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Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views.[1] Christian apologetics have taken many forms over the centuries, starting with Paul of Tarsus, including writers such as Origen and Augustine of Hippo, and continuing currently with the modern Christian community, through the efforts of many authors in various Christian traditions such as C.S. Lewis. Apologists have based their defense of Christianity on historical evidence, philosophical arguments, scientific investigation, rhetorical persuasion and other disciplines.


The term "apologetic" comes from the Greek word apologia (απολογία), which means in defense of. Therefore, a person involved in Christian apologetics is a defender of Christianity or Christian apologist (apologete in older literature). This Classical Greek term appears in the Koine Greek (that is, common Greek) of the New Testament. The apostle Paul employed the term in his trial speech to Festus and Agrippa when he said, "I make my defense" (Acts 26:2).

In the English language, the word apology, derived from the Greek word apologia, usually refers to asking for forgiveness for a blameworthy act. Christian apologetics are meant, however, to argue that Christianity is reasonable and in accordance with the evidence that can be examined and metaphysical considerations, analogous to the use of the term in Plato's Apology of Socrates.

Biblical motivation

Several biblical passages have historically motivated Christian apologetics.

The Book of Isaiah includes God's entreaty, "Come now, let us reason together" (1:18, ESV), and the First Epistle of Peter declares that Christians must always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you ... with gentleness and respect" (3:15). The Book of Acts contains a description of the apologetic example of Paul, who "reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there" (17:17) as well as at the Areopagus (17:19ff). Each of these has been the motivation for Christians to undertake the discipline apologetics in order to present non-Christians with reasons to adopt the Christian faith or to strengthen the belief of current Christians.

Additionally, Psalm 19, which starts "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands," Psalm 139:13-14, and Romans 1:19-23 have given impetus to the apologetic enterprise, particularly in arguing from natural phenomena to a creator as in the cosmological argument or teleological argument:

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Paul of TarsusRomans 1:20


Evidentialist apologetics are the most widely used form of apologetics today and have been so from the earliest times in Christianity, even in the New Testament. Early church fathers who were Christian apologists include Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Jerome.

The apostle Paul, who was well-educated, said to beware worldly, human philosophy (Colossians 2:8) that did not accord with Christ. There is evidence that Paul himself was acquainted with Greek philosophy (Acts 9:29). Yet some apologists such as Gordon Clark call themselves Christian philosophers. An explanation of this conflict is that Christians view some philosophy as being compatible with Christianity, such as the logic, while other philosophy is not, such as nontheistic philosophy.

Thomas Aquinas, an influential Catholic apologist, presented five arguments for God's existence in the Summa Theologica.[2] Aquinas's approach, which adapted the ideas of Aristotle, is known as Thomism, and has dominated both Roman Catholic and Protestant approaches to philosophical apologetics. Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til in the 20th century presented a different philosophical approach called presuppositional apologetics that rejects Aquinas's arguments as inconclusive or even fallacious and contends that there is no neutral ground on which to convince a non-Christian of the truth of Christianity. This form of apologetics mainly exists in Calvinist circles.

Evangelical Christian apologist Norman Geisler composed an essay entitled "Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars,"[3] which exhorts Christians to beware philosophical systems that ultimately result in unorthodox theological views but also suggests that Christian scholars unite philosophical and theological studies so that unorthodox philosophies can be detected and eschewed. Also, Francis Schaeffer, a conservative Protestant Christian apologist, argued that Christians needed to be more knowledgeable about philosophical questions, as he taught that only a Judeo-Christian view of man and the world provided satisfactory and consistent answers to the questions of being, knowledge and morals which philosophy addresses.

In the period between 1800 and the mid-1900s, there were a number of Christian apologist/scholars such as William Mitchell Ramsay (1851–1939), William Henry Green (1825–1900), Robert Dick Wilson (1856–1930), and Oswald T. Allis (1856–1930) who argued for the historicity and trustworthiness of the Bible, a field called Biblical apologetics.

A common concern in the history of Christianity is that apologetics deny the role of faith and, some argue, that they seem to offer a way to "reason oneself" into the kingdom of heaven, as Blaise Pascal argued. However, many Christians understand the Bible to command the defense of the Christian faith when it says that one should "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). Some believers assert that a proper view of faith involves not simply accepting that what the Bible says is true, nor only trusting that God exists, but actually trusting in God, citing as an example that Satan's mere knowledge of God is insufficient for his own salvation (James 2:19).

Current landscape

Christian apologetics continues to the current day in a wide variety of forms. The Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton, the Anglican C. S. Lewis (who popularised the argument which he called aut Deus aut homo malus ("either God or a bad man"), or 'Christian trilemma'), the evangelical Norman Geisler, the Lutheran John Warwick Montgomery, and the Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer were among the most prolific Christian apologists in the 20th century, while Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til started a new school of philosophical apologetics called presuppositionalism, which is popular in Calvinist circles. Others include Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, Hugh Ross, Lee Strobel, Hugo Anthony Meynell and William Lane Craig.


There are a variety of Christian apologetic styles and schools of thought. The major types of Christian apologetics include: historical and legal evidentialist apologetics, presuppositional apologetics, philosophical apologetics, prophetic apologetics, doctrinal apologetics, biblical apologetics, moral apologetics, and scientific apologetics. The general information and arguments contained in the following overview are by no means exhaustive.

Historical and legal evidentialism

In the evidentialist tradition, empirical arguments about the reported life, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus are presented as (informal) probabilistic proofs.

The first Protestant textbook of apologetics was written by the Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius, On The Truth of the Christian Religion. This work, which remained in print until the late 19th century, defended the historicity of the Gospels and also addressed arguments to Jews and Muslims.

Christian scholar Gary Habermas is recognized as being one of the foremost defenders of the historicity of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

Various arguments have been put forth by legal scholars such as Simon Greenleaf and John Warwick Montgomery and others claiming that Western legal standards argue for the historicity of the resurrection of Christ.[4][5][6] In addition, legal authorities' opinions regarding the resurrection of Christ are appealed to.[7]

Christian scholar Edwin M. Yamauchi and others argue against the pagan myth hypothesis for the origin of Christianity.[8][9] In addition, Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White, is often quoted by Christian apologists[who?] in regard to Christianity not being formed through myth.

Sherwin-White stated:

For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.... The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time.... Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, [showing that] even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core.

Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press (1963), pp. 189-190.

Defense of miracles

C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Christians who engage in jurisprudence Christian apologetics have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible wherever an all-powerful Creator is postulated.[10][11][12]

Prophetic fulfillment

In his book Science Speaks, Peter Stoner argues that only God knows the future and that Biblical prophecies of a compelling nature have been fulfilled.[13]

Apologist Josh McDowell documents the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, relating to his ancestral line, birthplace, virgin birth, miracles, manner of death, and resurrection. Even the timing of the Messiah in years and in relation to events is predicted, and the Jewish Talmud is reported as lamenting that the Messiah had not appeared despite the scepter being taken away from Judah, having not accepted Jesus as the Messiah.[14]

Apologist Blaise Pascal believed that the prophecies are the strongest evidence for Christianity. He notes that Jesus not only foretold, but was foretold, unlike in other religions, and that these prophecies came from a succession of people over a span of four thousand years.[15].

Biblical apologetics

Biblical apologetics include issues concerned with the authorship and date of biblical books, biblical canon, and biblical inerrancy. In addition, Christian apologists defend and comment on various books of the Bible. Some scholars who have engaged in the defense of biblical inerrancy include Robert Dick Wilson, Gleason Archer, Norman Geisler, and R. C. Sproul. Also, there are several resources that Christians offer defending inerrancy in regard to specific verses.[16][17]

Some scholars who have defended the authorship and date of biblical books include John Wenham, Norman Geisler, Kenneth Kitchen, and Bryant G. Wood. Wenham's work is well-regarded by those who supported the Augustinian hypothesis, which is the traditional view of Gospel authorship. Scholars who have defended biblical canon include F. F. Bruce and Bruce Metzger. In addition, there are a host of Bible scholars who have defended and commented on various books of the Bible. Authors defending the reliability of the Gospels include Craig Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (InterVarsity, 1987, ISBN 978-0877849926) and Mark D. Roberts in Can We Trust the Gospels? (Crossway, 2007, ISBN 978-1581348668).

Philosophical apologetics

Philosophical apologetics concerns itself primarily with arguments for the existence of God, although they do not exclusively dwell on this area. As such, they do not argue for the veracity of Christianity over other religions but merely for the existence of a 'god'.

These arguments can be grouped into several categories:

  1. Cosmological argument - Argues that the existence of the universe demonstrates that God exists. Various primary arguments from science are often offered to support the cosmological argument.[18][19][20]
  2. Teleological argument (argument from design) - Argues that there is a purposeful design in the world around us, and a design requires a designer. Cicero, William Paley, and Michael Behe employed this argument as well as others.[21]
  3. Ontological argument - Argues that the very concept of God demands that there is an actual existent God.
  4. Moral Argument - Argues that if there are any real morals, then there must be an absolute from which they are derived.[22]
  5. Transcendental Argument - Argues that all our abilities to think and reason require the existence of God.
  6. Presuppositional Arguments - Arguments that show basic beliefs of theists and nontheists require God as a necessary precondition.

Other philosophical arguments include:

Ontological argument

In Medieval Europe Saint Anselm of Canterbury composed the Monologion and Proslogion, in which he developed the ontological argument for God's existence. He believed that faith was necessary as a precursor to philosophical argument and expressed his position as "I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand: for this I also believe, that unless I believe I will not understand." The basics of his ontological argument are stated in the following quote: "But clearly that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist in the understanding alone. For if it is actually in the understanding alone, it can be thought of as existing also in reality, and this is greater ... Without doubt, therefore, there exists, both in the understanding and in reality, something than which a greater cannot be thought." "That than which a greater cannot be thought" refers to God.

Though Bertrand Russell would later declare himself an atheist, he conceded the ontological argument during his undergraduate years: "For two or three years ... I was a Hegelian. I remember the exact moment during my fourth year [in 1894] when I became one. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco, and was going back with it along Trinity Lane, when I suddenly threw it up in the air and exclaimed: 'Great God in Boots! -- the ontological argument is sound!'"[25]

Presuppositional apologetics

Another apologetical school of thought, a sort of synthesis of various existing Dutch and American Reformed thinkers (such as, Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin Warfield, Herman Dooyeweerd), emerged in the late 1920s. This school was instituted by Cornelius Van Til, and came to be popularly called Presuppositional apologetics (though Van Til himself felt "Transcendental" would be a more accurate title). The main distinction between this approach and the more classical evidentialist approach mentioned above is that the Presuppositionalist denies any common ground between the believer and the non-believer, except that which the non-believer denies, namely, the assumption of the truth of the theistic worldview. In other words, Presuppositionalists don't believe that the existence of God can be proven by appeal to raw, uninterpreted (or, "brute") facts, which have the same (theoretical) meaning to people with fundamentally different worldviews, because they deny that such a condition is even possible. They claim that the only possible proof for the existence of God is that the very same belief is the necessary condition to the intelligibility of all other human experience and action. In other words, they attempt to prove the existence of God by means of appeal to the alleged transcendental necessity of the belief—indirectly (by appeal to the allegedly unavowed presuppositions of the non-believer's worldview) rather than directly (by appeal to some form of common factuality). In practice this school utilizes what have come to be known as Transcendental Arguments for the Existence of God. In these arguments they claim to demonstrate that all human experience and action (even the condition of unbelief, itself) is a proof for the existence of God, because God's existence is the necessary condition of their intelligibility.

