Apologetics: Old and New Positions

Jan 12, 2021

Christian apologetics has historically most often suffered at the hands of those who have been doggedly committed to offensive methodologies, “offensive” in both of its nuances of meaning. We must not assume that such offensiveness pertains only to the field of polemics. It is offensive because it is often driven by an air of intellectual superiority. However, when we bring to bear on the proponents of such methodologies the exegetical-theological implications of the doctrines of grace their pseudo-wisdom bases are exposed (cf., e.g., 1 Cor 1-3).

A couple of relatively modern texts which exemplify the historical majority of apologetics books are Geisler’s Christian Apologetics and Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley’s Classical Apologetics.  Geisler’s volume is probably the most widely used textbook on apologetics in evangelical colleges and seminaries. It is obviously evidential in its approach. Every Christian reviewer will be encouraged by many of his arguments because that reader already has a theistic world- and life-view. However, for example, his many syllogisms exhibit presuppositional gaps and thereby don’t prove what Geisler alleges they also can for non-Christians. One of the great tragedies of virtually all those holding to an evidential approach is a belief that we must prove our Bible before we use our Bibles. Such a position is an affront to Bibliology itself and to Pneumatology.

Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley’s work must be read with an alertly critical eye in order to unearth its detained concessions, its ungrounded criticisms of presuppositionalists (especially Van Til), its hidden basis in non-Protestant tradition, etc. (see my review article in Grace Theological Journal, 7 [1986], 111-123). One of their greatest vulnerabilities is the downplaying of the noetic effects of sin in reference to the natural man (e.g., 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 4:17ff.; etc.).

On the other highway of Christian apologetics travel those with presuppositional commitments, men like Kuyper, Van Til, Halsey, Raymond, C. Brown, etc. Nevertheless, most of these men defend a right methodology largely by philosophical means. A better avenue to travel down would be a theological and practical one in accord with biblical revelation itself. I attempted to do this in my Doing God’s Business God’s Way. Another volume based upon this exegetically and theologically based outlook is Cliff McManis’ Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ. Cliff does an excellent job of “de-technicalizing” this discipline and making it understandable to all kinds of people. For example, at the end of the book he appends a “Glossary of BIG Words.” Also, listen to some of his attention arresting chapter titles: “Apologia: What Peter Really Meant,” “The Myth of Natural Theology,” “Truth: God’s Wrecking Ball,” “Philosophy: The Love of Big Words,” and “Evil? No Problem for God.”

Indeed, biblical apologetics must not be held captive in the arena of esoteric philosophical debate. It needs to be brought down to a practical methodology built upon the doctrines of grace and which manifests itself as we communicate truth humbly to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Dr. Zemek serves as the Academic Dean of The Expositors Seminary and an elder at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL.