"Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."
For many people, the word "apologetics" draws to mind someone expressing regret and seeking forgiveness by offering an apology. In actuality, the word means to provide a defense to a particular belief system or worldview. Within the realm of Christianity, then, apologetics refers to the use of logic and reason to support the claims of the Christian faith. Whether seeking academic answers or spiritual encouragement, quotes and arguments from leading apologists can provide what you need when you need it.
Christian apologetics is not a new practice. Rather, its use can be traced to the pages of the New Testament itself. The Apostle Paul frequently made use of logical arguments to support what he was saying about Jesus. Then, throughout the era of the Early Church, many Church Fathers such as Irenaeus and Origen offered reasonable arguments in defense of their faith.
Famous Christian apologists throughout the centuries have included such notable names as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis. Today, a list of the most prominent experts would include William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and Alvin Plantinga. With each successive generation, new apologists emerge to build on the work of their forerunners in defending the Christian faith.
Rather than promoting faith for the sake of faith, a Christian apologist attempts to provide rational reasons for a person to choose the Christian faith. Five of the most commonly addressed areas within the field of Christian apologetics include:
1. Defending the reliability of the Christian Scriptures.
Though some apologists argue in favor of biblical inerrancy, others simply contend that the books that have been compiled into the Christian Bible are as reliable as any other text from the ancient world. Often, apologists use the science of textual criticism to show how faithfully the biblical texts have been preserved. By studying the thousands of ancient documents that have survived the centuries as well as archaeological discoveries related to biblical claims, apologists hope to establish the accuracy of the texts.
2. Defending a belief in the existence of God.
Philosophy and science may both be used by a Christian apologist attempting to attest God's existence. Though not offering conclusive proof, most apologists suggest that logical and evidential arguments combine to support a reasonable belief in the existence of God. For the most part, these arguments are not specific to the Christian God. Rather, most of the conventional arguments--some of which can be traced back thousands of years--simply support a belief in a Supreme Being. Once that is established, other arguments can be used by apologists to identify the Christian God as that Supreme Being.
3. Defending the biblical account of Creation.
Referring to the first chapter of Genesis, Young Earth Christian Apologists use science to argue in favor of a belief that the universe was created by God between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. Old Earth Christian Apologists, on the other hand, accept the suggestion of modern science that the universe is millions of years old, yet maintain that its existence (as well as our existence) is due to the intentional design of an omnipotent Intelligence. Apologists representing both views attempt to present arguments that are consistent with the claims of Genesis, whether their understanding is literal or figurative. Notably, both Young Earth and Old Earth Apologists--plus those who hold to an agnostic or atheistic view of the origin of the universe--draw from the same pool of scientific evidence. It is in the interpretation of the evidence where the differences arise.
4. Defending the reality of the Resurrection.
As the core event of the Christian faith and, if true, of all history, the Resurrection has been a focal point for many Christian apologists. Usually by referring to historically established facts, the eyewitness accounts, and the origin of the Christian faith, apologists aims to show that there are good reasons to hold a belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. Rather than stating that the Resurrection is just something you choose to believe or deny by faith, the Christian apologist seeks to demonstrate that it was an actual event in history.
5. Defending the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Apologists who concentrate on the divinity of Jesus are generally responding to allegations that Jesus was not a real historical person, that the written accounts about him were a later development, that Christian beliefs about Jesus were "borrowed" from other ancient religions, or that doctrines pertaining to the divinity of Jesus were products of Church Councils centuries after the time of Jesus. To counter these arguments, apologists attempt to establish the historicity of Jesus, demonstrate that the New Testament texts were reliably written within the lifespan of eyewitnesses, highlight the unique claims of Christianity, and show how Christian beliefs about Jesus emerged much too early to be either legendary or contrived developments.
Apologists also counter those who wish to accept the Biblical account yet dismiss Jesus as less than divine. As C. S. Lewis explained, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic... or else he would be the Devil of Hell... Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."
It should be noted that Christian apologetics is not primarily concerned with defending the actions of the Christian Church itself. For the most part, Christians acknowledge that the Church has not always gotten things right. Indeed, Christians have periodically abused their faith by using it to justify atrocities. Recognizing that the Church is comprised of fallible (and sometimes evil) humans, the apologist chooses to defend the faith itself rather than its adherents.
It is not the objective of Christian apologists to eliminate the need for faith. Christianity does and always will require a faith component. What apologetics does aim to eliminate, though, is the need for a blind faith. Rather, its goal is to show that the Christian faith is reasonable and justifiable.