Christianity is Unique: Three Points to Emphasize in Biblical Apologetics with World Religions

Introduction

People tend to stumble at the suggestion that we defend Christianity to those of other religious persuasions. Those of other religious persuasions have their gods, their scriptures, and their means of salvation. How then shall the Christian commend Christianity to the religious non-Christian?

The Real Problem

People fear that the question has no answer. But that’s not the problem. The problem is not that there is no answer to the question of how to engage with religious non-Christians. The problem is that there is no one answer to the question of how to engage with religious non-Christians. There are many answers. Obviously, we have our biblical parameters. For example, the Bible dictates that we engage with religious non-Christians. It dictates that we commend and defend Christianity to religious non-Christians. But again, many answers to the question of how to defend the Christian faith to religious non-Christians are available. Just one formulaic response will not do. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to apologetics. More on that some other time.

For now, it’s enough to know that while there are biblical parameters to follow during encounters with religious non-Christians, many biblical apologetic responses are still available to the Christian. That having been said, I would like to suggest three areas to highlight when dialoguing with those of other religious persuasions.

First, emphasize the doctrine of the Trinity.

Orthodox Christians believe that there is one God who eternally exists in three persons and each person is fully God. The Christian should be familiar with the doctrine of the Trinity and able to defend it in terms of progressive revelation, systematic theology, and scriptural exegesis.

When dialoguing with those of other religious persuasions, make sure to emphasize the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity to orthodox Christian belief. Contrast it with the ‘Trinitarian’ beliefs of the non-Christian religious adherent. World religions and cults are well-known for adopting the language of the Trinity while defining the doctrine differently or adamantly rejecting it. Contrary to the sentiments of some, clarifying doctrine is rarely harmful in an apologetic encounter.

Second, emphasize the doctrine of the Person of Christ.

Orthodox Christians believe that the Person of Jesus Christ exists as one person with two natures, one fully divine and one fully human. The Christian should be familiar with the doctrine of the Person of Christ and able to defend it in terms of progressive revelation, systematic theology, and scriptural exegesis.

When dialoguing with those of other religious persuasions, make sure to emphasize the importance of the doctrine of Christ to orthodox Christian belief. Contrast it with the ‘Person of Christ’ beliefs of the non-Christian religious adherent. World religions and cults are well-known for adopting the language of the Person of Christ while defining the doctrine differently or adamantly rejecting it. Contrary to the sentiments of some, clarifying doctrine is rarely harmful in an apologetic encounter.

Third, emphasize the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone.

Orthodox Christians believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone. The Christian should be familiar with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone and able to defend it in terms of progressive revelation, systematic theology, and scriptural exegesis.

When dialoguing with those of other religious persuasions, make sure to emphasize the importance of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone to orthodox Christian belief. Contrast it with the ‘salvation by grace through faith’ beliefs of the non-Christian religious adherent. World religions and cults are well-known for adopting the language of salvation by grace through faith while defining the doctrine differently or adamantly rejecting it. Contrary to the sentiments of some, clarifying doctrine is rarely harmful in an apologetic encounter.

Conclusion

Each of the three doctrines mentioned above is specific to Christianity. When taken together, the three doctrines evidence the uniqueness of Christianity. No cult or world religion possesses what Christianity does in terms of the aforementioned interrelated doctrines. However, world religions and cults often adopt the language of the three doctrines described above. Nevertheless, the terms are defined quite differently from the way they are defined in orthodox Christianity. When adherents to various non-Christian religions are pressed, they typically make their rejection of Christian orthodoxy in the areas of the Trinity, Christ, and salvation explicit.

In general, it’s a good idea to approach those of non-Christian religions with heavy emphasis on the Trinity, Christ, and salvation. Not only will discussing these three areas of Christian doctrine make the distinctions between Christianity and other positions even clearer, but all three directly pertain to the uniqueness of Christianity and, most importantly, all three directly pertain to the gospel.

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Historical Apologetics?

Biblical apologetics are historical apologetics. What do I mean? At least five points come to mind.

1. Apologetics are not Scripturalist.

Scripturalism is somewhat analogous to Scientism. Scientism has become a major religion in the West. Scientism is the belief that science is the only means to knowledge. (Of course, the claim, ‘Science is the only means to knowledge’ is itself unknowable through science, and hence scientism is self-refuting.) Scripturalism, then, is something like the belief that Scripture, or the Bible, is the only means to knowledge. The difficulty here is that the Bible itself rejects such a claim. Knowledge is available through God’s creation (e.g. Psalm 19, Romans 1.18ff) even outside of the Bible.

While God’s Word must be the very basis upon which apologetic encounters are carried forth, an apologist is more than warranted in using language, illustrations, arguments, and the like which are not immediately found in Scripture. In doing so, the apologist is standing between two worlds, taking the truth of God found in Scripture and applying it to his or her place in history. Apologetics are interpretive, applicative, contextual, constructive. Apologetics do not merely consist  of repeating passages of Scripture over and over again to unbelievers. They are used within one’s historical context.

