Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 1

What is Apologetics?

This is the opening lesson on apologetics, defining its importance in defending Christianity. Dr. McDowell shares an encounter at a mall where discussing Jesus met dismissal, highlighting the need for prepared defenses. Sean dispels the notion of apologizing in apologetics, stressing its broader scope. It covers negative and positive apologetics, responding to objections and affirming Christian faith. Biblical support, like 1 Peter 3:15, is noted, urging respectful defense. Common objections are addressed, stressing apologetics' role in confidence-building and ministering to the questioning.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 1
Watching Now
What is Apologetics?

I. Introduction

A. Defining Apologetics

B. Importance of Apologetics

C. Personal Experience

II. Biblical Foundation for Apologetics

A. 1 Peter 3:15

B. Jesus and Paul as Apologists

C. The Command to Contend for the Faith

III. Reasons for the Negative Perception of Apologetics

A. Negative Experiences

B. Effort and Discipline Required

IV. The Role of Apologetics in Building Confidence

A. Confidence through Reasons and Evidence

B. Confidence in Sharing Faith

V. Removing Barriers through Apologetics

A. Ministry to Hurting People

B. Addressing Questions and Objections

VI. The Systematic Approach to Apologetics

A. Step-by-Step Methodology

B. Importance of Understanding Worldviews

VII. Q&A Session

A. Handling Perceived Disrespect

B. Arguing for a Biblical Worldview without Using the Bible Directly

C. Analogy: Popping Up the Beach Ball

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

What is Apologetics?
Sean McDowell
Lesson 1
Essentials of Apologetics

What is apologetics? Why is it important, and how do we best defend our faith today? That's the topic of this course, but also the topic of our first lecture together. A number of years ago, I was at a mall near where I live in Southern California. I was waiting in line to get a new version of the most recent smartphone that was out. If you can picture this, it went out the store and down about four or five stores. That's how much energy and excitement there was for this new smartphone.

So I got there about 11:00 in the morning, left four hours later with my phone. So, you can imagine standing in line and say every five or 10 minutes you take a few steps closer to the store. So I'm standing there just passing time, and I see these three high school students walk up to the fellow right next to me. Word for word, I remember what they said.

They walked up, and they said, "Hey, we're talking about Jesus. What do you think?" He didn't speak a single word. He turned around, leaned on the railing, put his back to these kids and said nothing. So, I'm seeing them. They're a little bit frazzled. They start to walk away. I stopped them. I said, "Hey, what are you are guys doing?" This is a Saturday morning, probably 11:00. "What are three high school students doing?" They looked at me. They said, "Oh, we're talking about Jesus. What do you think?"

I said, "You know, you really believe that Christian stuff? You actually think the Bible's true?" I go, "Because I don't." They looked at each other and they said, "Well, Jesus is the Son of God," and they actually start preaching the Gospel to me. I said, "Okay, wait a minute. Why should I believe that story?" The guy holds up his Bible and he says, "Because it's right here in the Bible, the holy Word of God."

I said, "Well, why should I believe that book? Why should I think that book, of all holy books is true?" He says, "Well, if you turn to this passage in second Timothy, it tells us that all scriptures inspired." I said, "Okay, wait a minute. So the question at hand is, can we trust this book? You turn to a passage within that book, assuming we can already trust it to prove that it's true. That's what we call circular reasoning or begging the question."

He kind of paused and goes, "Good point." I said, "Do you have any evidence outside of that book that tells us the claims in that book are actually true?" He goes, "Yes. Don't you know there's these tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts that when we line them up together, we have exactly what was first written down of the Bible." I said, "Really? Do you know how many words are in the original Greek New Testament?" At this point, I know exactly what he was thinking. "Why did I have to talk to this guy?"

He said, "I don't know." I said, "There's probably around 135, 138,000 words, depending on how you parse it." I said, "Do you know if you take the different manuscripts that we have, there's between 300,000 and 400,000 differences across these manuscripts? That means for every word in the Bible, there could be two or three other words." I said, "A minute ago, you told me how the Bible exactly as it's written down, we can trust it. Now when we probe a little bit more deeply, we realize that there's a lot of questions about this. Can you answer that for me?" He goes, "Ah, what do you think about evolution?" I said, "I'm glad you asked."

