Apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) is a reasoned defense of the gospel. There are three kinds of apologetic that I will either illustrate or discuss.
1. Pre-suppositional apologetics
Dr. John Whitcomb taught and practiced pre-suppositional apologetics. Pre-suppositional apologetics depends not on Christian evidence to win over sinners or skeptics but the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. The following is Dr. John Whitcomb’s testimony:
My personal experience with Christian apologetics began in February, 1943, when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord as a student at Princeton University. It had not been my privilege to be raised in a Christian home nor to attend a Bible-teaching church. But God in His grace used one or two Christian students at the university to invite me time and time again to attend a weekly Bible class being taught in the student center by a Princeton alumnus and former missionary to India. The gospel message was skillfully and graciously presented, and after several months of such teaching, I surrendered to the claims and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As far as I could tell, there were no other Christians in the dormitory where I resided at that time. But I had made several good friends, one of whom was a sophisticated intellectual from a wealthy home. I was convinced that the conversion of such a man could bring great changes in the dormitory and university, so one day I invited him to attend our Bible class. My hopes were high, because I was prepared to convince him that no one else could match this Bible teacher who had led me to the Lord.
The conversation, as I recall over the years, proceeded as follows: “Harry, here is a teacher who can make the message of the Bible clear and convincing. Why not come with me Sunday afternoon and see for yourself?” “The Bible? Why should I take time to study a religious book that is already nearly two thousand years out of date? You know that there isn’t a single science prof here at Princeton who takes the Bible seriously on the origin of the world. The idea of creation by divine fiat is no longer held by intelligent people. I have no interest in the Bible.”
Stung by this flat rejection of God’s Word on the basis of a scientific consensus, I retreated to my Christian friends. Weren’t there any publications of a scholarly nature, I asked, that could help my friend see the weaknesses of evolutionism and thus the possibility of supernatural creation? Except for a few small booklets, nothing came to hand; but armed with these I approached Harry again. He was surprisingly gracious. “Thanks for going to all the trouble of collecting these booklets for me. I really didn’t know that anyone who could write took Genesis literally anymore. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Someday, if I ever have the time, I’ll look into it.” And that was it. A polite but final brush-off.
Deeply dismayed at this and similar failures to convert my friends to Christianity, I discussed the problem with my Bible teacher. “What’s wrong with me? Is it my personality, or do I need more time to collect better arguments?” Instead of lecturing his new disciple on the intricacies of biblical apologetics, he very wisely invited me first to join him in a brief visitation program in one of the other dormitories where a freshman five months earlier had somewhat rashly indicated on a survey card his interest in attending our Bible study class. As the door swung open in response to our knocking, pipe smoke poured out into the hallway. “I’m John Whitcomb and this is the Bible teacher of the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship. Is Tom Smith here?” Suddenly, a trampling of feet and the crash of a table lamp were heard as various figures in the semi-darkness fled in terror, leaving our victim to fend for himself against these unwanted intruders. “The Princeton Evangelical Fellowship? Oh yes, I guess I did sign a card last fall; but I’m not interested in the Bible anymore. I used to think it was true, but five months of study here has been enough to convince me it is full of errors.”
“I’m fascinated to hear you say that,” my teacher quietly commented. “Tell me, what particular errors did you discover in the Bible that convinced you it is not true?” This was unexpected. Wasn’t one firm rebuff sufficient to end this uncomfortable conversation? Wasn’t the general consensus of this great university sufficient to silence anyone who still believed the Bible to be true?
Tom thought for a moment and then answered. “Jonah and the whale. There’s your proof. No educated person today could believe for one moment that a whale could have swallowed a man and then spit him out alive on the shore three days later!”
Here was the crisis for me. How could we handle this direct challenge to the historicity of the Book of Jonah? Perhaps we could find in the university library some books on whales that would demonstrate their ability to swallow men alive. Perhaps we could even find historical evidence of men who had actually survived such an ordeal. 1 That would convince him that the Book of Jonah is as infallible as the rest of the Bible!
Providentially, it was my teacher who answered him first. “Tom, I’m frankly very thankful that it is the Book of Jonah you seem to be struggling with. There is no more fascinating book in the Old Testament than Jonah. Someday, if we have time, I would like to discuss with you the entire message of that book, which was alluded to by Christ Himself for a very important reason. In the meantime, however, would you mind if I explained to you why I have come to believe that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore true in all its parts?”
