Articles

The Necessity of Reformed Apologetics (1)

This article first appeared in the Nov 15, 1980 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.57, #4)

I.Apologetics Considered as Merely Possible or Inevitable?

The term apologetics, according to Stormonth's dictionary, is "that branch of theology which defends the Scriptures and sets forth the evidence of their divine authority." Usually this means the evidence produced by reasoned argument. Then the definition would be acceptable to the traditional or classical apologists, that is, to the Roman Catholic and the Arminian defenders of the faith. The Funk and Wagnalls dictionary defines it as "that department of dogmatics which deals with the defensive facts and proofs of Christianity; the science that purposes to vindicate, by defense or defensive assault, the truth and absoluteness of the Christian religion," and that, we may add, over against all the attacks and denials of the unbelieving world. Instead of "and proofs of" we would rather say, "and positive arguments for" Christianity. From these definitions it is apparent that there is at least a hint that apologetics is no apologizing for the truth. For Reformed theologians and believers do not make excuse for the Christian faith and life. Such an idea never enters into the subject among any school of apologetics. In apologetics we may not do what the Bible itself does not do. The Bible does not say something like this: Pardon me for living! The Bible does use the term, as when, for example, in Acts 22:1, Paul preaches, saying, "Hear ye my defense (apologia), which I make. . . ." Again, according to Acts 25:16, Roman law protected its citizenry in that he who is accused must have the accusers face to face, and must have license toanswer for himself (make his apology or defense) concerning the crime laid against him. So Paul says (I Cor. 9:3), "Mine answer to them that do examine me is this. . . ." In II Corinthians 7:11 it is translated, "Yea, (what)clearing of yourselves!" Paul preached, "in defenseand confirmation of the gospel" saying, "I am set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1:7, 17). Later he wrote, "At my first answer no man stood with me" (II Tim. 4:16); and finally Peter counsels, "Be ready always to give ananswer to every man that asketh" (I Pet. 3:15). Anapologia, then, is a verbal defense, a speech in defense.

From these texts it may not be concluded that apologetics means taking a mere defensive position against the attacks of unbelief. For this may not be charged against the apostles and the believers. Their battle for the faith was not so passive, so weak. They did not go retreating from one entrenchment, or one bastion to another. The Church has always had mighty apologists, such as Paul, Augustine, and Calvin, and retreat or passivity in the conflict of the ages was not their way. Calvin used not only the defensive shield of faith, but also the offensive Sword pf the Spirit, which is the Word of God. A good, Reformed apologetic must be in the line of Paul, whose classical masterpiece, of apologetical method appears in his sermon on the Areopagus (Acts 17); in the line of Augustine, whose main method was to "think God's thoughts after Him"; and in the line of Calvin, who began, continued, and ended his position on the Being, knowledge, and doctrine of God as found in scripture. Also, whatever apologetics we have are in the line of Kuyper, Bavinck, and Hoeksema, since our theology is in that line.

But did not Kuyper practically reject apologetics? He believed that no argumentation between the regenerated and the natural man "can ever serve any purpose," and that "apologetics has always failed to reach results, and has weakened rather than strengthened the reasoner."¹ Apologetics he regarded as "a broad field of detail-study (as over against the study of principles, RCH) in which laurels can be won, without penetrating to the deep antithesis of the two world-views (Reformed and unbelieving, RCH) whose position over against each other becomes ever more and more clearly defined" (ibid., 166). Whatever the full meaning of this statement, this much is clear, namely, apologetics does not penetrate as deeply as the principle of regeneration allows, nor does it go deeply enough into the antithesis, and it does not occupy itself sufficiently with the study of principles. This is said to be especially true of the apologetics of "Conservatism," which lacked a spiritual root, conceded too much to naturalism, and consequently in spiritual aerial combat was shot down in disgrace (167). With this criticism we may agree since it is criticism of what is called traditional apologetics. Under this head comes what sometimes has been called the Princeton apologetic. Kuyper criticizes this apologetic in Charles Hodge, champion of American scientific orthodoxy. Hodge's position was to take the facts of the Bible as the objects of his theology. These facts and truths of scripture by the theologian must be collected, arranged, systematized, and authenticated. By his combination of "facts and truths" on the one hand and their authentication by the positive science of theology on the other, Hodge overthrew his own system. For these "truths" were no truths, but became such when authenticated. Hodge thought he was doing better than those who presupposed Christianity to begin with, "who took the 'Christian religion' as thegiven object." He thought that by sanctified reason he could arrive at and authenticate Christian truth, the biblical position, and in that way "save theology as apositive science" (ibid., 318). Hodge did believe that scripture is the principle of theology, but he did not consistently stand on this principle, or he would not have made it the conclusion of other grounds, but the ground from which all other ground is viewed and interpreted. With this criticism of this apologetic we agree.

