Apologetics: The Three Types

There are three basic categories within Christian apologetics.  1)There is the broad field of apologetics that covers the existence of God as discovered from the evidence of creation.  This is sometimes called Creation or Theistic apologetics or Natural theology. 2) Moral apologetics looks at human nature and defends morality on the basis of a law written on everyone’s heart.  3) There is a narrower field of apologetics that defends the claims of Jesus Christ and the Bible.  Since this defends Christian revelation, it is more properly called Biblical, Christian or Sacred apologetics.  These three fields of apologetics use different types of arguments when they defend their respective truth claims. 

I. Creation apologetics.

This is the defense of the existence and attributes of God based upon ‘general’ revelation.  General revelation is the revelation of God to all of humanity through creation. The existence and attributes of God are defended using a variety of different logical arguments.  Some of the approaches are called,

  1. The cosmological argument
  2. The Kalaam cosmological argument
  3. The teleological argument
  4. The ontological argument
  5. The transcendental argument
  6. The moral argument
  7. The perfection argument
  8. Theodicy.

Christian theistic apologetics takes a reasoned position against non-Christian theistic religious beliefs.  For example, Christian theists present their reasons why the following belief systems are logically untenable.

  1. Atheism
  2. Agnosticism
  3. Pantheism
  4. Finite godism
  5. Polytheisim
  6. Panentheism

Firstly, theistic apologetics is vital to Christian witness in the world, especially where Christianity and the Bible are not a basic assumption in the local culture.  This is especially true in many nations of the world where there is a very small population of Christians.  Lands, like India, Thailand, Tibet, and Japan, are overtly pagan in their religions.  Pagan believers in these lands have their own sacred scriptures to which they appeal to support their particular religious beliefs.  Now, if an appeal to a sacred scripture were an adequate basis for a religious belief, their belief should be just as justified as someone else’s appeal to scripture.

Theistic apologetics provides a common ground from which to challenge pagan and  non-Christian theistic worldviews.  The reason that theistic apologetics provides a common ground is that it begins with creation and the necessary and logical ramifications of the study of reality that surrounds all of us. 

Secondly, it is important for young believers who need logical reasons to buttress their faith in Jesus Christ when their faith is challenged in a secular environment, such as, our colleges and universities.  Even though the predominate religion of many countries is Christian, this does not mean that the population is, in fact, composed predominately of Christian believers.  Thus, young people need answers as to why Christian theism is true.

Thirdly, many countries are religiously pluralistic. This means that Christians will encounter believers of other faiths in their local communities.  Larger metropolitan cities have Hindu and Buddhist temples.  Access to worldwide communications brings non-Christian religious viewpoints into the homes of Christian believers.  This lack of isolations brings challenges to the Christian faith.  But, it also brings many exciting opportunities to witness to others about the One True God.

In conclusion, theistic apologetics argues from what is self-evident in creation. There is no direct appeal to any sacred text or historical events to prove the case for theism.  Creation is an adequate witness to the existence of one true God.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; 
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, 
their words to the ends of the world. 
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 
Ps 19:1-4 (NIV)

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Rom 1:19-20 (NIV)

II. Moral apologetics

Moral apologetics is a logical defense of good morals. The study of good morals is often called the study of Natural law. This law recognizes that human beings have an inborn natural sense of good and evil. Human beings know that they would like to be treated in a good manner rather than an evil manner. For example, human beings preferred to be treated with kindness and respect. Hence, they naturally know that kindness and respect are positive virtues for them. Furthermore, human beings fear being murdered. Hence, human beings consider, universally and naturally, that murder is an evil moral act.

At a very fundamental level, Natural law is grounded in human nature. By contrast, General revelation looks without and studies the universe that surrounds us to obtain a true knowledge of God. Natural law looks within and studies human nature itself to discover moral principles.

When we observe the created order around us, we find that animals lack a moral sense. They don’t appear to comprehend truth, justice, fairness, ethics, worship, or good and evil. Their behavior is hormonal, instinctive, and part of their programmed animal natures. Their apparent acts of kindness are not the result of rational thought and free-willed choice, instead their acts are determined by their animal nature with which they were born.

Human beings are creatures that are distinctly different from brute animals, because humans have a mind that can think rationally and make free-willed choices. Humans understand naturally the concepts of truth, justice, and equity. Since brute animals lack a nature that understands moral principles, they cannot be morally accountable creatures. Since human beings are rational animals that make free-willed choices, they are morally responsible beings. Now, it is important to notice that the distinctive difference between brute animals and human beings resides in the nature of the human mind. It is the fact that human beings have a intellectual mind that is capable of rational thought and making free-willed choices that causes human beings to be morally accountable creatures.

The behavior of human beings ought to be governed by their rational minds and not their animal appetites.

The rational human mind is the basis for the radical difference between animal behavior and human behavior. Animal behavior is genetically programmed by their nature. Whereas, human behavior ought to be rationally governed by the person’s intellect, such that good acts are chosen and evil acts avoided.

