Shaping the Battlefield Part I: Christian Apologetics

Anyone familiar with the term “Apologetics” will immediately grasp some of the basic ideas associated with the word. First, they will realize that apologetics has to do with building a case for the rationality and truthfulness of the Christian faith, rather than apologizing for Christianity, or for particular Christians. In contrast, those unfamiliar with the discipline may chuckle when they hear the word, likely because they feel owed an actual apology. But, they would be mistaken in taking Apologetics as meaning “to say your sorry,” even if they were genuinely owed one. Apologetics derives from the Greek apologia (απολογια) and means, “to give a verbal defense.” Thus, to employ Apologetics is to defend certain claims about truth and rationality, and that with words.

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Quid est Veritas? – What is Truth?

On this blog, I will primarily focus on the central truth claims of Christianity (e.g. God exists, Jesus is God, the Bible is trustworthy, etc.), but occasionally tackle some issues that are not directly about Christianity, but about which I think the Christian worldview can inform us and offer greater insight.

Second, those familiar with Apologetics will recognize its biblical foundation, featured most explicitly in verses like 1 Peter 3:15, and in historical narratives like Acts 17, but also elsewhere in Scripture. In these two particular passages, however, we see both an injunction upon the follower of Jesus by the Apostle Peter, and an evangelistic approach demonstrated by the Apostle Paul, that clearly advocate for the use of reason, evidence, and argumentation.

While some may dismiss the use of reason or evidence as a valid method of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this does not seem to be a view that scripture itself upholds. While reason alone is by no means the whole story to true knowledge of God, see 1 Cor 1:18-31, reason is still a valid tool for clearing away false beliefs or filling in intellectual lemmas that might hinder one from coming to a full awareness of God in Christ.

Any evangelist with a rudimentary understanding of theology knows that conversion comes only through the power of God; specifically through the person of the Holy Spirit, and that this saving knowledge is non-propositional in nature.

Third, familiarity with Christian Apologetics means knowing a bit of philosophy, history and yes, science. Philosophical arguments for Theism in general are well known and ancient in pedigree. However, they are revised and sharpened by contemporary philosophers, especially in light of new discoveries in the natural sciences. Historiography (i.e. the writing of history) also plays a major role in the apologetical endeavor, especially as one tries to show the validity and reliability of biblical texts, or the theological claims made by the church throughout the last two millennia.

Philosophy, though, is the true handmaiden of Theology, and as Philosophy of Religion in general, and Christian philosophy in particular, have experienced a renaissance in recent academic history. Philosophy of Religion is more popular, and more pursued now, than in nearly a century (at least since the time of the “Logical Positivists“). Further, it can be shown that philosophy is really what many scientists do when they make pronouncements regarding certain empirical observations. Thus, without rigorous philosophical thinking, one cannot begin to have a serious apologetical discussion. Philosophical presuppositions will also effect one’s view of history itself and whether or not we can know any truth about it or from it.

At the same time I mention all of these disciplines, I do not want to present myself as a true expert in any one particular area. I am but a student in training, and always will be. For true expertise you will find links to others, who have been practicing in these fields for many years, plumbing the depths of each discipline.

In my next post I will breakdown my own view of who does Apologetics and at what level they operate (i.e. the strategic, the operational and the tactical). I will continue my survey of Apologetics itself, and then launch into particular areas of dispute. Here, however, I have only given a brief summary of what Apologetics is and why we practice it.

Shaping the Battlefield Part II: Strategic Apologetics

10-tips-to-improve-strategic-planning-for-your-businessThe Strategic View – Creating the Vision

In my last post, I reflected on what Apologetics means, why it is used, and to some degree what it entails. In this post I will introduce a simple metaphor for better understanding the practice of Christian Apologetics, and introduce some of the key figures involved in this practice.

Again, since my ultimate goal here is  to persuade readers to come to a true knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Truth of the Christian faith, I want to  guide readers toward good answers, not just answers that are my own. There are many philosophers, theologians and scientists that I reference who are far more studied and articulate than I. However, this is not to say that deft articulation, or scholarly depth, is even a necessary condition for one to know God and trust in His Word. The Bible itself even teaches this (1 Cor 2:1).  Therefore, I will look at other ways of knowing God directly and simply in later posts. For God is just as often, and often more powerfully, encountered in story or song, than in syllogism.

Now, however, let me present a metaphorical framework for better understanding the world of apologetical pursuit, and then mention some of the best representatives that have been active in that world.

Having come out of the military, I like to use military metaphors to help imagine the apologetical project (obviously, there are several other ways one can view the Apologetics’ landscape, but I think this breaks it down rather simply). This framework is divided into three levels: the strategic, the operational, and the tactical. Let’s look at the strategic level first.

