Apologetics is a branch of theology concerned with the elucidation and defense of the Christian religion. A technical term derived from a Greek root for defense, the word apologetics is confusing to modern English speakers and is often confused with the word apology. in the theological world, the term is closer to Plato's use in the Apology, in which socrates presents his defense in the face of his Athenian accusers.
   Different Christian apologists might concentrate upon the rationale for theism within the broad field of religion; or the rationale for Christianity within theistic religion; or the rationale for choosing any of the various forms of Christianity over the others. The apologist will present truth claims and offer reasoned discourse to the end that the listener or reader will accept those truths. In general, apologists have had two audiences - the unbeliever whom one hopes might convert and the believer whom one hopes will be confirmed in the faith.
   in the first centuries of the Protestant era, Protestant apologetics were almost entirely directed to the continuing challenge of the Roman Catholic Church. The border between simple Protestant-Catholic polemic literature and apologetic literature is often difficult to draw. in the 18th century, apologetics that answered the challenge of secularism, atheism, and non-Christian theism (deism) began to appear and became a more significant element in subsequent centuries. Crucial to the apologetic task relative to nontheist philosophies have been a set of "proofs" of the existence of God. British philosophical theologian William Paley (1743-1805), for example, became known for his advocacy of the argument from design, namely that the orderliness of the universe proved the existence of a creator. in the 20th century, the appeal of such arguments persists but has significantly waned.
   At the end of the 19th century, conservative Protestants developed apologetics to answer the challenges of both the new sciences (symbolized in the the theory of evolution as an alternative to a more literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis) and the modernist form of Protestantism that evolved out of accepting those sciences (biology, geology, and sociology). By contrast, liberal Protestants attempted to revise theology as a discipline more open to the ever-changing findings of science. Increasingly, the dialogue with science has become a very specialized branch of apologetics. Apologists must deal not only with the challenge of scientific method as a better way to knowledge of the cosmos, but with atheistic philosophies that have grown out of speculations on science.
   Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth rejected both the conservative and liberal approaches, abandoning apologetics as a theological task. He criticized the defensive tone that apologists were forced to adopt, which allowed the nonbelievers to set the issues for any discussion. According to Barth and his colleagues, the best course for the Christian is the clear statement of the churches' teachings.
   Emil Brunner, one of Barth's associates, argued for a continued if reduced role for apologetics. While it might appear thankless to develop rational arguments for Christianity, theologians should strive to present a Christianity that is intellectually acceptable to combat the popular opinion in academic circles that the religion was not intellectually defensible.
   Barth and Brunner were in fact continuing an old theme in Protestant theology. Martin Luther disdained the role philosophers played in defending what he saw as a corrupt Catholic establishment. Later Protestant leaders, noting how well people responded to the preaching and proclamation of the Gospel message, justified their neglect of apologetics in favor of a clear and forceful presentation of the Christian message. Such would be typical of the Pietist tradition as expressed in Methodism. Spokespersons of this tradition doubt the value of human arguments in winning over the unbeliever, though they were willing to argue strongly against what are seen as erroneous positions. They stress instead the power of presenting the good news of salvation and emphasizing the personal encounter with God through the action of the Holy Spirit. While not necessarily anti-intellectual, this school of thought sees reason, science, and philosophy to be of limited value to the church.
   A second school of Protestantism, which can be traced to John Calvin, utilizes the full range of rational and philosophical tools in the presentation of the faith. instead of emphasizing metaphysical arguments, Calvin's apologetics placed priority on epistemology (understanding the nature of knowledge/truth). He argued that self-knowledge leads to a desire to know God. The search lets us see that only in knowing God can we in fact know ourselves fully and truthfully. in this approach, the Bible is seen as the central source of our knowledge of God. This approach to apologetics has been most frequently, though not exclusively, associated with Reformed theology.
   In the 17th century, some Protestant apologists rediscovered the classical proofs of God (ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral); over the years they have added new ones. The classical arguments became a prolegomena to the more familiar Calvinist approach. Examining these proofs remains an important task for philosophers of religion.
