This article first appeared in the Jan 1, 1981 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.57, #7)
II. Apologetics Considered as in Practical Use
A candidate for the ministry in our churches, among other subjects, is examined in Controversy (C.O., Art. 4). This is done in order that he may demonstrate something of his ability to defend the truth over against the attacks of false doctrines and heresies. After his ordination he signs the "Formula of Subscription," by which he declares and promises diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the doctrine contained in the Three Forms of Unity, to refute and contradict the errors rejected by the Synod of Dordt, to exert himself in keeping the church free from such errors. This is to promise to be ever alert and active in a Reformed apologetic. The biblical injunction to this end is found in Jude 3, "I. . .exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once (for all) delivered unto the saints." This is what apologetics is, defense of the faith.
But it is also witness. Witnessing to others of the truth of the gospel by life and word is to be done any place and any time, in season and out of season. The reason for the activity of witnessing, as expressed in the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20, is the discipling of the nations. We are to witness to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Yet as to this defense and witness, the Christian is not to take a neutral stance anywhere in order to secure a point of "contact" or a "common ground" between faith and unbelief. The Christian (apologete) must avoid all appearance of neutrality, must be perfectly honest (neutrality is dishonest), must make no secret of the fact that he accepts Reformed Theology as thetheology. Therefore let him make it known that .he cannot stand indifferently to his own personal faith.² This means that the believer in his witness to unbelievers, and in amicable argument of the Christian position,, must not begin by attempting to authenticate the scripture, so that the non-Christian accepting this attestation will then accept the scripture as genuine to go from there believing it. Scripture is already inherently authentic. For the benefit of the unbeliever, he need not and must not first attempt to establish the truth of Christianity over against his objections or wrong views. The truth is already established in the infallibly inspired scriptures, in the Presbyterian and Reformed Confessions and in the pure preaching of the Word of God. The latter comes with the authority of Christ. Hearing and receiving that preaching is to bow to Christ and to acknowledge His absolute. Lordship as God of truth. The point here is that the Christian witness must not propose to set out to reason with the unbeliever according to the principles of human logic, thence together to reason on into salvation. The thinking of the natural man cannot lead to God. Also a sound apologetical approach, in the interest of defending scripture against some of its greatest difficulties, must not describe (or think of) these as "apparent paradoxes." The term paradox is philosophic, rationalistic, and irrationalistic. The Christian would do better in adopting a new term which allows for only "hyperdoxes" in scripture. We havehyperdox (hyper = over, beyond + doxa = an opinion or notion) wherever truth transcends human understanding, as in the instances of the doctrine of the Trinity, the union of the two natures of Christ, and the relation and harmony between God's absolute sovereignty and man's responsibility. Our defense and witness presuppose the entire Bible and Christian faith as true. We do not try to prove this to the unregenerate; we assume this at the outset; it is the ground of all our life, thought, discussion, and declaration. From that ground we challenge the natural man to see that on his position there is no place to stand other than on sinking sand; there is no way to tell truth from falsehood, and there is nothing in the world that can be accounted for.
The Church, from the very beginning, has been engaged in apologetical defense and witness. In the Apostolic Church there was controversy with Judaism, Heathenism, and Gnosticism. Then within the Trinitarian Controversies there were mainly the Arian and the Sabellian controversies. Within the Christological Controversies there were the Apollinarian, Nestorian, Eutychian, and Monophysite controversies. Within the Anthropological Controversies, there was the Pelagian controversy. In the Medieval period there were controversies over the Spirit proceeding from the Son as well as from the Father, over the doctrine of the two wills in Christ, over Predestination and over various theories of the Lord's Supper. In the time of the Reformation, the great controversy was the Romanism. Calvin was the Reformed apologist of this period, and his ability in controversy was superior. He fought Libertinism, Free-willism, Unitarianism, and Astrology. In our own day, the Church has had to combat Modernism (originating from Germany) and the cults. In our own denominational history there was the "common" grace controversy and the conditional theology controversy.
Since there is always controversy, there is always some form of apologetics. What is needed is Reformed Apologetics. We need this to keep hour, thinking in line with God's thoughts, our preaching in the power of His Spirit and, Word, our witness: unwaveringly to Christ and the triune God, our conduct self-consciously and determinedly based on the holy principles of the Reformed Faith. Our apologetics are then not only defensive but offensive. More importantly, with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, they pierce through the deceits and hypocrisies of men to expose their refuges of lies, their untenable positions. Cur apologetic method must function in a never-to-be denied; never compromised faith which presupposes the whole system of the gospel.
Every form of reasoning, argument, preaching, andwitness is on some foundation. There are fundamentally only two foundations, the false and the true (Matt. 7:24-29), the foundation of men and the foundation of God.
On the one foundation, man makes himself the first and final point of reference. His mind is the only frame of reference. "Man is the measure of all things."³ So said Protagoras ages ago and the atheistical mind today still agrees. But on the other foundation, God, speaking through Christ by His Spirit in the infallible scriptures, is our first and ultimate orientation point. If we consistently stand on this only safe ground, then we do not attempt to prove to men the existence of God. Rather, on this foundation we challenge men to believe that God is, and that He is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Our whole approach in our witness-bearing presupposes all the truth of scripture and of our confessions. Especially must our thought and attack be cased on the doctrine of man and his fall and the doctrine of scripture. For above and back of all reality is God. He is our environment, not pantheistically, but "in Him we live and are moved and have our being." Humanistic thought puts God out of His own world, out of business and our of existence. Thought and converse without Him at any point is to life up His name and all things into nothingness. Nor is there knowledge or intelligible statement of anything in "the real world" apart from the Creator-creature relationship. But man makes himself creator and makes a god in his own image. He thinks of himself as "creator of the universe." Man, the creature, is potential God, or God enough for the free-thinker. He is the greatest creator we know on earth. Man is not under the law; he makes the law. Man is the creator of himself and society.4 Man worships the creature, rather than the Creator. Christians in thought, word, and behavior serve and worship the Creator. Christians believe there are two kinds of being: original, eternal, and divine being, and derivative, temporal, and human being. Man's derivation from God is not pantheistical or emanationistic. The triune Creator, remaining in His aseity (independence) and immutability, created man a creaturely reflection of Himself with creaturely personality, heart, soul, mind, will, and strength.
Then without scripture, the only written revelation of God to man, there is no rule or standard to determine truth from error. There is no way to distinguish the Narrow Way from the Slough of Despond. Without the Bible, it is impossible to know the meaning of life. Without it we would not know what sin is, nor where forgiveness is to be found (Ps. 130:4), nor have any hope of heaven. Men do not share a common knowledge which fins confirmation in the Bible. True knowledge is objectively found written on the pages of the scriptures. Reality must be seen through the lens of the scriptures. "In Thy light do we see light." In these facts of scripture: God, Creation, Fall, Redemption, and that body of truth found in our Confessions, we have the thesis, position, stand, and orientation of a Reformed apologetics.
To the extent that we give diligence earnestly to contend for the Faith, to that extent we all us Reformed apologetics, in defense, in attack on the enemy, and in witness, whether conscious of it or not. But how much better, in the sense of the term herein explained to be apologetically self-conscious!
² Principles of Sacred Theology, A. Kuyper, 50, 51.
³ Student's History of Philosophy, Rogers, Macmillan, 1928, p. 87. See also The Doctrine of God, Bavinck, p. 30, and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand, Mentor, 1979, p. 10.
4 The Philosophy of Revelation, Bavinck, p. 46, 323.
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.