Essentials of Christian Apologetics - Lesson 1

Introduction to Apologetics

Ronald Nash
Essentials of Christian Apologetics
Lesson 1
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Introduction to Apologetics



I.  Introduction to the Lectures

A.  Overview

B.  Textbooks


II.  What is Apologetics?

A.  Greek word - apologia

B.  Definition - defending the Christian faith

C.  Two Kinds

1.  Negative - Burden of proof on the non-Christian

2.  Positive - Burden of proof on the Christian


III.  Worldview Thinking

A.  How to Choose a Worldview

B.  Three Tests of a Worldview

1.  Reason

a.  The Law of Non-contradiction

b.  The presence of a contradiction is always a sign of error.

i.  Solipsism

ii.  Skepticism

2.  Experience

a.  Outer World

b.  Inner World

3.  Practice

For more information, see:

The full course, Christian Apologetics,

Lecture #1, What is Apologetics?

Lecture #2, Worldviews in Conflict

Lecture #3a, The Law of Non-contradiction

Lecture #3b, Invalid Worldviews

Nash, Faith and Reason, pp. 11-66


These lessons are a summary of Dr. Nash's introductory course to Christian Apologetics. The full seminary level class is available in our Institute Program.

Dr. Ronald Nash
Essentials of Christian Apologetics
Introduction to Apologetics
Lesson Transcript


What you're about to hear is what we call a summary of a much longer taped seminary course or college course, this one being apologetics. Let me explain what the summary course, how I understand it. I can imagine teaching some courses for biblical training dot org where the summary might be just an abbreviated, slightly abbreviated version of the 40 hour version. For example, if I were giving a summary of, let's say the Old Testament course, if I'd been asked to teach that I would just eliminate material from each of the sections. In order to bring down the 40 hours of tape to to about 3 hours. But that won't work with with my work. That won't work with the courses I teach, which are primarily philosophy. And the reason for that is so much philosophy constitutes the development of arguments. And sometimes it's not only difficult, but perhaps impossible to. To give a shorthand version of what is a very complicated argument for some belief or some claim or some proposition. So what I've had to edit out is not just extraneous material. I've sometimes had to leave out very important arguments that I would love to include. And that's just the nature of the beast. I want to give you a short version three hour session. That will help you discover whether you want to begin on the longer journey. That constitutes the 3536 hour version. Of course, recognizing that even after you start listening to the first three or four or 5 hours of the longer tape, you're under no obligation to continue with that particular body of material or even the entire text, although I'm sure many of you will want to.


[00:02:46] Now, this is, of course, in apologetics. I'm going to define and explain what apologetics is briefly, but I want to advise you that you will get a whole lot more from even this short summary version if you have at least one or two of the textbooks on hand. The basic textbook for my apologetics course is the book Faith and Reason. Subtitle Searching for a Rational Faith. I'm the author, Ronald Nash. The book is available in paperback from Zondervan Publishing Company. And you can you ought to be able to get it from Amazon.com or from any of the other Internet bookselling companies. My guess is good that probably all you would really need unless later in this later in this tape II, I decide to move in a somewhat different direction. All you would really need right now would be the faith and reason book. But as is the case, both with these summary tapes and with the long versions, you can just sit there and listen in your car or some other place and and benefit in in the best way possible without the textbook. But you will learn more if you have the book to read. Okay. Now, what is apologetics? I remember first hearing that word when I was still in high school, and I had no idea what it was all about. I actually thought that if I ever got to that point in my education where I studied apologetics, whatever it is, I'd be learning Egyptian hieroglyphics or something like that. I was just utterly uninformed. Apologetics is a word that comes from a Greek word apologia. Plato actually wrote a dialog called The Apology. It's the defense that Socrates made at his trial. So the basic idea to apologetics is defending something.


