Introduction to Apologetics

April 23, 2007     Time: 00:41:30

You will remember that we talked about preparing a three-minute personal testimony as part of your preparation for being a good witness for Christ. Someone said, “Why don't you give an example of your own personal testimony so that we can see what a testimony looks like?” I promised to do that and so that is what I will lead off with. This is basically my testimony as I wrote it many years ago, memorized it, and have shared it just innumerable times on university campuses and in other venues.

I wasn't raised in a Christian family or even a church going home, but it was a good and loving family. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask what I call the big questions of life: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” In the search for answers I began to attend a large church in our local community. The only problem was that instead of answers all I found was a sort of social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. The other high school students who pretended to be such good Christians on Sunday lived for their real God the rest of the week, which was popularity. They would do anything – climb over each other's backs, engage in immoral activity – in order to be popular.

This really bothered me because I thought, “Here I am so spiritually empty inside and yet externally, at least, I am leading a better life than these people are, and they claim to be Christians. They’re all just a bunch of hypocrites.” So I began to become very bitter and angry with the institutional church. I hated their phoniness and hypocrisy that I saw in the church.

After a time, this attitude began to spread toward other people in general. “Everybody is a phony and a hypocrite. They’re all holding up a plastic mask to the world, while the real person is cowering down inside, afraid to come out and be real.” So I began to withdraw from people. I said, “I hate people. I don't want people. I despise them; I don't need them.” I threw myself into my studies and into my academics in order to avoid being with people.

But at the same time, in moments of introspection and honesty, I realized that deep down inside that I really did want to love and to be loved by others. I realized in that moment that I was just as much a phony as they were. For here I was, pretending not to need people, when really deep down inside I knew that I did – I wanted to be loved and to love just like everybody else. So I saw that I was just as much a hypocrite and a phony as they were. So that anger that I felt turned inward upon myself for my own hypocrisy and phoniness.

I don’t know if you understand what this is like, but this kind of inner anger just eats away at your insides, day after day after day, making every day misery; another day to get through.

One day when I was feeling particularly crummy, I walked into my high school German class and sat down behind a girl who was one of those types that is always so happy it just makes you sick! I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned around, and I said to her, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about anyway?”

She said to me, “Well, Bill, it’s because I’m saved!”

And I said, “You’re what?”

She said, “I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”

I said, “Well, I go to church.”

She said, “That’s not enough, Bill. You’ve got to have him really living in your heart.”

And I said, “What would he want to do a thing like that for?”

And she said, “Because he loves you, Bill.”

That just hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, so filled with anger and bitterness and hatred inside, and she said there was somebody who really loved me. And who was it but the God of the universe! That thought just staggered me. To think that the God of the universe could love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth! That was something I just couldn’t take it in. It just overwhelmed me.[1]

That began for me what was the most intense period of spiritual soul-searching in my entire life. I read the New Testament from cover to cover. And as I did so, I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was an authenticity to this man's life that was undeniable when compared to those people in the local church I was going to who claimed to be his followers. There was a ring of truth about his teachings; there was a wisdom here that I never encountered before. I knew then I couldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

At the same time, Sandy introduced me to other Christians in the high school. I had never met people like this! No matter what they said about Jesus, the thing I could not deny was that they were living on a different plane of reality than I was. They were in touch with a dimension of reality that I didn’t even know existed, and which gave a deep meaning and joy and purpose to their lives.

I read Christian books and attended Christian meetings. I discovered that the reason that God felt so distant and unreal to me was because of my own moral failures – the things that I had done and said and thought had separated me spiritually from God. But God in his love had sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross in my place; to pay the penalty for sin that I deserved. And by receiving him as my personal Savior and my Lord, I could experience God's forgiveness and love and have relationship with God restored that I was created to have.

