The Gospel Ministry of Apologetics: A Neglected Field of Christian Service

Dallas Willard Part 1 of 4

In this rare recording, Dallas explains his vision for the ministry of apologetics.

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Introduction: Welcome on this beautiful evening. I hope you had a good afternoon, a pleasant afternoon, where you were able to experience some of the pleasantness of this day. Why don’t we begin this evening with a short time of prayer?

“Our Heavenly Father we thank you for this daily lecture series for 1982. And we thank you for the guest lecturer that we have, Dr. Willard, as he has come to speak to us this year. We look forward to what he has to say. We pray that our hearts and our lives may be touched and inspired and renewed and further commitment may come forth from what he has to say in this four lecture series. We thank you for the audience who has come out to hear him tonight and we look forward for a larger audience tomorrow and in the following days as we listen to Dr. Willard. Amen.

I am pleased to welcome Dr. Dallas Willard to Bethel College as the 1982 distinguished lecturer for the Staley Lecture Series Program. Dr. Willard is not new to the Midwest. He grew up in Missouri so he speaks like all of us, and he doesn’t have an accent so there will be no problem understanding him. Dr. Willard can speak to many of you in several areas. If philosophy is not your main area of study or interest, well then maybe you can strike up a conversation of farming with him. As he told me walking over here from the guest house that he did migrant farming work in his earlier days, driving trucks for wheat harvesters earlier in his life so you might want to quiz him on that and see what he has to say on that. [2:11]

Since 1965 Dr. Willard has been at the University of Southern California and is now Director of the philosophy department at the university. He has two children; John, 25, and Rebecca, 20, and they are both college students at the University of Southern California. His wife, Jane, is a counselor at a Christian counseling center in the university community. Dr. Willard has entitled his lecture series Prospects for an Evangelical Apologetics in the 1980’s and he has entitled his lecture tonight The Gospel Ministry of Apologetics: A Neglected Field of Christian Service. I welcome you to our lecture series tonight and invite you back and I welcome, especially, Dr. Dallas Willard to Bethel College. [3:19]

Dallas: I am very glad to be here and have a chance to have fellowship and learn from you out of the tradition in which you stand as Christians and fellow believers. During these few days, I look forward to having a chance to make the acquaintance of the program. I’ve already heard some interesting things about your program here and, in fact, words which I had never heard before to describe programs. And so I really do, as an educator, look forward to the opportunity to get to know you.

Now, I’m here to speak on a specific topic and that is the prospects of an Evangelical Apologetic for the 1980’s. I hope you will not be worried by the big word apologetics. It is a scriptural term and it is one, which I am going to turn to an explication of by studying the scriptures in a few minutes. When I was a young man studying for the ministry, in the south, and my denominational background is Baptist, and one of the things which I heard over and over was, “I ain’t gonna apologize for anything about my Christian faith.” Well that really misses the point. And, in fact, we have today rather lost the conception of apologetics. There was a time when it was a standard division of theological studies, and indeed that is still true in some European universities. [5:18]

Apologetics stated very simply is a reasoned account of what one believes in response to objections that are made to it—a reasoned account of what one believes in response to objections that are made to it.  You will perhaps recall a very familiar verse in the little book of 1 Peter, the third chapter and the fifteenth verse. The writer is envisioning the Christian community as a group of people who are so filled with joy and hopefulness, in the midst of their trials, that the people who stand by and see them don’t understand what makes them tick. And they say to them, “What makes you like this? Why are you so hopeful?” And Peter then says,Set the Lord God apart or sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason for the hope that is in you and give that answer with meekness and with fear. [7:03]

The word that is used in the Greek here is the correspondent to our English term—apologize. Be ready to give a reason, apologize in that sense for the hope that is in you. Help the person understand what is going on in your heart, in your mind, in your life. Now once you understand the purpose of Apologetics I hope it’s going to be easier for you to see how indeed it is a ministry of the Gospel. It’s very difficult perhaps when we don’t have clear cases of bright, brilliant, happy, faith overcoming obstacles. It’s very difficult for us to understand how precious our faith is. [8:00]

I want to give you two other words from the Epistles of Peter, just on that point. In 1 Peter, the first chapter and the seventh verse, we find the writer saying, “that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it might be tried with the fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Faith is more precious than gold. [8:41]

