Apologetics and the Gospel
Updated: Feb 20
The Battle Belongs to the Lord
by K. Scott Oliphint
P & R Publishers (2003)
Is apologetics a discipline reserved only for philosophers or at least Christians who have IQ’s that would qualify them to belong to Mensa? Oliphint writes to convince us that, properly understood, apologetics is something with which every believer ought to be concerned. He writes, “All of us are asked to be ready to give a reason for our belief and our trust in Christ. If God requires us to give an answer, then surely he has provided the resources we need.”
While apologetics often intersects with philosophy, the core biblical idea of apologetics is simply defending and commending the faith. Oliphint argues that too often Christians have allowed a philosophical agenda to define the language, method of argument, and even the topics chosen for debate. The chief goal of apologetics should be to proclaim Christ and not simply to engage philosophy on its own terms. Our task as Christians must be grounded in a proper fear of God over and against an improper impetus to please man.
The manner of defending the faith is also vitally important. While it’s extremely tempting for apologists to argue in a way that seeks “common ground,” Oliphint warns against ceding the Scriptures in commending the faith. “The faith that we defend is a faith that culminated in Jesus. It is a faith that understands that God’s revelation is complete in Christ.” Christians ought to defend the faith under the conviction that they are defending what was given by God. We must trust that the Lord will use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, to accomplish his purposes.
In defending and commending the faith we are seeking to demolish arguments that are set against it. Oliphint advocates that we consider our task to be essentially offensive in nature. It includes exposing false authorities upon which those who do not believe rely. We are to do this in love; we do it with gentleness and respect. Nevertheless, it is an offensive work; it must be carried out by viewing the world through the lens of Scripture. “We are to be armed with the belt of the truth, so that we might be equipped to fight with the sword of the Spirit.”
The apologist is not seeking to commend something the non-Christian does not already know. He or she is trying to commend something that has been suppressed. To be outside of Christ is to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. This suppressing is the essence of unbelief. It is the condition we all exist until Christ gives us eyes to see and ears to hear. This truth is vitally important because, “No matter how intimidating, or how articulate, or how sophisticated they may be, the arguments raised up against Christianity are not capable of a reasoned defense.” That should give us courage to commend the faith.
What does the approach offered by Oliphint look like in action? He offers the example of Paul in Athens before the Areopagus. Paul succeeds in accomplishing three things. First he wants his audience to understand who God is. Next, he wants them to understand who they are in light of who God is. Third, he wants them to understand the gospel. This example is striking because Paul is interacting with the world’s top philosophers of his time. Given that context he wasn’t satisfied merely to argue for the existence of God. He pressed his hearers to consider the gospel itself.
There is something very freeing about the approach that Oliphint advocates. We should desire, and especially pray for, conversions. But it is not our goal to convert people in our apologetics. Neither is it our goal to win arguments (as much humility as may be required for us to admit it). The fact is that only God can convert people. “Our goal in apologetics is simply to tell the truth in a biblical way. If we do that, we have been successful in the eyes of God.”