Philosophy against Misosophy


Gregory Bahnsen


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective, edited by Gary North, Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA, 1979, 191-239.

November 2, 2011 

The Unsettled and Complex Character of Apologetics

The Basic Question of Method

The Socratic Outlook

The Christian Perspective

Paul’s Apologetic Method: Acts 17

An Overview of the History of Apologetics

The Reformation of Apologetics 

Socrates or Christ: The Reformation of Christian Apologetics (continued)

Greg Bahnsen


The Basic Question of Method

How then should the Christian defend his faith?  The answer to this question will determine the character of one’s apologetic.  “The serious question in apologetics,” says Ramm, “is the question of strategy.”7  The urgency of arriving at the proper answer to this question is underlined by the example of Simon Peter, who solemnly determined and adamantly proclaimed that he would never deny Christ or stumble in his adherence to confessing the Lord.8  However, though Christ was in need of defense at his trial, Peter stood outside in the courtyard, denying his Lord with increasing vehemence at every confrontation.9  Nevertheless, the forsaken Messiah later restored Peter and instructed him to feed His sheep.10  Accordingly, Peter writes in his first epistle that God resurrected and glorified Christ in order that the believer’s hope might be in God; indeed, by the resurrection of Christ the Christian has been born again unto a living hope.  The Christian can, with a diligent mind, set his hope without reserve on the grace brought unto him.11  Having fed Christ’s sheep with the good news about this living hope, and poignantly remembering his own past failure, Peter commands us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and to be prepared at all times to present an apologetic for that hope (assured confidence) which is in US.12  It may be that developing a responsible and solid apologetic approach takes discernment and diligent thought, but Peter places an obligation for such thought and preparation upon each believer.

The question of apologetic strategy must be answered, and answered properly, lest we become unfaithful in defending the faith or even deny it, as did Peter.  We are exhorted to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,13 and obedience to that exhortation requires sound preparation with respect to apologetic method—a method which should reflect unwavering loyalty to the Lord.  As Peter expresses it, the prerequisite to apologetics is setting Christ apart as Lord in the heart.  How then should the Christian defend his faith?  How should one’s apologetic remain faithful to the faith which is defended?  How does the apologist stay true to his Lord?

The Greek word apologia (from which we derive the English word “apologetics”) denotes a speech made in defense, a reply (especially in the legal context of a courtroom) made to an accusation.  The word originated in the judicial operations of ancient Athens, but the word occurs several times in the New Testament as well.  The difference between the Greek and Christian methods of apologetic can be illustrated by contrasting the Apology of Socrates (as Plato records it) with the approach of the apostle Paul, who described himself as “set for the defense (apologia) of the gospel.”14  Despite the complex of material and methodological questions which surround the intramural debates over Christian apologetics, in the long run the array of various ways in which believers have defended their faith can be reduced to two fundamental perspectives: that of Socrates or that of Christ (for whom Paul, as an official representative, or “apostle,” spoke with authority).  One’s understanding of apologetics is ultimately guided by either the paradigm of Socrates’ Apology or the example of Paul, who was set for the apologia of the gospel.



7 Ramm, op. cit., p. 13.

8 Matthew 26:31-35.

9 Matthew 26:69-75.

10 John 21:15-19.

11 I Peter 1:3,13,21.

12 I Peter 3: 15.

13 Hebrews 10:23.

14 Philippians 1: 16.


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Socrates or Christ: The Reformation of Christian Apologetics 

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