Another position that is also sometimes called presuppositional apologetics, but should not be confused with the Van Tillian variety discussed above, is the one of Gordon Clark and his disciples. Clarkians hold that, if Christian theology is true, then God's existence can never be demonstrated, either by empirical means or by philosophical argument. The most extreme example of this position is called fideism, which holds that faith is simply the will to believe, and argues that if God's existence were rationally demonstrable, faith in his existence would become superfluous. In The Justification of Knowledge, the Calvinist theologian Robert L. Reymond argues that believers should not attempt to prove the existence of God. Since he believes all such proofs are fundamentally unsound, believers should not place their confidence in them, much less resort to them in discussions with non-believers; rather, they should accept the content of revelation by faith. Reymond's position is similar to that of his mentor, Clark, which holds that all worldviews are based on certain unprovable first premises (or, axioms), and therefore are ultimately unprovable.

Doctrinal apologetics

In doctrinal apologetics, various Christian teachings are defended, such as the trinity. Also, non-Christian religions are argued against. Christian apologists have developed arguments against Judaism, Islam, and Deism, for example. Changing modes in apologetics, whether or not they are currently fashionable, are important markers in the history of ideas.

Moral apologetics

In moral apologetics, the arguments for man's sinfulness and man's need for redemption are stressed. Examples of this type of apologetic would be Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".[26] The Four Spiritual Laws religious tract (Campus Crusade for Christ) would be another example.[27]

In the first centuries AD, a number of Christian writers undertook the task of proving that Christianity was beneficial for the Roman Empire and for humanity as a whole. Also, they wrote to defend their faith against attacks made by other people or to properly explain their faith. Aristides and Quadratus of Athens, writing in the early second century, were two of the first Christians to write apologetics treatises. Other second-century apologetic writings of note included the First Apology and Second Apology of Justin Martyr and the Epistle to Diognetus , a response to the accusation that Christians were a danger to Rome.

About a century after Constantine's conversion to Christianity, the Roman Empire began falling to invaders from northern Europe. Some Christian writers sought to explain the decline of Roman culture and power by systematically downplaying the achievements of classical antiquity while emphasizing the persecution of Christians and the positive role of Christianity in society. Paulus Orosius wrote the first book advancing this perspective (History Against the Pagans), though the far more learned and influential work of this type was The City of God by Saint Augustine of Hippo (426).

Several of the early Christian apologists developed arguments from fulfilled prophecy and gospel miracles as proofs of Christ's divinity. Eusebius of Caesarea in his Demonstration of the Gospel attempted to prove the truth of Christianity by fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament, and by rebutting arguments that the Apostles had made up the story of Christ's resurrection.

Scientific apologetics

Many Christian apologists contend that science and the Bible do not contradict each other. Some creationists, who understand the Bible to teach that the earth is less than 10,000 years old (young Earth creationists), believe that dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible in passages such as Job 40 and that the scientific establishment has not proven that the world is much older. Old Earth creationists, on the other hand, believe it is possible to harmonize the Bible's six-day account of creation with the scientific consensus that the universe is billions of years old, using basic reasoning. According to Psalms 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, a thousand years(to man) is a day passing(to God). If the particular number 1,000 is interpreted as an arbitrarily large number, then the actual number of years the earth has existed becomes a scientific matter, not a religious debate. Riding this train of thought, there is no need to demonize carbon dating. Still others are theistic evolutionists who find harmony with Darwin's conceptualization of evolution as the tool that God employed to develop human life. For those who do not think the idea of the Big Bang contradicts the Bible, primordial ooze could arguably have been the soil God shaped when, according to Genesis 2:7, He formed man from dust and breathed life into him and man became a living soul. This belief reveals that first necessary spark, without which scientists have been unable to create life within a lab, even though the building blocks are readily available.

Various Christians over the millennia have put forth arguments that the God of the Bible, and not merely universal randomness, is responsible for the existence of the natural forces that shaped the universe from the beginning of time, and the universe as we find it today.[28]

Young Earth creationists have also engaged in points of Biblical apologetics (see above) with regard to various parts of the primordial history in Genesis 1-11 – for instance, the long life spans of people such as Methuselah,[29][30] the Flood,[31][32] the Tower of Babel,[33][34][35] and the division of humanity into three races based on descent from the sons of Noah.



