Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29Several weeks ago I was discussing with my wife the need for our local homeschool co-op to add Bible courses to their weekly meeting schedule. After inquiring with some of the leadership on the possibility and potential offerings, a recurrent theme arose on the need for an apologetics course, specifically for the high school ages. I disagreed. I’m not opposed to apologetics, per se, but it is not the primary need of the day.
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which simply means a defense, primarily drawing it’s application from 1 Peter 3:15, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” As a theological discipline, apologetics has come to refer mainly to theological propositions or facts that serve as proofs or arguments as reasons for belief. The origin of apologetics is somewhat vague, but it’s clear that it reached it’s zenith in the 20th Century. Since then, apologetics has been divided into multiple camps based on their own set of rules and how-to’s: classical, evidential, cumulative case, presuppositional, and reformed epistemological. Having taken a seminary apologetics course (using primarily Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God), listening to many debates where apologetic arguments are used, engaging in apologetic arguments with unbelievers (I wrote about one such encounter here: The Wind Blows Where it Wishes), and having spent countless hours reasoning with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons on porch steps and street corners, I’ve come to the conclusion that apologetics often necessarily descends into intellectual arguments that tend to be a battle of wits rather than a clear explanation of the gospel and the need for repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
In the passage above, we have the familiar account of the infamous “Doubting Thomas”. Having missed an earlier appearance of the risen Christ to the apostles while they were in a locked room and hearing about it from the others, Thomas declares that unless he physically sees and touches where the nails were, then he would never believe. In a very real and practical way, Thomas wanted [apologetic] proofs, i.e. evidence, in order to believe that Christ had risen from the grave. As we know, eight days later the Lord once again appeared to the apostles while they were locked behind closed doors. This time however Thomas was present. Approaching Thomas rather than the others, Jesus instructs Thomas to, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” In His mercy and grace, Jesus condescends to Thomas and provides him with physical, tangible evidence of His resurrection. However, this is followed with a statement of command, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” The gospel of Jesus’ resurrection required a response. Thomas’ reply is significant and instructive as He declares Christ to be both his Lord and his God. We ought not gloss over this as it is a clear confession of both the deity and majesty of Christ.
At this point, we might be tempted to ask if Thomas was able to believe upon seeing the nail-scarred risen Lord with his own eyes, why didn’t Jesus continue His earthly ministry with these evidentiary proofs? As we know, Jesus appeared to the apostles as well as to 500 and then finally one untimely born (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). But after His ascension, apart from appearing to Paul, these physical proofs stopped. Those who had seen and testified were to become witnesses (literally martyrs) for the risen Christ. As apostles, or sent ones, they were to take the good news of the resurrected Christ by foot or by pen to the ends of the earth. They didn’t travel with photos, hair and blood samples, or DNA as evidence that Christ was who He said He was being authenticated by the resurrection. On the contrary, all those downstream of the original witnesses were to believe, by faith. This sets up for us the spread of the gospel captured in the book of Acts from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Returning to the evening with Thomas and his clear confession of Jesus as God and Lord, we read next of a mild rebuke from the Savior, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In other words, Thomas was not commended because he saw the evidence and believed. No, in contrast those who would be blessed or commended were those who had not seen and yet believed. But why? Because those who have not seen and yet believed are actually exercising faith! It is by faith that salvation comes! All of those downstream of the first generation witnesses have embraced the risen Savior by faith and not by sight.
The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is devoted to the historic outworking of faith from Abel to the present and is introduced with, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It was by faith that the people of old received their commendation. We might recall the words of Jacob, Abraham, or Moses who propose if/then conditional statements for their faith: if this happened or if I received this, then I would believe or obey. But they were not commended for that.
Well, perhaps we need cosmological arguments for the existence of God? Proofs from nature that He created and therefore exists. Hardly, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Heb. 11:3 We are not to be like the Jews who demand signs nor like the Greeks who seek wisdom. 1 Cor. 1:22 Not at all. Christ is the wisdom and power of God. Faith in Him comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Therefore we are to proclaim, clearly, the gospel of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and this proclamation of truth demands a response of faith and repentance, not intellectual ascent.
Apologetics has it’s place and in so writing this I am not completely dismissing it or throwing it under the bus. But our youth, and those of us who are a little older, do not need to know the latest teleological, epistemological, or cosmological arguments for the existence of God. We need to be so immersed in the word of God that we bleed gospel and can boldly proclaim this on the offensive to all those we encounter along the way.
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.2 Corinthians 5:6-7