To make a long story short, after about six months of the most agonizing soul-searching that I had ever been through, I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I just cried out all the anger and bitterness that was in me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I rushed outside – it was a warm mid-western, September evening, and you could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”

That moment changed my whole life. Because, you see, during those six months I had thought enough about this message to realize that if this were really the truth – if it were really the truth – then I could do nothing less than devote my entire life to sharing this message with mankind.

So, in a sense, for me my call to full time Christian ministry was simultaneous with my conversion. I soon got into a local church where the Gospel was faithfully preached, and I was discipled in Christ. I learned how to walk with him day by day and to read the Scriptures and to pray and to grow deeper in my fellowship with Christ.

So I walked with him year by year over the past thirty years. This is a reality in my life which has completely changed and turned my life upside down – a reality that I think you can find as well if you will search for him with an open heart and an open mind.

Well, that is my testimony as I share it. That is what happened to me, and it really was a marvelous transformation that has changed my life. I love to share that story with university students and others. I'd encourage you to do something of the same. Everyone has a different story, of course. No one's story is alike. Some persons have an emotional experience when they come to Christ. Others maybe raised in a Christian home and can't even remember when it happened. But everyone has a story to tell. I'd encourage you to write out your three-minute testimony. Memorize it and be prepared to share it when someone calls upon you to give a reason for the hope that is in you.

Today in our opening class to this new Defenders course, I'd like to talk a little bit about an overview of apologetics, because many of you probably don't have any idea what apologetics is about. So I want to kind of give a bird's eye view of the discipline.

First let's talk about the definition of apologetics. What is apologetics? I think everybody knows that apologetics is not the art of saying you are sorry that you are a Christian! No, apologetics is the art of making the other guy sorry that you are a Christian! [laughter] No, no! Actually, apologetics is a branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for Christianity's truth claims.[2] In other words, apologetics is that discipline that tries to answer, “What are the rational grounds for believing that Christianity is true?”

Having defined apologetics, we may ask, “What are the broad divisions of apologetics?” Basically, apologetics can be divided into two broad areas: what I like to call offensive and defensive apologetics. Sometimes these are called positive and negative apologetics. None of these terms is entirely apropos but I think the best description is offensive as opposed to defensive apologetics.

Let me talk a little bit first about offensive, or positive, apologetics. Notice that it is critical that you get the emphasis on the right syllable. We are talking about offensive apologetics, not offensive apologetics. It is the idea of being on the offense, but we should never be offensive in arguing for the Christian faith. The idea here in offensive apologetics is you are trying to put forward your positive case for why you believe Christianity is true. You are not trying to answer objections. You are not trying to defend Christianity against attack. Rather, you are going on the offense to give positive grounds, positive reasons, for thinking that Christianity is true.

Offensive apologetics can be divided again into two broad areas. First would be the area called natural theology. Second would be what we call Christian evidences.

What is natural theology, that first subdivision of offensive apologetics? Natural theology consists of arguments and evidences for the existence of God which do not appeal to special revelation. It does not appeal to God's special revelation of himself in the Gospel or in Scriptures. Sometimes natural theology is associated with generation revelation. In general revelation, we say that God has revealed himself in the world wholly apart from his special revelation in the Gospel and in the Scriptures. General revelation is general in two senses – first, it is available to all of mankind at any time in human history, and secondly, it is general in the sense that it gives general information about God. For example, through general revelation we may learn that God exists, but we would not learn that God is a Trinity. We would need special revelation to learn that God is a Trinity. So the arguments of natural theology attempt to give evidences and arguments for the existence of God in this very general sense. In that way, natural theology is something that could be practiced by any monotheist – a Jew, Christian, or Muslim – because all of these religions believe in the existence of a god. But natural theology (if it is successful) would disqualify atheism, agnosticism, or pantheistic religions (religions which identify the world as identical with God). Those of you who were at the book signing remember the girl who stood up and said, “I think everything is interconnected; we are God, the universe is God, the universe has always been.” The very first argument that I gave undermined that sort of pantheistic attitude that the world is God, if my argument is successful of course. So natural theology then consists of arguments and evidence for the existence of God in this very general sense.

