Book Review: The Certainty of Faith – By Herman Bavinck

Bavinck Certainty of Faith.pngletter-aAs Bavinck says in his second chapter: “When our highest interests, our eternal weal or woe is at stake, we must be satisfied with nothing less than infallible, divine certainty. There must be no room for doubt.”

The title of this book, The Certainty of Faith, seemingly has two different connotations. At a glance, the title seems to refer to a discussion on how it is that the Christian comes about having certainty in their faith; in actuality, the book is an answer to that self-same question. The book is not primarily a discussion on how to obtain certainty in faith, but a discussion of the differing types of certainty, one of which is faith.

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Martin Luther on Faith & Works

Martin Luther 1.pngLetter IIn his Preface to Romans, Martin Luther makes the statement that “If we do not choose goodness freely, we do not keep God’s law from the heart… Granted that, in appearance and conduct, you observe the law, owing to your fear of punishment or hope of reward, yet you do nothing from free choice and out of love for the law, but unwillingly and under compulsion; were there no law, you would rather do something else. The logical conclusion is that, in the depths of your heart, you hate the law.” 

In this passage Luther sums up what is one of the key points of Christ’s teachings, that is, that it is the heart that is of pivotal importance in matters of the law, not the outward actions; thus, it is faith, not works, for it is faith that brings about a love of the law.

This position as laid out stands in contradistinction to the approach of the Pharisees, who (because they focused merely on outward action) were seen as “whitewashed tombs”.

One of the key things that Luther wishes to explain is the relationship between faith and works (or the law), to show the true purpose of the law, and how it relates to faith.

In doing so, Luther makes the keeping of the law a matter of the heart. If you keep the law outwardly, doing the law under compulsion, then your heart is still bad; if you do the law under compulsion then in truth you despise the law.

In opposition to this, one who is truly changed will come to love the law, and thus when they do the works of the law it will be because they want to do those things, not because they are afraid of the fear of punishment or the hope of reward that may result.

This basis of the heart of faith being one that wants to do the works of the law feeds into Luther’s later discussion of just what part works play in the Christian life. Thus he ends up asserting: “It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.”

This statement fits perfectly into Luther’s structure of faith/law. The heart of faith wants to do the works of the law; because the heart of faith wants to do the works of the law, it cannot help but do them.

The person with a true faith will perform the works of the law because the works of the law will be what they desire to do; the works are thus an outworking and a result of the faith, in the same way that heat is an outworking and a result of the fire.

One of the more interesting relevancies that Luther’s formulation has here for ethics is in refuting the ideas of those such as Immanuel Kant, who argued that it is when we do the works of the law unwillingly that we are truly being ethical – for, as Kant argued, not liking what you’re doing but doing it anyway shows a higher reverence of the law itself.

To this sort of idea Luther answers “no”, because the person who does the law under compulsion – while they may have some reverence for the law – are still in their hearts corrupt.

It is better to do the works of the law because you have a changed heart that desires to do them than it is to do them under compulsion.

On Apologetics – Purpose, Why You Should Take An Interest

apologetics3.pngLetter NNot too long ago I had a conversation with a man who has been a pastor for quite some time, and who was at the time taking a course in apologetics. He was clearly frustrated with the course, and as he spoke he attempted to explain why he disliked it so much. His main criticism? That it was pointless.hylian_shield_vector_by_reptiletc-d49y46o

As I listened further I discovered something interesting, his reason for the belief that apologetics was pointless. He said to me “I have no need for this class. I already know why I believe what I believe, and I believe the Bible. The Bible is the only reason I need.”

This statement was interesting, because it betrayed a twofold misunderstanding of the nature of apologetics.

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Book Review: Faith Beyond Reason, A Kierkegaardian Account – By C. Stephen Evans


faithbeyondreasonAll throughout history, and especially since the Enlightenment, the question of how we know what we know has been a big question. Within Christianity this has played out in the debate of how faith and reason interact – is one to have precedence over the other, and if so, how does this work itself out practically.

In his book – Faith Beyond Reason, A Kierkegaardian Account – C. Stephen Evans provides his contribution to this discussion. Tracing the history of his thought through Aquinas to Kant to Kierkegaard (with special focus no the latter), Evans formulates an account of what he calls ‘responsible fideism’, that is “fideism that can be rationally defended.”

The primary theme of Evans is the outworking of this responsible fideism, discussing the ways in which faith is both above reason and the ways in which it is against reason. The first aspect is framed in a discussion of whether there are limits to reason and whether we can come to know these limits – Evans concludes that there are and that we can, and in lie with Aquinas and Kant asserts that there are many aspects of faith which are beyond the scope of reason.  The second aspect is primarily built upon Evans’ reading of Kierkegaard, and is set in the context of the Christian doctrine of the fall (and thus the noetic effects of sin). In this latter discussion Evans distinguishes between reason as it works in its ideal state and reason as it works in its concrete state (that is, in its actual workings in the fallen human); it is only reason in it’s concrete state, it’s state of fallenness, that faith may be said to be properly against reason.