Impressed with the irresistible graciousness and confidence of this man who seemed to know from personal experience the God of whom he spoke, Tom gave his cautious consent. What he heard was not a scientific, historical, or philosophical defense of Christianity, but a gospel-saturated testimony directed prayerfully to his heart. “Tom, I felt exactly the way you do about the Bible when I was a student here thirty years ago. I thought I had all the answers I needed concerning life. But I was wrong. In His infinite love, God reached down to me in my deep personal need and showed me through the familiar words of His matchless Book that my root problem was sin-deliberate alienation from God Himself. For this I deserved destruction, eternal destruction from His presence. But Christ, God’s unique Son, died one day on a cross to pay in His own person the full penalty of my sin, and He rose from the dead three days later to confirm the infinite price He had come to pay. Tom, it wasn’t my efforts to reach God or my superiority to other people that brought me peace with God. It was simply my acceptance of His gift of love, His eternal Son, by faith in the truth of His promise. And Tom, this great gift is for you too. You may have Him as your eternal Savior from sin’s penalty today.”
As I recall the conversation, Tom did raise some questions about Christianity and the Bible. The questions were not totally ignored, but the answers were always amplified by new perspectives on the gospel and fresh appeals for surrender to Christ. At the end of an hour I saw something I had not dreamed possible-a proud university student kneeling beside his bed with this God-honoring missionary, acknowledging the lordship of Jesus Christ in his life. There had been no great arguments, no rushing to the library for documentation on this or that Christian evidence, no appeal to human authorities. What had we really done to prove to this young intellectual that the Book of Jonah records historical events? And yet now he had no insuperable problem with this portion of the Bible. He didn’t know any more than he had known before about the details, but he did have a totally new perspective on the authority of Scripture because now for the first time he had personally met the true Author of this unique Book.
This was not the only time I saw this happen during my years at Princeton University, and it is still happening today through the intensively biblical witness of this servant of God, now eighty-four, and through his associates in the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship. Literally hundreds of students have come to know Christ on that campus during these forty years, and many are now serving Him in pastorates and in the mission fields of the world.
All of this forced me to take a new look at some basic factors of Christian apologetics that I had seriously neglected. I have come to believe that my initial ignorance concerning these biblical principles also characterizes many frustrated and fruitless Christian workers today.
My problem was basically twofold. I had underestimated the depth of man’s rebellion against God, and I was unaware of the absolutely crucial part which the Word of God must have, through the convicting and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, in bringing sinful men to Christ. It is my purpose in this series of studies to examine biblical revelation concerning man’s spiritual inability, God’s method of reaching lost men, major proof texts for rationalistic apologetics, and the part which Christian evidences may have in our ministry of witnessing today (John Whitcomb. Contemporary Apologetics and the Christian Faith, Part 1. Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June, 1977).
2. Evidential Apologetics
Lee Strobel is an example of how God can use Christian evidences but not in a vacuum. Lee was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune and also an atheist. His wife Leslie started going to church and Lee noticed positive changes in her lifestyle. He went to church with her at Willow Creek and heard Bill Hybel preach.
This started a two year investigation of Christianity. The first year he studied the Gospels. He wanted to know if the Gospels were historically accurate. Was there eye witness verification to the events in the Gospels. Were there contradictions? Was the transmission of the text reliable since there were no original autographs? Was there outside corroboration of the New Testament? What about the Gnostic Gospels? So Lee sought out and interrogated leading theologians such as N.T. Wright, J. P. Moreland and Mark Strauss. They answered his questions.
Lee ceased being an atheist and became a seeker. Next, he asked the scholars “who was Jesus?” He learned that Jesus claimed to be God (John 14:8-9) and Jesus performed miracles that gave evidence of his claims. Lee became convicted by the evidence.
The second year, Lee examined the resurrection of Jesus. All the time his wife was praying for Lee’s salvation. Finally on Nov. 8th, 1981, Lee went into his study with a legal pad. He drew a line down the middle and wrote on one side “Positive Evidence” and on the other side, he wrote “Negative Evidence.” He then weighted the evidence decided to trust Christ as his savior.
The impact of Christian evidence in Lee’s life, however, did not take place in a vacuum. He heard the Word of God preached by Hybel and witnessed to him by his wife. God used the evidence but it was the Word of God under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that drew him to Christ.
3. Embodiment Apologetics
The Emerging Church which believes the sinners must see truth practiced in the community more than believed for salvation practices embodiment apologetics. Belonging to their community is more important than believing doctrine. They believe in salvation by osmosis. While orthopraxy is important, orthodoxy is necessary for salvation. The sinner must “believe on the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:30).