[00:05:06] One can be an apologist for all kinds of things. One could be an apologist for vegetarianism. One could be an apologist for a political party. One could be an apologist for a baseball or football team. In my case. Regrettably, that would be the Cleveland Indians or the Cleveland Browns. It takes a real strong apologetic to keep you in that neighborhood. So apologetics has to do with defending things. In our case, that which we are seeking to defend is the Christian faith. There are two kinds of apologetics. This is helpful to remember. They sometimes go under the label positive apologetics and negative apologetics in negative apologetics. The burden of proof. And that's a term from legal language. The burden of proof rests upon the non-Christian. He it is his task. It is his obligation to make a case against the Christian faith, to develop one or more arguments against various facets of the Christian faith. And so if I'm doing negative apologetics, my task is somewhat easier. I mean, typically, under normal circumstances, it's easier to to do negative apologetics than it is positive apologetics. The burden of proof is on the non-Christian. All I have to do in an ideal world is show that his arguments fail, that they do not make the case. In positive apologetics. I would say the burden of proof is upon the Christian. For here he has assumed the task of offering proofs for the Christian faith, offering arguments for the Christian faith. Now, there are people who argue that in apologetics, the burden of proof is always upon the believer. Don't you believe it? That's kind of academic imperialism. Look, when I have an obligation to prove a point or to offer an argument for a point, I will not shy away from that responsibility.


[00:07:29] A typical kind of case where I have that burden of proof is when, for example, I am expected and it is anticipated that I will offer proof, let us say, for the existence of God. Now, you must be careful because very quickly, in this process, I'm going to argue that I don't think the Christian has to prove that God exists. I think there's a fundamental mistake made by people who make that insistence. But if if one assumes that that is an obligation that I have to fulfill, then I must do positive apologetics, and the burden of proof will be upon me. Oftentimes, the burden of proof is on the other person. Later in this tape, I expect to give you a significant body of material on what is probably the most serious objection of the Christian faith that which we call the problem of evil. And I will argue there that the burden of proof rests upon the non-Christian. In my opinion, it is wrong to always assume that the burden of proof always rests upon the believer. Let's be fair and recognize that sometimes I've got to offer arguments and sometimes the nonbeliever has got to offer arguments. And let's not be fooled into this nonsense of thinking that the burden of proof never rests upon the what we call the a theologian. Okay. Now, if you're familiar with many of my books or my other courses in this biblical training dot com program, I believe the best approach to use when approaching subjects like this is a worldview approach. Let me explain. In its simplest terms, a worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life. The philosophical systems of great thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle were worldviews.


[00:09:37] Every mature, rational human being, every reader of my books, every listener to my tapes has his or her own worldview just as surely as Plato did. It seems sometimes that few have any idea what that worldview is, or even if they have one. Yet achieving awareness of our worldview is one of the most important things we can do to enhance self understanding and insight into the world of others is essential to an understanding of what makes them tick. One of the more important things we can do for others is to help them achieve a better understanding of their worldview. We can also assist them to improve it, which means eliminating inconsistencies and providing new information. I have here a great quotation from a highly respected philosopher at the University of Michigan, George Mavrodi, who is now retired, and George Mavrodi shares this view of the importance of worldview thinking. Let me quote what he says from his book and Belief in God providing a Man. This is George. More properties of the University of Michigan, providing a man with a conceptual framework in which he can see his whole life as being lived in the presence of God is analogous to teaching a man to read a strange script. We can give him a key, a sort of Rosetta Stone, by telling him the meaning of one particular inscription. If he believes us, he can then understand that inscription. But the test of whether he has really learned how to read the script and also the confirmation that the translation we gave him was accurate comes when he encounters all the other inscriptions that are scattered throughout his world. If he cannot read them, then he has not yet learned that language and he is still subject to the doubt that what we gave him may not have been a translation at all, but rather a message quite unrelated to what was written.


[00:11:42] Well, that's one philosophy, a good one. Here's another good philosopher, W.P. Alston, who was head of the philosophy department at a number of major universities. Bill Alston says it can be argued on the basis of facts concerning the nature of man and the conditions of human life, that human beings have a deep seated need to form some general picture of a total universe in which they live in order to relate their own fragmentary activities to the universe as a whole in a way meaningful to them. And that a life in which this is not carried through is a life impoverished in a most significant respect. The right eyeglasses can put the world into clearer focus, and the correct world view can function in much the same way. When someone looks at the world from the perspective of the wrong worldview, the worldview won't make much sense to him or what he thinks may make sense will in fact be wrong in important respects. Now, in other places, I argue that there are five major parts to a worldview what one believes about God or what one believes about ultimate reality, what one believes about knowledge, what one believes about ethics, and what we believe about human nature. I've mentioned that material on so many occasions that it really isn't and shouldn't be necessary to follow that up. But what I do want to move to here is the important question of how to choose a world view. Surely all of us are smart enough to know that just as there can be better world views, so there can be worldviews that are dangerous, misleading and wrong. Since Christian theism is only one of many competing worldviews, on what grounds can people make a reasoned choice among the systems? Which worldview is most likely to be true? What is the best or most promising way to approach this kind of question? When faced with a choice among competing touchstone propositions of different worldviews, we should choose the one that, when applied to the whole of reality, gives us the most coherent picture of the world.


