Confession and Apologetics: The Necessary and Sufficient

There are several things necessary for an orchestra performance that by themselves would not be sufficient for the performance. Instruments, the music, the sheets upon which the music was written and many other things would all be necessary for the performance. Still, by themselves, such things are not sufficient for the performance; they do not, by themselves bring about the performance. No, above all else what must be joined to all these necessary elements for an orchestra performance is the skill of the musicians in using all its necessary elements. More specifically, the musicians must use these necessary elements in harmony (!) with their purpose.

Christian apologetics is like this. There are features to it that are necessary, but by themselves, they are not sufficient for engaging in Christian apologetics. What is needed is an apologist who knows how to use the necessary features of apologetics. Just as the quality of an orchestra performance is greatly dependent on the quality of the musicians, so too is the Christian character of the Christian’s apologetic greatly dependent on the moral character of the Christian giving it. Their moral character refers to their pursuit of, and progress in, becoming more like the Lord Jesus Christ. All this expresses the moral character of truth.

Christian apologetics is often defined as the defense of the Christian faith. The Greek term apologia, (1Cor. 9:3; Phil. 1:7; 2Tim. 4:16; 1Peter 3:15) from which we derive our term apologetics can be translated defense. But it can also be translated reason. Thus, in Christian apologetics the Christian gives a rational justification or explanation for the hope that they have in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a staggering assignment, because it is not, among other things, calling us to express how we feel about Jesus as our Savior. While there is an unavoidable subjective or personal character to the Christian explaining the reason for their hope in Jesus, there is also an unavoidable objective character to it. After all, our hope is in Jesus, it is who Jesus actually is as the Eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity that defines the Christian’s hope. This is why in 1Peter the Christian’s hope is identified in union with the Christian’s holiness and Jesus’ Lordship.

Put another way, the Christian is being purified of sin in order that he or she might declare the praises of him who called his people out of sinful darkness and into his marvelous light (1Peter 2:9). In other words, there is a moral dimension to knowing the truth about Jesus. In fact, this means there is a moral dimension to knowing the truth about everything, because Jesus is the Creator and Redeemer; he is Lord of all creation. All things in creation are only rightly understood when understood in relation to Jesus. And this means that apologetics is about everything.

Since our submission to Jesus as Lord is united to our giving a rational explanation for our hope in Jesus, we must recognize that the biblical conceptions of evangelism, apologetics and discipleship harmonize. While some operate with a disconnect of these pursuits so that Jesus’ Lordship, and salvation to him, are played off against each other, God’s word written and made flesh instruct us to do no such thing. One need not embrace the rather ridiculous confession: “Jesus is my Savior, but not my Lord” in order to have a functional disconnect between evangelism, apologetics and discipleship. Instead, we functionally disconnect these when we do, among other things, the following. 1) We fail to live in the truth of the moral character to all learning. 2) We fail to live in the truth of how all learning in every subject discipline is related to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, and therefore to biblical evangelism. And 3) we fail to live in the truth that there is a historical process to learning, submitting to, and explaining the truth about Jesus.

The work of expressing in propositional form what we think that the Scriptures require us to believe as Christians is a necessary part of being Christians, and another way of expressing the work of systematic theology. This work is seen in the historical confessions of the Church. But by themselves these written confessions, along with our learning of and subscribing to them, are hardly sufficient for apologetics. To accomplish biblical apologetics it is not enough to merely engage in a rational analysis of the presuppositions of the church’s confessions or the systematic theology we believe is mandated by Scripture. Neither is biblical apologetics accomplished by us when we take our systematic theology and analyze someone’s presuppositions, or what we think are their presuppositions and point out where we think they are wrong. Biblical apologetics requires us to live in obedience to God’s word so that the holy life of Jesus changes us to be more like him, so that the fruit of God’s Spirit is seen more and more in our lives.     

I was recently asked by a 9 yr. old boy if it was necessary to memorize the Shorter Catechism in order to become a Christian. It would likely be helpful, but it is not necessary. In fact, not only is it not necessary, it is hardly sufficient. That’s part of the Christian confession and apologetic.

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

David Smith