Christian Apologetics and its Application in Asia
Johnson C. Philip
A good definition of the character and function of Christian apologetics can be seen when Paul says, "We live in the flesh, of course, but the muscles that we fight with are not flesh. Our war is not fought with weapons of flesh, yet are strong enough, in God's cause, to demolish fortresses. We demolish sophistries, and the arrogance that tries to resist the knowledge of God; every thought is our prisoner, captured to be brought into obedience to Christ" (II Corinthians 10:3-6, Phillips).
A Biblical Basis for Apologetics
Almost all of the book of Job is an apologetic to justify God's dealings with men. In the face of opposition from his friends and family, Job tries to vindicate his loyalty and confidence in the Lord. He makes it very clear that the God of Israel is not like the gods of the pagans; rather, He is a faithful God who would never fail those who trust in Him. Psalms 14 and 19 are apologetic in character. Romans 1: 20 confirms the use of apologetics when it says that the marvels of nature are enough to demonstrate and convince one about the existence of an intelligent and all-powerful God.
The message preached by Paul in Acts 17 is another example where an apologetic approach is used to preach the gospel to skeptical unbelievers. Thus the Bible affords us ample examples to indicate the necessity and importance of the role played by apologetics for Christian as well as nonChristian hearers.
Aim of Apologetics
The methods and priorities of Christian apologetics keep changing from time to time, but the aims remain unchanged. They are:
1. To refute all the accusations that are brought against the Bible and Christ.
2. To demonstrate that only the Bible and the Christian way of life work in the actual experience; Only Christ provides real and permanent peace and happiness.
The rational apologetics deals with the scientific and historical reliability of the Christian faith. This type of discussion is very much useful for helping educated young people who have doubts about the scientific accuracy of the Bible. Philosophical apologetics deals with the philosophical and spiritual reliability and truthfulness of Christianity alone over against the claims of all other belief-systems. This approach becomes necessary when one tries to witness to a person of a different religious background. Hindus, for example, have a very much philosophical faith and only a person with moderately good background in the philosophical apologetics can help a Hindu with all his or her doubts.
The Role of Apologetics in Christian Witness
The precise role played by apologetics in Christian witness has been understood differently by different Christian thinkers, but four schools of thought can be identified, as done by Bernard Ramm in many of his writings:
1. Christian Rationalism: According to this view, reason can completely demonstrate or prove the validity of the Christian position. But such a viewpoint places too much trust in the capacity of the human intellect. The limitations of man's finite nature and the corruption of our minds by the sin nature and the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating fallen humans beings is overlooked. Such a viewpoint is scripturally not sound.
2. Christian Agnosticism: This view is completely distrustful of reason in the spiritual realm. According to it, faith and reason exist in mutually exclusive compartments, playing no role in each other's realm. Advocates of this position maintain that reason is for the natural world and faith is for the spiritual realm. Such a viewpoint divides truth into fragments, so it lacks coherence and integration of thought. Also, this type of thinking does not do justice to the historical character of Christianity.
3. Logical Christianity: According to this view, reason is the starting point which goes a long way forward to the truth, the last steps of which are taken by faith.
This view is much closer to the Biblical principles of apologetics. However, some exponents of this school have eventually fallen into the error of claiming that since God can be known and understood to a great extent through the natural world alone, the Bible becomes unnecessary to understand God.
4. Autonomous Christianity: This view is based on an inductive understanding of what the Bible has to say about faith and reason. According to this school of thought, faith is the starting-point of Christian belief. Once the faith is established, it can be demonstrated that the claims of the Bible are not inconsistent with truth and reason.
This is the most widely acceptable and Biblically tenable view which is held by most of the well known conservative theologians today.
We are living in an era of rapid expansion of scientific knowledge. Every day scientific gadgets are making our lives easier. So it is only natural for modern man to place a heavy trust in science. The problem arises when people Start trusting everything that is peddled in the name of science. Such a blind belief results from an improper understanding of the nature of science and scientific knowledge.