At the strategic level of military operations, one encounters high-ranking officers and their enlisted counterparts who do the deep analysis and broad planning for not how to win a single battle, but a series of battles and ultimately an entire campaign. Strategists shape the battlefield with their ideas. These men and women are usually pioneers and experts in one specific field or discipline (e.g. logistics, intelligence, maneuvers, or administration), but also have a good general grasp of many other areas of operations. They can synthesize large amounts of data, and tend to have long-term perspectives. They are always revising and updating, or innovating new policies and procedure for entire military branches or large parts of a military branch (Army, Navy, etc.). They are  careful students of the ideologies, motivations and practices of their enemies. They create the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), the conceptual framework, and the overall vision by which all lower-level entities must, or at least should, operate. These men and women work in and with the government, at the Pentagon, or have command over large, military units that disseminate critical information and top-notch equipment down to lower level operatives.

In the world of Apologetics, the strategic operators are those experts who usually are research professors at ranking academic institutions. These are the PhD-level Philosophers of Religion and Science, the Natural Scientists, the professional Historians and the Metaphysicians. They produce the highest tier of scholarly work and create the new paradigms for understanding the deeper things of existence (e.g. Physics and Metaphysics), knowledge (e.g. Epistemology & Philosophy of Mind) and human activity (e.g. Psychology, Linguistics, Literary and Historical Studies).

While the content of their research usually is far more specific than at the other levels of operation, the depth of their knowledge and expertise is ultimately what will shape the broader debate over longer periods of time. Men and women like these, who set-up new intellectual paradigms, are often not around to see the fruit of their labors. Although, with the flow of information speeding up due to technology, even this is changing. Still, the “trickle-down” nature of high-level scholarship can take multiple generations before seeing its effects in popular culture.

For example, the hyper-relativism of post-modernist thought that we “enjoy” in our culture today really begins with philosophers like Nietzsche at the end of the 19th century. To better understand this phenomena, one should read anything by Francis Schaeffer. In later posts, I will suggest how I believe Christianity will be experiencing a major revival in the next 30-40 years due to work that was done in the 6o’s, 7o’s and 8o’s, both in Philosophy of Religion and Biblical Studies.

Much of that recent work has been carried out by preeminent Christian scholars, who have been doing research in areas of Metaphysics and Epistemology. They are believers like: Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Peter van Ingwagen, J.P. Moreland, Douglas Geivett, Brian Leftow, Francis Beckwith, Alexander Pruss, Robin Collins, Richard Swinburne and many others. Obviously, we cannot do an exhaustive survey of all current philosophers, who are also believers in Christ (this list would include both traditional Evangelical and Catholic scholars), but you get the picture.

These people, who have pioneered new ways (or successfully defended old ways; see Craig’s Kalam Cosmological argument) of thinking about God, time, the universe, and Christian doctrines, are careful in their research, writing, and articulation of Christian theism. Further, other strategic level operators exist in the area of the natural sciences, especially, but not limited to, the Intelligent Design movement. They tend to be biochemists, microbiologist, geologists or physicists. Counted among them are men like Michael Behe, Douglas Axe, John Polkinghorne, James Tour, Francis Collins (of Biologos fame) and several others (not to mention basically all scientists prior to the mid-19th century, e.g. Newton, Faraday, Babbage, etc.). Also, there are philosophers of science, like Willam Dembski and Stephen Meyer, who have written groundbreaking works (here and here) in that area (none, of course, which go uncontested).

Again, to survey all Christian scientists (not to be confused with “Christian Science,” a heresy we might discuss in later posts) would be herculean, but a mere glance at some of the work by the aforementioned philosophers or scientists should suffice to demonstrate that these apologists are operating at a high level of scholarship and academic excellence. In conclusion, these strategic players should put to rest any fallacious claims by skeptics that Christianity has a “smart people problem.” Just consider John Polkinghorne’s story, for one example, and you should be compelled to reassess any such position.

Of course, we don’t want to neglect strategic scholarship in the area of historical studies; an area that will be critical in our discussion of the Bible, especially as it pertains to Higher Biblical Criticism, and also Lower or Textual Criticism. Here we will meet strategic operators like Daniel Wallace, J.P. Meier, Bruce Metzger, Michael Licona, Ernst Würthwein, John Walton, N.T. Wright and others who have dedicated their lives to understanding and analyzing the text of the Bible itself.

Having reviewed some of the high-level purveyors of Christian apologetics, we can begin to see the specific content areas that this blog site will primarily focus on: 1) Christian philosophy, especially Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind and Ethics, 2) Intelligent Design & Evolutionary Theory and 3) the historicity and reliability of the Bible.

In conclusion, the strategic level of operations is where the highest-level academic and scholarly work in Apologetics’ related areas is carried out. It is where the most rigorous and penetrating thoughts and reflections on existence, knowledge, and human action are conceived and find their articulation. The only problem with the strategic level of inquiry, however, is that most of us cannot simply jump into this stratosphere without previous training or study. Most philosophers like Alvin Plantinga are not easy to simply pick up and start reading: in fact, Plantinga is near impossible for the untrained mind! It takes time and effort to even begin to understand this level of thought and argumentation for the veracity of the Christian faith. Thus, we need to introduce a second-tier of the apologetical framework that will allow us to access these higher-level thinkers and writers.

In our next post we will discuss the operational level of Apologetics and meet some of the most prominent spokespeople in that domain. Many of these names will be very familiar to the average church-goer and probably even to the man-on-the-street skeptic.