And again in the first chapter of the second Epistle of Peter we find a phrase that is very similar to that. Here, the very first verse, “ . . . to them that have obtained like precious faith with us . . .”—like precious faith. If you have read John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, you will recall in one place he comes to the House of Interpreter, and in the House of Interpreter he is shown various rooms. And in one room in particular there is man inside of a cage sighing as if his heart would break. And Christian says to the man in the cage, “Who art thou?” And the man answers, “I am not what I was once.” “And what art thou now?” asks Christian. “I am a man of despair. I am shut up as in this iron cage I cannot get out.” [10:00]

It is extremely serious not to be able to believe the right things about God and about the human soul. It is one of the most serious conditions it is possible for a human being to be in. The question then comes, how is that condition to be alleviated? There have been many views of this. I have met people; for example, who seem to believe that all you could do for a person who did not believe was just quote scripture verses at them. They would try to back this up with a little of, I think, rather weak theology about what the word of God is, but that’s all they knew to do. Others only knew to pray. Then there are some who are like a friend of mine, who says, he does not speak French. He says when he goes to France he just speaks English louder and sometimes I think we are like that, we just speak what we believe louder at people in the hope that somehow it will get through.

What I am here this evening to say to you is that God has given us a tool with which to work under the administration of the Holy Spirit, and that tool is our reasoning, our understanding; it is our knowledge. I am going to show you this evening some cases of how that was used in specific cases in the scripture and I also want to give you some references for your study in the New Testament as to where the word that we translate, or transliterate in some cases as apologetics, is used. [12:00]

Now the work of the Apologetic has been the burden of the church from its earliest beginning. The church came into existence under fire. Jesus’ own ministry and that of His disciples was one of great controversy. It is natural therefore that the first thing He had to tell them to do was to be ready to apol-o-gize. In Luke 12:11 and in Luke 21:44, we see Jesus assuming that His followers will be placed in a position where they will have to reply to charges against them; variants of the word that we translate apologetic or to apologize is used by our Lord in these passages. The disciples are directed—very important to understand this—they are directed to rely upon the presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit at the moment when they are called upon to reply in situations where their very lives were in danger. [13:10]

Switching briefly to the classical context, and away from the Biblical, some of you know that Plato has a little dialogue called The Apology. That was precisely the same sort of situation in the life of Socrates where he was placed before a Greek jury and made to respond to charges, which eventuated in his death. Plato’s Apology is just a record of that trial and of Socrates’ response.

Now, the words related to apologetic occur in many other places in the New Testament and in many other kinds of context. Various forms of the verb occur, for example in Romans 2:15, where we find the word used in an impersonal context, with thoughts as the scriptures say “accusing and excusing;” thoughts apologizing.

In 2 Corinthians 12:19 Paul uses the form of the verb to apologize to protest, while in fact replying to possible objections to his ministry, to protest that he’s not merely excusing himself but is taking care for the edification of the Corinthian believers.

The tumultuous events of the Book of Acts would lead us to expect that word to show up over and over again there and the expectation is fulfilled. Acts 19:33, 22:1, 24:10, 25:8, 25:16, 26:1, also verses 2 and 24 are all cases where the activity of Apologetics is described or invoked. The first great sermon of the post-ascension disciples preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost is explicitly an apologetic, explicitly an apologetic, and I’m going to look at that more in some detail in just a minute. [15:29]

Slightly later in the book of Acts, chapter 4 verses 8 through 12 again, Peter is called upon to respond to the charge or the question: “By what power have you healed this impotent man?” And we could go on at further links to talk about the occurrence of the word and, of course, in many cases the activity itself is occurring without the word, where people are engaging in the activity of apologetics as a Gospel ministry. [16:00]

Now as I say I want to come back to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost in a little while because that is often taken as one of the cases which is somehow most opposed to reason, to apologetic. It is often taken as sort of a divine atomic bomb being dropped which just blew everyone’s minds out, and I want to look at the structure of Peter’s sermon in a few minutes. But let me just go on now and make a few comments about the early church.