Evans conclusion is that “perhaps it is best to describe such a faith as faith beyond reason rather than against reason, since there is no necessary conflict with reason, but only a conflict with reason that has suffered damage but refuses to recognize this. The metaphor of ‘beyond’ aptly conveys the thrust of the historic Augustinian view of faith seeking understanding. What is sought is in some sense beyond, or one would not need to seek it… to understand is to know the truth in the way it should be known. From the fideistic perspective, faith that seeks this understanding is also the faith that heals reason so as to make it possible to move towards understanding. Faith both seeks and enables understanding. Faith enables human beings to move beyond the limitations of finite, fallen human reason.”(p153)

All in all Evans book is a very good read. Despite taking on a topic that is usually bogged down with dense philosophical language and obfuscation, Evans is very readable and his thought very accessible. While his book might not make for a great introduction to the discussion of epistemology and the relationship between faith and reason, it will make for a great resource in grasping this issue once the basic terms are understood. All in all it’s a good, refreshing light read given the subject matter covered.

Memorable Quotes:

-“There is a kind of circularity present when I ask myself how I know what I know. I cannot certify that this knowledge is genuine without assuming some knowledge of the same general sort. I could not, for example, test my sensory faculties to see if they are reliable without employing those very sense faculties and thus assuming they are reliable. There is no internal guarantee that I am not mistaken, and my belief that I have knowledge reveals my already-present commitments.”(p46)

-“Furthermore, it is hard to see how a logical contradiction could serve as the ‘boundary’ or ‘limit’ of reason as the incarnation is supposed to do. To recognize a ‘square circle’ as a formal contradiction one must have a fairly clear grasp of the concepts of ‘square’ and ‘circle’. In one sense at least, therefore, such a concept falls within the competence of reason. The point of the incarnation, according to Kierkegaard, is that it is a concept that reason cannot understand. This is so not because reason has a perfectly clear grasp of what it means to be God and what it means to be human and properly judges that the two concepts are logically contradictory. In fact, just the reverse is the case. Human reason is baffled both by human nature and by God. It is further baffled by the conjunction of the two concepts, but not because reason has a real understanding of either what it means to be human or what it means to be God. The incarnation may appear or seem to human reason to be a logical contradiction, but it is not known to be such, and the believer does not think that it is a formal contradiction.”(p83)

-“We accept as reasonable what we are taught as reasonable, and those who control society also control what is transmitted through teaching.”(p94)

-“Objective evidence may be neither necessary nor sufficient for faith. However, it doe not follow from this that objective evidence is simply irrelevant for faith, or that the believer will have no concern for evidence.”(p110)

-“… hence religious truths are not only above but go against human reason as it concretely functions, even though such truths may not be against reason as it ideally functions. On this view faith requires the transformation of the person so that the damage done to reason can be repaired or at least alleviated.”(p152)

Specific Criticisms

While on the whole I did enjoy my reading of this book, it is far from being perfect. Perhaps the first and most annoying thing that I came across in the book is Evans’ misrepresentation of some of the thinkers in the book (such as Cornelius Van Til). While Evans does preface his discussion of the various thinkers with the statement that he may not be discussing the final thought of these individuals, it’s still annoying when he then proceeds to misrepresent them. I do not think that this is by any means intentional on his part, I still found it bothersome.

The second, and perhaps more important, criticism is that of his argument against irrationality. In his second chapter ‘Fideism as Irrationalism’ Evans states that “I shall argue that these particular claims are irrational and indefensible…”(p17) and then at various points through the rest of the book mentions how he has proven in Chapter 2 that this sort of fideism is irrational. The problem here is that this sort of fideism is asserting itself as irrational – it is hardly an argument against an irrationalist system to say that it is irrational.

Apologetics — B.B. Warfield


Since Planck (1794) and Schleiermacher (1811), “apologetics” has been the accepted name of one of the theological disciplines or departments of theological science. The term is derived from the Greek apologeisthai, which embodies as its central notion the idea of “defense.”

In its present application, however, it has somewhat shifted its meaning, and we speak accordingly of apologetics and apologies in contrast with each other. The relation between these two is not that of theory and practice (so e.g. Dusterdieck), nor yet that of genus and species (so e.g. Kubel). That is to say, apologetics is not a formal science in which the principles exemplified in apologies are investigated, as the principles of sermonizing are investigated in homiletics. Nor is it merely the sum of all existing or all possible apologies, or their quintessence, or their scientific exhibition, as dogmatics is the scientific statement of dogmas. Apologies are defenses of Christianity, in its entirety, in its essence, or in some one or other of its elements or presuppositions, as against either all assailants, actual or conceivable, or some particular form or instance of attack; though, of course, as good defenses they may rise above mere defenses and become vindications.

Apologetics undertakes not the defense, not even the vindication, but the establishment, not, strictly speaking, of Christianity, but rather of that knowledge of God which Christianity professes to embody and seeks to make efficient in the world, and which it is the business of theology scientifically to explicate. It may, of course, enter into defense and vindication when in the prosecution of its task it meets with opposing points of view and requires to establish its own standpoint or conclusions. Apologies may, therefore, be embraced in apologetics, and form ancillary portions of its structure, as they may also do in the case of every other theological discipline. It is, moreover, inevitable that this or that element or aspect of apologetics will be more or less emphasized and cultivated, as the need of it is from time to time more or less felt. But apologetics does not derive its contents or take its form or borrow its value from the prevailing opposition; but preserves through all varying circumstances its essential character as a positive and constructive science which has to do with opposition only- like any other constructive science–as the refutation of opposing views becomes from time to time incident to construction. So little is defense or vindication of the essence of apologetics that there would be the same reason for its existence and the same necessity for its work, were there no opposition in the world to be encountered and no contradiction to be overcome. It finds its deepest ground, in other words, not in the accidents which accompany the efforts of true religion to plant, sustain, and propagate itself in this world; not even in that most pervasive and most portentous of all these accidents, the accident of sin; but in the fundamental needs of the human spirit.