For example, both animals and human beings have basic bodily functions that create appetites. Both humans and animals get hungry. When hunger occurs, a brute animal seeks the best way to secure food without any moral or ethical qualms. Likewise, humans seek to secure food, but their animalistic appetite for food should be under the control and supervision of their intellect and moral sense. So, human beings have a standard of behavior that rises higher than merely satisfying their animal appetites. They must satisfy the higher demands of their rational and moral natures too.

When a person acts in accord with Natural law, they are praiseworthy. But, when a person violates the demands of Natural law, the person sins. Each person has a intellect and moral conscience that evaluates his/her actions. This means that each person has a inner moral sense and a rational intellect that tells him when he obeys or disobeys the natural law. When a person does evil, he has a sense of guiltiness. This is common to all of humankind. It applies to persons in South America as well as in Tibet. It reaches to the northern parts of Siberia as well as to the cities of North America.

Since the human moral sense is part of human nature, it is not something that can be arbitrarily selected. Moral values are not just personal preferences. They are not values that we can accept or reject at will. They are inescapable because they are part and parcel of our human nature. However, this does not mean that humans always act in a good and moral manner. But it does mean that they ought to act rationally and morally. And, when they simply serve their lower animal desires, they violate good morals.

The idea that human beings have a natural moral sense of good and evil has important consequence. First of all, human beings are morally accountable creatures before God. Secondly, all of humanity are morally responsible before God, because all of humanity have this moral sense and the duty to do good and to shun evil.

Thirdly, moral principles are discovered and not invented or created by human convention. Since humans have a natural moral sense of good and evil, it is there to be discovered, investigated, and brought into clear focus. So, how are moral principles discovered? We can’t go merely go by what people do. The ‘fact’ is that people steal, murder, lie, and cheat, but these acts aren’t what people ‘value.’ In other words, there is a difference between ‘fact’ (what people may do at times) and ‘value’ (what we wished people would do). We value behavior that is kind, generous, fair, just, and friendly, and this is what people ‘ought’ to do. Morality and ethics is the study of the behavior that is ‘valued’ and what people ‘ought’ to do.

So, rather than observing the ‘actions’ of people, it is best to see their ‘reactions’ to acts done to them. In other words, how does a person react when a robber steals something from him? How does a person respond when a would-be murderer approaches him with a weapon? In both cases, the natural response is negative and fearful, because stealing and murder are both moral evils. Further, we observe that people value kindness and love shown to them. Hence, kindness and love are positive moral behaviors when they are consistent with reason. So, in practical and simple terms, moral value can be seen by observing how a person responds to acts done to them. So, the fundamental moral rule is to do unto others what you would like them to do to you.

Jesus said,

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matt 7:12 (NIV)

Please notice the underlying assumption. It is found in the expression “what you would have them do to you.” Would you like to be treated with respect and kindness? If this is the case, then you are morally obligated to treat other people with kindness and respect. If you or I violate this moral principle, we are guilty of violating good morals.

Again, Jesus affirmed the natural moral law in its most positive form. He stated that the highest principle of ethics is love.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40 (NIV)

Love is a higher principle than kindness, toleration, and respect which are all good moral virtues. Again, we should notice that the appeal to love’s standard is not something outside of the person. Love’s standard is a standard that is within the person. It is a standard that the person naturally understands. We are to love our neighbors by the same standard that we love ourselves. To do less, is to deny our rational human nature, to be sinful, and to deserve the judgment of God.

The Apostle Paul bore witness to the moral sense that every human beings has. He called it the “the law written on the heart.” Even though the Gentiles did not have the Law of Moses, they had the moral law that was written on their hearts.

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the [Mosaic] law, do by nature things required by the [Mosaic] law, they are a [Moral] law for themselves, even though they do not have the [Mosaic] law, since they show that the requirements of the [Moral] law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) Rom 2:14-15 (NIV)

The following is a quotation from the writings of a pagan Gentile who shows the truth of the Apostle Paul’s claim. Marcus Cicero (106-43 B.C.), the famous Roman statesman, wrote in his work entitled, “The Republic” these words,

“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, though neither have any effect on the wicked. It is a sin to try to alter this law, not is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, this is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment.” The Republic III, Loeb Classical Library, p. 211

The first part of this article developed the concept that human beings are rational creatures who have an internal moral sense. It showed that, fundamentally, human beings understand how they would like to be treated; and, as a consequence, they ought to treat others as they would like others to treat them. Next, the sayings of Jesus were noticed that teach this same moral principle. The Apostle Paul and Marcus Cicero were quoted to show the universality of these rational and moral principles.