In the second and third centuries we find what are perhaps the most identifiable apologetics and apologetes in all of the history of the church. Defenses of the faith continued in these centuries to be addressed to Jewish attacks upon the emerging church as well as to the attacks from the Pagan world, and Philip Schaff, the great church historian, has summed these attacks up under three headings. First of all, there were attacks against Christ himself, His illegitimate birth, His association with the poor and the unlettered, rude publicans, and ungodly types of all sorts, the form of a servant, which he took, and His ignominious death; these were matters which were brought up over and over trying to show that this could not possibly have been the Son of God. [17:45]

But also against Christianity as a movement—its novelty, its supposedly barbarian origin; of course, in relation to the Greeks it was barbarian because everyone who is not a Greek is a barbarian and it’s want of national basis. It did not have any particular nation that sponsored it. The alleged absurdity of some its facts and doctrines, particularly of regeneration and the resurrection, contradictions between the Old and the New Testaments alleged among the Gospels between Paul and Peter—the demand, as it was thought, for a blind irrational faith. All of these were charges that were brought up against Christianity, and then finally against Christians. [18:35]

Atheism was charged, hatred of the gods, and of course in relationship to the Roman gods, they were certainly Atheists. You understand how that would work because the Roman gods or the Greek gods, and in some cases, the Jews, could say, in relation to their own gods, that the Christians were Atheists. Worship of a crucified criminal, poverty, want of culture and standing, desire of innovation, division and sectarianism, want of patriotism, gloomy seriousness—they were alleged to be far to gloomy—superstition and fanaticism, and sometimes even unnatural crimes were charged against them similar to the ones which were present in Pagan mythology.

Well, around the answers to these charges, a distinct genre of literature arose, the Apologetical. It began to appear during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian which ended in about 138 A.D. and here we have the Apologetical writings, no longer extant but referred to in writings which do still exist, writings by Quadratus, Aristides, Aristo, and then later during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and some of the later Roman emperors we have Justin Martyr, Origen and Tertullian, and their writings have survived. [20:12]

We find in these writings a wide range of arguments, some intended to prove the truth of Christianity and its adapted-ness to the intellectual wants of man. Others intended to plea for its legal right to exist in the Roman world and to exhibit its moral excellency, and its good effects upon society. One must concede a very strong impact of these efforts, and I would like very much to insist upon this, in the hope that you will understand and appreciate the effect of these arguments.

As the historian Etienne Gilson has pointed out, quote, “As early as the second century Christianity could appear, to some philosophers, as the best answer to the questions asked by philosophy itself. The teaching of Christian faith looked much more rational than philosophical reason itself.” In short, reason was on the side of the Christians, not of the Pagan philosophers. [21:15]

With specific reference to Justin Martyr himself, Gilson remarks, a philosopher did find where Justin was a philosopher before he became a Christian and, indeed, many of the outstanding philosophers of the day became Christians because they found the answers offered by the Gospel to be so convincing. But as Gilson says, with reference with Justin Martyr, “a philosopher did find in Christianity a philosophical satisfaction, which he had not been able to find in philosophy.” Hence a number of Christians, such as Justin, claim for themselves the titles of philosophers and they set up schools and taught as Christians in the same manner that philosophers of the Pagan world did.

I think that today many people feel a little uneasy with this and I want to try to address this briefly at this point. Particularly those from the reformed traditions of Christianity are apt to feel that somehow we are talking here about just pure, human effort, convincing people and providing faith for them. In other words, there is a feeling among, and I have friends in the reformed community who are philosophers, as well as theologians, they tend to feel that you are taking something away from the idea that faith is a gift of God and they shy away from it. It is never quite clear what the alternative is, but they shy away from it as if somehow you are invading the province of God by attempting to use your reason to make clear the content and the grounds of the things, which we believe. [23:22]

Well there’s a lot that could be said about that; I could bring quite a number of interesting quotations on it. St. Augustine, whom no one I believe could ever charge with downplaying the importance of the work of God in giving faith, remarks in one of his letters, “Far be it that we should have faith without accepting or demanding reasons for our faith.” And again in his 120th letter he says, “Far from us be the thought that God detests that where by he has made us superior to other animals, far from us an ascent to pure faith which dispenses with reasons, accepting or demanding reasons.” [24:09]

A 17th century Puritan thinker, by the name of Joseph Glanville, has, what I think, to be one of the finest statements on this attempt to do away with the role of reason in religion. He says, and I quote, “There is not anything that I know which hath done more mischief to religion than the disparaging of reason, under the pretense of respect and favors to religion. For hereby the very foundations of Christian faith have been undermined and the world prepared for Atheism, and if reason must not be heard the being of God and the authority of scripture can neither be proved nor defended and so our faith drops to the ground like a house that hath no foundations.”

