by Doy Moyer
I have tried, for better or worse, to dedicate myself over the years to the foundations of what it means to defend the reason for our hope (I Peter 3:15). While the study of apologetics (the defense of the faith) has many layers and even more topics, here is, in my experience, the most significant issues associated with this. Others may have a different list, but here I’m boiling down what I see as the matters that need the most attention:
The Nature of Faith
Biblical faith is very different from the way the world defines it. Pitting science against faith, faith is typically defined as believing something without or in spite of the evidence. Even some believers accept this faulty idea. This is not at all what biblical faith is about, which instead is a demonstration of trust in the reality of what we cannot see based upon the evidence that such reality provides. Don’t let the secular world define biblical faith. Establish early on what is actually meant by the term faith with respect to God and Scripture. It is not in spite of the evidence, but because of evidence, that we accept the reality of what we cannot see. The truth is, everyone does the same thing with respect to something.
The Nature of God
Again, the world often tries to define God for us, and we may well buy into terrible definitions. The God of Scripture is not the God so often spoken of by unbelievers. They speak of a flying spaghetti monster and bearded sky clown, attempting to mock the God in whom we believe. But don’t let that rattle you because they are not talking about Yahweh of Scripture, even though they think they are. Rather, they are revealing a basic ignorance about whom they think they speak. This is a matter that needs serious attention, but we need to remember that the God of Scripture is the God who has infinite wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and power. This is the God who owns life and death and has the absolute right of judgment, and He will exercise that judgment, always, with the greatest possible wisdom and understanding. What this means is that those issues in which people argue against God on the basis of their lack of understanding need to be reconciled under of umbrella of God’s nature (e.g., the problem of evil or suffering). If they do not grant that the God whom we are defending has this nature, then they are talking about a different god, and we are not interested in defending anything or anyone less than the biblical Yahweh. Making clear who we are actually talking about is crucial.
The Nature of Mankind
Getting to the point, the issue here is whether we understand mankind as being the result of mindless, purposeless, accidental, chance, amoral processes, or rather the product of a mindful, purposeful, intentional, moral God. This major worldview difference is the starting point for how we view ourselves and other human beings. This includes the most important features of who human beings are, including why we are moral beings, how we have the capacity to know, to love, to freely choose our actions, and to have consciousness and conscientiousness. Our moral and epistemological foundations are grounded in who we are. Are we made in the image of God, or are we creatures of an accident in an accidental universe that has no mind behind it? Under this umbrella would also fall the most significant questions of society, such as: why do we have human rights, and what are they? Why is racism ultimately wrong? Why do any of our actions matter at all? How do we know anything at all, including what is right or wrong? These and many other questions need to be answered, and they tie in not only to the nature of mankind but also to the nature of God.
The resurrection of Jesus is at the center of any apologetic defense, and it was the apologetic defense of the apostles in the book of Acts. Paul argues that this is so important that if it did not happen, faith is vain and we are still in our sins (I Corinthians 15:12-19). What we need to see is that the resurrection is first an historical question: was the same person who died seen alive again? Paul’s account in I Corinthians is so important because even skeptics admit that
- Paul wrote it, and
- Paul wrote it sometime between AD 50-55.
That places this writing within a 20-25 year period after the events in question, and, historically speaking, that is fantastic. The importance of getting a strong grasp of the resurrection is that Paul also points out that
- it is the foundation for our own resurrection, and
- if we know this, then we can know that all we do for the Lord is worthwhile (see I Corinthians 15:58).
Get the resurrection figured out, and the rest will fall into place. Sometimes we get sidetracked by other issues, but never let the resurrection out of your sight.
Again, while there are multiple issues in studying apologetics, these are, in my view, the most significant ones foundationally.