If it is incumbent on the believer to be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is impossible for him to be a believer without a reason for the faith that is in him; and it is the task of apologetics to bring this reason clearly out in his consciousness, and make its validity plain. It is, in other words, the function of apologetics to investigate, explicate, and establish the grounds on which a theology — a science, or systematized knowledge of God- is possible; and on the basis of which every science which has God for its object must rest, if it be a true science with claims to a place within the circle of the sciences. It necessarily takes its place, therefore, at the head of the departments of theological science and finds its task in the establishment of the validity of that knowledge of God which forms the subject-matter of these departments; that we may then proceed through the succeeding departments of exegetical, historical, systematic, and practical theology, to explicate, appreciate, systematize, and propagate it in the world.


It must be admitted that considerable confusion has reigned with respect to the conception and function of apologetics, and its place among the theological disciplines. Nearly every writer has a definition of his own, and describes the task of the discipline in a fashion more or less peculiar to himself; and there is scarcely a corner in the theological encyclopedia into which it has not been thrust. Planck gave it a place among the exegetical disciplines; others contend that its essence is historical; most wish to assign it either to systematic or practical theology. Nosselt denies it all right of existence; Palmer confesses inability to classify it; Rabiger casts it formally out of the encyclopedia, but reintroduces it under the different name of “theory of religion.” Tholuck proposed that it should be apportioned through the several departments; and Cave actually distributes its material through three separate departments.

Much of this confusion is due to a persistent confusion of apologetics with apologies. If apologetics is the theory of apology, and its function is to teach men how to defend Christianity, its place is, of course, alongside of homiletics, catechetics, and poimenics in practical theology. If it is simply, by way of eminence, the apology of Christianity, the systematically organized vindication of Christianity in all its elements and details, against all opposition- or in its essential core against the only destructive opposition — it of course presupposes the complete development of Christianity through the exegetical, historical, and systematic disciplines, and must take its place either as the culminating department of systematic theology, or as the intellectualistic side of practical theology, or as an independent discipline between the two.

In this case it can be only artificially separated from polemic theology and other similar disciplines–if the analysis is pushed so far as to create these, as is done by F. Duilhe de Saint-Projet who distinguishes between apologetical, controversial, and polemic theology, directed respectively against unbelievers, heretics, and fellow believers, and by A. Kuyper who distinguishes between polemics, elenctics, and apologetics, opposing respectively heterodoxy, paganism, and false philosophy. It will not be strange, then, if, though separated from these kindred disciplines it, or some of it, should be again united with them, or some of them, to form a larger whole to which is given the same encyclopedic position. This is done for example by Kuyper who joins polemics, elenctics, and apologetics together to form his “antithetic dogmatologi-cal” group of disciplines; and by F. L. Patton who, after having distributed the material of apologetics into the two separate disciplines of rational or philosophical theology, to which as a thetic discipline a place is given at the outset of the system, and apologetics, joins the latter with polemics to constitute the antithetical disciplines, while systematic theology succeeds both as part of the synthetic disciplines.


Much of the diversity in question is due also, however, to varying views of the thing which apologetics undertakes to establish; whether it be, for example, the truth of the Christian religion, or the validity of that knowledge of God which theology presents in systematized form. And more of it still is due to profoundly differing conceptions of the nature and subject-matter of that “theology,” a department of which apologetics is. If we think of apologetics as undertaking the defense or the vindication or even the justification of the “Christian religion,” that is one thing; if we think of it as undertaking the establishment of the validity of that knowledge of God, which “theology” systematizes, that may be a very different thing. And even if agreement exists upon the latter conception, there remain the deeply cutting divergences which beset the definition of “theology” itself. Shall it be defined as the “science of faith “? or as the “science of religion “? or as the “science of the Christian religion “? or as the “science of God “? In other words, shall it be regarded as a branch of psychology, or as a branch of history, or as a branch of science?

Manifestly those who differ thus widely as to what theology is, cannot be expected to agree as to the nature and function of any one of its disciplines. If “theology” is the science of faith or of religion, its subject-matter is the subjective experiences of the human heart; and the function of apologetics is to inquire whether these subjective experiences have any objective validity. Of course, therefore, it follows upon the systematic elucidation of these subjective experiences and constitutes the culminating discipline of “theology.” Similarly, if” theology” is the science of the Christian religion, it investigates the purely historical question of what those who are called Christians believe; and of course the function of apologetics is to follow this investigation with an inquiry whether Christians are justified in believing these things. But if theology is the science of God, it deals not with a mass of subjective experiences, nor with a section of the history of thought, but with a body of objective facts; and it is absurd to say that these facts must be assumed and developed unto their utmost implications before we stop to ask whether they are facts.

So soon as it is agreed that theology is a scientific discipline and has as its subject-matter the knowledge of God, we must recognize that it must begin by establishing the reality as objective facts of the data upon which it is based. One may indeed call the department of theology to which this task is committed by any name which appears to him appropriate: it may be called “general theology,” or “fundamental theology,” or “principial theology,” or “philosophical theology,” or “rational theology,” or “natural theology,” or any other of the innumerable names which have been used to describe it. Apologetics is the name which most naturally suggests itself, and it is the name which, with more or less accuracy of view as to the nature and compass of the discipline, has been consecrated to this purpose by a large number of writers from Schleiermacher down (e.g. Pelt, Twesten, Baum-stark, Swetz, Ottiger, Knoll, Maissoneuve). It powerfully commends itself as plainly indicating the nature of the discipline, while equally applicable to it whatever may be the scope of the theology which it undertakes to plant on a secure basis.

