Ideas and Consequences: The Need for Christian Apologetics in the Modern World

Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D.

(This outstanding, but brief essay on Christian Apologetics was apparently written in the 1990s)

"Abortion is not wholly without many clinics one must first schedule an appointment."

Although God so loved mankind that he gave his only begotten Son, historically man has not followed God's example when it has come to the treatment of his fellow man. In fact, we have made great progress in the second half of the twentieth century in our maltreatment of Homo sapiens (while, interestingly enough, during the same period other species have found increased protection against maltreatment.) Just a few years ago one found it necessary to point to the regimes of Hitler and Stalin to illustrate archetypal examples of man's inhumanity to man. Now one simply needs to take the wrong off ramp on a southern California freeway to see it first hand. Gang tyranny and terrorism, although on a smaller but growing scale, have displayed a similar disregard for human life found in Stalin's "five-year plan" and Hitler's "final solution." And the gang situation is just one of the more grisly visible manifestations of such disregard. Roe v. Wade has helped to turn genocide into something effectively invisible and something that even minors can participate in at their leisure. (Abortion is not wholly without many clinics one must first schedule an appointment.) The recent human extermination legacies established by the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy, and Timothy McVeigh pale in comparison to the abortion blood bath, but these celebrity mass murderers have been growing in ranks.

When confronted with the continued mind-boggling deterioration of man's status at the end of this century, the natural question is how can the Church of Jesus Christ make a difference in this dismal situation? The answer is surprisingly simple and a little mundane: the same way it always has. Historically the Church has impacted the world at large in two basic ways. The first was to march out one by one and engage the situation directly on the ground. The modern equivalent of this engagement can be seen in the courageous actions of those such as abortion protesters, inner city street witnesses, and in church programs for battered wives, abused children, alcohol and drug dependencies, and the homeless. The second is to make an assault on the ideas that undergird and are in great part directly responsible for such misery.

Unquestionably the Church needs to expand dramatically both of these means of engaging the culture. But I think it is also unquestionable that it is the latter avenue that has been most neglected, most impotent, and most in need of revitalization. The study of Christian Apologetics -- that is, the general defense of the Gospel and Christian world view -- simply cannot be neglected any longer if we wish to see the Kingdom of God furthered in this generation.

The last time Christianity in the West faced an entire civilization set against it, was in the centuries before the conversion of Constantine (Emperor of Rome) early in the fourth century. Not surprisingly, amidst the hostility in those early centuries some of the great leaders that emerged and which are remembered today were the Greek and Latin Apologists. They were the believers who clearly communicated and defended the faith and did not shrink fom attacking the weak intellectual foudation upon which anti-Christian arguments were based. They were also quick to respond to the critics of the faith especially in high places. And all this was done in the face of powerful, bellicose adversaries and under threat of death. We need well trained people to do the same today on all levels; in the street, in the churches, in government, in the media, and especially on the secular university campuses where the Christian is the only minority that can be abused and slandered without protest. (With regard to free speech and freedom of religion, students now talk about the American campus the way they used to talk about East Germany under Soviet domination.) A coup d'etat in the world of ideas for the sake of the Gospel should be one of the promary goals of the Church, but it usually ranks far below the more urgent concerns of spaghetti suppers and parking lot repavement.

Reinvigorating the grand truth claims of the Christian faith and sound arguments to defend them has obvious consequences for the church's efforts in evangelism and missions. Indeed, I would argue based on the activity and teachings of the Apostles in the New Testament that it is an indispensable part of the effort in missions and evangelism, not just some curious intellectual sideshow. But tenaciously promulgating and defending "true" ideas (those known with great certainty to be revealed by the Creator) have consequences far beyond the actual saving of souls. True ideas about the nature of man, the physical universe, morality, government, economics, ets., have the power to fulfill other biblical mandates for individuals and society, such as the implementation of justice and the amelioration of the plight of the poverty stricken, to name just two. Without the true ideas, however, we shall see no such consequences. Francis Schaeffer saw this connection better than most, especially as true views of reality impact law and government. In his Christian Manifesto he wrote:

"We have been utterly our complete failure to face the total world view that is rooted in a false view of reality [i.e., that al is matter and energy shaped by chance]. And we have not understood that this view of reality inevitably brings forth totally different and wrong and inhuman results in all of life. This is nowhere more certain than in law and government -- where law and government are used by this false view of reality as a tool to force this false view and its results on everyone."

It is not a historical coincidence that after the conversion of Constantine the Roman Empire suddenly the criminal law and law of debt, mitigated the conditions of slavery, made grants to support poor children, legislated against grossly perverted sexual acts, and exempted the clergy from special taxes. Although Rome under Constantine was far from utopian, it illustrates the flip side of Shaeffer's comment, that in the hands of lawyers and government officials, the biblical world view can increase the administration of justice and alleviate a great deal of suffering. Without it, the lives of people are at the mercy of those who consider their own self-interest or some corrupt ideology the only absolute. Standing on the shoulders of the great Christian apologists of the second century, Constantine oversaw tremendous humanitarian reform. We ought not be surprised that the message of the Bible is powerful enough not only to save souls, but to transform civilizations. Consequences will inevitably come from ideas that are embraced by societies; we have little control over that. However, we do have at least a mustard seed portion of power -- through righteous persuasion and argumentation -- to affect the ideas that seem right to the world. If consequences are coming, it is the uphill battle of the modern Christian apologist, guided by the Holy Spirit, to see that they are the result of true ideas.

Craig J. Hazen,
Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Arts Program in Christian Apologetics, Biola University.