Overview and reference

Historical and legal evidential Christian apologetics

Introductory evidential

  • McDowell, Josh, New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson, Inc, Publishers, 1999
  • Strobel, Lee. 1998. The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • Hanegraaff, Hank. 2002. Resurrection: The Capstone in the Arch of Christianity. W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee.

Other evidential

  • Habermas, Gary, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press: Joplin, MI 1996).
  • Habermas, Gary and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 1994)
  • Kitchen, Kenneth, On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-4960-1, 2003


  • Stoner, Peter Science Speaks (Chapter 2: Prophetic Accuracy and Chapter 3: The Christ of Prophecy), Chicago, Moody Press, 1963[36]


  • Clark, Gordon (1961). Religion, Reason, and Revelation, 3rd ed. Trinity Foundation (1995). ISBN 978-0940931862
  • Kreeft, Peter and Ronald Tacelli (1994). "Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions". InterVarsity Press
  • Meynell, Hugo Anthony The Intelligible Universe: A Cosmological Argument, Totowa, N.J. : Barnes & Noble, 1982
  • Ramm, Bernard (1962). Varieties of Christian Apologetics: An Introduction to the Christian Philosophy of Religion. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • Geisler, Norman and Chad Meister (2007). Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith. Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois




Apologetic responses to Postmodernism

  • Meynell, Hugo Anthony Redirecting philosophy: Reflections of the Nature of Knowledge from Plato to Lonergan,Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1998 and Postmodernism and the New Enlightenment,Washington, D.C. : Catholic University of America Press, 1999

See also


  1. John M. Frame (1994). Apologetics to the Glory of God. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed. ISBN 978-0875522432. 
  2. "Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), "The Five Ways"". Texas A&M University Department of Philosophy. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  3. ""Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars,"". Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  4. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853). "Testimony of the Evangelists". Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  5. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. "The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity". Issues, Etc. Article Archive. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  6. Richard J. Radcliffe. "Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture". Law Religion Culture Review (Blog Spot). Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  7. "The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Part 2: Could the Evidence Stand Cross-Examination in a Modern Court of Law?". Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  8. Edwin M. Yamauchi. "Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History?". Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  9. "Refuting the myth that Jesus never existed". Bede's Library by James Hannam. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  10. "Are Miracles Logically Impossible?". Come Reason Ministries, Convincing Christianity. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  11. "“Miracles are not possible,” some claim. Is this true?". Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  12. Paul K. Hoffman. "A Jurisprudential Analysis Of Hume’s “in Principal” Argument Against Miracles" (PDF). Christian Apologetics Journal, Volume 2, No. 1, Spring, 1999; Copyright ©1999 by Southern Evangelical Seminary. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  13. Chapter 2, Science Speaks, Peter Stoner
  14. McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. chapter 8. 
  15. Pascal, Blaise (17th c.). Pensees. chapter x, xii, xiii. 
  16. "Bible Query"
  17. A Christian Thinktank
  18. Evidences for God from Space
  19. Apologetics Press - "So Long, Eternal Universe; Hello Beginning, Hello End!”
  20. Keith H. Wanser, physics
  21. A brief history of design
  22. Morality Apart From God: Is It Possible?
  23. Intellectual Sophistication and Basic Belief in God
  24. Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe
  25. Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, vol. 1, 1967.
  26. Select Sermons | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  27. The Four Spiritual Laws - English
  29. Living for 900 years - Creation Magazine
  30. CH311: Vapor canopy's effect on lifespan
  31. Why Does Nearly Every Culture Have a Tradition of a Global Flood?
  32. Get Answers: Noah's Flood
  33. Is there archaeological evidence of the Tower of Babel? - ChristianAnswers.Net
  34. CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES - Is there any reference in early Mesopotamian literature to what happened at the Tower of Babel? - ChristianAnswers.Net
  35. The Tower of Babel—Legend or History? :
  36. (online version available)

External links

General apologetics

Historical/legal/evidential apologetics


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