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The Beginning and the End

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A common misconception in the world of Christian apologetics is the near synonymous use of “evangelism” and “apologetics.” This word association can be seen in almost any text that attempts to elevate one “type” of apologetics over another. Methods of “doing” apologetics are as hotly debated in theological circles as methods for cooking grits (or perhaps barbeque) are debated in Southern kitchens and restaurants. But, as we shall see this week, although every apologetic is (or should be) evangelistic, not every presentation of the evangel (the Gospel, or “good news”) is an apologetic.

Think for a moment of the first proclamation of the gospel in the New Testament. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zacharias are each given a prophecy by an angel of the Lord, but the shepherds in the field are given “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). This “gospel presentation” was not an apologetic, it was a call for the shepherds to run immediately and fall at the feet of the One who was born as their Savior. The angels were not giving a “defense” to the shepherds, they were bringing good news. This is not simply semantics; it is an important point that we need to remember when we engage others in conversation about the Christian faith. Think of it this way: evangelism is proclamation, while apologetics is discussion.

In order to clarify this a bit, let’s think back again to the classic apologetic passage of 1 Peter 3:15: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Remember from the first article in this series when we discussed that every apologetic must begin with Christ. And last week we studied the very first verse of the Bible and noticed that God is presupposed, not proven. 1 Peter 3 tells us that sanctifying Christ as Lord—setting Christ apart from everything else—is the first condition of a true apologetic. In other words, every defense, i.e. every apologetic that is biblically valid, is an evangelistic statement about Christ the Lord. One can evangelize without giving an apologetic, but one can never give an apologetic without evangelizing.

Apologetics is not separate from, or preparatory to, systematic theology or evangelistic proclamation. It partakes of both, developing the truth about God and offering witness to it. Like them both, it does not strive to act independently of God’s word and authority. Apologetics works to develop a method of gospel presentation that is consistent with the full teaching of Scripture and anticipates the personal needs of the unbeliever…[W]e must not artificially separate positive statement (theology) from its defense (apologetics), or separate the appeal for mental change (evangelism) from the intellectual reason for such change (apologetics)…[1]

With this understanding firmly entrenched in our Bibles and our minds, we should become immediately suspicious of any apologetic method that wants to begin somewhere other than the Bible itself. Paul informs us that it is “Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). Not just some, but all of the treasures. This doesn’t leave much room for other starting points. Christ is both the beginning and the end of every apologetic, the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8). Although a popular understanding of the task of apologetics is as “pre-evangelism,”[2] Scripture knows nothing of this. The call to be an apologist is a call to be an evangelist. Any apologetic that seeks to argue along some common ground with the unbeliever is biblically invalid. Even R.C. Sproul admits:

Although I do not embrace presuppositional apologetics, I do recognize that the existence of God is the supreme proto-supposition for all theoretical thought. God’s existence is the chief element in constructing any worldview. To deny this chief premise is to set one’s sails for the island of nihilism. This is the darkest continent of the darkened mind—the ultimate paradise of the fool.[3]

The conclusion is inescapable. Scripture is our foundation, not reason, rationality, or science. These things are intrinsically dependent on a God “Who Is.” “[A]pologetics is not a science in which we apply a particular method again and again. Rather it is a craft in which we learn to adjust our methods to fit different situations, all the while remaining faithful to the truth.”[4]

Footnotes:
[1]
Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1998), 53-54.
[2]
Francis Schaeffer and R.C Sproul, Sr. have helped solidify this notion in evangelicalism. “Apologetics is indispensable for the establishing of [recognizing and understanding]. Though apologetics may not be evangelism, it is a vital part of pre-evangelism.” R.C. Sproul, et al, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1984), 21 (emphasis mine).
[3]
R.C.Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts That Shaped Our World(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 171.
[4]
Joe Boot, “Broader Cultural and Philosophical Challenges,” in Ravi Zacharias (Ed.), Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007, 158-59.

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