This blind trust of modern man in science has been exploited to an unbelievable extent by the radical and rebellious critics who attack the Bible. They have pointed out numerous "problems" in the Bible in the light of what they call "modern science"! These type of proclamations have disturbed the faith of many Christians, because they equate the word "science" with "absolute truth." Once the "truth" and the Bible seem to conflict with each other, they face a dilemma about what to accept: the scientific truth or the Bible.
Christian apologetics come to their rescue by demonstrating that their belief in the Bible is not inconsistent with real scientific truth. In this way apologetics greatly helps those people also who are sincerely interested in the claims of the Christian faith. Apologetics is helpful to those people also who are at the verge of believing in Christ, but are hindered in their final commitment by the alleged conflicts between reason and the Christian faith.
Once the Christian apologist demonstrates the logical consistency of Christianity, the doubting believers are strengthened in their faith, and the doubting unbelievers are motivated to accept Christ and the Bible.
Creationistic Apologetics for Asia
The educated people of Asia are in no mood today to accept the doctrine of fiat creation. For them evolution is the most reliable explanation of the diversity of life, and the stories of creation are to them no more than religious myths. It is not difficult to find even Christian leaders who believe that the Bible is full of inaccurate statements, and that only the old and the imbeciles take this book literally.
Because of this state of mind, it is always helpful to use an apologetical approach in one's preaching and teaching. Both Christian as well as nonChristian audiences will be benefited by this approach. However, these two groups have different needs, for which we will have to use two different types of approaches. For Christians we will generally need what can be termed as the Rational Apologetics, while with non-Christian Asians we will need to use what is called the Philosophical Apologetics. (Creationism has to be the important theme of both approaches.) The reasons for these approaches are as follows:
Apologetics for Christians
The need of apologetics for Christians today has its origin in the history of the dark ages. The Roman Catholic Church ruled the world with an iron rod during that period. The revolt against this tyranny expressed itself in the form of secular, godless philosophies which originated in that milieu. This philosophical revolt was initially directed against the Roman Catholic Church, but eventually it turned against the Bible and, therefore, against the Protestant faith also,
The revolt came from the intellectuals of all persuasions but the thread that finally united all of them together was the Theory of Evolution. Though the philosophical concept of evolution is about two millennia, or more, old, Charles Darwin was the first person to give this theory a thorough exposition. Though Darwin's hypothesis was meant only to explain the evolution of life, and though his exposition was full of scientific flaws, these men were quick to take the basic concepts of evolution and generalize it so widely that every field of learning was brought under its influence. Soon the theory was assumed to have the status of an all-pervading principle, and in this way the philosophy of evolution became the frame of reference to explain all facts of natural and social science. They now started talking of the evolution of life, evolution of the universe, evolution of language, culture, society, religion, and even the evolution of the Bible
Many of these critics were quick to claim that every major story recorded in the Bible has "evolved" from primitive stories. The Bible itself was then portrayed as a book which evolved through centuries of compilation and modification by its human editors. Around 1900 AD the Rationalist Press Association and the Unitarians (a heretical Christian group who trace their origin to around 300 AD) produced a flood of scholarly-sounding books trying to reinterpret Christianity and its tenets in terms of the evolutionary philosophy. Since the intellectual world at large was always easer to express their revolt against the Church, such pronouncements against the "Book" of the Church were accepted as the final word of scholarship, This was a battle of strategy in which the church was the loser.
Many Christian scholars of this time were eager to accept these findings of the "modern science" either due to the mounting pressure, or to look intellectually respectable. So, many of the great theologians of that era, who had a great influence in seminaries across the world, accepted these pronouncements uncritically. Their next step was to persuade other scholars of great repute among the Christians to acceptthese theories. Very soon these theories were being taught authoritatively in some of the most conservative Christian institutions. But such an acceptance of evolutionary philosophy by the reputed men of learning very soon eroded the honour and respect which was due to the "Book."
