For many this is an oxymoron, a fool-hardy attempt to argue with the unbeliever, or worse, a blasphemous confluence of faith and reason. For others this is nonsense. They have no idea what apologetics means, much less how to discuss it.I am to talk about Apologetics. Apologetics means of course Defense. The first question is – what do you propose to defend? Christianity, of course.- C.S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics from God in the Dock.
But I submit to you a third alternative. Lutheran apologetics is neither an oxymoron nor gibberish. Lutheran apologetics is essential and evangelical, Scriptural and Christocentric. We should be unapologetic in our apologetics.
In The Bondage of the Will, Luther responds to Erasmus’ lack of satisfaction with assertions (an ironic statement in itself) by saying:
Nothing is better known or more common among Christians than assertions. Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.Christianity is full of assertions: the Divine Service, ecumenical creeds, even the Book of Concord. This we believe, teach and confess as true. This we condemn as false. Jesus made assertions. And his Church follows her master accordingly. The central teaching and claim of Christianity is an assertion:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).This is what separates Christianity from the world’s religions, a faith founded on fact. The Christian claim is historically verifiable and veracious. And unlike most other world religions, it is also falsifiable. That’s what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. If Christ is not raised your faith is futile. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.
Christians declare and defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) for we should “always be prepared to make a defense (apologia) for the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15).
How do we articulate the truth of the Christian faith clearly in the face of skepticism? What should Christians say when their faith is challenged?
Apologetics answers in two ways. Negatively, logic and reason are used to tear down arguments, rebut presuppositions and remove obstacles in front of the cross. In the end, however, a Lutheran will always find a way to steer the conversation back to the only legitimate offense: Christ Crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22).
It is not enough, however, to tear down arguments. St. Peter also reminds us to defend the faith with “gentleness and respect.” Positively, apologetics makes a defense (Acts 1:3), arguing for Christianity and as well as against the din of false truth claims. Lutheran apologetics are unabashedly Christ-centered, always in service to the Gospel.
Therefore, Lutheran apologetics does not:
- Attempt to argue someone into the Christian faith or sideline the work of the Holy Spirit. Lutheran apologetics is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian.
- Give the unbeliever the impression that he can think himself into Christian faith.
- Pit reason against faith. Rather, it seeks a proper use of reason in all realms. Thus, Luther called reason the “devil’s whore” when used magisterially. And yet, Luther also highly praises reason as a 1st Article gift, when used ministerially.
- Acknowledges reason as a gift of God’s creation. Although man (will, emotions and intellect) is dead in trespasses and sin after the fall, he did not lose inferential capabilities. Man can understand, interpret and assert facts correctly.
- Values notitia (knowledge based on fact and historical faith) and fiducia (faith and personal trust). The objective reality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection ground the subjective faith in the Gospel which is extra nos.
- Understands the ministerial use of reason. That we declare the facts of the Christian faith as verifiable and historical in no way undermines the solas. On can (and ought to) examine the remarkable amount of evidence in favor of Christianity since these events did not occur in a corner (Acts 26:26).
- Is epistemologically objective and inductive, allowing the facts and evidence to move from the objective to the subjective. In other words, a bottom up approach, such as Luther advocated in his arguments concerning the Sacrament of the Altar. What does the text say? What are the historical facts? The data must precede the interpretation.
The question isn’t whether or not we should engage in apologetics as Lutherans, but how? Lutherans have no reason to fear apologetics and every reason to engage in lively discussion. What’s more, we have every room for confidence and certainty, a living hope in Christ Crucified and Risen. Lutheran apologetics is essential – now more than ever. And it’s evangelical: We proclaim Christ Crucified. When the opportunity arises we bring the preponderance of historical evidence to bear on history’s most important event: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. History is for you. Jesus’ death is for you. Apologetics is for you.
If you want to read more about apologetics, here are a few good books:
- The Defense Never Rests, Craig Parton, CPH.
- Religion on Trial, Craig Parton, Wipf and Stock.
- History, Law and Christianity, John W. Montgomery, Wipf and Stock.
[note 1] Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 33 : Career of the Reformer III. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1972 (Luther's Works 33), S. 33:21