Apologetics in Action

This article appeared in the January issue of our Thinking Matters journal. The author, Sarah Tennant, holds a Bachelor of Arts from Waikato University and is currently a freelance writer for Suite101 and other print magazines. For more articles from our journal, head to our Journal site.

There is a certain partisan spirit in Christian apologetics. Some leaders in the field propound evidential arguments, focusing on the historical verification of Christian truth-claims. Others teach presuppositional methods, pitting Christianity against other worldviews at a foundational level. Still others prefer classical approaches such as those characterized in the cosmological or teleological arguments.1

In evaluating how we ought to approach our task as apologists, however, we naturally look first to Scripture. And, in looking to Scripture, we naturally look to situations which most resemble our own. Thus, the paradigm example of the apologetic encounter is Acts 17:16ff:

16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

29“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33So Paul went out from their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

This is Paul’s speech to the Areopagus—a political body comprised of Greek aristocrats and thinkers in Athens. As a blueprint for our own apologetics, it emphasizes three main points:

1. That we must understand those we seek to refute.
2. That our arguments should be vehicles for the gospel.
3. That we must speak boldly.2

Knowing your audience

In his apologetics manual Tearing Down Strongholds,3 R C Sproul, Jr warns against battling the “dinosaurs” of obsolescent worldviews like Enlightenment philosophy, when the current foes are more likely to be postmodernism or relativism. Misdirected or vague apologetic endeavors, he argues, are a waste of effort and only succeed in making Christians look foolish.

Our blueprint confirms this. In his speech at Athens, Paul does not give a generic gospel message designed to appeal to some kind of ill-defined “unbelief”. Instead, he directly and specifically addresses his audience—Greeks who were largely Stoic or Epicurean (v 18)—and tailors his arguments to their beliefs. His address here is quite different to his sermon in Acts 13, where he is seeking to persuade a Jewish audience. There he demonstrates his knowledge of Jewish theology and thought; here he reveals his “great learning” (Acts 26:24) of the culture, customs and philosophy of Athens. Not only does he reference two Greek poets (17:28), but Ron Vince argues that many of his turns of phrase were written to specifically correspond to—or antagonise—Hellenistic thought.4

In fact, Paul seems very aware of how the major beliefs of the Athenians play off against the gospel message. For instance, the Greeks of his day had a very heightened sense of their superiority to the “barbarians” of surrounding nations, because they believed they were of a different origin.5 This would certainly have been a major hurdle for anyone preaching the gospel to them, and so it seems likely that this is why Paul targets it, preaching that God created the whole human race ex henos—”out of one stock” (namely Adam). Similarly, he attacks the Athenians’ pride in their philosophical achievements by equating their search for God with everyone else’s—the Greek word pselapheseian (v 27) connotes a blind, futile groping in the dark. In essence, he describes their entire quest for knowledge as a “time of ignorance” (v 30).

Yet, while Paul is here, as elsewhere, scathing of the “wisdom of the world” (cf 1 Corinthians 1:20–21; 3:19), he is not anti-philosophy. He rejects secular philosophy as blind and futile, not because it is philosophy per se, but rather because it does not lead to the truth as biblical philosophy does. Had he rejected philosophy altogether, he would not have stood before the Areopagus and presented a philosophical argument against Greek thought. Dominic Bnonn Tennant identifies a presuppositional thread running through Paul’s presentation which plays off the Athenians’ beliefs—both those which contradict the gospel, and those which complement it:6

1. He appeals to the inherent religious knowledge of man (vv 22, 23a; cf Romans 1);
2. then immediately contrasts it to his listeners’ lack of knowledge in religious matters (v 23);
3. then proclaims the basic elements of spiritual truth;
4. and uses this as a basis for an internal critique of the Athenians’ own beliefs, showing their absurdity (vv 23b–27);
5. but then comes back to point (i) to show that these beliefs do still reflect the truth he is proclaiming (v 28);
6. and then uses this common element of truth as an argument for God’s authority (v 29);
7. on which basis he proclaims the gospel of repentance, in light of the coming judgment (vv 30–32).

In other words, Paul is pointing out that the Athenians’ worldview makes no sense. On the one hand, they recognize that there are spiritual truths which need to be investigated and grasped. But on the other, their ideas about these truths are irrational. If God created the heavens and the earth, he cannot be contained in them; and if humans are his offspring, they cannot have created him. The Christian worldview, in comparison to theirs, recognizes God’s autonomy from his creation, and provides a sensible and believable account of his relationship to man.

