The Rise of Apologetics
(Warning: The following section may include historically accurate information and could actually cause you to become smarter. While the names and dates may bore some, trust me, there’s a point to this brief history lesson that you won’t want to miss.)
It’s into this culture that apologetics has grown into a near-essential line of defense for every believer. Granted, defending our faith has been around for hundreds of years. The apologetics movement of today can be traced to leaders who emerged in defense of Christianity more than 100 years ago. Though liberalism and revisionism were—and still are—academically fashionable, those defending key points of Christian orthodoxy certainly made their voices heard. Charles Hodges defended Genesis and the biblical account of creation in his 1878 work, What Is Darwinism? As a professor at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until his death in 1921, Benjamin Warfield was a scholarly defender of the Bible and a vocal critic of liberalism.
In 1909, a project began that would ultimately become a major development for conservative theology and apologetics in America. Two Christian businessmen funded the research and writing of a series of essays designed to defend the “essentials” of Christian doctrine, which responded directly to liberalism (often called “modernism” back then). The articles were written by conservative scholars of the day and included well-known names such as Warfield, C.I. Scofield, G. Campbell Morgan and Scotland’s James Orr.
The resulting 90 articles and essays addressed many topics related to apologetics and Christian orthodoxy, including such issues as the inspiration and preservation of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, and the reality of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. This wasn’t just light Saturday morning reading but was accepted among scholars and theologians alike. Christian leader R.A. Torrey, who studied at Yale Divinity School and later became president of Moody Bible Institute, edited the articles into a four-volume set appropriately titled The Fundamentals. Three million free copies of The Fundamentals were printed and sent to ministers and Christians throughout America—a staggering number even by today’s standards.
Isn’t it strange how since then the term fundamentalist has been assigned such a negative connotation? Today we call screaming street preachers and Islamic terrorists “fundamentalists.” Obviously, the term has more than lost its original meaning, which, believe it or not, was a complimentary description of someone who affirmed the tenets of biblical orthodoxy.
During the 20th century, liberal theology, cultural trends and conservative Christianity clashed on numerous (and often well-publicized ) occasions. Most American history books highlight the battle between science and faith that escalated in the landmark 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which teacher John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school. Despite the positive intellectual momentum gathered by Christians during the early 1900s, the Scopes trial marked the beginning of a period in which conservative Christianity in America was perceived as being “anti-intellectual.” Liberalism won back lost ground and gained momentum, while the influence and effectiveness of mainline evangelical churches waned.
Modernistic thought began to be seen as more applicable, relevant and intellectual. Christianity, on the other hand, was perceived as archaic. Despite the growth of mega-churches and a Christian subculture, the turn of the 21st century brought with it a postmodern mentality that prevailed in both homes and churches.
The So-What Factor
What does this have to do with answering tough questions? Everything. Because in order to meet people where they are, we have to recognize and understand where they are. In other words, to address the real questions behind the questions, it’s crucial to know why people are asking them in the first place. And a major (if not the biggest) factor stirring their queries is undoubtedly the culture that whispers the anti-God, anti-absolute untruth into their ears through every TV show, movie, radio song, news broadcast, blog posting, billboard ad, etc. By learning how our culture got to this point and how Christians have responded to the threats against their faith via the rise of apologetics, we can see more clearly the growing need to defend those beliefs.
So what are these daunting questions? Obviously, that’s what the rest of this book is about. But before we launch into each specific question, let me quickly explain what I believe are the three overarching ones—the ones every single human deals with on a basic, often subconscious level.
1) Does God exist?
It’s a timeless classic, up there with the “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Yet it remains a question that separates the souls and spirits of humans like no other can. At some point we all—both believers and nonbelievers—grapple with the question of how we came to exist, how life was begun. And that line of thought must always factor in a supreme being.
2) What kind of God exists?
Once we establish that, yes, God does exist, the follow-up question simply addresses who this God is. Is He all-knowing? Omnipresent? Does He have a form or is He simply spirit? Is He nice, vengeful, loving or resentful? What are His thoughts and feelings regarding humanity—and more specifically, what does He think about me?
3) How may I know this God who exists?
If we agree with the biblical depiction of who God is, it becomes clear that this God is interested in establishing a relationship with people. Since He exists, He must have been responsible for creating life. And since He created life, He must have an interest in what He has created. Not only does the Bible confirm this, it offers an open invitation to intimately know this Creator God.
Establishing a Common Ground
These questions are universal. They’re inherent in our inquisitive human nature. Because of that, Christians have an opportunity to establish common, logical ground with any person, from the most devout believer to the most stringent of atheists. Yet it’s upon these foundational questions—or more accurately, upon the answers to these foundational questions—that walls are erected to divide, protect and insulate. And in these strange times in which the truths of God are both welcomed and rejected more overtly than ever, these issues are hot-button topics.
As believers, we’ve each been given the assignment of not only presenting the gospel but also explaining and defending it. Fortunately, God didn’t leave us high and dry; we’re not lacking for answers. Our beliefs are founded on the fact that God loved us and sent His son—and this was proved by Jesus’ coming back to life after dying. The Bible confirms that the good news about Jesus isn’t just based on human opinion or someone’s personal preference. Second Peter 1:16 says we aren’t following fables, myths or “cleverly invented stories,” but that there were “eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Romans 1:4 declares that Jesus’ resurrection shows that He was the unique Son of God. (Think about it: How many other people in history have, under their own power, gone to “the other side” and come back? We’ll tackle this later.) And Acts 1:3 states that after His resurrection, Christ showed that he was alive by “many infallible proofs.”
I could go on and on—but that’s exactly what the rest of this book contains! The important thing is that we understand the severity God places upon us knowing how to back up our beliefs with reasons. Yes, we are to have childlike faith (Luke 10:21). But we are also to be sharp in the Word, “prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). As we develop that precision both in spirit and intellect, we’ll discover there’s no need to walk away from every argument about spiritual matters feeling defeated and inadequate. Christians can have backbones ... and use logic too!