HomeAbout Barry WhitneyPodcasts / VideoWeb publicationsBooks/Other PublicationsSpeaking Engagements


Apologetics: The Justification of Religious Beliefs

Apologetics is a defense of beliefs by arguments, evidences, and reasons for why we believe what we believe. Apologetics is necessary to avoid the common 21st century attitude that our inner beliefs and experiences -- without arguments for them -- are self-authenticating. This "faithist" attitude implies that we are entitled to hold whatever beliefs we wish, without justifying them: the only criterion for truth is our beliefs themselves. This is seen in the common cultural presumption that "what is true for you may not be true for me." But this is a false assumption, since the relativistic attitude it advocates disregards the fact that not all beliefs can be true. The law of non contradiction is violated when truth presumptions are made for contradictory beliefs. It cannot be true, for example, that God is both personal (as Christians believe) and that God is an impersonal force (as New Age spiritualities believe).

Christian Apologetics involves at least three distinct but interrelated tasks: the explanation of basic Christian beliefs, the defense of those beliefs from those who attack Christianity from without, and a defense of basic Christian beliefs from heretical beliefs from within Christianity.

(a) First, apologetics is the instruction of the basic Christian doctrines, beliefs and history. It answers questions about these doctrines and beliefs, and teaches the fundamentals of defending the rationality and trustworthiness of the essential truths of the Faith. This is an essential task since there is far too much biblical and theological illiteracy in the Church, an illiteracy which has led to an all-too-common anti-intellectualism and far-too much reliance on personal feelings and experiences rather than on the testing of these by sound doctrine and confirmation from the Bible, properly interpreted. Those who do not have a clear grasp of "basic Christianity" unfortunately are liable to fall for every whiff of false doctrine. Such as proven to be the case, as New Age Spiritualities and Secular Humanistic attitudes about the Bible and ethics have crept into the modern Christian Church. Apologetics is a defense against this threat and it does so largely by a sanctification process in which Christians are enabled to cultivate a mature faith which loves God with the mind as well as the heart (Mt 22:37), and which is ready to give a defense for what we believe (1 Pet 3:15): see Dr. Whitney's University Course Outline for 07-221: "Justifying Religious Beliefs" (Reasonable Faith)

(b) Secondly, Apologetics defends Christian beliefs against arguments from those hostile to these beliefs. These hostile forces include not only atheists, skeptics, secular humanists and naturalistic scientists (including social scientists who assume naturalistic presuppositions denying the reality of the supernatural) but also apologists for other religions and liberal religious pluralists who assume, wrongly, that all religions are the same. Despite the "political correctness" and supposed "tolerance" that has taken hold of contemporary western societies, it must be understood that while many religions may contain aspects of truth, there are real and distinct basic core differences among the various religions. Apologetics acknowledges Christianity's uniqueness and refutes (answers) anti-Christian New Age alternative spiritualities, criticisms from other religions, and the secular humanistic and naturalistic worldview which has all-but-taken over the public school system: see Dr. Whitney's University Course Outline for 07-100: "Religion and Culture"

(c) Thirdly, Apologetics must defend Christian orthodoxy from false teachings by those within the Church, the past 150 years of liberalism, for example, which presumes a naturalistic worldview that disregards the historicity of the Bible, miracles, and the basic teachings of Christianity: the literal resurrection of Jesus, his virgin birth, his miracles, etc. Examples abound among liberals who reduce these truths to metaphor (eg: Bishop Spong, The Jesus Seminar's Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, etc.), and most academic departments of religion in North America, the latter exhibiting an unfortunate tendency to this kind of liberalism. The best-selling book by novelist Dan Brown, The da Vinci Code, represents this kind of heretical teaching. Whether intentional or naively, this kind of religious pseudo-scholarship is not only misinformed but antagonist to the very foundations of Christian belief about Jesus and the Bible's trustworthiness. Mainline churches have been devastated by this kind of liberalized, secularized Christianity, supported by mass market publishers who publish controversial and anti-Christian theories, no matter how nonsensical.