Let me just review very generally some of the arguments that are prominent in natural theology. We won't go into these in any great detail because we will look at these in more detail when we come to this topic. We are just doing a bird's eye view of the discipline today.

The first argument in natural theology that I like to talk about is the cosmological argument.[3] The cosmological argument comes from the Greek word cosmos which means “world.” [This is] the family of arguments that try to argue that there must be a first cause or a sufficient reason for the existence of the world. The cosmological argument comes in a variety of versions. For example, there is the contingency version which says that anything that exists has to have an explanation of why it exists, either in the necessity of its own nature or in some external cause. Then it will argue that the universe is a thing which contingently exists – it doesn't exist by a necessity of its own nature – and therefore the universe must have its ground in an external cause or sufficient reason for its existence. This contingency version of the cosmological argument will work even if the universe is eternal because we can always ask, “Why does an eternal universe exist instead of just nothing?” There has to be a sufficient reason for the existence of the universe.

Another version of the cosmological argument is a temporal version of the argument. This argument argues that whatever begins to exist has to have a cause. Things don't just pop into being out of nothing. But the universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe must have a cause. This argument would depend upon proving that the universe is not eternal in the past – that we have either good philosophical or scientific reasons for thinking that the universe is not infinite in the past but began to exist and therefore has a cause. Then one would try to deduce what some of the attributes would have to be of this cause of the universe. For example, as the cause of space and time this cause would have to be beginningless, timeless, uncaused, spaceless, and therefore immaterial and non-physical.

Those would be two versions of the cosmological argument – the contingency version and the temporal version.

In addition to the cosmological argument, another argument for the existence of God that finds a prominent place in natural theology is the teleological argument from the Greek word telos which means “end” or “goal” or “purpose.” The teleological argument basically says that the universe exhibits incredible complexity and that this complexity cannot be plausibly explained away as either due to physical necessity or due to chance. Therefore, the best explanation of the complex order in the universe is that it is due to design. There is a transcendent intelligent mind which has designed the universe.

This argument has traditionally been thought to have been invalidated or at least delivered a severe body blow by the Darwinian theory of evolution. But in recent years, the teleological argument has come roaring back into prominence because of the discovery of scientists in the last few decades that wholly apart from biological evolution, in order for evolution to even take place, the initial conditions of the universe given in the Big Bang have to be fine-tuned with a complexity and precision that literally defy human comprehension. So one can completely circumvent the emotionally loaded issue of biological evolution and go right back to the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe to show that if intelligent life is to evolve anywhere in the universe on any planet anywhere there must be an intelligent designer who put in place those incredibly complex and delicately balanced initial conditions.

A third argument of natural theology is the moral argument for the existence of God. Again, the moral argument is really a family of various arguments that try to show that God exists on the basis of our moral experience. There are many different versions of this, but one version that I have found particularly persuasive goes like this: if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. That is to say, moral values which are valid and binding independent of whether anybody believes in them or not. Many atheists and theists alike agree on this point. If there is no God then moral values among human beings are just the spin offs of socio-biological evolution and are culturally and socially relative, and there is no transcendent anchor point to secure their objectivity.[4] But, it is evident that objective values do exist. In our moral experience we apprehend a realm of objectively existing moral values. Almost everyone would agree that there is a moral difference between loving a child and brutally abusing and raping that little child – these are not morally indifferent acts. But if it is the case that objective moral values exist and that objective moral values cannot exist without God, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

That would be just one version of the moral argument that I find is especially persuasive among university students because they have been taught to believe relativism with respect to that first premise that if there is no God then everything is relative, and yet on the other hand, they do apprehend a realm of objectively existing moral values. They believe that things like tolerance and love and fair play are good; that things like bigotry and chauvinism and racism and homophobia are evil. So they are committed to both of the premises of the argument. Therefore, it follows logically that God exists.