2. Apologetics have been used throughout history.

They started in the Bible (e.g. Acts 17). They continued to be used in the early church. Justin Martyr is a notable apologist in history. Many others would follow. Apologetics were not always so radically divided from other theological disciplines in the past, because every discipline was a theological discipline. God was the end of knowledge. He still is, but we fail to recognize it in our modern and postmodern mindsets.

Apologetics are nothing new. Famous apologists litter every era of church history. Some of them were very bad, and others were very good. One cannot be dismissive of apologetics if one has any regard for the place of church history in current practice.

3. Apologetics assume the theological is historical.

Theological liberalism involves, among many other things, a rejection of the authority, infallibility, and/or inerrancy of Scripture. ‘Conservative’ Christians often ponder why theological ‘liberalism’ even exists. At least part of the reason liberalism exists is to satisfy apologetic concerns from an unbelieving human perspective. By driving a wedge between faith and reason, religion and science, and theology and history, liberals have attempted to ‘defend’ a version of ‘Christianity’ without really accepting it at all. In theological liberalism, the text of Scripture must be ‘demythologized.’ The supernatural is rejected in favor of a system of ethics based loosely upon the teachings of Jesus as interpreted by those who are themselves attempting to make moral determinations apart from the authority of God. Liberalism is an unbiblical form of apologetics that begins and ends with humans. It works from the ‘bottom up’ instead of from the ‘top down.’

A ‘top down’ approach to apologetics begins with the Bible and works out from there. The Bible knows nothing of a chasm between theology and history. Rather, God reveals Himself in and through the course of history, providentially guiding it and interpreting it for His glory and the good of His people. Some have understood apologetics to be the application of theology to unbelief. And so it is. But the theological is historical.

4. Apologetics assume the historical is theological.

The Bible records a great deal of history. That history is theologically interpreted. But interpreting the historical by the theological is not a practice that should end with the close of the canon of Scripture. Scripture remains the norma normans. Or, to move from the Latin to the cheesy, history is ‘His-story’ of which we are blessed to be a part. The story did not end with the Bible. Interpreting our own predicament in light of Scripture is the only way to be a biblically faithful Christian.

Recognizing that the historical is theological should give way to the prominence of biblical counseling amongst the carefully constructed and cold intellectual arguments used by many apologists. We have a place in God’s story. Since the historical is theological, apologetics are rigorously evidential in nature, but note that evidences cannot be divorced from their theological context and meaning. Cultural apologetics likewise find their home in the recognition that history does not operate in a vacuum, but in accord with the providential plan of God to bless people through following the principles set forth in His Word.

5. Apologetics are informed by historical theology.

People who believe that ‘the Bible, Jesus, and me’ is a good combination to create good doctrine are in reality setting themselves up to start a good cult. The Bible speaks of a Church founded by Jesus to help me understand the Bible. We find ourselves in a radically individualistic society. The rightful place of historical theology in the life of the Christian can hardly be overemphasized. People have read the Bible for thousands of years. They have interpreted it. They have applied its truths to their lives and societies. They have argued about it. They have debated it. They have thought through difficult subjects. God has blessed us with thousands of years of the testimony of the Church to assist us in constructive theology.

We need not jettison the aforementioned work when constructing an apologetic for the Christian faith. There is no question you or anyone else can ask regarding Christianity that has not already been raised and addressed in some form or fashion in church history. Stop being arrogant and start standing on the shoulders of giants. It is precisely because they miss the place of historical theology in apologetics that most unbelievers build such downright awful cases against Christianity. They are not actually attacking Christianity. They do not actually know Christianity. It’s not as though modern unbelievers are the first people to raise the questions or make the attacks they have. They are just generally ignorant of history. Familiarity with the God of history in church history is therefore an essential aspect of an effective biblical apologetic.

‘Biblical Apologetics’?

Perhaps more than any other qualifier, ‘biblical’ has fallen on hard times. The term is far too pious, and not nearly as descriptive as it may initially seem. But I make no apologies for using it. After all, WordPress was offering, there were no other takers, and I am not creative enough to think of a better title for this site.

More than that, one should be able to claim the Bible and not be eyed suspiciously. Right? Although ‘biblical’ does not say nearly enough about what one means by ‘biblical,’ there’s not a better place from which to start in apologetics, is there? I strive to make sure that my apologetics are ‘biblical’ and I make no apologies for that.

What, then, are ‘apologetics’? The term ‘apologetics’ means something like ‘defense.’ (Close enough for horseshoes and close enough for a blog post.) Thus, ‘biblical apologetics’ is an approach to defending something. Christianity.

If one were to set out to defend Christianity, then wouldn’t it make sense to do so from the standpoint of Christianity? If you have built a mighty fortress, and you desire to defend it, you aren’t going to step outside of the fortress to defend it, are you? So also when it comes to Christianity, one must offer a biblical defense of Christianity.

That’s what I intend to do here.

Welcome!