Christian Apologetics - Lesson 2

What is Apologetics?

Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 2
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What is Apologetics?


Part 2

II. What is Apologetics?

A. Definition of Apologetics

1. Greek Term - Apologia

2. Defending the Faith

B. Two Kinds of Apologetics

1. Negative

a. Burden of Proof

b. Problem of Evil

2. Positive

C. The Presumption of Atheism

1. Alvin Plantinga

2. Anthony Flew

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
What is Apologetics?
Lesson Transcript


I want to begin with a brief introduction to the word apologetics. The word apologetics comes from a Greek word apologia. Apologia. This word was used by Plato as the title for one of his early writings. That book by Plato is called The Apology. The apology of Plato is a record of Socrates defense at his trial. You may or may not know that when Socrates came to near the end of his life, he was unfairly accused by certain enemies in the Athenian government. And he had to defend himself against these charges. But he failed to persuade the over 500 people who made up his jury. But the point here I want you to recognize is that all the word apologia means is a defense. So an apologist is someone who gives a defense of something. Now, people can be apologists for all kinds of things. If you just get up about four in the morning and turn on your television set and start channel surfing. Especially these commercials on television where people are selling hair restorer, they don't work, all right? They don't work or, you know, sets of knives or all of it. And do you ever watch these commercials? Let's you invite me to your house. And now we can't do this if we're Presbyterians. But Baptists do this all the time. We'll sort of make a wager on what the selling price will be for this item, and I guarantee I'll not. It'll always be 1995 plus shipping and handling. And the shipping and handling will be 695. All right. No matter what it is the biggest piece of junk you've ever seen in your life. But if you buy it today, you'll get twice as much, but it'll still be 1995. People are apologists for Little League baseball. People are apologists for football teams like the Cleveland Browns. Oh, please let this be the year. That takes a lot of blind faith. A person has more basis for believing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead than he has in believing that the Cleveland Browns have much of a hope this year. Okay. Now, what are we interested in? We're interested in defending the Christian faith. So what we're doing isn't really that different. It's just that the other people never call themselves apologists for anything else. Now, there are two basic kinds of apologetics. This is not a distinction that's original with me. I think it's been around for a long time. There is negative apologetics and there is positive apologetics in negative apologetics. The Christian is playing defense, for example, in the case of baseball, when the Cleveland Indians are playing defense. There's no way they can score any runs when you're playing defense. Your task is to prevent the other team from scoring runs. In the case of negative apologetics, we are trying to show the person who has some kind of problem with the Christian faith that his apparent objection or his apparent argument really doesn't hold any water. It really has nothing of any substance about it. In this connection, let me add another another term. Let me add the term burden of proof. Now, this, of course, is a legal term. It appears often in contexts like court cases or debates, matters of rhetoric in certain disputes, somebody involved in the dispute has the burden of proof. That is, he is the person who must, in this particular case, make the case. He must offer his proof. If he fails, then it's a matter of default and the person goes free in the trial of serious crimes in the English speaking world. The burden of proof is always upon the prosecution. Or at least that's what we say, unless there's rampant prejudice or injustice in the courtroom. A good example of this would be the infamous trial of O.J. Simpson, the former football player who was accused of murdering two people, one of whom was his wife. Everybody in the courtroom knew that it was the burden of proof rested upon the prosecution so that all that O.J. Simpson's team of defense lawyers, all 345 of them, all they had to do was demonstrate that this particular piece of evidence or this particular argument in support of O.J. Simpson's guilt did not work. It is always easier when the burden of proof rests upon the other person. And so if you're engaged in apologetics, if you're engaged in defending the Christian faith and you're dealing with someone who doesn't understand the notion of the burden of proof, and he's foolish enough to accept it when he doesn't have to. Don't help him out. All right. I mean, after all, people do have an obligation to know who's got the burden of proof here. Negative apologetics is always easier than positive apologetics because technically, the burden of proof is upon the non-Christian here. And all you have to do is demonstrate that his argument fails in making his case. Now, I'll give you one example where this is especially important. Without question, the most serious objection, intellectual objection to the Christian faith is the problem of evil. I often say to people, if you have turned away for the Christian faith for any reason other than the problem of evil, you ought to get a good kick in the pants because you're out of your mind. That's the reason why people might have doubts. Anything else is child's play. Do you want to in? But if the burden of proof is theoretically at least the strongest argument that anybody might have against the Christian faith, you at least have the advantage of the fact that the burden of proof is on the anti Christian. So all you have to do in an argument about the problem of evil is show that whatever this person knows about the existence of evil in the universe, it is not sufficient to disqualify God from existing. God's existence is still compatible with all of the kinds of evil that do exist in the world. Now, what is positive apologetics? Well, in this case, the Christian is playing offense. And here we have here the Christian must assume the burden of proof. The Christian should not have the burden of proof in the case of negative apologetics, but in the case of positive apologetics, we might as well admit it. Now, what are we trying to do here? We're the team that's trying to score runs. We're trying to make points, and that means we are trying to produce arguments and information or explanations that will bring the non believing person closer to faith. But that can be difficult. Probably the most obvious way in which positive apologetics enters the picture is through efforts to establish the fact that God exists. And you'll see, oh, in four weeks or so, that will begin to produce arguments for God's existence. And of course, it's then up to the a theologian. Let me put that down on the board that term. This is a helpful term to use a theology or a theologian. This is a helpful term that's non pejorative. It's non-biased. It's so helpful way to refer to people who are who are arguing and reasoning in this business of religion, but their reasoning in arguing against us. Okay. It's the task