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Classical apologetics – What is it?

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Apologetics (from the Greek, apologia, meaning "defense") is the systematic study of how one can best defend what one believes. Christian apologetics, specifically, focuses on the biblical practices for presenting the core tenets of the Christian faith in such a way as to make a case for their truthfulness and to answer objections raised against them by the unbeliever. In short, Christian apologetics means offering a defense for what Christians believe.

It is perhaps unsurprising that there should be different approaches to the practice of Christian apologetics. Three common approaches to apologetics are known as classical apologetics, evidential apologetics, and presuppositional apologetics. Here, we will focus on classical apologetics.

Classical apologists attempt to address unbelievers and their objections to Christianity with fundamental, undeniable truths as the starting point. These include the existence of mathematical truths (2+1=3), the laws of logic (the conjunction of A and not-A is necessarily false), the existence of objective morality, and so on. After this, the classical apologist moves on to more overtly argue for key doctrines of the Christian faith. This includes extensive use of the arguments for God's existence, as well as for the facticity of significant events in Christian history, such as the creation of the universe or the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Clearly, the classical approach to apologetics relies heavily on the laws of logic and deep, philosophical concepts. It tends to approach things from a very abstract and general perspective, and appeals to minds with highly theoretical tendencies. It is also well-suited toward audiences which share little in common with Christian faith or understanding.

Examples of a classical approach to apologetics in Scripture are particularly visible in the life and writings of the apostle Paul. In Acts 17:22–34, for instance, we read of Paul's encounter with the intellectual elite of his day, in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece. In this passage, Paul uses reason and logic, in addition to his familiarity with Greek classical literature, to establish a point of commonality with his audience, from which he was able to lead them to the gospel. Similarly, in Romans 1:18–23, Paul articulates the design argument for God's existence, saying that those who refuse to believe in God already have sufficient evidence from God's creation to have believed in Him. Later, in Romans 2:14–16, Paul also alludes to the notion of objective morality, which bears even on those who have not received God's law in the form of the Bible.

In short, there is clearly biblical precedent for the classical approach to apologetics. Christians must be able to articulate and defend their faith in a compelling way (1 Peter 3:15), and the classical approach is certainly one way to accomplish this. Nevertheless, proponents of the classical approach should also recognize the limitations of this approach: while classical apologetics can certainly prove useful in many circumstances, reason alone is not adequate to transform the human heart (John 6:37, 65). Moreover, the goal of all apologetics is not to show off the depth of one's knowledge, but to produce faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 1—2) and to remove stumbling blocks to that goal (2 Corinthians 10:5). When practiced with this ultimate goal in mind—that is, the glory of Christ—classical apologetics can be a powerful tool for advancing the kingdom of God and demolishing objections to the Christian faith.

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