Notice that although Paul’s argument is couched to engage with the Greeks’ presuppositions, he doesn’t restrict himself to a presuppositional approach as some might today. He also draws in elements of natural theology, like those used in modern classical arguments. Further, once he has laid his philosophical foundations he draws in historical evidence as well. He seems to consider all of these important in his approach. Therefore—with due deference to how our situations may differ from his—so should we. It should also go without saying that, like him, we must learn what our opponents believe before we try to engage them. For most apologetic encounters, this means we must do at least as much listening as speaking.
Sharing the gospel

In a sense, the whole of Paul’s address is a gospel message—as Bob Deffinbaugh points out, “It is the same message Paul preached to the Jews, except that he had to begin at a more elementary point—that of God’s existence, and of His power and sovereign control over His creation.”7 But it is not until verses 30 and 31 that Paul gets down to the nitty-gritty evidentials—the altar call of his address. As far as altar calls go, this one is remarkably lacking in emotionalism. With almost terse conciseness he challenges the Athenians to repentance, warning them of God’s coming judgment. He concludes with an appeal to the historical fact of the resurrection as proof of God’s power to do what he has promised. Although it is likely that the words Luke records in Acts are a summary of Paul’s actual message, it remains that this presentation is one which is decidedly more assertive than much of the gentle evangelism advocated today.

The response to Paul’s startling conclusion was less than flattering. To a large extent, the Greeks were happy to listen to something new in the way of philosophy. They were interested in hearing about new worldviews; in fact, they “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (v 21). But talk of judgment and repentance was a different matter. As for bringing up something as ludicrous as a man raised from the dead—! Commentators have suggested that the derisive reaction to Paul’s final words broke up his speech—and indeed, it is easy to imagine him hurrying through verse 31 in order to finish his address before being drowned out. The stumbling-block to the Jews had proven to be foolishness to the Gentiles, and Paul’s talk of a risen corpse cost him the respect of most of his listeners. Yet “some men joined him and believed” (v 34)—God’s foolishness prevailed (cf 1 Corinthians 1:21–25). The conclusion of his argument was too crass for many of his listeners; yet it held the ring of truth for others in whom the Spirit of God was working (cf 1 Corinthians 2:13–14).

Ultimately, Paul’s speech does not stand across time as a template for a foolproof apologetic argument. It isn’t an example of how to spectacularly triumph in our encounters with unbelievers and enjoy apologetic success—if we measure success by how many people we convince. Instead, it is a blueprint for obedience: for refuting unbelief and declaring the truth. God does not call us to win arguments, but to present his truth, removing all reasons to disbelieve. He does not guarantee that many people will listen; nor does he want us to judge our success based on numbers. He reminds us of this in the example of Paul which he has given us to follow. Salvation is not of us, but of the Lord.

The primacy of God’s revelation

“One thing is for sure. God has said something about everything. He has told us that all things are created and that all things are sustained by him. He has told us that all things are to be done to his glory and that all things work according to the counsel of his own will. These notions have sweeping ramifications for any thing that we pursue, and so the revelation of God about that thing and his relationship to it is crucial for our understanding…. It is likely true as well that philosophy can be most helpful in helping us clarify and explain the truths that are gleaned from God’s revelation. It is revelation, however, as God’s revelation, that must be used, consulted, pursued, mastered, and heard if we are to begin to address the problems (both intellectual and otherwise) that confront us.”

K. Scott Oliphint, Reasons for Faith (2006).

Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion

From the publisher:

Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion by C Stephen Evans

“For philosophers, the pursuit of truth travels on precise definitions. For Christian apologists, the defense of the faith is founded on the defining Word. And for beginning students of either discipline, the difference between success and frustration begins with understanding the terms and ideas and identifying the thinkers and movements. It is in this spirit that C. Stephen Evans offers The Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion, a quick reference guide to 300 terms and thinkers related to apologetics and the philosophy of religion.

With clear, concise definitions, this little book will likely become an invaluable research tool. It defines philosophical and religious terms, ranging from a posteriori and a priori to worldview and worship. You also get brief biographies of thinkers like Peter Abelard, Aristotle, Augustine, Plato, Alfred North Whitehead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others. In addition, there are short descriptions of some major and minor religious systems, including Buddhism, Confucianism, and Wicca, along with descriptions of many religious movements like Arminianism and Puritanism. Plus, several major apologetic arguments from cosmology, natural theology, and other sources are described.

