Unbelief is in the air. Unbelief is gaining ground in postmodern culture. Over 100 years ago, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”
The bankrupt philosophy of the so-called four horsemen of atheism continues to gain in popularity. Why? Apparently, unbelief is in. Unbelief is hip. But the question that is burning a hole in the table for Christians is this: How shall we respond to unbelief? How shall we who have a heart for lost people answer when they malign the Christian faith and mock the very foundations of historic Christianity?
The apostle Peter instructs believers to respond rightly: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). In other words, we must develop the mindset of an apologist (ἀπολογία). John Frame’s definition of apologetics of helpful: Apologetics is “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope … it is the application of Scripture to unbelief.” Cornelius Van Til writes, “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.” Tragically, the mandate to engage in apologetics often turns ugly. Well-meaning Christians have turned apologetics into a nasty slug fest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Notice six crucial principles of biblical apologetics.
1. Apologetics involves verbal proclamation
Christians are commanded to proclaim the good news. The Greek word, “proclaim” (κηρύσσω) means to announce or proclaim; to preach or publish.” St. Francis of Assisi was on to something when he quipped, “Preach the gospel and if necessary, use words.” The point: Make sure your life matches the gospel. However, actions alone cannot convert. Actions must be backed up with verbal proclamation. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV). Simply put, the gospel is meant to be published. The gospel must be proclaimed. Postmodern gurus and emergent sympathizers may be quick to downplay preaching and promote a “deeds not creeds” mentality. Jesus disagrees: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, ESV). The first principle of apologetics involves verbal proclamation.
2. Apologetics involves bold proclamation
The New Testament apostles boldly proclaimed the truth. Paul prayed for an extraordinary boldness (Eph. 6:19). And Luke made it clear how bold proclamation characterized his ministry: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, ESV). We too, must boldly proclaim the Word of God without apology. Now is the time for bold and courageous proclamation.
3. Apologetics involves logical proclamation
Peter argues that we must “always being 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). “Reason” (λόγος) involves a word, an utterance or reasonable speech. The apostle Paul was quick to reason with the thinkers that flooded the first century marketplace of ideas:
- “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2, ESV).
- “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17, ESV).
- “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4, ESV).
We must be able to spell out the gospel message. We must clearly and logically explain how a holy God created men and women in his image. These image-bearers fell from God when they sinned which separated them from a holy God. But God in his mercy, sent Christ – born of a virgin to live a perfect life, obey the law of God and die on the cross. Christ satisfied the justice of God and extinguished the wrath of God for every person who would ever believe. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, conquered sin and death, opening the way to a restored relationship with God for anyone who would repent of their sin and turn to Christ alone for forgiveness. It is our privileged responsibility to proclaim the truth of the gospel in a logically compelling way.
4. Apologetics involves hopeful proclamation
We offer a message of hope! We offer a message that promises liberation (John 8:36). It tells sinners they can be forgiven; that they can be delivered from the penalty and power of sin; and one day they shall be free from the presence of sin (Luke 1:66-67; Acts 5:31; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13; Rom. 4:7; 1 Pet. 2:9). Apologetics involves hopeful proclamation.
5. Apologetics involves faithful proclamation
This message of hope is for everyone. Therefore, our task is to share this hope with people as we are given opportunity: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation'” (Mark 16:15, ESV). The Great Commission involves faithful proclamation to all peoples (Rev. 5:9).
6. Apologetics involves Christ-centered proclamation
Peter makes it clear: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). First, we must maintain an attitude of gentleness (πραΰτης), which implies humility or an unpretentious spirit. It involves a kind answer. Additionally, we must be respectful (φόβος) as we engage in apologetics, a term that conveys deep admiration for another person.
Our response to unbelief is crucial. The world is watching. May our apologetics match the biblical model. And may we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a winsome and compelling way. For in the final analysis, all of God’s elect will hear and believe.
“Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).