Finally, a fourth argument that is part of natural theology would be the so-called ontological argument. The ontological argument comes from the Greek word ontos which means “being.” Basically, this argument tries to demonstrate the being of God or the existence of God from the concept of God alone. It argues that once you understand the concept of God then you will see that God must exist, that his non-existence is in fact impossible. For the concept of God is the concept of a necessary, perfect being. If that is the concept of God [and if that concept is] possible then God must exist as a necessary and perfect being. Now, I don't pretend that you will have understood that argument from that brief summary of it, but we will talk about it in more detail when we treat the arguments on God's existence. For now it is enough to see that this is an argument that tries to deduce God's existence from the very concept of God as a supremely perfect and necessary being.

Those are some of the arguments – just four – that belong to the field of natural theology. There are many, many more, but these are four of the most prominent.

Natural theology, if it is successful, will get you to the existence of God. But it doesn't get you to the existence of the Christian God. In order to get beyond mere theism, or the belief that God exists, we need to have in addition to natural theology what are called Christian evidences. These would be evidences of the truth of the Christian God to show that the God demonstrated by the arguments of natural theology has revealed himself in the history of Israel and in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures in a special way.

What are some of the typical Christian evidences? One would be fulfilled prophecy. One would show that in the Old Testament, prophecies are given, particularly of the coming of Christ, and that the chances of this happening by accident alone or by purposeful design are negligible and therefore this is best explained by the fact that God had revealed what would happen in the future to these prophets and that therefore this authenticates the message of these prophets and particularly the persons [inaudible] predicted by them.

Another evidence of Christian truth would be Jesus of Nazareth's own radical claims. There has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in the historical Jesus as New Testament scholars and historians sift through the Gospels and the New Testament materials to discover what the historical Jesus was really like. What one can show is that the historical Jesus made certain very radical claims about himself that show that he cannot be simply treated as a rabbi or a prophet or a religious teacher. Claims to be, for example, the Son of Man predicted in Daniel 7, claims to be the unique Son of God, claims by which he put himself in the place of God by arrogating to himself prerogatives that only God can have. For example, the privilege of forgiving sins or the ability to overturn and revise the Old Testament law given through Moses.[5] One would argue that given these radical personal claims you'd have to say that either Jesus of Nazareth was a mad man or else he was a charlatan or else he was who he really claimed to be. And the most plausible explanation of these claims is that he was telling the truth – he really was the Son of Man come to inaugurate God's Kingdom on earth.

Finally, a third Christian evidence – and this is one I've specialized in – would be the evidence for Jesus' miracles and resurrection. I like to see the miracles and resurrection of Jesus within the context of his radical personal claims because it is his miracles and especially his resurrection that validates or confirms the radical personal claims that Jesus made. It may surprise you to learn that the majority of New Testament critics today, in comparison to a generation or a century ago recognize that the historical Jesus performed miracles – that he was a miracle worker and exorcist. Now, they may try to explain away these miracles as psychosomatic healings or something of that sort. But they do not deny that Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms – he performed acts which in his view and in the view of those around him were supernatural acts wrought by God. In particular, the evidence of Jesus' resurrection is important because if Jesus has been raised from the dead then that means that the God of Israel, who was allegedly blasphemed by Jesus and for that reason he was put to death, that that God has vindicated those allegedly blasphemous claims by raising Jesus from the dead.

So, in my work on the resurrection, what I emphasize is that there are four historical facts which are proven by the evidence which are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus: 1) his honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea, 2) the discovery of his empty tomb, 3) the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to various individuals and groups, and finally, 4) the very origin of the disciples' belief in his resurrection. After establishing those four facts I then argue that the most plausible historical explanation of those facts is that these men were telling the truth – that God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead. Therefore, Jesus' radical personal claims for which he was crucified are vindicated.