I said, "The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Don't you know we have vestigial structures in our body? For example, leftover from our ancestors when they had tails. How we've seen that human and chimp DNA is 99.72% the same? Have you looked at biogeographical distribution?" I'm going on and on, and this guy's kind of backing up like this. His eyes are getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

Finally, I stopped and I said, "You know what? I got a confession to make. I'm a Christian," and I wish you could have seen his face. He goes, "Oh," like grasps his chest. A girl next to him looked genuinely bothered by this. She goes, "Was all that true?" I said, "Most of it, no." I said, "Some of it are fair challenges we have to answer." I said, "Look, good for you guys. On a Saturday morning, you're out sharing your faith at the mall. You're 10 minutes from the beach, way to go. Good for you."

"If you're going to tell people they should bank their lives on an ancient book, don't you think you should have some good evidence this book is true? If you're going to tell people not to buy this Darwinian story, which by the way most scientists embrace to some degree or another, don't you think you should understand it first and have some good reason to question that it's true and point towards intelligent design?"

They agreed, went on their way. 10 or 15 minutes later, I'm waiting in line, feel a tap on the shoulder. I turned around, and it's three new students who said, "Hey, we're talking about Jesus. What do you think?" I started to launch into my charade again until I look over their shoulder and about three times as far back as the back of this room, I see the original students who set up their friends to convert the atheist.

Now I love sharing the story with students and with others, and I ask myself. I say, "If you were in that situation, would you have been ready with an answer? Could you have defended why you think the Bible is true, and why God created the world?" You see in some circles, apologetics has a bad name. Interestingly enough, it often comes from people who don't actually do evangelism.

If you share your faith, if you get in spiritual conversations with people, guess what? They're going to ask you questions. Even in our so-called postmodern age where we hear that may be true for you but not true for me and live your truth, which is a topic we're going to get to. People still know there's such a thing as truth, and they still believe that truth matters.

So what is apologetics? Let's just have a simple definition is apologetics is the theological discipline of offering a defense for the Christian faith? It's a theological discipline. So it's a part of broader theology that we are called to engage in, and it's the discipline. It's something we learn, and we practice, and we grow in of offering a defense of the Christian faith. That's what we mean by apologetics.

Now by the way, I'm sure most if not all of you know this, but apologetics has nothing to do with saying you're sorry. I teach at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Years ago, we had somebody call up to our call center and they were just bothered and complained that we would have classes on apologizing for the Christian faith. I remember thinking, "Well, we're supposed to apologize in a sense if we understand what apologetics is, but it has nothing to do with saying, 'I'm sorry for being a Christian,' or 'I'm sorry for something a Christian has done to you.'" That's a different kind of apology.

In fact, the word apologetics is not unique to the Christian faith. You can have an apologist for a certain kind of car. You can have an apologist for a certain political figure. There's Muslim apologists, an atheist apologists. In fact, when Plato wrote his defense of Socrates, he called it an Apology, a defense. So in a sense, that's what we mean by apologetics. Now you might say there's positive apologetics, and there's negative apologetics. You could say defensive apologetics and offensive apologetics, but I somewhat hesitate to use the word offensive apologetics because some people think it's their job to offend other people.

Now, let's put it this way. The Gospel is offensive enough. Let us not minimize the offense of the Gospel, but let us not add to it by our lack of love, or character, or living out the Christian faith. The cross is foolishness to those who don't believe. It's a stumbling block. We cannot remove the offense of the Gospel, but sometimes apologetics has been done in a way where it adds to the offense. So when I say defensive and offensive, or negative and positive apologetics, that's not what I mean.

What I mean by negative apologetics in a sense is answering objections that people raise to the Christian faith as kind of a defensive posture. Like somebody might say the Trinity contradicts, or evolution disproves that God is a creator, or because there's evil, there can't be a loving God. Our job is to remove that objection in a sense by plain defense. That's what we mean by a kind of defensive negative apologetics.

Positive apologetics is setting forth a case, giving reasons that God exists. Jesus is God. The Bible is true, et cetera. So apologetics has both of these tasks, you might say. Now in some circles, it's really interesting. Apologetics does have a bad name. Now the question is why? One reason, it's I think some people have had a bad experience with certain apologists. Whenever somebody pooh-poohs for lack of a more technical term, apologetics often think, "I wonder if that person has a bad experience."

I was teaching a conference in Wyoming and it was an evangelism conference. This lady came up to me after my second session. She said, "When I heard an apologist was going to be here, I was really hesitant to come." I said, "Tell me why." She had seen a very arrogant, just ungracious way in her mind an apologist treated somebody else, and wrote off the whole endeavor of apologetics. So sometimes people just have a bad experience with it, and frankly, sometimes that's because we haven't done evangelism and apologetics well.