Whether this theology recognizes no other knowledge of God than that given in the constitution and course of nature, or derives its data from the full revelation of God as documented in the Christian Scriptures, apologetics offers itself with equal readiness to designate the discipline by which the validity of the knowledge of God set forth is established. It need imply no more than natural theology requires for its basis; when the theology which it serves is, however, the complete theology of the Christian revelation, it guards its unity and protects from the fatally dualistic conception which sets natural and revealed theology over against each other as separable entities, each with its own separate presuppositions requiring establish-ment-by which apologetics would be split into two quite diverse disciplines, given very different places in the theological encyclopedia.


It will already have appeared how far apologetics may be defined, in accordance with a very prevalent custom (e.g. Sack, Lechler, Ebrard, Kubel, Lemme) as “the science which establishes the truth of Christianity as the absolute religion.” Apologetics certainly does establish the truth of Christianity as the absolute religion. But the question of importance here is how it does this. It certainly is not the business of apologetics to take up each tenet of Christianity in turn and seek to establish its truth by a direct appeal to reason. Any attempt to do this, no matter on what philosophical basis the work of demonstration be begun or by what methods it be pursued, would transfer us at once into the atmosphere and betray us into the devious devices of the old vulgar rationalism, the primary fault of which was that it asked for a direct rational demonstration of the truth of each Christian teaching in turn.

The business of apologetics is to establish the truth of Christianity as the absolute religion directly only as a whole, and in its details only indirectly. That is to say, we are not to begin by developing Christianity into all its details, and only after this task has been performed, tardily ask whether there is any truth in all this. We are to begin by establishing the truth of Christianity as a whole, and only then proceed to explicate it into its details, each of which, if soundly explicated, has its truth guaranteed by its place as a detail in an entity already established in its entirety. Thus we are delivered from what is perhaps the most distracting question which has vexed the whole history of the discipline. In establishing the truth of Christianity, it has been perennially asked, are we to deal with all its details (e.g.H.B. Smith), or merely with the essence of Christianity (e.g. Kubel). The true answer is, neither.

Apologetics does not presuppose either the development of Christianity into its details, or the extraction from it of its essence. The details of Christianity are all contained in Christianity: the minimum of Christianity is just Christianity itself. What apologetics undertakes to establish is just this Christianity itself — including all its “details” and involving its “essence “–in its unexplicated and uncompressed entirety, as the absolute religion. It has for its object the laying of the foundations on which the temple of theology is built, and by which the whole structure of theology is determined. It is the department of theology which establishes the constitutive and regulative principles of theology as a science; and in establishing these it establishes all the details which are derived from them by the succeeding departments, in their sound explication and systematization. Thus it establishes the whole, though it establishes the whole in the mass, so to speak, and not in its details, but yet in its entirety and not in some single element deemed by us its core, its essence, or its minimum expression.


The subject-matter of apologetics being determined, its distribution into its parts becomes very much a matter of course. Having defined apologetics as the proof of the truth of the Christian religion, many writers naturally confine it to what is commonly known somewhat loosely as the “evidences of Christianity.” Others, defining it as “fundamental theology,” equally naturally confine it to the primary princi-pies of religion in general. Others more justly combine the two conceptions and thus obtain at least two main divisions. Thus Hermann Schultz makes it prove “the right of the religious conception of the world, as over against the tendencies to the denial of religion, and the right of Christianity as the absolutely perfect manifestation of religion, as over against the opponents of its permanent significance.” He then divides it into two great sections with a third interposed between them: the first, “the apology of the religious conception of the world “; the last, “the apology of Christianity “; while between the two stands” the philosophy of religion, religion in its historical manifestation.” Somewhat less satisfactorily, because with a less firm hold upon the idea of the discipline, Henry B. Smith, viewing apologetics as “historico-philosophi-cal dogmatics,” charged with the defense of “the whole contents and substance of the Christian faith,” divided the material to much the same effect into what he calls fundamental, historical, and philosophical apologetics.

The first of these undertakes to demonstrate the being and nature of God; the second, the divine origin and authority of Christianity; and the third, somewhat lamely as a conclusion to so high an argument, the superiority of Christianity to all other systems. Quite similarly Francis R. Beattie divided into (1) fundamental or philosophical apologetics, which deals with the problem of God and religion; (2) Christian or historical apologetics, which deals with the problem of revelation and the Scriptures; and (3) applied or practical apologetics, which deals with the practical efficiency of Christianity in the world. The fundamental truth of these schematizations lies in the perception that the subject-matter of apologetics embraces the two great facts of God and Christianity. There is some failure in unity of conception, however, arising apparently from a deficient grasp of the peculiarity of apologetics as a department of theological science, and a consequent inability to permit it as such to determine its own contents and the natural order of its constituent parts.