In conclusion, a moral apologist seeks to demonstrate appropriate human behavior that is rational and accords with nature and the law written on our hearts. Too often, Christians appeal to scripture to defend issues of morality, and they do this in a very selective manner. The Old Testament Mosaic law commanded the death penalty for many cases that many Christians today would not support, if it were  proposed by their legislature. For example, Exodus 21:17 states,

“Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. Exodus 21:17 (NIV)

In addition, it is made to appear there is no other rational justification for good morals other than an appeal to scripture. Essentially, this approach denies that human beings have a moral conscience with the knowledge of good and evil.  It negates the idea that human beings are morally responsible beings world-wide. Even if a person had never heard the Bible, the person is able to sin, because everyone has an internal knowledge of good and evil. 

A moral apologist appeals logically to this internal sense of good and evil and to what accords to the flourishing of human nature.

Of the various apologetic approaches, the defense of morality is typically the most difficult for Christians to make. This difficulty arises because of what ‘total’ depravity means to many Christians. Typically, Christians hold that ‘total’ depravity entails that humans by nature always do evil and can never do good. So, based upon this view of human nature, it makes very little sense to be a moral apologist. It seems like a completely futile endeavor.  For example, it is impossible to teach moral chastity to animals because of their animal natures; so, likewise, it seems impossible to teach humans to be moral because of their ‘totally’ depraved minds and nature.  This false view of depravity has undercut the vital endeavor of moral apologetics by many thoughtful Christians. 

References

Aquinas, Thomas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Translated by C.I. Litzinger, Dumb Ox Books, Notre Dame, IN, ISBN: 1-883357-51-9, 1964 (Revised 1993), pp. 686. 
Budziszewski, J., Written On The Heart: The Case For Natural Law, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, ISBN: 0-8308-1891-X, 1997, pp. 252.
Wu, John C.H., Fountain Of Justice: A Study In The Natural Law, Sheed and Ward, New York, NY, 1955, pp. 278.

III. Biblical apologetics.

This is the defense of the claims of the Bible and of Christ based upon ‘special’ or ‘sacred’ revelation.  Special revelations were revelations given by God at various times and in different ways to individuals during the course of human history.  Those who received these ‘sacred’ revelations are usually called prophets or apostles.  The Christian sacred revelations are disclosed in the Bible, especially the New Testament.  Whereas a theistic apologist appeals to creation to defend the claim there is a supreme Being who is the author, sustainer, governor, and judge of the universe, the Christian apologist appeals to historical events to defend the claims of the New Testament documents.

From a Christian perspective, the Biblical apologetics depend upon the following types of arguments.

  1. Historical evidence.
  2. Fulfilled prophetic evidence
  3. Archeological evidence
  4. Explanatory evidence. (The Christian apologist claims the Bible provides a comprehensive world-view)
  5. Miracles
  6. Biblical text.
  7. Christ’s uniqueness and resurrection.
  8. Personal testimony.

Christian apologetics provides an reasoned defense of the claims of the Bible and Christ. Christian evangelists seeks to persuade the individual’s mind and heart to accept the Christian truth claims.  Christian apologetics is largely a pre-evangelistic effort, but all persuasive evangelists use many of the concepts of Christian apologetics to persuade their listeners to accept Christ as their Savior.

Christian apologetics answers Biblical objections. (Some sample objections are given).

  1. Historical objections.  Why accept the idea of Christ’s resurrection, when there are other plausible explanations?
  2. Prophetic objections. Why argue that the book of Daniel was prophetic, when it was actually written by another author at a much later date?
  3. Miracle objections. Were not Christ’s alleged miracles really psychic phenomena?
  4. Christ’s deity objections. Where does Christ Himself claim to be God? How could God die on a cross?
  5. Trinity objections. Christians believe in three Gods in one God. This is a logical contradiction. Why should not Christianity be considered a form of polytheism?
  6. Textual objections. How can the Bible be divinely inspired when it contains so many internal contradictions?
  7. Moral objections to the Bible. Why did God command the Israelites to kill Canaanite babies?

The answers to the objections to Christianity cannot be defended in the same manner that Theistic apologetic uses.  Theistic apologetics begins with creation: biology, chemistry, and physics.  It logically probes the necessary causes for the subjects of these areas of study.

It is important to recognize that Biblical apologetics assumes, as its foundation, the truth claims of Creation apologetics.  Assuming monotheism, Christian apologetics must proceed to defend the claims of New Testament documents that were written two thousand years ago.  (The Old Testament documents are more ancient still.)  Consequently, the nature of a Christian apologist’s defense of the claims of ancient documents depends upon a textual and historical methodology built upon theism. 

For example, monotheistic apologists claim there is an All-Powerful Being who is the cause of the universe.  Since this All-Powerful Being had the power to create the universe, this Being would have the power to raise a body from among the dead.  So, a Christian apologist can assume that the resurrection of a dead corpse is within the realm of possibilities for an All-Powerful Deity. 

It is the duty of a Christian apologist to provide historical evidence that Christ’s resurrection actually did occur.  In addition, the Christian apologist must present evidence that alternative explanations of Christ’s  post-crucifixion reappearance lack historical credibility.   As a result of a apologetic defense, the claim of the revivification of the dead corpse of Christ ought to have historical credence.