Sometimes we hear from the existentialist corner that faith is a blind leap. Kierkegaard, the philosopher and literary figure which you’re perhaps familiar with, often speaks as if some how the very absurdity of what you believe shows that you really have a soul full of faith to believe it. And in this regard he ties in with the saying, which is attributed to Tertullian, “It is absurd therefore I believe it.” This is often presented as if it made you some sort of spiritual hero. It is nothing to believe that 2 + 2 = 4. That doesn’t prove anything, does it? I mean everyone believes that. Believe something difficult; believe that it equals 35! That will really show that there’s some “oomph” in you. Kierkegaard, of course, takes the very central doctrine of the Christian faith, namely the incarnation, that the infinite should become finite, and he says that this really shows that you are a knight of faith if you can accept this which is utterly contrary to all reason. [26:14]

I think this is a terrible mistake and I think it is a part of what lies at much of the irrationalism of our age, both inside the church and out. The idea that ultimate commitments are all unreasonable, the idea that it is all just a blind leap, because, dear friends, if it’s all a blind leap you might as well leap one way as the other and the only thing that will determine which way you leap is just the last itch or impulse that hit you before you jumped. [26:43]

I want to say that I think nowhere in the scriptural records, nor in the testimony of the church, do we have a consistent or even a substantial suggestion that we should diminish that part which, as Augustine says, “God gave us in order to distinguish us from the beasts in order to glorify the grace of God.” What we have to understand is that reason is a part of our part in the ministry of the Gospel and in the work of the building up of our own faith.

As Richard Baxter, the great 17th century Puritan, says, in his book called The Reasons for the Christian Faith, he says, “The person who must pray, in the scriptural words, ‘Lord increase my faith’ or ‘Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief,’ must use other means, as well as pray. Just as it will do us no good to pray only that a great building like this would be built, or that corn would grow out of the ground, or that the wheat would be harvested, so it will do us no good to seek for faith without using the faculties which God has given us to find a truth. It is in the proper exercise of our faculties, in reliance upon God, that the correct fruition of God’s intention in our lives is realized. It is in co-laboring with God, in cooperating with God, it is in working; it is in thinking, and trusting God, and looking to God also, that the right fruit is derived.” [28:41]

Now, I want to take you to the second chapter of the Book of Acts for a few minutes and I would like for you to just look at the sermon, which Peter preached certainly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but it was also out of the depths of his own reflection upon his experience. You see, Peter was a prepared individual. He had been through a series of years in which he had walked with the Lord. He had seen Him crucified. He had had his revelations. He had had his failures. He had had his chastisement. He had had his time alone thinking in the upper room with others, and then he had gone fishing, and he had this marvelous array of experiences, and he had thought about them, and he had studied the scripture. [29:39]

Now, this is a typical case of an apology and you will remember what the charge against the believers on the day of Pentecost was—it was that they were drunk; a very simple charge. Peter, standing up, begins to talk and reply to this charge and line-by-line he goes through a pattern of reasoning. Beginning in verse 15, with the reply to the charge, he says, “These are not drunken as you suppose seeing that it is but the third day.” Then the next stage he refers to a passage in the Old Testament scriptures, in the Book of Joel, where the events of the day at hand are described in some detail and he says, “This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel.” Then he quotes the scriptures about what will happen at a time when as the scripture says, “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophecy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams, and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit and they will prophecy.” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)

Now then, having quoted the passage, he turns to the people who are surrounding him and who are charging the believers with this false allegation and he says to them, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinant counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts 2:22&23) [31:44]

First premise—Fact, they couldn’t deny it. Everything he said was true. Now then, next premise: “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death because it was not possible that he should beholden of it.” Now, they might be prepared to argue about that one. There was a little problem with an empty tomb but it would be possible to allege that it got empty in ways other than the resurrection of Christ and so what Peter does here is he turns back to the Old Testament scriptures once again and takes David and statements by David to prove by argument that the Messiah would rise from the dead. And to prove, by argument, that the Messiah is not David—to prove by argument. And verse 31 rather summarizes the point for this passage, “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul is not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:31&32) And then he goes on further to interpret the saying of David in relationship to the Messiah, and in relation to Jesus. [33:19]

In verse 36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now we come to the end of the argument at that point. And at that point the result comes in the next verse, “Now when they heard this they were stabbed (pricked) in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) You see here the perfect confluence of the work of the Apologete and the work of the Spirit of God. Not just in the inspiration of the argument itself but in the impact that the argument had upon the hearts and the minds of the hearers. They were stabbed in their hearts; conviction came.

