The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

Apologetics is Unassuming

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There’s considerable debate on just what apologetics is or at least what it’s supposed to be. A typical definition is something along the lines of this:

Apologetics is the defense of Christian beliefs.

But the problem with this definition is this doesn’t uniquely pick out the discipline. After all, the systematic theologian seems to be defending Christian beliefs when he or she defends a particular doctrine. A Sunday morning sermon even seems to be a defense of Christian beliefs. The pastor provides reasons for how to understand a passage and how it should be applied in our lives. So this definition isn’t going to work.

An Unassuming Defense

I want to suggest that what uniquely picks out apologetics is that, in doing apologetics, one defends Christian beliefs in an unassuming way. That is, we think about and formulate reasons for believing that do not, in making the case, assume the truth of Christianity already. This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t believe Christianity is true, in making this unassuming case, and it doesn’t mean that we aren’t obviously arguing for the truth of Christianity, in making the case. It is simply that we don’t only cite a passage or some belief from Christian theology and call it a day.

Proving Christianity with Christianity

Think about how easy it would be to give a case for the existence of God if all we had to do was cite a passage. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God…”…and we’re done here! We’ve proven God’s existence.

Citing Scripture as a way to justify our Christian beliefs is of course a very fine practice. In fact, I think this is precisely how it should be when we are having discussions about Christian theology amongst Christians and how your pastor should do it when he is preaching to the church on a Sunday morning. The pastor certainly cannot be burdened with proving the general reliability of Scripture before he ever begins to give an exposition.

The problem, of course, is that, outside of Christian circles, people do not believe Genesis 1:1 is true. Or someone may be doubting the existence of God and they already know what Genesis 1:1 says. Or (and this is important) we might just wonder whether there are other reasons outside of Scripture that point to the existence of God. According to the Psalmist, the world declares, pours forth speech, and provides knowledge about God (Ps. 19:1-2). Paul says, in Romans 1:S19-20, that God’s attributes (including presumably his existence) can be clearly seen and understood in what has been made. If this is right, it is thoroughly biblical for Christians to reflect on and consider (what I’m calling) the unassuming reasons for the existence of God. This extends also to our other Christian beliefs as well.

What are unassuming reasons?

What I mean by unassuming reasons is just that these reasons are not controversial. There are, for example, facts about the universe that no one really denies. Unless you are insane you believe the universe exists. There’s a wee bit of consensus on this fact! But how do we explain the existence of the universe? The Christian answer says the universe points to the existence of God as creator. Or take the so-called fine tuning of the universe. There may be quibbles about calling this “fine tuning,” but no one really denies that there exist certain contingent conditions of the universe that have to be just so for life to exist in the universe. Again, this seems to point to the existence of God. The point is the consensus gives us an unassuming reason to believe that God exists. Said differently, a person does not need to already be a theist (Christian or otherwise) to affirm these reasons. In short, they are unassuming.

Now, one can argue that the existence or the fine tuning of the universe do not point to God, but one cannot simply dismiss these as Christian propaganda. One must grapple with these reasons and what they provide reason for believing. This shows the great value of apologetics both for the believer and the unbeliever. For the believer, it helps us to address our doubts and to lean in to a deeper and fuller knowledge of God as we love him with our minds. For the unbeliever, it shows what reasons there are for believing in Christianity and, it seems to me, he or she must contend with these reasons without simply dismissing them as beliefs without evidence.

So…

Apologetics is the unassuming defense of Christian beliefs.

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4 Replies

  1. Chuck McWhirter

    So glad I read this today. So often I have given the abbreviated definition you mention. Being specific and explaining that it is defending without the assumption of its truth really focuses on the core of what Apologetics are and carries far more weight. The definition alone, to many unbelievers, works to create a fantastic starter to an open conversation and eventually the sharing of the Gospel.

  2. Richard Donahue

    Not every apologist uses only scripture to validate his or her theological truth. Look at Mike Slick from carm.org website he uses all the information that he can grasp to discuss his subjects. But also realize that he states sources outside of scripture does not necessarily validate theological truth.

    1. Travis Dickinson

      Right! Apologists like Matt Slick use unassuming reasons for discussing their subjects. My point about theology was one specifically about Systematic Theology. When we do Systematic Theology, one is typically using Scripture as one’s source for systematizing doctrines that are there. There are other ways to do theology (such as Natural Theology) that wouldn’t exclusively use Scripture.

  3. Richard Donahue

    Yes I understand and I agree with you but It really depends on who our audience is if they are Christians then using scripture only is appropriate but if they are atheist/naturalist then other means needs to be used.