by Athol Walter
What was your reaction when you read the title of this article? Maybe you thought: ‘We? Is he saying that I have done something to apologise for? No way!’ Or perhaps it was: ‘What has the BBFA been up to that they must apologise? This will be good.’ There will have been some of our readers, however, who would have thought, with a slight smile on their faces: ‘I know what he’s up to.’ We’ll come to that in a moment.
Whenever we hear the word ‘apologise’, we immediately think of saying sorry for something we have done wrong. There was one occasion in my high school years, when a mate and I were sent to the Deputy Headmaster because we had been making a nuisance of ourselves in class. The Deputy sent us back to Miss Smith to apologise for our behaviour. We faced Miss Smith and said, ‘Mr Carpenter said we had to apologise.’ Her response was, ‘No, that is not good enough. Go away, and come back when you mean it.’ Did we ever go back? That’s for me to know, and for you to wonder about.
The English word ‘apologise’ has come into English from Greek almost unchanged, and the fact that it originally meant something quite different to how we use it today is a very good example of how words not only change in meaning over time, but also that the changes are predominantly a lessening or downgrading of the meaning. So let’s do some digging and find out what sort of an apology it is that we all must make.
The Scripture verse with which I want to start is 1 Peter 3:15: ‘But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…’ (NKJV) I suggest you read verse 16 as well.
The word ‘defence’ in that verse is the Greek word apologia, and we don’t need a university degree to recognise our word ‘apology’ in it. It is translated in the New Testament either by ‘defence’ or ‘answer’, and what Peter is saying is that believers should be ready (which implies the ability to do so) to give reasons to those who ask, for the great truths of our faith.
So the challenge for us is this: How ready are we to give clear, cogent answers to any who either ask us about our faith, or who attack the Christian faith. When we give reasons and/or answers for our faith, we are ‘apologising’ in the original sense, and have entered the field of ‘Apologetics’, which, repeating myself for the sake of clarity, does not mean to say sorry in any way.
There are two occurrences of the word in Acts which clearly illustrate its meaning. First, Acts 22:1. Paul had been assaulted by a mob of Jews because they thought he had defiled the Temple. The Roman guard rescued him, and the Centurion allowed him to address the crowd. He started by saying: ‘Brethren and fathers, hear my defence (apologia) before you now.’ Paul was not saying sorry for anything he had done, but rather was giving the reasons for his actions, and indeed, his manner of life.
The second verse is Acts 25:16, where Festus is explaining events surrounding Paul’s arrest to King Agrippa: ‘To them I answered, “It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer (apologia) for himself concerning the charge against him”.’ Again, there is no thought that Paul is to say sorry.
Returning for a moment to the verse I quoted from 1 Peter, some readers may have thought that because 1 Peter is not a mystery epistle, it is not for us today? That is often true, but not in this case. There are basic doctrines and principles in Scripture that are not exclusive to any one dispensation. These apply at all times, and I think that what Peter says here is one of those ‘across-the-board’ principles. Paul has a word in Philippians which certainly is relevant. We find it in Philippians 1:7: ‘…inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defence (apologia) and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.’ It looks as if Paul expected members of the Body to share with him in defending the Faith. Paul has a further word to say on the matter, which we will come to later.
Before we go any further, I think we should note, and emphasise, the last phrase of 1 Peter 3:15. It tells us that we should make our ‘apologies’ for our faith ‘with meekness and fear’. We readily understand the word’ meekness’, but what about the word ‘fear’? The Amplified Version has this: ‘Always be ready to give a logical defence to any one who asks you… but do it courteously and respectfully.’ I think that catches the spirit of the words. I know very well that I need to heed and apply those words in my own efforts to ‘apologise’.
Consider now the field of Apologetics. We are fortunate that there are many books to help us sort out the reasons behind and for our faith, and to present those reasons in logical and sensible ways. These books also show us ways of answering the critics by exposing the holes in their arguments.
Defending the Faith is not something new, as is shown by the example of Stephen. Acts 6:9,10 says that Jews from several synagogues in Jerusalem disputed with Stephen, but they were unable to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. This was the reason why they dragged him off to the Sanhedrin, making false accusations against him. Then, in spite of his brilliant ‘apology’ (chapter 7), he was taken outside the city and stoned to death. Saul, who we know better as Paul, was at that stoning, and it would seem that he was one of those Jews in the synagogues who had not been able to refute Stephen’s witness.
One of the best known books on Apologetics is The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. I strongly recommend it. It has helped me a great deal in discussions with atheists and evolutionists, amongst others. To give some examples: To those who deny that there are any absolute truths or morals and claim that all truth is relative, ask either, ‘Are you absolutely sure about that?’, or, ‘Relative to what?’. Josh gives a beautiful quote that says: ‘All relativists stand on the absolute truth that all truth is relative.’ I would never have thought of those responses in a lifetime.