Now why didn’t Peter just stand up and holler at them, you know, Jesus is Lord! It was because he recognized that in the economy of God the human spirit is made to work from the inside by a pattern of reason, which appeals to their freedom and to their individuality and does not override it but gives it a chance to respond and develop precisely as a person to a personal God. [34:52]

If we had time this evening we could turn to a different use of Apologetics, and that is in particular with reference to those who are already believers. I want to emphasize this aspect of it in developing my theme this evening, because too often we think the Apologete works only in relationship to those who are somehow on the outside of the faith. For those of you who may be interested in a more scholarly follow-up on all of this than we can give in the time we have available I’d like to refer you to a book by A.B. Bruce, entitled simply Apologetics or Christianity Defensively Stated. This is an old book and if you don’t know A.B Bruce he is an older scholar that is immensely worth your coming to know. Bruce’s conception of Apologetics is, I think, precisely the correct one in Biblical terms because he doesn’t think of it as some sort of logical steam roller by which you’re going to run over everyone who disagrees with you. Rather he sees it as an effort to help that man in the iron cage, whether that man is professing Christian faith or not. [36:25]

Now we have a very serious problem in this regard and Bruce says, I quote him from page 37 of his book, “Apologetic then is a preparer of the way of faith, an aid to faith against doubt whence so ever arising but especially such as are engendered by philosophy and science. It’s specific aim is to help men of ingenuous spirit, that is to say honest, forthright people, who while assailed by such doubts are morally in sympathy with the faith. It addresses itself to such as are drawn in two directions, toward and away from Christ as distinct from such as are confirmed either in unbelief or in faith. Defense presupposes a foe but the foe is not the dogmatic infidel who has finally made up his mind that Christianity is a delusion but anti-Christian thought often in the believing man’s own heart.” And I think, really, the primary task of Apologetics is to deal thoroughly and convincingly with the honest doubts of believing people. We have a lot of trouble with this, I am afraid to say in our churches.

I want to go back again to a quotation from my old friend Richard Baxter here in a book called The Reasons for the Christian Religion which was published in 1667, and just read one statement of his introduction to his book which he is giving to show why he thinks it important to do this work. And I quote, ”I perceive that because it is taken for a shame to doubt of our Christianity and the life to come this hindreth many from uttering their doubts who never get them well resolved but remain half infidels within whilst the enzymes of Christ are hanged without and need much help though they are ashamed to tell their needs.” My dear friends, if we really believed what we profess to believe, the world could not stand before us. The problem is our faith is weak and it is often weak because it is not dealt with thoroughly and honestly in free, open, prayerful inquiry, by trained, skilled people, who have the patience, and the love, and the brains, and the information to see it through. [39:20]

Many of us, I’m afraid, are like the young lady that I recently heard on one of our television shows out in Los Angeles. She had just finished making a movie, which was a ghost story. And you know how many of those are today anyway? So she was asked on the talk show or the interview, actually I believe this was on The Today Show, so you may have seen it back here also since that is nationally televised, she was asked if she believed in ghosts. Here is her priceless answer: she replied, “No, but I won’t say that I don’t because then one might appear and punish me for saying it.” [40:09]

Now the truth is…this is, I’m afraid, very similar to the degree that many folk have of faith in God. They sort of believe. They are afraid to say they don’t. But the fact is there is no hearty conviction of the reality of God, such as in the Book of Hebrews, the 11th chapter, we are told of Moses: “He endured as seeing him who was invisible.”

Richard Baxter goes ahead to say that we get along well enough with all of this so long as we don’t get in trouble. Baxter was a great pastor in England in those days, and he remarked that the best complain of imperfection of their faith, and too many good Christians, especially if melancholy surprise them, are haunted with such temptations to Atheism, blasphemy, and unbelief, as make their lives a burden to them and when the hard times come we find out how little we have believed. And it is then that we need to have the succor of the Gospel ministry of Apologetics, and we need it before then as a preventative measure so when the hard time comes we can still say, and not with bravado, but with real, honest confession, I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able, to keep that which I have committed to him, against whatever may come. [42:04]

The Gospel ministry of Apologetics then is designed both to create faith, as in the day of Pentecost, and to sustain it, to correct it, and let me just give you a reference to a passage that I’m not going to take time to go into it, but if you will carefully study the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, you will find there a case of the ministry of Apologetics in correcting faith. We some times think of that as a great chapter about the resurrection of Christ, but if you study it carefully you will find that that passage is really about the resurrection of the believer. It is a passage reasoning with believers who said, “Yes, we know Christ was raised but we don’t know that we are going to be raised,” and you will see there a case of the Gospel ministry of Apologetics, in action, correcting faith.