   As Christianity was confronted by a variety of non-Christian belief systems in the 19th and 20th centuries, detailed arguments in support of traditional Christianity have developed around such issues as the New Testament fulfillment of old Testament prophecies, the existence of miracles (as God's intervention in nature and history), the superiority of the person of Christ, and the preeminence of Christian teachings of love.
   one older theme that has largely dropped out of contemporary apologetics is the benign influence of Christianity on the people and cultures among whom it has spread. Christianity's support of European colonialism, racism, and female subjugation, and its inability to oppose the Jewish Holocaust, have vitiated this argument.
   Protestant belief has been so centered on the Bible as the source of revelation and truth that apologists have been particularly concerned with advances in biblical scholarship in the last century. Critical tools unleashed by modern biblical scholars have often provided a platform from which to argue against the revelatory status of the Bible, emphasizing instead the human aspects of its origin. In the face of such attacks, Protestants have spent considerable energy defending the Bible as the Word of God. Liberal theologians have developed views of the Bible that attempt to reclaim it as an authority within the church, while at the same time acknowledging the insights of contemporary biblical scholars. More conservative Protestants tend to reject modern biblical scholarship. They try to argue for the Bible's integrity, authenticity, and truthfulness in all matters (sometimes stated as its infallibility and inerrancy).
   Conservative evangelical Christian apologists have been most concerned with the emergence of new forms of Christianity in the 20th century, which they feel deny essential affirmations of the church, especially the Triune God, the deity of Jesus Christ, and Christ's substitutionary atonement. The task of defending tradition against modern innovations in theology has led Evangelicals to elevate the importance of apologetics. For example, Baptist theologian Gordon R. Lewis argues, "Theology presupposes the primary tenets of Christianity and sets forth their implications in systematic detail. Apologetics, on the other hand, examines Christianity's most basic presuppositions. it considers why we should start with Christian presuppositions rather than others."
   Among the groups singled out for special treatment within Evangelical circles have been the "cults," as they call the new religions that arose in 19th- and 20th-century America, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
   Christian Scientists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, The Family (Children of God), and New Age or Esoteric Christianity. These groups often use Christian symbols and words but pour very different meanings into them. in the late 20th century, an apologetic concern about all these different forms of Christianity produced a countercult movement with an extensive literature. This popular movement has more recently worked to counter the growth in the West of older non-Christian religious traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, islam, etc.).
   The Ecumenical movement has tended to operate against the development of apologetics, at least between Christian denominations. The Ecumenical movement has relied upon dialogue and a search for commonality, understanding, and mutual respect in place of rigid adherence to a particular perspective on Christian teachings. Ecumenical theologians have attempted to reconcile differences between different churches and to develop common affirmations as the bedrock of cordial relationships.
   interfaith dialogue has been explored as well, especially in post-Holocaust conversations with Jewish leaders and post-israel conversations with Muslims. in each case, shared monotheism is emphasized as a basis for continued conversations and cooperation. Dialogue does not do away with issues, nor discard concern for truth, but it does place an individual's, church's, or movement's position into a relationship with other positions that make a similar claim on truth and provides a more positive approach to resolving differences.
   Further reading:
   ■ Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics: A Philosophic Defense of the Trinitarian-Theistic Faith, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1953)
   ■ Cky J. Carrigan, "Contemporary Evangelical Approaches to Apologetics," 1997. Available online. URL:http://ontruth.com/ apologetics.html. Accessed on November 18, 2003
   ■ Avery Dulles, History of Apologetics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971)
   ■ Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1976)
   ■ Gordon R. Lewis, Testing Christianity's Truth Claims (Chicago: Moody, 1976; rpt.: Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990)
   ■ William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity (Dublin: Printed by John Pasley, for J. Milliken, 1794)
   ■ Bernard Ramm, Varieties of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1962)
   ■ Konrad Raiser, "The Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialogue," The Ecumenical Review (July 2000). Available online. URL:http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2065/3_52/6 6279069/p1/article.jhtml
   ■ Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957)
   ■ Cornelius Van Till, Christian Apologetics (Phillips-burg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 1976).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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