If theology be a science at all, there is involved in that fact, as in the case of all other sciences, at least these three things: the reality of its subject-matter, the capacity of the human mind to receive into itself and rationally to reflect this subject-matter, the existence of media of communication between the subject-matter and the percipient and understanding mind. There could be no psychology were there not a mind to be investigated, a mind to investigate, and a self-consciousness by means of which the mind as an object can be brought under the inspection of the mind as subject. There could be no astronomy were there no heavenly bodies to be investigated, no mind capable of comprehending the laws of their existence and movements, or no means of observing their structure and motion. Similarly there can be no theology, conceived according to its very name as the science of God, unless there is a God to form its subject-matter, a capacity in the human mind to apprehend and so far to comprehend God, and some media by which God is made known to man.

That a theology, as the science of God, may exist, therefore, it must begin by establishing the existence of God, the capacity of the human mind to know Him, and the accessibility of knowledge concerning Him. In other words, the very idea of theology as the science of God gives these three great topics which must be dealt with in its fundamental department, by which the foundations for the whole structure are laid- God, religion, revelation. With these three facts established, a theology as the science of God becomes possible; with them, therefore, an apologetic might be complete. But that, only provided that in these three topics all the underlying presuppositions of the science of God actually built up in our theology are established; for example, provided that all the accessible sources and means of knowing God are exhausted.

No science can arbitrarily limit the data lying within its sphere to which it will attend. On pain of ceasing to be the science it professes to be, it must exhaust the means of information open to it, and reduce to a unitary system the entire body of knowledge in its sphere. No science can represent itself as astronomy, for example, which arbitrarily confines itself to the information concerning the heavenly bodies obtainable by the unaided eye, or which discards, without sound ground duly adduced, the aid of, say, the spectroscope. In the presence of Christianity in the world making claim to present a revelation of God adapted to the condition and needs of sinners, and documented in Scriptures, theology cannot proceed a step until it has examined this claim; and if the claim be substantiated, this substantiation must form a part of the fundamental department of theology in which are laid the foundations for the systematization of the knowledge of God. In that case, two new topics are added to the subject-matter with which apologetics must constructively deal, Christianity–and the Bible.

It thus lies in the very nature of apologetics as the fundamental department of theology, conceived as the science of God, that it should find its task in establishing the existence of a God who is capable of being known by man and who has made Himself known, not only in nature but in revelations of His grace to lost sinners, documented in the Christian Scriptures. When apologetics has placed these great facts in our hands- God, religion, revelation, Christianity, the Bible–and not till then are we prepared to go on and explicate the knowledge of God thus brought to us, trace the history of its workings in the world, systematize it, and propagate it in the world.


The primary subdivisions of apologetics are therefore five, unless for convenience of treatment it is preferred to sink the third into its most closely related fellow. (1) The first, which may perhaps be called philosophical apologetics, undertakes the establishment of the being of God, as a personal spirit, the creator, preserver, and governor of all things. To it belongs the great problem of theism, with the involved discussion of the antitheistic theories. (2) The second, which may perhaps be called psychological apologetics, undertakes the establishment of the religious nature of man and the validity of his religious sense. It involves the discussion alike of the psychology, the philosophy, and the phenomenology of religion, and therefore includes what is loosely called “comparative religion” or the “history of religions.” (3) To the third falls the establishment of the reality of the supernatural factor in history, with the involved determination of the actual relations in which God stands to His world, and the method of His government of His rational creatures, and especially His mode of making Himself known to them. It issues in the establishment of the fact of revelation as the condition of all knowledge of God, who as a personal Spirit can be known only so far as He expresses Himself; so that theology differs from all other sciences in that in it the object is not at the disposal of the subject, but vice versa. (4) The fourth, which may be called historical apologetics, undertakes to establish the divine origin of Christianity as the religion of revelation in the special sense of that word. It discusses all the topics which naturally fall under the popular caption of the “evidences of Christianity.” (5) The fifth, which may be called bibliological apologetics, undertakes to establish the trustworthiness of the Christian Scriptures as the documentation of the revelation of God for the redemption of sinners. It is engaged especially with such topics as the divine origin of the Scriptures; the methods of the divine operation in their origination; their place in the series of redemptive acts of God, and in the process of revelation; the nature, mode, and effect of inspiration; and the like.


The estimate which is put upon apologetics by scholars naturally varies with the conception which is entertained of its nature and function. In the wake of the subjectivism introduced by Schleiermacher, it has become very common to speak of such an apologetic as has just been outlined with no little scorn. It is an evil inheritance, we are told, from the old supranaturalismus vulgaris, which “took its standpoint not in the Scriptures but above the Scriptures, and imagined it could, with formal conceptions, develop a ‘ground for the divine authority of Christianity’ (Heubner), and therefore offered proofs for the divine origin of Christianity, the necessity of revelation, and the credibility of the Scriptures” (Lemme). To recognize that we can take our standpoint in the Scriptures only after we have Scriptures, authenticated as such, to take our standpoint in, is, it seems, an outworn prejudice. The subjective experience of faith is conceived to be the ultimate fact; and the only legitimate apologetic, just the self-justifica-tion of this faith itself. For faith, it seems, after Kant, can no longer be looked upon as a matter of reasoning and does not rest on rational grounds, but is an affair of the heart, and manifests itself most powerfully when it has no reason out of itself (Brunetiere). If repetition had probative force, it would long ago have been established that faith, religion, theology, lie wholly outside of the realm of reason, proof, and demonstration.

