Christ on Campus: Have you Apologized Lately? The Law and Gospel of Christian Apologetics

by Rev. Ian Pacey

Going to college this year? How is your Christian apology? In daily conversation, the word apology almost always means an expression of regret for some misdeed. However, the term as used in Holy Scripture means to provide an answer, a reasoned response, or a defense. The intent here is to provide the briefest of overviews. The Higher Things Magazine spring 2012 issue will be featuring an entire array of articles on the subject of apologetics and it will be there that we delve into more specifics.

The best known use of apology comes to us in 1 Peter 3:15 which reads, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [an “apology”] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

In these words, God calls Christians to be prepared to make an apology or defense whenever the appropriate circumstances arise. So how is this done? It is one thing to know what we have been called to do. It is another to know how to do it.

The Best Response: the Gospel
The best response to the question concerning the hope we Christians have is nothing less than the Biblically revealed truth concerning human sin (the Law) and the forgiveness of sin for Jesus’ sake (the Gospel). It really is that simple. Why do Christians have hope? Christians have hope because Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has atoned for the sins of the world!

As we all know, not everybody who hears the Law and the Gospel believes immediately or ever, for that matter. Fundamentally, all unbelief is the result of human sin. In practice, the reason for unbelief is as different as the people who do not believe. Some may not believe because they have been taught some falsehood. Others may not believe because they have personally created falsehoods to distance themselves from God. In both cases, the only way to help the unbeliever dig out the error is to dialogue with them; to be willing to answer and ask questions of those who reject Christian truth claims.

Questions for Christians
Most questions for Christians from unbelievers fall into three major categories:

  1. The Existence of God. The Christian claims that God exists. God’s Word teaches this fundamental truth. Of course, the unbeliever rejects the Word. Purely for the sake of discussion, is there any way the Christian can talk about the existence of God without citing the Scriptures? The answer is yes. The Christian may talk about natural law, the idea of a first cause, or use other philosophical arguments, depending on the person with whom they are speaking. Most importantly, we can speak of Jesus (whom we know as true God) and how His tomb was empty, a fact that can be demonstrated without relying solely on the Bible’s testimony!

  2. The Reliability of the Old and New Testaments. When speaking of the Holy Scriptures, Christians use the words inerrancy, inspiration, and others. These terms reflect the origin and the truthfulness of God’s Word. By definition, the unbeliever rejects these concepts. However, when it comes the main criticism against the Bible, very often an unbeliever will set forth the idea that the words of the Bible are not the words of the original authors and/or the original authors are not those normally associated with the individual books. For example, Mark did not write Mark. Is there any way of undoing these views that poison the unbeliever’s view of the Bible? Again, the answer is yes. In fact, there is a science, called textual criticism, that is devoted to the question of text authorship and transmission. When put to the test, the Holy Scriptures pass with flying colors! Not only that, the Scriptures are validated because Jesus rose from the dead!

  3. The Problem of Evil. This argument has thousands of variations. Many atheists/agnostics consider the problem of evil to be the best argument against the truthfulness of Christianity. The idea goes like this: Christians believe God is both all powerful and the greatest good. If these two things are true, then evil should not exist. Nevertheless, evil does exist. Thus, God is not all powerful or not good. In either case, He is not a God worth trusting. In a purely formal sense, this challenge is easily undone. God can do things or allow for things which we may not understand while maintaining His omnipotence and His maximum goodness. We can see this demonstrated in the experience of Job in the Scriptures. More importantly, though, we see the problem of evil answered in Jesus, who suffered evil to rescue us from evil forever!

Questions for Unbelievers
At this point, in addition to responding to questions, Christians need to be able to ask serious, probing questions of the unbeliever. For example, in response to the question of God’s existence, Christians might bring up the question of why anything exists. In some cases, people believe the universe sprang up from nothing (practically a miracle). In other cases, people suggest an eternally existing universe (so the issue is not eternal existence, but what or who exists eternally). There are many important questions to be asked in the area of ethics. Most people believe in the existence of good. How do we know what is good (or evil) without God? The number of questions can make your head spin.

Putting it all together
A full apologetic for the truthfulness of the Christian Faith, in support of the Gospel, needs to have both questions and answers at work. In both the answering and asking of questions (as Law), the power of false belief is undermined. We know that the Law does not bring anyone to the Faith. Nevertheless, the work of the Law is the divinely created forerunner to hearing and believing the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus Christ which, in the end, is the goal of all of our apologies.

Rev. Ian Stewart Pacey was born and raised in Orange County, California. He holds degrees from U.C.L.A. (B.A.), Concordia Theological Seminary (M. Div.), and Drew University (M. Phil.). Rev. Pacey serves as campus pastor at the University of Arizona, Tucson Arizona.