An Apologetic for Apologetics (Part 3)

I have written now on several objections to the practice of apologetics.  I certainly cannot deal with every one, but would appreciate any input concerning objections you have heard.  I do want to cover one more before going on the offense showing why we should practice apologetics.  I consider this particular objection, which I have heard several times, especially important.   This objection is that the Bible itself teaches against the practice of apologetics.

This argument as I have heard it is usually based on I Corinthians chapters one and two in connection with Acts 17.  The idea is that Paul failed in Athens because he sought to use what we would call apologetics even quoting a Greek philosopher.  Soon after, the argument continues, he went to Corinth (Acts 18:1) and then still later wrote to them of that visit telling them that he was with them “In weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3) clearly because of his failure in Athens, or so the apologetic detractors would say.  Therefore, having learned his lesson, he came to them “not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom…” because Paul “determined not to know any thing” among them “save Jesus Christ, and him crucified  (I Corinthians 2:1, 2).”  Paul tells the Corinthians in light of these circumstances that their “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3). After all, God had said “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (I Corinthians 1:19).  Not only so, but “in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God.”  Instead, “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21).  Certainly, then, God does not want us to use arguments or quote philosophers, but just simply preach the gospel and watch the power of God in it work in the hearts of those who hear it.

This is a most impressive argument and I think the most powerful argument against the use of apologetics  Not only so, but again raises some legitimate criticism of apologetics. Therefore, we need to consider it very carefully.  I would begin by pointing out that an important assumption in this argument was that Paul failed in Athens having tried a different approach among the philosophers from that he used normally.   Indeed, there is no biblical evidence for this.  No where in the Bible is there any indication that Paul failed in Athens.  The main argument I have heard is that there was no church started and only a few converts from his ministry in Athens (Acts 17:32-34).  However, this evaluation measures success in terms of modern American thinking in which numbers are the determiner of success.  On the contrary, God’s measurement of success is faithfulness (Matthew 25:23; I Corinthians 4:1, 2).  Furthermore, Paul’s arguments and methods in Athens had been previously used in Lystra (Acts 14:14-18) and seems to have been his normal approach when dealing with Gentiles, an approach that I would say is still good to use today beginning with Creation and working to the person and work of Jesus including His vicarious death and bodily Resurrection.  In fact, Paul did preach Christ crucified in Athens and that message is what was rejected, not the arguments leading to it (Acts 17:32) and Paul quoted pagan pilosophers in his epistles.

The second thing I would point out is that the argument’s assumption as to why Paul was in fear and trembling in Corinth is without foundation; it is sheer speculation.  Paul told the Corinthians later that he had many difficulties and struggles (II Corinthians 4:8-11; 6:4-10; 11:23-33) any of which could be the reason.  Furthermore, if Paul did not fail in Athens, then he could not have been in fear and trembling with the Corinthians because of a failure in Athens.  Most commentators would point out that the responsibility of preaching the gospel itself should cause anyone presenting the gospel to do so “with fear and trembling” (cf. what Paul said of the responsibility in II Corinthians 2:14-3:6).

However, the actual writing of Paul in I Corinthians chapters one and two still seems to support a rejection of apologetics.  We need to carefully deal with the texts to which I have referred.  First of all, Paul is here dealing with the presentation of the gospel to the saving of the soul.  I have previously written that apologetics needs to be in a supporting role to the preaching of the gospel.  Paul is saying in the first two chapters of I Corinthians that salvation does not come through the wisdom of man and that the gospel carries its own power.  The content of the gospel could never have been a human invention and carries in it the power to save, not the arguments of apologetics.  Our faith indeed should not be dependent upon the arguments of man, but in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Many who practice apologetics seem to forget this truth.  Secondly, Paul is not saying that wisdom is wrong for he clearly states that he preached “the wisdom of God in in a mystery” (I Corinthians 2:6, 7).  Paul’s attack is on “the wisdom of this world” that is taught by “the natural man” and accepted by the Jews and the Greeks.  Hence there are two kinds of wisdom in view and we must discern the difference.  Paul shows us the difference.  The wisdom of God is in a mystery, not something that is hard to discover, but something that must be revealed.  Quoting Isaiah, Paul points out that the wisdom of this world is based on empirical evidence, what could be discovered by the senses and devised by the mind, whereas the wisdom of God is revealed by the Holy Spirit.  This points to world-view and ultimate authority.  God’s wisdom is based on the revelation of God not the evidence and arguments of man.  However, this does not exclude arguments and evidence.  Just because our faith is not based on arguments and evidence does not mean that arguments and evidence should not be used. As we shall see in a future post (Lord willing), the Bible itself uses both.

What Paul is saying, then, is not that it is wrong to use evidence and arguments, but that our evidence and arguments are to be based on God’s revelation in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This again brings me to my approach to apologetics.  I believe that an apologist is to point people to the revelation that God Himself gives.  Our faith does not rest in the arguments and evidences that we rightly use, but in the revelation of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to which they point.  Our practice of apologetics, then, should be in the power of the Holy Spirit in support of, not in the replacement of, the preaching of the gospel which we are to always recognize as the power of God.  In fact, the power of God displayed in the gospel message used by the Holy Spirit is itself a display of God’s revelation.  Only the real existence of God could explain the content of the gospel and how the preaching of Christ crucified and risen again could effect such a change in so many lives down through history.  Far from forbidding the practice of apologetics, then, the content and power of the gospel are themselves  great apologetics and ought to be used as such.


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