It is, however, from the point of view of rationalism and mysticism that the value of apologetics is most decried. Wherever rationalistic preconceptions have penetrated, there, of course, the validity of the apologetic proofs has been in more or less of their extent questioned. Wherever mystical sentiment has seeped in, there the validity of apologetics has been with more or less emphasis doubted. At the present moment, the rationalistic tendency is most active, perhaps, in the form given it by Albrecht Ritschl. In this form it strikes at the very roots of apologetics, by the distinction it erects between theoretical and religious knowledge. Religious knowledge is not the knowledge of fact, but a perception of utility; and therefore positive religion, while it maybe historically conditioned, has no theoretical basis, and is accordingly not the object of rational proof. In significant parallelism with this, the mystical tendency is manifesting itself at the present day most distinctly in a widespread inclination to set aside apologetics in favor of the “witness of the Spirit.”

The convictions of the Christian man, we are told, are not the product of reason addressed to the intellect, but the immediate creation of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Therefore, it is intimated, we may do very well without these reasons, if indeed they are not positively noxious, because tending to substitute a barren intellectualism for a vital faith. It seems to be forgotten that though faith be a moral act and the gift of God, it is yet formally conviction passing into confidence; and that all forms of convictions must rest on evidence as their ground, and it is not faith but reason which investigates the nature and validity of this ground. “He who believes,” says Thomas Aquinas, in words which have become current as an axiom, “would not believe unless he saw that what he believes is worthy of belief.”

Though faith is the gift of God, it does not in the least follow that the faith which God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without cognizable ground in right reason. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in Him, not even though it be irrational. Of course mere reasoning cannot make a Christian; but that is not because faith is not the result of evidence, but because a dead soul cannot respond to evidence. The action of the Holy Spirit in giving faith is not apart from evidence, but along with evidence; and in the first instance consists in preparing the soul for the reception of the evidence.


This is not to argue that it is by apologetics that men are made Christians, but that apologetics supplies to Christian men the systematically organized basis on which the faith of Christian men must rest. All that apologetics explicates in the forms of systematic proof is implicit in every act of Christian faith. Whenever a sinner accepts Jesus Christ as his Saviour, there is implicated in that act a living conviction that there is a God, knowable to man, who has made Himself known in a revelation of Himself for redemption in Jesus Christ, as is set down in the Scriptures.

It is not necessary for his act of faith that all the grounds of this conviction should be drawn into full consciousness and given the explicit assent of his understanding, though it is necessary for his faith that sufficient ground for his conviction be actively present and working in his spirit. But it is necessary for the vindication of his faith to reason in the form of scientific judgment, that the grounds on which it rests be explicated and established. Theology as a science, though it includes in its culminating discipline, that of practical theology, an exposition of how that knowledge of God with which it deals objectively may best be made the subjective possession of man, is not itself the instrument of propaganda; what it undertakes to do is systematically to set forth this knowledge of God as the object of rational contemplation. And as it has to set it forth as knowledge, it must of course begin by establishing its right to rank as such. Did it not do so, the whole of its work would hang in the air, and theology would present the odd spectacle among the sciences of claiming a place among a series of systems of knowledge for an elaboration of pure assumptions.


Seeing that it thus supplies an insistent need of the human spirit, the world has, of course, never been without its apologetics. Whenever men have thought at all they have thought about God and the supernatural order; and whenever they have thought of God and the supernatural order, there has been present to their minds a variety of more or less solid reasons for believing in their reality. The enucleation of these reasons into a systematically organized body of proofs waited of course upon advancing culture. But the advent of apologetics did not wait for the advent of Christianity; nor are traces of this department of thought discoverable only in the regions lit up by special revelation.

The philosophical systems of antiquity, especially those which derive from Plato, are far from empty of apologetical elements; and when in the later stages of its development, classical philosophy became peculiarly religious, express apologetical material became almost predominant. With the coming of Christianity into the world, however, as the contents of the theology to be stated became richer, so the efforts to substantiate it became more fertile in apologetical elements. We must not confuse the apologies of the early Christian ages with formal apologetics. Like the sermons of the day, they contributed to apologetics without being it.

The apologetic material developed by what one may call the more philosophical of the apologists (Aristides, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus, Hermias, Tertullian) was already considerable; it was largely supplemented by the theological labors of their successors. In the first instance Christianity, plunged into a polytheistic environment and called upon to contend with systems of thought grounded in pantheistic or dualistic assumptions, required to establish its theistic standpoint; and as over against the bitterness of the Jews and the mockery of the heathen (e.g. Tacitus, Fronto, Crescens, Lucian), to evince its own divine origin as a gift of grace to sinful man. Along with Tertullian, the great Alexan-drians, Clement and Origen, are the richest depositaries of the apologetic thought of the first period. The greatest apologists of the patristic age were, however, Eusebius of Caesarea and Augustine. The former-was the most learned and the latter the most profound of all the defenders of Christianity among the Fathers. And Augustine, in particular, not merely in his “City of God” but in his controversial writings, accumulated a vast mass of apologetical material which is far from having lost its significance even yet.


It was not, however, until the scholastic age that apologetics came to its rights as a constructive science. The whole theological activity of the Middle Ages was so far ancillary to apologetics, that its primary effort was the justification of faith to reason. It was not only rich in apologists (Agobard, Abelard, Raymund Martini), but every theologian was in a sense an apologist. Anselm at its beginning, Aquinas at its culmination, are types of the whole series; types in which all its excellencies are summed up.