So that would just be an example of some Christian evidences that would try to move you beyond the God of natural theology to the God of the Bible.

Those are two broad areas of offensive apologetics: natural theology and Christian evidences. On the basis of these twin thrusts, we would present a positive case as to why we think Christianity is true. In so doing, we fulfill the command of St. Peter to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that is in us. I can personally testify that if you will have a case like this memorized and in hand it will give you tremendous confidence in sharing your faith with others because you really do have good reasons for believing what you do.

Of course, there will be objections and arguments for atheism. There will be attempts to refute Christianity. That brings us to the second broad division of apologetics which is defensive or negative apologetics. In defensive apologetics, we attempt to rebut or at least undercut the objections raised against Christianity by its opponents.

Corresponding to the broad areas of natural theology and Christian evidences, there are again two broad areas of defensive apologetics. First, there would be objections to God's existence and then there would be objections to Christianity in particular. So let's just take an overview of each of these.

First, objections to God's existence. Undoubtedly, the principal atheistic argument or objection to the existence of God is what philosophers call the problem of evil. That is to say, given the suffering and pain in the world, whether the result of human wickedness and moral choices or the result of natural disasters in the world, given the pain and suffering in the world it is improbable that God exists. This problem of evil comes in basically two forms: the logical version which says that given the evil in the world it is logically impossible that there could be a God, and the probabilistic version which says that given the evil and suffering in the world it is improbable that God exists.[6] Those of you who were with me in the last class I taught, remember that we examined this argument in a great amount of detail and I argued that there was neither a logical nor a probabilistic objection that goes through here against the existence of God. I won't rehearse that again but when we come to this section we will go through that again for those who weren't there before.

In addition to the problem of evil, a second major argument against God's existence is what philosophers have come to call the hiddenness of God. That is to say, if God exists, he could have made his existence a lot more evident. I think we all have to agree with this. God could have inscribed his name on every molecule: “Made by God” could have been the label on every molecule in the universe. Or he could have had his name written in the stars or a neon cross in the sky or something of that sort. He could appear to every single person just as Christ appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. So God's existence is not as obvious as it could be. But the atheist then argues that if there were a God then surely he would make his existence more evident than he has. And since he has not it follows therefore that God does not exist. Obviously, this whole argument depends upon the atheist's assumption that if God existed, he would provide more evidence of himself than he has done so. Here this will raise a number of issues; for example, it will raise a question of natural theology – are the arguments of natural theology sufficient to convince anyone with an open mind and an open heart? It will also raise the question of whether or not evidence is even necessary to believe in God. It may well be that through the inner working of God's Holy Spirit that he provides a way of coming to know God wholly apart from evidence. So ultimately the question is not whether there is enough evidence to deal with God but how we respond to the drawing of his Holy Spirit upon our hearts. It could also be the case that God knew that giving more evidence of his existence would not be any more effective to bringing people into a love relationship with himself [inaudible] salvation. Certainly, God could have given more evidence of his existence that might make people believe that he exists, but that wouldn't necessarily translate into building a love relationship with him or in finding his salvation. Think of the ancient Israelites. For them, they saw God's existence manifest in the pillar of smoke by day and by fire at night. They saw the parting of the Red Sea. They saw the manna from heaven. Yet, did this win the love and lasting affection of the people? No! Israel fell into apostasy with tiresome repetitiveness. So even if God's existence was obvious as the nose on your face, that doesn't automatically guarantee that more people would have been saved if God's existence were more obvious than it is. In fact, when you think about it, it might be the case that less people would have been saved in such a world than in the actual world. So there are quite a number of issues that are raised by the question of the hiddenness of God that need to be surfaced and explored.

Those would be, I think, the two principal objections to the existence of God that I see on the playing field today: the problem of evil and the hiddenness of God.