The acceptance of any anti-Biblical philosophy is bound to undermine the authority of the Bible, and this is exactly what has happened in the twentieth century. The acceptance of evolutionary philosophy has so much permeated Christian theology that a large proportion of our theologians cannot think of the Bible except in terms of evolution.
Once the idea of an evolved Bible was accepted, it was natural to think that this book contains myths and errors, Thus attacks on the Biblical narratives were swallowed easily by Christian scholars and laymen alike due to the low view that they had of the scriptures by this time. Because of this atmosphere which has prevailed in Christendom since then, the present generation of educated Christians have been brought up in a tradition where the Bible is a discredited book. (The present controversy on the inerrancy and the infallibility of the Bible can be traced back to these very influences,)
Also, the theory of evolution has gained such worldwide, and almost religious, adherence that the present generation of students grow up with the firm belief that evolution is a fact of science. Since this theory, which has been taught to them directly or indirectly from their childhood, stands in direct conflict with the history of creation recorded in the Bible, and since otherwise also the Bible is said to be a scientifically discredited booK the educated Christian feelsihat the Bible is a shaky foundation for spiritual beliefs. It is here that Christian apologetics is important by showing the correctness and reliability of the Bible, thus assuring the believer that he or she is standing on a sure and firm foundation.
Apologetics for Non-Christians
Almost all Asians adhere to religions which have no firm doctrine of either a fiat creation or a personal God. Many of these religions (e.g., Hinduism) are even based on evolutionary and atheistic (e.g., Buddhism) philosophies. For those people who have been brought up in such beliefs, evolution is a readily acceptable theory. Since their religion says precisely what their science teachers say, the idea of evolution is embedded into their thinking as a fact.
Modern education in Asia spreads evolution. It is permeated to the core with the evolutionary philosophy. Since their religious beliefs only enforce their belief in evolution, they have no difficulty in accepting that even religion is an "evolved" system of beliefs, having nothing really divine to it. Hence they place all religions on the level of speculations and myths. This way their own religions and the modern evolution-based education effectively reinforce each other in isolating present-day Asians from any concept of a personal God or fiat creation.
When such persons are confronted with the gospel of Christ, (a message which is ultimately based on creation, the subsequent fall, and redemption as mentioned in the Bible a "religious" book) they cannot look at it as a divine message. Though God the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people irrespective of their feelings towards the Bible, it will be of much help for the non-Christian if we try to aid in the solving of genuine doubts about the Bible.
In India, having a population of 700 million, there is one more problem to be faced. Here, due to various historical reasons, the present-day Hindus strongly and sincerely believe that all religions are equal all of them equally represent man's pursuit of God. Since all religions are the result of man's continued quest for truth, all of them are true in what they have to offer to their adherents. Such a person cannot easily understand why he should change from one "right" way into another "right" way to reach the ultimate reality. In other words, since all the religions have evolved equally mature through eons of man's quest for truth, why should the Christians demand others to give a special hearings to their claims. Such persons need the patient counselling and explanation from a Christian believer who has a good understanding of the Hindu philosophy.
Several developments of the past few centuries have combined together to give a distorted picture of the Bible to the educated people in Asia. When we confront such people with the gospel of Christ they may first want to know more about the alleged discrepancies between the Bible and science, especially in the area of evolution and creation. Since no thoughtful person would seriously consider a message which to him or her is based on an irrational and outdated source the Bible, we should try our best to resolve his or her genuine difficulties.
The main areas in which we will have to equip ourselves for the present needs of Asia are: Bible versus the natural sciences, the social and historical sciences, evolution, and the philosophies of the Oriental religions.
Dr. Johnson C. Philip is a scientist and a missionary-pastor from India. He is also the founder and the director of the Creation Science Movement (Creation Research and Apologetics Society) in India.