Some eastern religions claim that everything we can see and feel around us is not real but only an illusion. So we may ask them, why then, if that bus coming down the road is only an illusion, do they dodge it. As one Indian man said after his conversion to Christianity: ‘I realised one day that my religion was impossible to live by.’
There are many critics of the Bible who say that truth cannot be known. The simple response is, ‘Then how do you know that?’ Obviously, they believe their statement to be truth that can be known! Again, sceptics say that one must be sceptical about all dogmatic statements, so taking them at their word we should be very sceptical of what they say.
Another book which I have found very helpful, and enjoyable to read, is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. What a marvellous title! Written by Norman L Geisler and Frank Turek, the book systematically deals with attacks that atheists make on the Bible and Christian beliefs, pointing out the errors and illogicality of their arguments. The basic point they make is that it takes much more blind faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian.
Some wonderful chapter headings are: New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?; Mother Teresa vs. Hitler; Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility? The authors also cover such subjects as ‘Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?’; Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus?’; and ‘The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth’. The vexed question of how evil can exist if God is good is also dealt with head-on.
In the chapter titled ‘Mother Teresa vs. Hitler’, the authors make the point that people who assert there are no absolute morals, do not live their lives according to that belief. They say that because these same folk will become very upset if they are not treated in an ethical or fair way. So, say the authors, it is not what a person says, or even their treatment of other people, that shows whether they believe in absolute moral values, but rather their reactions to what others do to them. For example, a man might say that he believes the biblical standard of fidelity in marriage is outdated poppycock, but watch how he reacts if he discovers that his wife has been unfaithful to him! This is a book which I think you will find yourself dipping into again and again.
The New Atheists
The so-called ‘New Atheists’, such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins and Christopher Hitchens, who attack Christianity in a very aggressive manner, have found a ready and sympathetic reception from the world media, as well as a ready market for their books. It sometimes seems that Christianity has lost out completely. Yet, there are at least five excellent books from Christian authors that show logically and clearly the many flaws in the assumptions and reasoning of these critics. Yet the general media do not announce these books to the public, for that would not fit their basic position that religion, particularly Christianity, has no foundation of truth.
A few titles out of many that refute Richard Dawkins are: The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson; Dealing With Dawkins by John Blanchard; Why There Almost Certainly is a God: Doubting Dawkins by Keith Ward (the title is a play on a chapter title in Dawkins’ book The God Delusion). Another great book is The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath. Obviously a play on Dawkins’ title. Each of these titles is filled with helpful material.
The brother of Christopher Hitchens, Peter, has published a book recently with the title The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. Peter grew up as a convinced atheist, very much against Christianity. However, as an adult he went to live in Communist Russia for some years and after a while, as he saw the terrible results of atheism at work, he turned his back on it and became a committed Christian. His book is a wonderful read.
Another prolific writer in the field of Christian Apologetics is Lee Strobel, who also was once an atheist. Amongst his books are The Case For Christ; The Case For Faith; and The Case For a Creator. He makes a point in The Case For Faith which I would like to share, as it contains a serious challenge for us. He says: ‘I remember as an atheist peppering ill-prepared Christians with a flurry of apparent biblical contradictions and discrepancies. They would get flustered and embarrassed because they couldn’t answer them, and I’d walk away feeling smug and self-satisfied.’ If you are one of ‘the flustered and embarrassed Christians’, it is time to do something about it. Not all of us can be top-line debaters like these authors, but each one of us, with some dedication and work, can equip ourselves to do much better when we are called upon to make our defence.
Apologetics – for the right reasons
A word of warning on this point, and I speak to myself here also. The reason why we are to give reasonable and reasoned answers for our faith is not that we may vanquish our critics, and be the ones to walk away feeling ‘smug and self-satisfied’, but that we may be used by the Lord to cause some of these critics to think again, examine the evidence for the Bible and its message, and perhaps, by the grace of God, come to faith in Christ, as many of the authors mentioned herein have done.
There are many other books and DVDs available dealing with such subjects as evolution, science and faith, intelligent design, and the reliability of the Bible. Visit your local Christian bookstore and dive into the section on Apologetics. I suspect you will be lost there for an hour or two.
I cannot conclude without mentioning C S Lewis, the well-known author of the Narnia series which has so captured the imagination of many. He, too, came out of atheism and proved to be a wonderful Christian apologist. He is quoted frequently in the books already mentioned. Two of his books to start with, if you are not familiar with them already, are Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy. I once thought that the title referred to his wife, Joy Davidman, but it is the account of his journey from atheism to Christianity.
The other passage by Paul that I referred to earlier is 2 Timothy 2:24–26, and it is a most suitable conclusion to this article: ‘And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.’