be afraid of the normal tools of learning or of scientific inquiry because an objective, non-biased application of the tools of learning, if Christianity is true, should verify and corroborate the truth claims of Christianity rather than demolish them. In other words, we shouldn't have anything to be afraid of from reason or from scientific inquiry. If we do have fear from those levels, maybe what we have is not faith at all but merely credulity. There are a lot of people who claim to have faith who really are simply superstitious people.

And they may even be fortunate enough to believe the right things for the wrong reasons. But we're supposed to be able not only to tell the world what it is we believe but also why we believe it. Now, talking about Calvin and stopping the mouths of the obstreperous, let me say another very important point at this level. Calvin made a distinction that I think we need to understand between proof and persuasion. Proof and persuasion. Calvin said we can marshal evidence and arguments that are demonstrable, that are overwhelmingly objectively sound to the point that they actually prove the thesis and have people remain unpersuaded by it.

I mean, that's true all over the place. You meet people all the time who you enter into discussions with, you show them the case, it's clear, all the data supports your position, and they refuse to accept it, they refuse to acquiesce, they're stubborn, they're biased, they don't want to listen to it, they don't want the facts to get in the way of their ideas and so on. And so people can remain unpersuaded even though the proof is overwhelming. And so Calvin says the task of the apologist in the church is not to persuade but to prove. Only God will cause the acquiescence into the soundness of the argument. Without that work of the Spirit, people will not submit because of the overwhelming bias that exists in the human heart against the things of God. So it's not simply that we are struggling against ignorance, but we are struggling against bias and discrimination against the things of God.

I mean, the gospel has always been an offense to fallen humanity. And so the apologist has to understand that when he goes about his work, that his task is not the persuasion but the proof, to give a sound argument. And if somebody doesn't accept the argument, you know what Jesus said, you shake the dust off your feet and you go to the next town. John Morick Montgomery tells the story of the skeptic Charlie, who Charlie one morning when his wife went in to wake him up said, Charlie, you've got to get out of bed, you're going to be late for work. And Charlie said to his wife, he says, I can't go to work, I can't get out of bed.

She says, why not? He said, because I'm dead, and dead people can't get out of bed and dead people can't go to work. His wife said, don't be silly, Charlie, you're talking to me, you're wide awake, you're fine, there's nothing wrong with you.

Get up now and go to work. He says, I can't, I'm dead. So she can't persuade Charlie that he's alive. And so finally she calls the doctor, and the doctor comes and tests Charlie's life science, listens to his heart and takes his pulse and all that, and says, Charlie, you're fine, there's nothing wrong with you, get up now and go to work.

He says, sorry, doc, I can't, I don't care what your stethoscope tells you or what the vital signs are, I'm dead and I know it, and nothing you can tell me is going to change my mind. And so the doctor said to Charlie's wife, I'm afraid your husband needs a different kind of doctor than what I do, and so they bring in the psychiatrist. And so the psychiatrist, you know, said, you know, how do you really feel about this, Charlie?

I mean, why is it that you're feeling like maybe you want to be dead or something, because you have a bad experience? And she starts analyzing poor Charlie to no avail. But then the psychiatrist says, well, you know, Charlie, there's one axiom of biology that you need to know. And he said, what's that? He said, when people die, their heart stops beating, and so the blood is no longer sent through their system.

So dead people don't bleed. Charlie said, really? He said, I never knew that. He said, sure. He says, prove it.

So I said, okay. So he takes Charlie down to the morgue, and they look at a cadaver, and the psychiatrist takes little pins and starts poking them in the thumb of the cadaver. No blood comes out. And the psychiatrist said, now do you believe me, Charlie? And Charlie said, yep, you're right, Doc.

He said, dead people don't bleed. Psychiatrist smiled. He says, that's wonderful. He says, Charlie, now come here a minute. And he says, what's that? He says, let me see your thumb. And so Charlie stuck out his thumb, and the psychiatrist took his needle and punctured Charlie's thumb, and it started to bleed. And the psychiatrist says, look at that, Charlie. Now what are you saying?

He says, I'll be. He said, dead people bleed after all. See, nothing was going to convince Charlie that he wasn't dead because he didn't want to believe that he was alive. I can remember an axiom I learned. Like the first year I was a Christian, a little aphorism that went like this, people convinced against their will hold their original opinions still. And when it comes to the intellectual victory in debate, most victories don't take place really on the spot.

They don't take place until the person puts their head on the pillow that night. Most people, when they lose an intellectual argument, know it. They may not admit it, and they may want not to submit to it, but when they put their head on the pillow at the end of the day, they knew that they lost. Now there's value to that, according to Calvin, on the one hand to stop the miles of the Streper's. But in that venue, what's so important for that is to give protection to the young Christians, the Christians who haven't had the opportunity for advanced studies in apologetics and so on, who when they're exposed to an avalanche of criticism from the scholars, then they are frightened by that, then the task of apologetics is to shore up their confidence in their faith. Because if Satan can paralyze a Christian, it doesn't have to destroy your faith, but if he can make you embarrassed to speak out because you've listened to all these critics all the time, if he can embarrass you and intimidate you, he can neutralize you as a factor for the kingdom of God out there. And I remember when I was in seminary and was exposed to all kinds of skeptical theories, I couldn't answer everything that the professors threw at me, but I took great comfort by studying scholars at other institutions who could answer their questions. And I said, wait a minute, there is a body of knowledge out there, and there are giants of the faith who have been able to handle these people, and that gave me comfort until I could learn those things for myself, at least I had the assistance, the pastoral assistance of those who were doing the work of apologetics. In the early church, not everyone could do what Justin Martyr could do, but Justin Martyr gave credibility to the whole Christian community, and that's one of the reasons why this task of apologetics is so important. Well, I've certainly felt that intimidation and pressure as I've sought to share my faith and answer objections that people have brought to me, but isn't it liberating when you realize that you don't need to have all of the answers?

You just need to know where to go to find those answers. And that's why Dr. Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries and began Renewing Your Mind. This series, Defending Your Faith, was really born out of Dr. Sproul's desire to ensure that Christians were equipped to be able to know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it. And so I would encourage you to respond today and request your copy of Defending Your Faith.

It is 32 messages across 11 DVDs, and not only will you have instant access to be able to stream that in the Ligonier app or on, we'll give you digital access to the study guide as well. This is a wonderful resource that even my family has used in our homeschooling efforts. So respond today and request your copy of Defending Your Faith by visiting or by calling us at 800-435-4343. And your generosity today will help other Christians be able to feel a bold confidence as they seek to share their faith. It's not irrational or illogical to believe in God and to call yourself a Christian. In fact, it's the most reasonable thing that you can believe. And we're going to learn why tomorrow as Dr. Sproul continues his study Defending Your Faith here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-06 02:16:27 / 2023-03-06 02:25:41 / 9

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