Even though this subject may sound at first out of the range of the interest of most of our people I have no doubt that our interest is nevertheless aroused. Because this subject of Apologetics does not appear upon the curriculum of our theological school we would ask the question is there someone who believes that there is a place for such a special course in our school and wishes to contend for such in our Standard Bearer? I would therefore immediately state that the purpose of this article is not to point out the value of Apologetics in order to urge its introduction as a special course of study among us. However, it may also be that some of us do not see any value in Apologetics at all, who think that it is contrary to Scripture. For that reason you may also question whether anyone among us would contend for Apologetics. If your interest is herewith aroused to follow me further as I will try to show that there is value in Apologetics when understood correctly.
Let us first understand what we mean by Apologetics. Apologetics has been defined in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics as the Christian defense against non-Christian. Another definition states it this way “Apologetics is that branch of theological study which has for its object the science of defending Christianity against the assaults of the enemies.” (Encyclopedia of McClintock and Strong). However the difference of opinion that obtains about the science of Apologetics arises from the difference as to whether it should be limited to a defense only and how that defense of Christianity should be made. For that reason we must elaborate in our definition of Apologetics.
The word is derived from the Greek word “apology” which means, defense. However when we speak of the science of making a defense or Apologetics we do not merely limit it to a defense in that narrow sense. A. Kuyper in his Encyclopedia of Theology shows that although the word apology refers in the narrow sense to a defense and although in the early church Apologetics consisted mainly in a defense against paganism, nevertheless it also partakes of the character of an attack. It is both defensive and offensive, thetical and antithetical. So it is with the Word of God itself. The Word of God is not only a revelation of the truth but also a condemnation of the lie. Any true defense of the Bible and Christianity, which is founded upon the Bible, necessarily contains such an antithetical witness.
Another point we must make answers the question, against whom is Apologetics directed? Usually, historically, the enemies against whom apologies were made were the non-Christians, unbelievers. However, we all realize that the enemies of Christianity are not limited to those professedly unbelievers. The foe is also within. The enemy comes also in sheep’s clothing. There are heretics within the church against whom she is called upon to fight. The history of the revelation of God shows that the truth has always had its enemies within the very covenant sphere in which it was made. The study or science or preparation for an attack against these enemies within and without was divided into two branches. There is, on the one hand Apologetics which concerned itself with the unbelievers directly, and on the other hand Polemics which concerned itself with heretics within the church.
We may leave this distinction as is. However, now the point of difference comes out. Is there a real essential difference between the two enemies and therefore in the method of defense and attack? The answer to this brings out the, difference of opinion about Apologetics. And we can say that essentially there is no difference between the two enemies of the truth. Whether they say that they believe in God and His Word or not, they remain essentially enemies of the truth. The one within the church is more dangerous and must be attacked more often. And this attack requires much preparation because of its subtlety. This may not appear in controversies within the church immediately, but ultimately the issue appears and remains, the truth of the Word of God. A careful study of the controversies within the church will prove this. Examples may be cited here. We refer first to the controversy in apostolic times. At first it was a struggle with the leaders of the Jews who contended that Jesus was not the Christ. The apostles defended Jesus as the Christ of the Old Testament Scripture. Finally when the Jews persisted in their denial, and even though they maintained that they were Abraham’s children, the apostles plainly declared that these Jews had not the truth and even that they were dogs. It was plainly shown that the Judaizers taught that which was not of Christ. In the second place, if we would look at the struggle of the Reformation fairly we would judge that it was the question of the Word of God over against the word of man. If we would look at it narrowly we probably would call it polemics, that is, a controversy against those who profess to maintain the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church insists on other authority outside of the Bible and maintains that it is equal to it. This with the insistence upon works as a basis for justification is nothing less than a denial of the authority of the Bible and its teachings. In the final analysis we can say that the point in all controversies is just exactly a question of God’s Word versus man’s word. Therefore it is so all important to continue the fight for the cause of God in all controversies and never say it is useless.
In order to see the value of apologetics we ought to see how important it is to make an apology, a defense. It is an admonition in the Word of God, that we are to make apologies. We have this in, “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel ye all are partakers of my grace.” And in verse 17, “But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.” Here the word defense, or as in the original “apology” is used by the apostle Paul with reference to his calling. We know too how he always made his defense of the gospel. He defended the truth over against Judaism as well as paganism. He entered the synagogues as well as the market place in Athens. His speech on Mars hill is a most marvelous defense of the truth over against paganism. We are admonished in to be ready always to make a defense. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
In the history of the church since the apostolic times we find much apologetic work. There are the early Apologists like Justin Martyr and Origin which were of a philosophical nature and were directed against the early Greek attacks against Christianity. Augustine’s work, “The City of God” is considered by some to be of an apologetic nature. In the Middle Ages there is the work of Thomas Aquinas, “Suma Contra Gentiles.” In the period of the Scholasticism we have the distinction between faith and reason.
This distinction worked havoc with the defense of Christianity was not really a defense, but a giving of ground to man. Under the influence of philosophy apologetics was considered necessary to an introduction to theology. And faith in the revelation of God rested upon man’s reasoning it out first.
In a way, at the time of the Reformation, we can consider the works of the Reformers as apologetic in the good sense of the word. They are defenses against Roman Catholicism. Some place Calvin’s “Institutes” in the class of apologetics. In his introduction, his letter to King Francis, Calvin makes his defense for the appearance of his work to the king of France. This work, however is of a different nature than the usual works of apologetics.
In our modern times the works of apologetics make the same mistake as Scholasticism. They first investigate to determine whether the data and teachings of Scripture are in harmony with their reason and then they humbly accept the Scripture. They place reason over against faith. They proceed upon the same error of modern philosophy which began with Descartes. Descartes first doubted before he built up his system of philosophy. The modern apologete of the Bible does the same. He first proves the truth of the Bible from his own experience and reason in order to convince the unbeliever. This is a fatal concession to unbelief.
In our evaluation of Apologetics we must see of course very clearly that the modern method and idea is contrary to Scripture. In our defense of Scripture we do not set ourselves up as judges over against it. We bow before the sovereign authority of the Scripture itself. The Bible contains its own proof and evidence. It demands faith in its truth and hope in its promises.
And in our defense or apology of the Bible we must not fear. It is not our defense. It is God’s work in us. By God’s grace we shall always have that conviction and courage to defend the truth and to testify against the lie. So we are admonished in I Peter 3:15. The translation “be ready always to give an answer to every man” is in the original, “be always ready toward an apology.” But in our defense of our faith we do not examine ourselves whether we have the faith and hope, but we defend it through an antithetical confession.
However one final question about the science of Apologetics. Are we to take the attitude that we need not be trained in the task of defense? And thus are we to discourage the study of Apologetics? I think no one of us discourages training in theology. For that same reason no one should discourage the study of Apologetics understood in the Biblical sense.
We can profit from the study of the history of Apologies in the first place. We can see the dangers and our calling in such an historical research. It is another question whether this subject can be treated more in detail in our school. Up to the present time such material has been incorporated in our dogmatical instruction.
More specifically we can conclude that such a special training, along with and under theological training, will sharpen the theologian and make him a better witness. It will also serve to confirm the faith of the believers in the face of modern attacks. And as far as unbelievers are concerned the same fruit as the preaching of the Gospel will obtain. There will be a power of conviction proceeding from the working of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and so that every mouth may be stopped.