Another threat from within the Church comes from the opposite end of the theological spectrum: the extremist heresies introduced by evangelical pastors who feel free to publish and teach the most outrageous nonsense and heresy: Word-Faith teachers (Ken Copeland, Ken Haggin, Benny Hinn, Peter Wagner, and most of TBN TV's "teachers") are examples of this, many of whom preach prosperity and positive affirmation (Robert Schuler and other prosperity and "felt needs" church marketing advocates, etc.) which are largely indistinguishable from New Age cultism and humanistic psychology's focus on human needs and self-esteem. New Age teachings have entered the evangelical churches through these and other theologically untrained and misguided pastors who focus on "human needs" and church-growth movements, mega-churches and personality cults, presenting watered-down gospel and pop-psychology (Rick Warren, Bill Hybels,etc.) rather than the Gospel message of sin and repentance, the holiness and justice of God, and the desperate need for Christ as redeemer. See the following page for links to essays which critique the "seeker-sensitive," "man-centered," "purpose-driven" churches Here. Among other good resources, see the web site, Deception in the Church, for apologetic commentary on such deceptions.

Affirmative and Defensive Apologetic Tasks
(a) Affirmative or Positive apologetics answers questions Christian may have about beliefs and doctrines; apologetics also proposes arguments for the validity of Christian belief. Ultimately, Christians rely on faith, but it need and should not be "blind faith" but, rather, a tested and mature faith, informed by reasonable arguments and sound doctrine. Christians must always be ready to give reasons for the faith we hold within (1 Peter 3:15).
(b) Defensive or Negative apologetics refutes attacks on Christian belief from without or within. Christian apologetics engages not only the atheism of Scientific Naturalism and Secular Humanism of the past centuries, but also the Postmodern skeptical, "relativistic," anti-realistic view of the world. An aspect of the latter is New Age Spirituality which is largely monistic (all is one, all is god). Unfortunately, apologetics involves also refutations of false teachings within the Church -- from all sorts of strange teachings (word-faith preachers like Kenneth Haggin and Ken Copeland, Peter Wagner's third wave apostolic revivalism and pragmatic church growth ideology), to liberal theologians whose naturalistic presuppositions continue their misguided attempts to discredit the authenticity of the biblical texts and orthodox doctrines in a vain quest for "relevance."

The Need for Apologetics
Apologetics Manifesto 2003 (Groothuis)
The Need for Apologetics (Rick Wade)
Enemies of Apologetics (Doug Groothuis)
A Defense of Apologetics (Norm Geisler)

Various Apologetic Topics: (from Dr. Whitney's class pages and Podcast pages)
The Problem of God, Suffering and Evil
Justifying Religious Beliefs
Counterfeit Christianity: "Christian" Cults, the Occult and Alternative Spirituality
New Age Spirituality: Alternative Healing, Selfism, Humanistic Psychology
A Christian Theological Defense of Biblical Authenticity, Jesus' Resurrection and His Divinity
Atheistic Secular Humanism and the Implications for Academia, the Media and Christianity
What's Happened to Miracles?
Relationship between Faith and Reason; the Holy Spirit and Divine Grace
The Real Jesus: Counterfeit Christs and Counterfeit Christianity
Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Charismatics, Revivals
Progressive Christianity?: Da Vinci Code, Jesus Seminar, etc.
Christian Distortions: The Word Faith and Prosperity Gospel
Christian Distortions: The User-Friendly Church and its Watered-Down Gospel
Postmodern Relativism, Subjectivism, and Political Correctness
Basic Christian Beliefs: The Core Doctrines
Basic Christian Beliefs: Forms of Worship within the Contemporary Church
Religious Pluralism: Christianity and Other Religions
Christianity and Islam
Disputes within Christianity: Free will and Divine Providence, etc.
Spiritual Warfare and Healing
Satan, the Occult, and Forbidden Knowledge
God's Existence and the Skeptical Mind
Christian Religious Experience and Mysticism
Religious Belief and Naturalistic (Atheistic) Science
Forbidden Knowledge in Adamic, Faustian, and Promethean Myths
Satan, God, Suffering, the Occult: Milton, Marlowe, C.S. Lewis, etc.
Christian Spirituality: Justification, Sanctification, Spiritual Growth

... More Links and information to come, including publicly accessible class notes manuals, podcasts, papers, chapters, reviews, and commentaries