The second reason I think it has a bad name is because apologetics takes some work. It takes thought. It's a discipline. When we are inadequate in a certain area in our life, it's much harder to say, "You know what? I have some growing that I need to do. I need to do some work and get better at this." It's easier to say, "You know what? It doesn't matter. That's somebody else's job. It's not important." That's one reason why it might get a bad name.

Now there are passages all over the scriptures that talk about doing apologetics, but the classical verse we'll talk about for just a moment here is in 1 Peter 3:15. Any apologists, if you ask him for a biblical defense of apologetics will typically go to 1 Peter 3:15. Now keep in mind, Peter writes this to a number of churches in the diaspora who had spread mainly north into Turkey and other areas outside of Jerusalem, and they were undergoing some persecution.

I wouldn't say Christians certainly in America are undergoing persecution, but the temperature is being turned up and many of our brothers and sisters and the rest of the world are undergoing direct persecution for their beliefs. Peter says, "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy." In other words, what's amazing, before Peter gives a call to defend the faith, he says, "Start with honoring the Lord."

If you go into apologetics to sound smart, to win arguments, you're going to end up doing more damage than you are good. The goal of apologetics is to be faithful to what God has called us to do, to love God and to love other people. So Peter starts with a heart check, and then he says, "Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect."

In other words, make a defense, give a reason. The word apologetics comes from the Greek apologia, which is really a legal term of giving a defense, given a reason for a particular belief, hence apologetics. What's fast about this is always be prepared, be ready. By the way, Peter's not given this just to pastors. He's not just given it to Bible teachers. This is not a spiritual gift. All Christians are apologists and are called to be apologists. The question is really not, are you an apologist? The question is, how effective of an apologist are you? We're all called to be ready to make a defense for those who ask.

Now what's interesting is, why is somebody going to ask? Why is someone going to ask you the hope that you have within? The answer is, if you're living differently. The answer is, if your life reflects the hope, and faith, and love of Christ. The power of apologetics is lost if our lives don't reflect who Jesus has called us to be. That's an important question to answer. He says, "Be ready with an answer for the hope that is in you. Do it with gentleness and respect."

I love that word gentleness. Kindness we are told, leads to repentance in the book of Romans. A soft word breaks a bone in Proverbs. A kind word turns away wrath. The key is to be firm, and bold, and speak truth yet with gentleness. Now the word respect, I don't think means respect for the other person. I think it means awe and respect for God because God is watching. So with gentleness towards others, yet fear before the Lord.

You say, "Now who actually was an apologist in the Bible?" Interestingly enough, Jesus was an apologist. Don't believe me? Read John 5. What does he do? In John chapter 5, Jesus specifically says, "You don't believe me. Well, here's evidence. My miracles back me up. The Father spoke of me. The scripture spoke of me, and so did Moses." Jesus was much more than apologist, but he was no less than an apologist.

So was Paul, look at Acts chapter 17. What is Paul doing? He goes to Athens, and he speaks in front of a religious audience. Part of this, is he is making a case for the truth of the Christian faith by showing it's superior to the unknown God that they follow. Some of the earliest church fathers were called ... Ready? This is going to be a tough one, but you got this, apologist. That's literally their term because in that culture at that time, they were defending and advancing the Christian faith.

So why is apologetics important? Number one, the Bible commands it. It's not a suggestion. It's commanded. Be ready with an answer for the hope within. Another popular verse is in Jude chapter 3, where Jude says, "Contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." Contend, fight, battle for it. Truth is at stake. So one reason is we're commanded to do so.

Second is it gives Christians confidence. Apologetics gives confidence. I found in my life the more I have reasons why the Bible is true, the more I know the historical evidence that Jesus rose in the grave. The more I understand why Christianity best answers the problem of evil, the more confidence I have to share my faith and engage others. I think sometimes we Christians get defensive when people challenge us. You know why? Because we don't know what we believe, and why we believe it. Yet when we know it, it gives confidence.

Third is it removes barriers from people who are on the journey of faith. Really what apologetics is, is it's a ministry to hurting people. It's a ministry to people with questions. A famous apologist once said, "He considers apologetics filling in the potholes on a road so to speak, towards the journey of faith." That's it. That's the task of apologetics.