The Renaissance, with its repristination of heathenism, naturally called out a series of new apologists (Savonarola, Marsilius Ficinus, Ludovicus Vives), but the Reformation forced polemics into the foreground and drove apologetics out of sight, although, of course, the great theologians of the Reformation era brought their rich contribution to the accumulating apologetical material. When, in the exhaustion of the seventeenth century, irreligion began to spread among the people and indifferentism ripening into naturalism among the leaders of thought, the stream of apologetical thought was once more started flowing, to swell into a great flood as the prevalent unbelief intensified and spread. With a forerunner in Philippe de Mornay (1581), Hugo Grotius (1627) became the typical apologist of the earlier portion of this period, while its middle portion was illuminated by the genius of Pascal (d. 1662) and the unexampled richness of apologetical labor in its later years culminated in Butler’s great” Analogy” (1736) and Paley’s plain but powerful argumentation.

As the assault against Christianity shifted its basis from the English deism of the early half of the eighteenth century through the German rationalism of its later half, the idealism which dominated the first half of the nineteenth century, and thence to the materialism of its later years, period after period was marked in the history of apology, and the particular elements of apologetics which were especially cultivated changed with the changing thought. But no epoch was marked in the history of apologetics itself, until under the guidance of Schleiermacher’s attempt to trace the organism of the departments of theology, K. H. Sack essayed to set forth a scientifically organized “Christian Apologetics” (Hamburg, 1829; ed. 2, 1841).

Since then an unbroken series of scientific systems of apologetics has flowed from the press. These differ from one another in almost every conceivable way; in their conception of the nature, task, compass, and encyclopedic place of the science; in their methods of dealing with its material; in their conception of Christianity itself; and of religion and of God and of the nature of the evidence on which belief in one or the other must rest. But they agree in the fundamental point that apologetics is conceived by all alike as a special department of theological science, capable of and demanding separate treatment. In this sense apologetics has come at last, in the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century, to its rights. The significant names in its development are such as, perhaps, among the Germans, Sack, Steudel, Delitzsch, Ebrard, Baumstark, T511e, Kratz, Kiibel, Steude, Frank, Kal-tan, Vogel, Schultz, Kahler; to whom may be added such Romanists as Drey, Dieringer, Staudenmeyer, IIettinger, Schanz, and such English-speaking writers as Hetherington, H. B. Smith, Bruce, Rishell, and Beattie.


1 Text from “The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,” edited by Samuel Macauley Jackson, D.D., LL.D., i. pp. 232-238 (copyright by Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York, 1908). Text now in the public domain.


Lists of literature will be found in F. 1%. Beattie’s “Apologetics, or the Rational Vindication of Christianity,” Richmond, 1903; in A. Cave, “Introduction to Theology,” Edinburgh, ed. 2, 1896; in G. R. Crooks and J. F. Hurst, “Theological Encyclopaedia and Methodology,” New York, 1884, pp. 411-413; in P. Schaff, “Theological Propaedeutic,” 2 parts, New York, 1892-1893. Consult F. L. Patton, in Princeton Theological Review, ii. 1904, pp. 110 ff.; Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vii. 1896, pp. 243 ff. (or pp. 49 ff. of this volume). On the history of apologetics and apologetic method: H. G. Tzschirner, “Geschichte der Apologetiek,” Leipzig, 1805; G. H. van Senden, “Geschichte der Apologetiek,” 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1846; K. Werner,” Geschichte der apologetischen und polemischen Literatur,” 5 vols., Schaffhausen, 1861-1867 (Roman Catholic); W. Haan, “Geschichte der Vertheidigung des Christenthums,” Frankenberg, 1882 (popular). For early Christian apologies consult “Ante-Nicene Fathers” and “Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers “; for discussions of these, F. Watson, “The Ante-Nicene Apologies: their Character and Value,” Cambridge, 1870 (Hulsean essay); W. J. Bolton, “The Evidences of Christianity as exhibited in the . . . Apologists down to Augustine,” Cambridge, 1853 (Hulsean essay); F. R. Wynne, “The Literature of the Second Century,” London, 1891 (popular but scholarly); A. Seitz,” Die Apologie des Christentums bei den Griechen des IV. und V. Jahr-hunderts,” Wiirzburg, 1895. On special phases in the history of apologetics: L. Noack, “Die Freidenker in der Religion, oder die Reprasentanten der religiosen Aufklirung in England, Frankreich und Deutschland,” 3 vols., Bern, 1853-1855; A. S. Farrar,” Critical History of Free Thought,” New York, 1863; K. R. Hagenbach, “German Rationalism, in its Rise, Progress, and Decline,” Edinburgh, 1865; A. Viguie, “IIistoire de l’apologetique dans l’eglise reformee francaise,” Geneva, 1858; II. B. Smith, “Apologetics,” New York, 1882 (appendix contains sketches of German apologetic works); J. F. Hurst, “History of Rationalism,” New York, 1902; A. ti. Huizinga, “Some Recent Phases of Christian Apologetics,” in Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vii. 1896, pp. 34 ff. Apologetical literature: F. R. Beattie, “Apologetics, or the Rational Vindication of Christianity,” Richmond, 1903; W. M. Hetherington, “Apologetics of the Christian Faith,” Edinburgh, 1867; J. PI. A. Ebrard, “Apologetik,” Giitersloh, ed. 2, 1878-1880, English translation, “Apologetics: or the Scientific Vindication of Christianity,” 3 vols., Edinburgh, 1886-1887; A. Mair, “Studies in the Christian Evidences,” Edinburgh, 1883; G. F. Wright, “Logic of Christian Evidences,” Andover, 1880; F. It. R. Frank, “System der christ-lichen Gewissheit,” Erlangen, 1870-1873 (ed. 2, 1884), E.T. (of ed. 2), “System of the Christian Certainty,” Edinburgh, 1886; P. Schanz, “Apologie des Christentums,” 3 vols., Freiburg, 1887-1888, E.T. “Christian Apology,” 3 vols., New York and Cincinnati, ed. 2, 1896 (Roman Catholic); L. F. Stearns, “The Evidence of Christian Experience,” New York, 1890 (the best book on the subject); A. B. Bruce, “Apologetics; or, Christianity Defensively Stated,” Edinburgh, 1892; II. Wace, “Students’ Manual of the Evidences of Christianity,” London, 1892; J. Kaftan, “Die Wahrheit der christlichen Religion,” Basel, 1888, E.T. 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1894; C. W. Rishell, “Foundations of the Christian Faith,” New York, 1899; W. Devivier, “Cours d’apologetique chre-tienne,” Paris, 1889, E. T. “Christian Apologetics,” 2 vols., New York, 1903; A. Harnack, “What is Christianity?” London, 1901; J. T. Bergen, “Evidences of Christianity,” Holland, Mich., 1902; A. M. Randolph, “Reason, Faith and Authority in Christianity,” New York, 1902; the Boyle and Bampton lecture series deal ex-elusively with subjects in apologetics; see also under “Agnosticism “; “Antitrinitarianism “; and “Atheism.”