[00:14:08] As one philosopher explains, quote. If one system can provide plausible solutions to many problems, while another leaves too many questions unanswered. If one system tends less to skepticism and gives more meaning to life, if one worldview is consistent while others are self-contradictory, who can deny us sense that we must choose the right to choose the more promising worldview. The purpose of this next discussion is to pursue this general line of thought and fill in many of the necessary details. Now, when I talk about testing a worldview. I think there are three or four major tests that we should apply. The test of reason, the test of experience and the test of practice, if any worldview and I believe this is true of the Christian worldview, answers these tests better than any other competing worldview. It deserves our respect and our acceptance. Well, let's start first with the test of reason. For entirely too many Christians, reason is seen somehow as an enemy of the Christian faith. I disagree strongly with that widely held but self-destructive thesis by the test of reason. I mean logic ought to be more specific. The law of non contradiction. Attempts to define the law of non contradiction seldom induce much in the way of excitement. But I offer a definition anyway. The law of non contradiction states that a which can be anything whatever cannot be both B and non B at the same time and in the same sense. For example, a proposition cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same sense. An object cannot be both round and square. A living being cannot be both human and a dog at the same time. And in the same sense. The presence of a contradiction is always a sign of error.


[00:16:20] Always. Hence we have a right to expect a conceptual system to be logically consistent, both in its parts, that is its individual propositions and then the whole. A conceptual system is an obvious trouble if it fails to hang together logically. Logical incoherence can be more or less fatal depending on whether the contradiction exists among less central beliefs or whether it lies at the very heart of the system. It is because of this second, more serious kind of failing that such systems of skepticism and solipsism self-destruct. Let me give you an example about solipsism. Let me spell it. S so l. I p. S. I. S m. Solipsism. I'm trying to be serious here. Solipsism is the belief that the person holding it is the only person who exists. All right. True story. Or at least I believe it's true. Bertrand Russell. The skeptical naturalistic. Anti-Christian. British philosopher. For much of the 20th century, went through one stage in his life when he was a solipsistic. He offered arguments why nobody else existed. And I remember reading somewhere about a lady who walked up to Dr. Russell one day and said, Dr. Russell, your arguments supporting solipsism are irrefutable. He said, Thank you. Pardon me. Here. These are. Thank you very much. I don't know who he was talking to, but the lady then went on to say, Your arguments for solipsism are so irrefutable. I don't know why more people don't believe them. Well, you're supposed to laugh at that. It is as silly as it sounds. Once I was speaking at a conference in California and it came it came time for lunch. And I sat next to a young man and I asked him what he did for a living. And he said he worked for reasons to believe a very fine television ministry put on by you, Ross, and his fine staff.


[00:18:36] And the young man's task was to answer some of the weird letters. The people putting on television programs sometimes get from their viewers. And this young man said to me, I wish you could help me, because I've got a I've got a person who is writing our ministry, who's a solipsistic man, writing people who don't exist, you know, understand. He's a solipsism. He's the only person that exists. And he says, I know all of the arguments against solipsism, and I've used them, and none of them work with this young man. Would you tell me how I can get him to stop writing? I said, Sure. Very easy. Write him one more letter. Remembering. And this is what you say. You write one more letter and you say, Dear Mr. Brown, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is you've converted me to solipsism. I now hold the position that you hold. The bad news is, since you no longer exist. This is the last letter I'm going to write you. Well, I hope you find that funny. There are logically self-defeating positions in the world. Solipsism is one of them. Skepticism is another one. And. And so on. The second test that we apply to worldviews is the test of experience. World views must pass not only the test of reason, they must also satisfy the test of experience. WorldViews should be relevant. To what we know about the world, and they should be relevant to what we know about ourselves. An important distinction must be introduced at this time. Certainly, the human experience that functions as a test of worldview beliefs includes our experience of the world outside of us. It is proper for people to object when a world view claim conflicts with what we know to be true of the physical universe.