Well I hope now that I have said quite enough about the Biblical mandate and practice of Apologetics, and about it’s nature, the use of reason, and it’s purpose.

Let me this evening conclude by just saying a few things about our current situation. One of the remarkable things that some of you may be very conscious of is that over the last 40 or 50 years, the work of Apologetics has almost died. It came back to life a few years ago, primarily under the impetus of a very few thinkers, such as Clark Pinnock and John Montgomery. It is now beginning to flourish once again. [44:05]

In the 20’s and 30’s, during especially the controversy between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists, as it is now some times described, you had both sides saying that there was no point in trying to use reason in defending your faith. The Modernists, such as for example Willard Sperry, who was for many years dean of the Divinity School in the University of Chicago, and Willard Sperry said well there’s no need to reason because there’s no contest with science. Science is always right, and any time that religion conflicts with it it’s always wrong, and science says such and such and so there’s no point in even talking about it. And then there was the contest with other religions and Sperry simply said well it isn’t that Christianity is right and the other religions are wrong. They are all equally right and all equally wrong. They are all efforts to deal with man’s fundamental situation and enable him to live a life that is tolerable and that’s all that is to be said about it. And so among the liberal branch of the Christian church, Apologetics really just disappeared, just totally disappeared. You find very little during the 20’s, and 30’s, and 40’s, that even looks like Apologetics because the fundamental conviction of leading thinkers in that branch of the Christian church was there is no good case to be built; there is no reply to the objections. [45:45]

On the Fundamentalist side, the attitude was more “Who needs it? We know we are right!” And indeed it was taken almost as a betrayal to suppose that you had to think about these matters. Often this was accompanied by views to the effect that those who do not agree with us are hopeless anyway because they are in the snare of Satan, and there’s no way that you could, by reasoning, touch their minds, and so you had for quite a long while just disregard of Apologetical work.

A number of things have happened recently that make the prospect for an Evangelical Apologetic in our present decade, and I think the following decades of this century, for sure, much more attractive. For one thing, in the days when controversy was hot between the Fundamentalists and the Liberals, there was often equally hot controversy between the various branches of the Fundamentalists and the Conservatives, and whatever else you want to call them. Indeed the primary purpose of Apologetics seemed often to settle important questions like, “Are you to be baptized three times face-forward or once backward, or are you to be baptized in the water or to have the water put on you,” or things of that sort. And if you go back you’ll read these old controversies that you probably now would find very hard to credit with great seriousness. The controversies tended to be trivialized about things, which really could not be taken seriously. [47:33]

Now I think that’s largely changed. I don’t know what your experience is and I am hoping you will instruct me if it is different, but now I find that there is practically no contest over such matters between the denominations. We still have our denominations; they still represent traditions, which have much to be said for them, I’m sure and they enable us to channel our church life, and our faith, and to identify ourselves, and that’s all well and good.  But there is much less of the kind of petty bickering that used to go on in volume after volume of deadly, serious writing and thinking. That has ceased and I think that has improved the climate immensely for serious discussion about things, which do matter.

Again, I don’t know what you may think of this thing that has been called the Charismatic Movement but, I think that one of the interesting things you see in that is people in different denominations sort of being prepared to say, “Well, God might be over there after all.” That’s interesting. If you read the Book of Acts, that was the fundamental role of charismatic phenomena in the Book of Acts, generally was to convince people that God was where they thought He was not.

First of all, among the band of Jesus’ followers—then in Samaria, then in the house of Cornelius, the Roman, and so on down the line. I think it’s interesting to see how that has worked in some measure today. It doesn’t require that anyone say that everything that is going on wherever they speak of charismatic phenomena is right or wrong, or anything else; it’s just a fact. I’ve known many people, for example, who had never occurred to them that Roman-Catholics could be Christians and suddenly they met a charismatic nun strumming a guitar and saying wonderful things. They couldn’t turn it back any longer, and of course, Catholics also for Protestants and it’s very interesting how this has worked. I think this has improved things immensely. [49:49]

