Question: Apologetics for Beginners

Question:

Hello!

[ … ], I have some questions regarding time to study a subject; I have found that there is a lot to learn, I mean a lot!!! and I am many times frustrated because I can’t answer every objection, or am not well equipped in engaging and answering skeptics as well as my own questions. I have so many questions. What tips can you give me to study apologetics well for a beginner? and a teenager I have like an obsession of finding answers in the internet and when I saw some atheists websites I fear and I feel depressive when non-Christians insult me name calling or get sad because they insult Christianity and God… any tips!?

Hello Matt and thank you for your question!

I myself started getting involved in apologetics just before I turned 16. I was an atheist for the most part of my teen years and then I finally became a theist by the arguments that were presented to me in a young-earth creationist book [1] given to me by my brother. I later became interested in evolution and the question of origins, constantly watching videos on YouTube from Ray Comfort’s ministry The Way of the Master. Then, I came across atheist Richard Dawkins and his book, The God Delusion [2] – the first book I ever purchased.

In terms of addressing the arguments that were presented in that book, especially the ones the arguments and objections that were given to me just from my friends at school, I found myself quite irritated and ill-equipped in the sense that I couldnt address the questions like I wanted to. Hence, I felt very inadequate. So, with respect to the attitude I tried to frame and adopt in terms of apologetics and the “tough questions”, I do think I can pass over some “fresh” advice to a fellow believer who is experiencing the same problems I once did.

Adopting a Socratic Attitude

When it comes to the tough questions that I couldn’t answer in philosophy, theology,  science, and even of the ones to which I was unable to answer from just my friends at school, I simply tried to convince myself that there were answers to these questions. So, in other words, whether or not God existed, there was in fact a moment of creation, or the Bible is the Word of God and etc., I simply told myself that there were answers to these questions and more importantly that I could know them. Now, it is of course possible that in respect to reality, the universe, God, or what have you, that the answer to those questions might be “we just don’t know”, but I didn’t want to think like that. I appealed to philosophers and theologians for a proper understanding of obtaining truth.

It is that motivation, to know truth, that I began my study in apologetics. However, that point should be made clear. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher in Athens and the teacher of the great philosopher Plato (427-327 B.C.). Plato wrote many (what are known as) dialogues, consisting of characters that were mostly philosophers.

Plato once wrote a very famous dialogue called the Apology, containing the defense of his mentor, Socrates, before an Athenian trial . In this dialogue, the Delphic Oracle pronounced that Socrates (through his friend Chairophon) was the wisest man in the world; that no one was wiser. Thus, in Socrates’ long and well-thought out attempt to find a response to this pronouncement, he concludes that he has solved the Oracle’s riddle: Though he has no wisdom (only God has wisdom, he says; man pursues it), this is wisdom: to know that he does not know. As Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft writes,

This is Lesson One, the first and most indispensable lesson. If we forget it, all subsequent lessons are only apparently learned [ … ] For Socrates would also say that there are only two kinds of peoples: the wise, who know they are fools, and fools, who think they are wise. In philosophy as in religion, pride is the deadliest sin. [3]

This is an unbelievably crucial attitude to have for an Christian apologist. Not particularly that we must adopt this supposed “skeptical attitude” in living our daily lives, but masking ourselves with this intellectual humility that we are only merely pursuing wisdom, knowledge, and virtues of the similar liking, and not that we simply have them. Proverbs 18 stresses this point:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions. (v. 2)

To answer before listening –
that is folly and shame. (v. 13)

According to these two passages, true wisdom is to seek understanding, not “airing” our own opinions so that unbelievers and skeptics can bask in our supposed “intellectual glory”. This sort of discussion may amount to the character of an apologist, and it is surely a helpful one to have in terms of remembering the right attitude in approaching truth.

Apologetic Side Advice

In Dan Kimball’s essay on the different but proper attitude of apologists, he notices that there seems to be some reoccurring issue in regards to the present culture, “In our postmodern world there isn’t interest in rational explanations regarding spiritual issues.” [4] Though the quote in its extended form develops, Kimball states the issue quite nicely. The problem is, spiritual matters or rational discussions on theological matters are not openly the case in our present culture. Apologetics is demanded now more than ever, and as Kimball especially notes, “In my dialogue and relationships with non-Christian and Christian young people for more than 18 years, I am not finding less interest in apologetics, but actually more interest.” (Kimball 2009: 29)

The amount of literature that has grown on the subject of apologetics over the last 10 years has been actually quite outstanding. The leading figures that you can read are individuals such as Greg Koukl, Sean McDowell, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Lee Strobel, Ronald Nash, Gary Habermas, Francis Beckwith, and many others. It’s all about how much you engage yourself in the discussion. Which, would be my first point of advice:

  • (1) Read

Reading has essentially changed my view on a number of things. I think I would say that over 85% of all the things I’ve learned in philosophy, science, and theology over the past few years has been from books. To give you a framework of huge influences that have helped me in the past, see:

  • Introduction to Philosophy, Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg (1980)
  • How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer (2005)
  • Reasons for Faith, Norman Geisler and Chad Meister (2007)
  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

and many others. More over, learn more about the persons your reading about. Looking out the list I’ve provided above, you can see that I’ve cited Norman Geisler several times. He’s a fantastic authority on matters pertaining to philosophy and apologetics, and is a great start for becoming apart of the overall discussion on those matters. Check him out! For anymore recommended books, you can click here to see a wonderful list of books I highly recommend.

Lastly, I think I would like to make a quick point on the discipline of apologetics itself. Apologetics is very flexible, in the sense that the Christian worldview has a development among various disciplines, such as Physics, Biology, Philosophy, and many others. To give you an example, Greg E. Ganssle gives attention to the “academic theme” of apologetics [5]. Ganssle writes, “The academic themes include the content of apologetics, whether we are thinking about the content of a 30-second answer to a question or about the broad outlines of an academic treatise. As we know from experience, a 30-second answer quickly generates more questions that, in turn, leads us into deeper and more complicated answers. Somewhere along the way, what begins as apologetics becomes philosophy of religion, historical criticism, biochemistry, or physics.” (Ganssle 2012: 4)

You can see my post Apologetics: Definition and Application (see here) which gives a good overview of apologetics itself. I hope this helped some, and if you have anymore questions please feel free to ask!

__________________

Notes:

  • [1] Ken Ham, The New Answers Book (Masters Books: 2007)
  • [2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Mariner Books: 2006)
  • [3] Peter Kreeft, Philosophy 101 by Socrates (Ignatius Press: 2002) p. 15
  • [4] in A Different Kind of Apologist by Dan Kimball, ed. Sean McDowell in Apologetics for a New Generation (Harvest House Publishers: 2009) p. 29
  • [5] W. L. Craig and Paul Copan eds., Come Let Us Reason (Nashville: Tennessee, 2012) p. 4
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