"The apologists — I'm telling you they could make falling off a stool difficult. You'd have to go to college to learn how to fall off a stool if you were an apologist.... So, I'm not impressed with the apologist any longer. And I may as well get it out — I used to be one! And God forgive me, and I promise not to ever do it again."
So said prominent televangelist John Avanzini during TBN's annual Fall "Praise-a-thon." During a time when apologetics — the defense of the faith — is more important than ever before, Avanzini represents a growing number of Christian leaders who attack apologetics as being irrelevant and even divisive. In sharp contrast to Avanzini, Dr. Walter Martin believed that the apologetics ministry of CRI would be more important in the decade of the 1990s than it was when he originally founded it thirty years ago.
How relevant is apologetics today? How big a role should apologetics play in a Christian's witness? And, above all, is apologetics biblical? Let us briefly consider these questions.
To see just how relevant apologetics is today, we need only take a quick survey of the world around us. Whether we look at the world on a global scale or merely peek into our own little "neck of the woods," it certainly doesn't take long to realize that we are literally being inundated with a plethora of beliefs and ideologies. From secular humanism to New Age mysticism, people everywhere are being bombarded with an onslaught of false ideas and world views. (A "world view" is simply an interpretive framework through which or by which one interprets the world around him.)
What makes these false world views so appealing is their apparent capacity to make sense of the universe in which we live. Each respective world view purports to give the correct account of reality, thereby giving people some point of reference by which to order their lives. And it's fair to say that world views affect practically every aspect of a person's life.
Consider, for example, a person with a humanistic/atheistic world view. Since such a person considers mankind to be "the measure of all things," he or she generally believes that we need only turn to human ingenuity and wisdom to supply every needed answer. Transcendentally important issues dealing with the purpose and meaning of life are relegated purely to human thoughts on the matter; ethical and moral dilemmas are consigned to mere individual or cultural opinions; and the absolute foundation of truth is reduced to a rubble of relativism. Now, while some may hold this world view to be reasonably sound and personally satisfying, the fact remains that it is ultimately a road leading to eternal destruction (Prov. 14:12).
What is the Christian's responsibility in the face of these competing world views? Certainly most Christians are aware of their responsibility to reach a dying world with God's message. No less an authority than Jesus exhorts us to proclaim the Good News (Matt. 10:27) and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). However, the same Bible that compels us to preach the Good News urges us to contend for the faith as well (Jude 3). Apologetics is thus not a mere option left to the believer. Rather, it should be an essential element of the believer's life.
Writing in a world steeped in mystery cults, the apostle Peter admonished believers to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have...with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15 NIV). Only by meeting honest objections with biblical answers can we "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). It was in this spirit that Paul vigorously defended the gospel (Acts 26:1-2; Phil. 1:7,16), charging Timothy and Titus to do the same (2 Tim. 2:23-26; 4:2-5; Titus 1:9-14).
In the Book of Acts, we find the early Christians presenting reasoned answers to a variety of charges made against Christianity. To the Jews the church pointed out that Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Acts 3:17-26). To the Gentiles the church argued that God was calling them to turn from superstitious religions to the true God revealed in Jesus Christ (19:1-22). In all their apologetics, the early church emphasized the undeniable event of the resurrection of Christ (4:10; 17:31). And, unlike some Christians today, the early church was not plagued by the disease "non-rock-a-boatus"; indeed, the early Christians defended the faith whenever and wherever the opportunity arose. We must commit to doing the same.
Far from being some abstract discipline or quaint pastime for a select few (such as theologians and ministers), apologetics is in reality an immensely practical tool for every single member of the body of Christ. And the need for apologetics today is critical. Believers must realize that we are living in a post-Christian era, with a host of religions, cults, and occultic systems vying continuously for people's commitments and, indeed, for their very lives. We must face these challenges head-on.
Using apologetics, equipped Christians can show that the Christian world view is consistent, coherent, and corresponds to reality over and above all other competing world views. Apologetics also shows that Christianity is both spiritually and intellectually fulfilling, and that Christianity is nothing less than the truth (John 17:17). (That Christianity has an intellectual or rational element is clear in Jesus' words about loving God not only with all our heart, soul, and strength, but also with all our mind; Mark 12:29.)
CRI is presently in the midst of a period of unprecedented growth. The volume of incoming correspondence and calls continues to mount with each passing day. All this leads me to conclude that the number of people hungry for sound answers is anything but diminishing. And because of this, we are more committed than ever — Avanzini's comments notwithstanding — to uphold, defend, and promote the historic orthodox Christian faith, through which alone salvation is offered to humanity.
Is apologetics still relevant today? In my thinking, apologetics has never been more relevant than it is today. And all of us at CRI are deeply thankful for the numerous men and women worldwide who are willing to stand with us in the battle of defending the faith against all competing truth claims. May God continue to sustain all those committed to standing for truth.