There has been a shaking of the foundations, a shrinking of the doctrines to the fundamentals I believe, and then this has made it much more possible to have serious discussion about fundamental matters among theologians and thinkers of the Christian church who are trying to work on these important matters. And finally there has been the emergence of an educated laity. Now, again, I don’t know from what perspective you see this matter, but I have some chances to look at it from various points of views, and I think one of the most interesting phenomena of our time is the emergence of a really well educated laity. [50:32]

Not just educated in their fields, but often educated theologically. There are a lot of lay people, men and women, who are giving a lot of their time to doing a very, great deal of serious study of the scriptures, serious studies of social issues, and this, I think, has made a great difference in the quality, in general, of our discussion. These people, I think, are making demands of their ministry, and of their teachers that they go deeper, that they be more clear, that they not suddenly just say, “Well it’s a matter of faith,” but rather that they carry on, and they do the hard work which makes it possible to give a reason for the hope that is within them. I think these things are very promising, and I believe that the combination of these matters, and perhaps also the effect of worldwide changes in communications, and business, and travel; I think these all have brought it about that now once again the work of Apologetics is serious business, promising business. It also, I think, casts an entirely new light on the project of Christian education.

Let me say that I believe in many cases we have tried to hide too much from the world in our efforts to develop Christian education, but I see at present a readiness to meet the world and say, “We are as good as you are or better.” The truth of the matter is if what we believe as Christians is true, the only way that we can have a complete science of anything is when that science eventuates in the doctrine of God in His relation of creation, and redemption to the world, which He has made. It was not in vain that Paul said that the church of the living God is the very pillar and foundation of truth. Only in a redeemed community can the truth be known, and safely handled, and developed, and I see that many of our Christian educational institutions are taking an entirely new look at their task and at their world. I am speaking, particularly, of ones I’m most acquainted with out in southern California and a few other places in the United States, but I see here a willingness no longer just to be one little group, training their students to be like them, but rather a people who are prepared to stand up and take their place in the world of science, and art, and religion, and theology, and philosophy, and say we are here for real. [53:27]

I think that’s one of the most encouraging things that I see today. By the way, I might just say off-hand that in the last few years something has happened which those who are familiar with the profession of philosophy in the United States would never have dreamed happen. There is now an active, large group of Christian philosophers, identifiable as such, active in the profession of philosophy. And this simply was unheard of or undreamed of a few years ago. What happened? A few significant philosophers got converted and they began to stand up and say, “Here we are.” And all of a sudden it’s just a different configuration. Now it’s got other professional philosophers actually worried, I think; they can’t figure out what is happening. Well maybe they will join up before long.

So let me conclude this evening by saying that we must remember that the work of Apologetics is our part, a part of our part of working in the gracious Kingdom of God, in the ministry of truth, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We should remember on the negative side that Apologetics is not an exercise in making excuses. It also does not consist in a rather elevated “poo-pooing” of intellectual obstacles to faith in Christ, and sometimes I’m afraid in the past it has sort of been like that. It takes the problems seriously; it presupposes good faith on the part of those who wants to know and tries to meet them. [55:15]

Then finally I would want to say it is not an attempt to prove that we are right. It is not an exercise in self-justification. It is not pugnacious. It does not try to steamroller people.  The issue of superiority is not there; rather it is a humble exercise in road building. In the words of Isaiah, “To level the uneven ground and make the rough places into a plain, to prepare the way of the Lord through the wilderness of man’s mind and make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” It is done by the disciple, in the servant’s spirit of his master, in full confidence, in the words of Deuteronomy 32, “that their rock is not as our rock even our enemies themselves being the judge.”  [56:21]

There is a lovely old hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal, Take My Life and Let It Be. It’s interesting that in the last decades when that prejudice against reason has been strong, certain verses of that old hymn have been changed, and you will not find them in newer hymnals. The other day I came across an old version of the poem and found these words, and the first part of these words, by the way, are in the hymnal. They just changed the last part. Here’s the way this stanza goes: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold. Take my intellect and use, every power as thou shall choose.” That’s the work of the Apologete.

Let’s pray together. “Lord, we are thankful for this time to have thought about the work of Apologetics, of giving a reason, of being ready to give a reason, of being prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us. We pray that you will raise our hearts to see the dignity and value of this calling, and especially in this group of people who are so concerned about Christian education of young people. May it be something that comes alive in their minds as never before to prepare themselves and the young people, under their guidance, to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Thank you very much.

Listen to all parts in this Prospects for an Evangelical Apologetics in the 1980s series