WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST
By D. Adams
Monday, September 18, 2006
To comprehend what it takes to become an apologist it is first necessary to define what an apologist is. A Christian apologist is a person that defends, argues, or justifies a belief in Christianity--the reasoning behind the belief of God. An apologist must also be able to defend the faith in a positive manner not just answer the skeptic’s line of questioning. So what does it take to become an apologist? Are you an inspiring Apologist? Before you answer, let us establish some ground rules first.
An apologist should not make any claims of truth that s/he cannot fully articulate. If one is to claim to hold a belief, you must hold an avid reason behind your claim or else they become mere assertions. When we put our beliefs in man (such as tradition, teachers, Pastors, Bishops, etc) we can become vulnerable to fallacies. This firm belief has to be tested against scripture, reason, time, traditions, revelation, and with intellect. The belief does not need to be a mathematical certainty, but should be strong enough to create a syllogism (premise) by deductive reasoning. In essence, do not paint yourself into a corner.
Some traditions are merely just that--we have no exceptions to rule #1. The early believers held what is called the Regula Fidei which is Latin for the rule of faith. The rule of faith for an apologist (Evangelical, Universal Catholic [before the RCC], or Protestant) also derives with a term called Sola Scriptura; which is a Latin phrase for Scripture Alone. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is a doctrine that should not to be confused with Solo Scriptura which means Scripture only. Sola Scriptura (belief in some of the creedal statements) is the doctrine that states scripture alone is above tradition when it comes to matters of/in question. In essence, the Universal Catholic and Protestant eliminate the middle man (Pope). However, Solo Scriptura (very dangerous) is the disbelief of all traditions which would also include the disbelief in the creedal statements. Many cultist and heretical practices are caused from Solo Scriptura (Bible only) adherence.
The emphasis of Sola Scriptura is that Scripture comes before tradition; if the tradition does not follow scripture then the tradition should not be followed. We must be heedful to test all things (yes all) just as many other believers did (e.g. such as the Jews as Thessalonica). In essence, Sola Scriptura defines the Regula Fidei. This is the basis behind the Reformation. We understand that will never have a complete full understanding of God in this lifetime or the next. Our fallen nature, and sometimes our shaky beliefs or traditions separate us from God. This can be reaffirmed in the NT when Jesus addressed the Pharisees and their traditions.
Truth must be objective. This means that the truth exists whether we believe it or not. We must not base our assumptions on any logical fallacies. Such terms can be defined in the logical fallacy definition page on this website (upcoming). The following is an example of leading with emotions; “God cannot exist because there is so much evil in the world.” This would be relative in nature, based upon an emotional state of the one suggesting such a statement. This statement alone would not be an empirical proof to dismiss any beliefs in God.
At the same token, objective truth is not necessarily defined by an institution (per se) or denomination. Truth (in our case) is found in the scripture through a process of historical-grammatical method (HGM) interpretation that draws the original meaning and intent of the author. This again, is the basis for Sola Scriptura. The reformers also resurrected this (HGM) methodology for the accurate study of scripture. We must be careful not to position ourselves to a reader response view. This is typically addressed by the question; “what does that passage mean to you.” The author’s intent is the final explanation, despite what we are to believe on our own merit. We must be willing to put scripture on the very front of the stage of truth, yet not the only thing we use to define all truth. We must reason with the scriptures, define the context (here and there), and then take them all in as a whole before we can define our theology. As a wise man once said, “It is better to be a fool for Christ, than to be a fool for tradition.”
Always strive to be consistent. This is very difficult in every case, but our destination is to be consistent throughout all precepts of our theology. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and so should we be consistent in our theology. We can grow and develop our theology, change our beliefs on certain topics as we grow in knowledge of scripture. We can say we do not know everything, yet still arrive at a conclusion based upon our knowledge. We must allow room for change, growth, and development as we mature in Christ. We, as Christians are fallible, and it is important to learn from our mistakes and keep progressing. The Reformers had a saying called Semper Reformanda which means always reforming. Building upon what we know and do not know about God.
Faith seeking understanding or Fides Quaerens Intellectum is the devotion; that we exhibit faith in God and his word, yet we are always seeking to find the understanding of God. True we will never fully understand God, but we should remain perpetual in our studies of God, scripture, and Jesus Christ. We can fully understand God through Jesus’ teachings throughout scripture. We should never remain idle in our faith or actions; we come to Christ as children, but we mature in Christ in our quests to seek an understanding of faith we exhibit.
Investigate all scenarios and all views (if possible). If you have not researched all possible viewpoints, be open and stress this position up front before an argument or discussion. Before confronting a skeptic or agnostic, make sure you fully understand their position and world view as much as possible. Do not readily assume they fall into a certain category (stereo-typing). Be wary that the skeptic or agnostic may not have a fully articulated world view (themselves) that could display some inconsistencies. Just as the skeptic or agnostic must hold consistently to his view, the apologist must follow suit before any common ground can be obtained. Practice what you preach in essence. No one appreciates a strawman argument that does not fully and accurately represent the opposing view.