Kuyper also adheres to the biblical distinction between two kinds of people in the world, the regenerate and the natural man, the wheat and the tares, or theWilding (weed) and the Edelreis (noble plant). The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, as they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned. He that is spiritual, the regenerated, judges all things. But the natural man is incapable of judging of the legitimacy, reality, or meaning of any point of the truth. Nor may he be given the right to judge of one or of all of them. Hence, Kuyper concluded from this that there is no use in Christian apologetics. Since the natural man in his understanding is darkness, and the darkness never apprehends the light, there is no point, no sufficient reason for reasoning with the natural man whatever.

But with this conclusion, Kuyper himself was not consistent. He certainly believed in preaching and witnessing to the unbeliever, which cannot be done without reasoning. Also the reasoning process all along the line presupposes the criterion of the self-attesting true and triune God and His self-authenticating scriptures. This preaching and reasoning he also believed was to be made to all ethnic groups in the heathen .world. Then in such activity, as the great Apostle Paul was, we become deeply involved in apologetics. So with our Lord in His contention with the devil and the temptation in the wilderness. There was no attempt to meet the devil either on his ground or on some neutral ground, but the Lord met him head on with the assumed Being of God, the doctrine of God and with unerring scripture devil "knows,"' (Matt. 4:4). Also this the and is said to "believe" it, for he has a natural knowledge of spiritual things. In his "faith" he has more orthodoxy than the neo-modernists of our day, who have no orthodoxy at all. Just so, the devil knows and believes the whole scheme of doctrine. As Jonathan Edwards said, Satan is no atheist, no deist, Socinian, Arian, Pelagian, or Antinomian. We add, that he is no Arminian or devotee of Barthian neology, either. He knows better. Yet he gets men entangled in all these tentacles of heresy. He is the father of the lie, but he himself does not believe it. He knows better. But he can convince any number of fools to swallow his lies. What he tempted the Lord with was the idea and lie of an "open universe" in which man moves anarchistically and thinks autonomously. Therefore one may do as one chooses with any particular in the universe. Stones are stones, entirely apart from God. Miracle is possible because anything is possible, anything with the exception of living by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. To him, that is absolutely impossible. But the Lord does not argue with the devil, nor negotiate with him, nor even give him a hearing (all very dangerous things to do); nor does the Lord deal with the devil on the supposition that His and the devil's knowledge of God and of the world are basically identical or on the same level. The devil tempts him to authenticate the Word of God with a miracle. The Lord immediately answers with the already divinely authenticated Word as sufficient. Bow to that! Conform to that! is the implication of "It is written" (period). The counterfeit miracles of today are performed right and left entirely apart from the Word, apart from any preaching or any instituted church. This is to far outdo the devil, to super-satanize Satan!

We see, then, that, a Christian apologetic is Christ-centered, therefore God-centered. It is Christ Who speaks in the scriptures. Christ teaches us what to believe, what to think and how to live. Therefore what we must have and hold is what Christ taught. In our witness to all men, which surely includes the natural man, we say, Throw your wisdom and philosophy to the moles and to the bats, or some day you will when wrath shall come on you to the uttermost! Bow to the inscripturated wisdom of God. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him! This is our apologetic, our argument for the gospel. Unbelieving thought has no truth, but must empirically reason on to the truth. But then it is impossible there to arrive.

So Christian preaching, controversy, and witnessing, along with doing "these sayings of Mine," are all inseparably connected with and involved in (Reformed) apologetics. It is inevitable!

(Concluded later, D.V.)

Harbach, Robert

Rev. Robert C. Harbach (1914-1996) was born in Riverdale, MD on July 27, 1914. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1955 and was ordained in October of that year.  He served congregations in Lynden, Washington (1955-1963), Kalamazoo, Michigan (1963-1974), and as Home Missionary (1974-1979).  He retired from the active ministry in 1979.  He passed to glory on December 14, 1996.

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