of the theologian to show that our particular arguments are not all that effective. Now, let me let you in here on a little secret. When I first wrote the book Faith and Reason back in 1986, it was published in 88, but I wrote a lot of it in 86. I was under the influence of a kind of negative set of attitudes regarding proofs for God's existence. I have since had my eyes opened a little bit, I'm not the least bit reluctant to admit to people that this are this kind of argument for God's existence has these liabilities. This kind of argument for God's existence has other liabilities. I'm not the least bit hesitant to admit that, and I do that in the book Faith and Reason. But neither am I ashamed to admit that sometimes as life progresses and I read and think, I change my thinking about some issues and I have, in the case of some recent arguments for God's existence. And you're going to find that when you when we get to the chapter in this book about God's existence, let me see what chapter it is. It's chapter 13. That I am not the least bit reluctant to say, Wow, here are arguments for God's existence that I wish I had understood. 15 years ago, when I wrote the Faith and Reason book. And you're going to find that these new arguments for God's existence have been developed not by philosophers, but they've been developed by people in the natural sciences. And are these arguments powerful? I think they make. What they really do is make a lot that I say in the faith and reason book somewhat somewhat outdated, maybe one 100% outdated a little bit. If I ever am asked to redo faith and reason, the section on the arguments for God's existence in part three are going to undergo a major rewrite. But in the meantime, much of that major rewrite is now available in the book Life's Ultimate Questions. Okay. Now, one more point before we leave this. There are some atheists out there who argue, who dare to argue that the burden of proof is always and only upon the Christian believer who don't let anybody fool you with their. Now in the in the relevant section of faith and reason. I think it's in chapter one. I give a name to this position. It's called the presumption of atheism, and I give you the name. I think there's a British philosopher and I'll name him in a moment and an Australian philosopher and a whole lot of other atheists really try this maneuver and you can read the precise details of their position in the Faith and Reason book. So there are people out there who are going to say, We atheists never have the burden of proof. You Christians always have the burden of proof and they're just licking their chops ready to to take us to the cleaners. And I hope people from other cultures can understand. I'm using certain metaphors there to take us to the cleaners. Means they're really getting ready to beat up on us philosophically and religiously. Now, my friend Alvin planning a let me write his name on the board and let me just identify this gentleman briefly. I think he is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. Alvin Planning is today. He holds a full philosophical chair in the philosophy department at the University of Notre Dame. He is a reformed Christian. He taught for many years at Calvin College, and then he taught at other places. He now lectures all over the world. Alvin planning A says This is nothing that what we call the presumption of Athie ism is nothing more or nothing less than academic imperialism. Don't let these guys get away with this. What's fair is fair. And when we Christians have the burden of proof, we'll adopted and will carry it. All right. But when you atheists have the burden of proof, then we're not going to let you pretend you don't. We have a case to make. You have a case to make. Let me give you the name of one of these atheists. His name is Anthony Flu. Anthony flu is now. He's beyond the age of 75. He has been known for decades as the most famous atheistic philosopher in Great Britain and perhaps in the English speaking world. He's written many books attacking the Christian faith. In a strange kind of way. Anthony flew and I have had an interesting and somewhat surprising relationship. I got a letter from him, oh, maybe 15 years ago. I still have it. I found it in my somewhere in one of my files. We will probably publish that letter posthumously. I mean, when I'm dead. Okay, Tony. Flu had somehow come across my book, Poverty and Wealth. Now, you may not know that book, but it is one of the greatest economic textbooks in the history of the world. Okay. If Alfred Keynes had read that book, he never would have written his great exposition of Keynesianism. He would have repented. Great book, Poverty and Wealth, on the back cover of that book. There's a marvelous endorsement from a former secretary of the U.S. Treasury. Nonetheless, Tony flew read it, and he wrote me a letter and he said, Nash, I got to say that this is the greatest book on economics I have ever read that was written by a Christian. Well, the qualifications sort of lower the right. There are enough qualifications there. So I wrote in black because that's a good that's an honor when when a man of flu's intellectual stature recognizes how great your economics textbook is. The subtitle of that book, incidentally, is Why Socialism Cannot Work. What a great book. So I wrote him back and I said, Dear Dr. Fluke, thank you for your letter. Your commendation is certainly deserved, sir. Oh, and in his letter, he had also told me and I had known this he had told me that his parents were Christians. And that always grieves me when I find a person who is an enemy and enemy of the Christian faith. And then I learn that his parents were believers. I find myself asking what went wrong? How can you come from a family like that and end up as an enemy of your parents beliefs? And not only did flu tell me that his parents were believers, but his father had written several books Defending the Christian Faith, published by Oxford University Publishing House. And I've since run across one of those books. His father was apparently a methodist clergyman and theologian. So when I was writing flew back, I said, Well, dear Dr. Flu, I'm going to send you another one of my books. This is a book called Christian Faith and Historical Understanding, which is now out of print, although it will be published in Korea later this year. No one in America wants to read it, but the Koreans have good taste. And I said, I hope maybe you'll read this book. And let me just say this to you, Dr. Flue. I hope someday the day arises when you arrives, when you realize that on this important issue, your parents were right. You know, I'm giving him a little witness here. So he writes back after reading my book. Christian Faith and Historical Understanding. And you know what he does? He accuses me of being a liberal. Yeah. Yeah. Now, there's a reason for that. And it's a philosophical reason. And I want to anybody listening by tape here. I am not a liberal. I don't have a liberal molecule in my body. Even my fingernails are conservative. All right? Every hair on my head is conservative. There's a philosophical dispute there. And it has to do with what we call historical positivism and historical idealism. So he was just a little bit irritated that I ended up on the side of the angels when it came to the philosophy of history. So anyway, that's my relationship with Tony Flew.