Credible source work is needed to articulate our positions. While the internet is a vast source for information unfortunately, it is also breeding grounds for non-scholarly information. How do we distinguish what is a true source or a questionable source? Some of the information found on the internet is plagiarized and they do not always credit where the source originated. The easiest solution is to select wisely. As a rule of thumb look for these attributes on any website:
- Look for the authors name
If no author is listed for the article, I would be less apt to accept it as a credible source. The time and effort spent on an article that is not fully documented with the sources, or an author that chooses to be anonymous, is time wasted. Time is valuable; use it wisely.
- Look for the date of the article
If no date can be found the article, it could be old or outdated information. The possibility can exist that the information or argument is no longer valid (e.g. Christ myth parallels).
- Look for the authors credentials
This is essential for assuring a more scholarly approach to research. Let it also be stated that reliable information can derive from the average layperson. I have successfully obtained many articles and information from lesser recognized scholars, or just plain specialists in the field (not necessarily scholars).
- Do a fact check
Does the article have a premise that makes sense? If it does not explain the position well enough, or has not covered other possible views can this premise be valid? Always look into the article and see if the information (i.e. statistics) is current and from a reputable source. Could this argument contain any logical errors or grossly misrepresent an opposing view. These are some of the questions to be considered. Do the majority of scholars support this view?
Where do we start?
Now that we have a few basic guidelines established, where do we start? The first area we must study is theology and scripture. The two go hand in hand. Some say that they do not need theology to understand God. This could be true; however, we must not understate the importance of theology. Theology defends our faith from attack, while providing a deep intellectual study of scripture and God. If we have no standards for the study of God or scripture, then it becomes relative to the reader, and becomes just a reader response to scripture. Many cults are formed through Solo Scriptura in which the reader dismisses tradition, and the historical-grammatical methods used to extract the timeless principles of the scripture. Some skeptics are also guilty of this charge.
Schooling costs money
Granted some will have the financial means to partake on a scholastic endeavor at a Christian College, but where does that leave the average layperson? Not to worry because there are options available that is free or next to free. I will list a few programs that I have found acceptable and affordable.
- The Theology Program (Free courses available. Highly Recommended)
- Trinity School of Apologetics (Very low cost non-accredited degree)
- Calvin School of Apologetics (Very low cost non-accredited degree)
- Nations University (Highly Recommended degree program)
- Biblical training.org (Highly Recommend free program--start here)
- Christian Courses.com
- Apologetics Press.org
Theology will help the Bible student be able to define his or her beliefs with reason, logic, scripture, canonicity of scripture, history, and quite possibly bring them closer to the Regula Fidei. One note of caution, while the study of theology can bring one closer to God, it can have the potential to drive a person further from God. The study of theology will challenge the mind; far exceeding a Sunday sermon or a mere tradition based mindset. Theology will tackle many difficult issues and questions. You will either have your beliefs confirmed or completely shattered when it comes to the study of theology. The main thing to remember is that we are finite beings, we are not infallible. To defend the faith we must build a strong foundation, and be able to give any man reason to as why we believe.
Which Bible should I use?
What Bible is the best? I am not educated enough in Hermeneutics and Bibliology to make such a statement. No Bible is perfect. I will recommend the following versions for the study of Theology.
- NET Bible
You will notice that I have left out the KJV, NKJV, and NIV translations. This is due to my own personal theological reasons. These non-listed versions, also including the amplified Bible, are just fine for everyday layperson (non-apologetic) studies. At this moment, I am leaning (a bent) towards the camp of the earlier critical texts (earlier yet non-majority) found in the Alexandrian texts versus the Byzantine texts. The Alexandrian has earlier manuscripts that may be less apt to corruption over time. The Byzantine texts are much more in terms of numbers (majority) of manuscripts and they do differ in some areas of theology (albeit not in the essentials).
These translations are my personal recommendations, and I will leave the practicing theologian to come to his or her own conclusions based upon their studies. The NIV and KJV are fine for most studies but beware that some of the verses are in question. These will include (for example) 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 5:7-8 (Comma Johanneum) in proving the Trinity doctrine while using the KJV. The questionable existent manuscripts for verses in Mark 16:9-20 (are these verses genuine?), or the (pericope adulterae) verses John 7:53-8:11. No one knows for certain either way but they are heavily discussed in the academic circles. Note that none of the issues discussed are germane to the essentials needed for salvation. Although such issues need to be addressed before, we challenge skeptics or agnostics. Without the study of theology, then one could become inapt and gloss over such findings.