[00:20:40] This is one reason why no one listening to my voice right now believes that the world is flat. It does appear, however, that many who urge objective validation for our worldview failed to give proper credit to the subjective validation provided by our consciousness of our inner world. For that reason, then my account of the test of experience will be divided into two parts the need for our world view to fit the test of the world outside of us, and the need for our world view to fit the test of the inner world. The world inside of us. Let's take the world outside of us first. We have a right to expect world views to touch base with our experience of the world outside of us. These experiences should help us understand what we perceive. A number of world view believes falls short of this test. They include the following. Pain and death are illusions. All human beings are inherently good. Miracles are impossible. The inability of the proposition, pain and death or illusions to pass the test of our experience of the outer world is one I think about often because of a sad experience I had many years ago. Many years ago, I was employed as an orderly at a New England hospital. One day, a Christian scientist was admitted with terminal cancer. Aware that Christian science denied the reality of sickness, pain and death. I wondered why this woman was in the hospital. But then I learned that as the cancer spread and her condition grew desperate, the older from her disease flesh became so unbearable that her family put her into the hospital to rid the house of the stench. She died within a few days. One can repeat the words. All of this is only an illusion all at once.


[00:22:38] The claims are contradicted by the test of the outer world. As for the test of the inner world, worldview should fit what we know about the world inside of us. Worldview should fit what we know about ourselves. Examples of the second kind of information include the following I am a being who thinks hopes, experiences, pleasure and pain, believes, desires. I am also a being who is often conscious of right and wrong and who feels guilty and sinful for having failed to do what was right. I am a being who remembers the past, is conscious of the present and anticipates the future. I can think about things that do not exist. I can plan and then execute my plans. I am able to act intentionally instead of merely responding to stimuli. I can will to do some things and then actually do them. I am a person who loves other human beings. I can empathize with others and share their sorrow and joy. I know that someday I will die and I have faith that I will survive the death of my body. And as I explained in some of my writings, I often seem to be overcome by moods and emotions that suggest that the ultimate satisfaction that I seek is unattainable in this life, no matter how hard it may be to look honestly at our inner self. We are right in being suspicious of those whose defense of a worldview ignores or rejects the inner world. The third test of a worldview was the test. A practice Worldview should be tested not only in the philosophy classroom, but also in the laboratory of life. It is one thing for a worldview to pass certain theoretical tests like reason and experience. It is another for the worldview also to pass an important practical test.


[00:24:37] Namely, can the person who professes that worldview live consistently in harmony with the system he professes? Or do we find that he is forced to live according to beliefs borrowed from a competing system? Such a discovery, I suggest, should produce more than embarrassment. This practical test. Living a worldview played an important part. In the work of the Christian Thinker Francis Schaeffer. Philosopher Tom Morris explains Schaefer's position. Quote, No non-Christian can be consistent in the correspondence of at least some of their daily thoughts and actions, with the relevant conclusion which should logically follow from their basic sets of presuppositions. The orientation of Safer's position was that non-Christians would have a difficult time of consistently working out their presuppositions as they lived in the context of their own inner world and the external world. Shafer's practical or existential test helped lay the foundation for Morris's punch line quote Only the presuppositions of historic Christianity both adequately explain and correspond with the two environments in which every human being must live the external world with its form and complexity and the internal world of a man's own characteristics as a human being. This inner world includes such human qualities as a desire for significance, love and meaning, and fear of nonbeing, among others. One thing should be clear Any reader who comes to believe that Schaefer's comments are true will have a powerful reason to accept the Christian worldview. We should keep his words in mind as we continue our journey. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument that we can make a case that the Christian worldview is true. Think of all that follows if we have managed to do that, if the Christian worldview is true, if we've proven that, then the Word of God, The Bible is the Word of God.


[00:26:51] Jesus Christ is the Son of God. God exists. God has created the universe. So everybody has a worldview. If Christians can make the case for theirs, they have made the case for the Christian faith. They have made the case that Jesus is the only Savior. If we fail in making that case, then we leave the unbeliever in a situation where he's deluded into thinking that his naturalism or whatever his other whatever else his worldview may be has a stronger case for it than the Christian faith. So let us get let us get informed about worldview thinking. Let us know how we let us recognize how we how important it is that we defend the Christian worldview. And we're on our way to doing an important part of the apologetic task.