by Ronald Nash
During my travels, I speak to thousands of laypeople every year who seem uninformed about the subject of apologetics. When I report that one of the topics I teach and write books about is apologetics, some seem to think that I’m in the business of apologizing for the Christian faith. The question for this issue is “Apologetics is what?”
Most dictionaries use the word apologist to mean any person who argues in defense of some position or cause. If we use the word in this broad sense, it is obvious that some people act as apologists for such things as democracy, communism, capitalism, vegetarianism, and aerobics. While almost any position or belief may have its apologists, I use the term to mean the philosophical defense of the Christian faith. Someone engaged in apologetics intends to show that A (some believer) is within his rights in believing the essential tenets of the Christian faith, or that B (some unbeliever) is mistaken in rejecting essential Christian beliefs.
Distinguishing between negative and positive apologetics can be helpful. In negative apologetics, the major objective is producing answers to challenges to the Christian faith. The proper task of negative apologetics is removing obstacles to faith. Many people refuse to believe because they think that difficulties like the problem of evil or the alleged impossibility of miracles makes the acceptance of some important Christian beliefs untenable. When enough tenets of the Christian faith become unacceptable (for some, this need involve only one claim, such as the Incarnation or the Resurrection), they find unbelief easier than faith.
In negative apologetics, the apologist is playing defense. In positive apologetics, the apologist begins to play offense. It is one thing to show (or attempt to show) that assorted arguments against religious faith are weak or unsound; it is a rather different task to offer people reasons why they should believe. The latter is the task of positive apologetics. The person engaged in doing positive apologetics might attempt to provide proofs or arguments for the existence of God. Or the apologist might direct the attention of the unbeliever to something he already knows and help him see how such a belief supports in some way the existence of God…
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