The Christian Apologist’s Moral Compass

by Douglas Groothuis

Apologetics is now hot stuff to more folks. For this, we should be deeply thankful, since the one, true gospel is being defended publicly as true and reasonable in churches, the public square, and on the Internet.1 But with popularity comes the danger of zeal getting ahead of knowledge and character. Christian defenders need to know the arguments of apologetics, but they must also find their moral bearings to bear the truth nobly. After thirty-five years of studying, teaching, and writing about apologetics as a philosopher, I discern the need for some explicit instruction, especially since I know of no other treatment of the subject.

Codes of conduct are ancient. The Hippocratic Oath, affirmed for centuries by physicians, predates Christianity. However, Christians avowed it until recently. Medical schools made it a part of their teaching.2 The departure came with the rise of permissive abortion, which came with a decline in respect for humanity.3

The Bible is the Christian’s ultimate source for the knowledge of God and is our moral compass (2 Tim. 3:15–16),4 but Christians have for centuries summarized its teachings in creeds, confessions, and doctrinal statements. The Didache, an early Christian code, dates to the middle to late first century. It is divided into “the way of life” and “the way of death.” It distills moral instruction in clear terms, which is the goal of this essay. Consider its first two points:

There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways.

The way of life is this: “First, you shalt love the God who made thee, secondly, thy neighbor as thyself; and whatsoever thou wouldst not have done to thyself, do not thou to another.”

It also warns of the “way of death”:

But the Way of Death is this: First of all, it is wicked and full of cursing, murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, witchcrafts, charms, robberies, false witness, hypocrisies, a double heart, fraud, pride, malice, stubbornness, covetousness, foul speech, jealousy, impudence, haughtiness, boastfulness.

This is no small issue. As Francis Schaeffer warns, even the Christian can bring forth bad fruit, “the fruit of the devil.”5 Therefore, we must examine motives and consider our means in apologetics, as in every area of life (1 Cor. 10:31). I begin with character and then address competence, although both are absolutely necessary for a God-honoring apologetic. As Paul told Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Paul, the great apologist, heeded his own advice when he wrote…

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The Christian Apologist’s Moral Compass – Christian Research Institute