–B.B. Warfield

Beliefs and Believing the Bible

bibleOften in the desire not to cause controversy or argument those who follow Christ will revert to saying “I can only say that I believe the Bible” or else simply refuse to get involved in a discussion of what many consider vital points of Scripture. This isn’t limited to layman, Joel Osteen and A.W. Tozer come to mind in the world of Christian teachers. The problem with this statement is that it is without content, it says nothing. One cannot only say that they believe the Bible and end there, for one must believe something about the Bible. That is to say, if one is to believe the Bible one must have beliefs.

Paul in his letter to Titus instructs that the elders must be those who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).” Now, if you are going to “give instruction in sound doctrine” you must be able to do more than say that you believe the Bible, you must be able to say what it is that you believe about the Bible, you must say what the Bible teaches.

The Christian faith has been established and maintained not by “saying only that I believe the Bible” but by bringing to bear what it is that the Bible says – it has been maintained by “rebuking those who contradict it.” Tozer maintains that the “Holy Spirit has come into this world to take polemics away from the scholar and give it back to the human heart,” but it is in the vigorous yet patient polemics that the church has survived, otherwise it would have faded into obscurity before it could get off the ground.

Christ did not send the Holy Spirit to take away the ability to discuss and urge truth from the scholar, but the change is in that he gave that scholar his Spirit that he might rightly divide the word of truth and that he might engage his fellows in love rather than a mere desire to win; he renewed that scholar’s human heart. It is out of the refuting of heresy that the church persevered and cleansed itself of ideas hostile to Christ – it is only by saying “that is wrong and this is why” that we can say “Christ is true and this is why”; it is only by refuting heresy that you may have orthodoxy. It is in part by “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)” that Christians may define what is unique about their faith, though the fact that they do so out of love and concern rather than hatred and pride sets them apart. It is by knowing and believing what the Bible says and standing by it that we can keep from falling off the narrow path that is the truth.

As G.K. Chesterton puts it, the church’s “purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else. If the Church had not renounced the Manicheans it might have become merely Manichean. If it had not renounced the Gnostics it might have become Gnostic… If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life (From ‘The Everlasting Man‘).”

In the end the proper response to anybody who claims “I can only say that I believe the Bible” is to say “ok, well what does the Bible say?”

The author of Hebrews (most likely Paul) states:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so (Hebrew 5:11-18,6:1-3).”

Tozer says “It is no longer and intellectual problem – it is a moral problem… These are the important things – confirmation by the Spirit of God concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. Let me assure you that the Holy Spirit has not come among us to become involved in  a lot of our minor concerns, the trivial things that take up much of our attention [including prophetic interpretation, modes of baptism and eternal security]… I want the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me and He will not help me if I insist on fooling around in those areas that are not the most important in Christian truth and proclamation. Those are important things which Tozer identifies, the most important things even, but those are also the same things the author of Hebrews identifies as the milk.

It is the milk which Tozer would sup forever in his effort to avoid arguments and intellectual pursuit. But we are not instructed to stay an infant in the faith, we are to grow, to get into the meat of the Word which will allow us to mature (the meat being those areas that Tozer refuses to ‘fool around in’).

There is nothing to fear in teaching true Biblical doctrine; what is controversy when compared with the truth of God? There is only one truth – it is our job to bring forth that truth in its whole, not just the parts that we feel others won’t disagree with.

The caveat is that we must speak that truth in love; which is also to say that we must not speak to anybody about the truth until we first learn to love them. If we view the other person as the enemy, if we dislike them for their differing stance, if we hate them for who they are, then we have no right to speak to them at all.

Finally we must not speak to anybody while our goal is to merely ‘win’. Winning is not our job. Christ won. That is done. Our job is to spread the good news of the cross.

We must speak the truths of the Bible, but we must speak them to those that we love as fellow humans. Once we know how to love, and once people see that we love them, it is only then that we can say ‘this is what the Bible says’.