You've maybe heard people say, "Well, you can't argue anybody into the kingdom." Part of me is to say, "Well, actually I have." Not only by my own power, of course, it's the Holy Spirit who can and does at times use apologetics. We also can't forcefully love somebody into the kingdom. Jesus let the rich young ruler walk away, but we're called to love people and we're called to be ready with an answer and to speak truth.

You know what's liberating about this, is it really isn't our job to win arguments. It isn't our job to persuade anybody. It's our job to be faithful. When we realize that God has called us to love people, God has called us to be ready with an answer. If we're simply faithful, then at the end of the day, God will say, "Well done my good and faithful servant." That's liberating. I can't change anybody's mind. I can't even get my kids to do the laundry. Step number one, when it comes to apologetics, be ready with an answer, all of us. If we do so faithful and lovingly, we can leave the rest to God.

Now in this course, we're going to walk through very systematically how to do apologetics. Step-by-step, and I'll narrate this for you. One of our first talks coming up next will simply be on what is a worldview, and we'll look at and compare and contrast some different prominent worldviews because how we do apologetics might vary depending on where somebody's belief system is. Let's stop and maybe take one or two questions from this session. Any questions about what apologetics is, what it looks like? Any biblical questions about the task of apologetics? Yes, go ahead.

When we are talking to someone and the person thinks that I'm not being respectful or whatever, doesn't it depend on that person's own? The same thing said to different groups is taken differently?

So, this is a good question. What if you're speaking with somebody and they don't feel like you're being respectful? Well, one thing is to focus on that person and say what's wrong with them? I think as a Christian, our first response should be to look within and say, "You know what? Have I been disrespectful? If so, I apologize." Now, sometimes people will feel or think we're being disrespectful because we are. We're not being gracious. We're not being kind, and humility is a Christian virtue. Let's own it and move on.

Other times, it's the Christian position itself that is considered disrespectful. What I want to get to the bottom of is what is it? Because if they say the idea of substitution or atonement is so offensive, or a biblical view of marriage is offensive, I can't change that and I'm not going to change that. If it's my attitude, then I need to change that, and adjust, and be more gracious. Great question.

Any other question, just about the task of apologetics? It was Os Guinness who said, "We're in a golden age of apologetics." Think about how many people create social media pages where you're advanced in a certain view of yourself to the world. We all kind of do this. What if we got to the point and just said, "It's not about me," and of course we know it's not. It's about God's kingdom which lasts forever.

How do we make a case for the goodness, and the beauty, and the truth of Christianity? When more people start asking that question, that's when we see a lot of life change. Yeah, one more question. Go ahead.

How do you argue for a biblical worldview or a biblical position on certain issues when people don't believe in the Bible?

So how do you argue for a biblical worldview on something when people don't accept the Bible? So, a couple things in mind. We are called to make arguments, but we're not called to be argumentative. Those are very different things. We are to make arguments and to argue in a sense but do so respectfully, and I think there's a way to do that.

So if I'm talking to somebody who doesn't think the Bible is true, I'm not going to say, "Well, here's what it says in 1 Peter 3:15," simply because they don't consider that authoritative. Any more than if I'm talking to a Muslim and the Muslim says, "Well, in surah 4 it says this." I'm thinking, "I don't accept that as authoritative."

Here's what I know. I know even people who say they don't believe in the Bible are still made in the image of God and still live in God's world. So I can assume certain moral commitments and knowledge commitments this person has about reality, and I want to surface those so to speak.

So for example, pro-life, take the issue of say abortion. I'm going to make an argument for pro-life that matches up with the scriptures. I'm just not going to ground it initially in chapter and verse in the scriptures. So a case for pro-life would be something like as simple as humans get human rights. The right to life is a human right, the unborn or human. Therefore, the unborn have the right to life.

Now, that's a case I can make with somebody without using the Bible. Now, how do you get things like human rights and human value apart from being made in the image of God? The answer is you can't, but I'm going to meet somebody where they're at and move them to a biblical worldview rather than using chapter and verse to get them there. Does that make sense? In general, that's how I would do it.

The other, one more quick analogy, is think of like a beach ball. Take a beach ball and push it under water. What happens? It's going to try to pop up because gravity, nature of water, nature of the beach ball, takes a lot of force to hold it down. False worldviews are like pushing a beach ball under water. It wants to pop up because the nature of reality, and I know this.

So I'm trying to find ways in somebody's worldview where the truth pops up and point it out to them, and then show how their deeper desires are actually more grounded within a Christian worldview. That's how I approach it.