What about objections to Christianity? Here, I think two significant objections also arise. The first one would be the challenge of biblical criticism. In our day, biblical critics like those in the Jesus Seminar have argued that in fact the Gospels are historically unreliable as sources for the life of Jesus. They claim that less than 20% of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are really authentic – that is, actually spoken by the historical Jesus. They claim that the real historical Jesus that actually lived and wrought was really more of a sort of the Jewish equivalent of a Greek Cynic philosopher – a sort of social gadfly on the collective rump of the Pharisees. Therefore, the whole idea of Jesus as a divine figure is really the product of legend and theology. In order to rebut this objection, what we have to do is master the tools of historical and biblical criticism.[7] I would argue that we can use the same historical criteria that these demonstrate that in fact Jesus did have this radical personal self-concept that I described earlier, and that in fact events like the resurrection of Jesus also pass those same criteria of historicity. So the point here is not to simply say we just believe the Bible by faith. The point here is to do our spade work, do our historical homework, and be able to commend the historicity of the New Testament and the Gospels. [inaudible] better at this game than the radical critics are on the left wing [inaudible] and I think it can be done.

The second major challenge that we confront in objections to Christianity is the problem of religious diversity or religious pluralism. I think this is really the burning theological issue of our day. Basically the idea here is that given the diversity of religions in the world, none of them can claim to be the absolute way of salvation – the absolute way to God. Rather, if there is an all-loving and all-powerful God, then he will have provided many ways of salvation and therefore the Christian claim to salvation through Christ alone is intolerant and narrow and bigoted. It seems to me that first of all it is very difficult to show why one particular religion cannot be true. Most of the arguments that I find offered for religious pluralism are really quite unsound. They are actually textbook examples of logical fallacies. I think that the difficulty that really emerges after some discussion with religious pluralists is the problem of basically what about the fate of the unevangelized – what about those who have never heard the Gospel? How will they be judged, and does God treat them with fairness and love? Basically what I try to argue here is that God judges persons based upon the amount of light that they have and that he will not judge those who have never heard of Christ on the same basis that he will judge those who have heard of Christ. Now that doesn't mean that people can be saved apart from Christ. Rather, what it means is that if a person would respond to God's general revelation in nature and conscience then that person could have the benefits of Christ's blood applied to him without him having a conscious knowledge of Christ. He would be people like Job and Melchizedek in the Old Testament who were saved only through Christ even though they had no knowledge of Christ.

But that is not the complete answer, I think, because after all we are still confronted with the issue, “What about all those people who don't respond to general revelation and so are forever damned but who would have responded to the Gospel if only they had heard it?” In their case, it seems that their being lost is the result of historical and geographical accident. Here, what I want to suggest is that it is possible that God in his providence has created a world which has an optimal balance between saved and lost and that those who never hear the Gospel during their lifetime and are lost would not have freely received it and been saved even if they had heard it. That is to say, God in his love and in his providence has so arranged the world that anyone who would freely respond to the Gospel and be saved if he heard it is born at a time and place in history where he does hear it. [inaudible] I don't know if it is true, but as long as it is even possible there is no inconsistency between God's being all-powerful and all-loving and all-knowing and some people not hearing the Gospel and being lost.

There is a great, great deal more that could be said about this but that is just sort of a preview of what we want to talk about in much greater detail later.

That gives you something of an overview of apologetics. We've seen both offensive and defensive apologetics. Offensive apologetics being comprised of natural theology and Christian evidences, and defensive apologetics being comprised of answers to the objections to arguments for the existence of God and also of a defense of the reliability of the New Testament and of the absoluteness of salvation through Christ alone in response to the objectors to Christianity.

Those are some of the issues that we will be dealing with in this class. I thank you for coming and look forward to being with you next time.[8]

[1] 4:56

[2] 10:22

[3] 14:53

[4] 19:53

[5] 24:58

[6] 30:10

[7] 35:02

[8] Total Running Time: 40:15 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)