If it is related to apologetics or the philosophy of religion, you will find it in The Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion. The strength of the definitions is brevity, but they are accurate and reliable, functioning as first steps in probing the issues further. Students of all levels will find this book a useful resource, either as an introduction or as a quick reminder of the basics of a particular position, movement or person.”

Download the preface and sample pages.

You can buy this book in NZ here.

Atheistic Moral Platonism

There is an objection to the moral argument for God’s existence, specifically the premise which states the best explanation for the foundation for objective moral values and duties is God. It is the idea that moral values and duties can be plausibly anchored in some transcendent, non-theistic ground. That moral values and duties exist objectively, but as brute facts, not needing an explanation for their existence. They are sort of eternal unchanging ideas that are necessary features of the universe. This position we shall call Atheistic Moral Platonism, and there are three ways we could respond.

First, this view is difficult to even comprehend. What does it mean for “Love” to just exist? In the absence of people this value just doesn’t seem to make any sense. I understand what it means to be loving towards a person, but for the moral virtue Love to exist in the absence of people is just incomprehensible.

Second, the nature of moral obligation is incomprehensible on this view. If it is the case that these moral values such as Mercy, Love, and Justice just exist, unfounded and independently of God, what or who lays upon me an obligation to be merciful, or loving, or just? There are other sets of values also, like Greed, Hatred and Selfishness. Why am I obligated to choose one set of values over another?

Third, it is fantastically improbable that just the sort of creature would emerge from the blind evolutionary process would correspond to the abstractly existing realm of moral values and obligations. That our awareness of moral values and obligations derived from our evolutionary background, and this realm of objective moral values and obligations – two entirely separate orders of reality – found each other and corresponded is breathtakingly contrived.

And so this Atheistic Moral Platonism, as a sort of escape hatch for the conclusions of our argument, is in my view, on evaluation, not at all successful.

Apologetics on the iphone

Here is some good news from MDL Associates concerning technological advances in the availability of apologetics. On 10 September, 2009 “ApApp Christian Apologetics” was launched. If you ever been stumped when talking to your friends, it used to be you had to say “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that one…” No longer! Just pull up your iphone or itouch to quickly do some research on those tricky question.

Here is the story in their own words;

Greetings! As you are undoubtedly aware, apologetics is as important now as ever. Well, as the TV commercial says: “There’s an app for that.” My husband Mitchell Maynard had the inspiration to build the first smartphone app for Christian apologists.

I am contacting non-denominational churches and organizations like yours with the news that ‘ApApp Christian Apologetics’ is now available for the iPhone and iPod touch. We made the ‘ApApp’ to be an easy reference that answers common questions or objections and educates you about other beliefs – all while learning what the Bible has to say about each topic.

Perhaps in your Youth Ministry are those who would find this app useful?

Anyone interested in downloading this app can search Apple’s App Store or see all the details at the web site, http://apologeticsapp.org. Of course, if you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me.

Thanks and God Bless!

Best regards,

Dorice A Maynard
MDL Associates, LLC
PO Box 141
Orange, CA 92856 USA

The application is basically a file cabinet of apologetics issues from a evangelical Christian perspective, “without any denominational dogma.” It is divided into three broad categories. Each category have brief articles that follow the same pattern; (i) what the Bible has to say, (ii) a commentary, and (iii) a URL link to a resource on the web. Some of the summaries suffer from their short length and simplistic, superficial probing of the issue, and there are plenty of topics that are missing. A list of what they do have is appended bellow. Nevertheless, if your willing to fork out about NZ $2.50 and don’t mind sifting through a little fundamentalist religious dogmatism at times, I recommend it.

1) Faith and Religions
Christian Science
Jehovah’s Witness
Mormon/Latter-Day Saints

2) Religious Figures
Adam and Eve
Jesus Christ
Joseph Smith
Mary, Mother of Jesus
Paul the Apostle/Saul

3) Religious Issues
Bible Inerrancy
Capital Punishment/War
Evolution vs. Creation
Resurrection of Christ
Sickness and Suffering

How the world’s most prominent atheist changed his mind

The following was written by Ron Hay. Hay recently retired from the Anglican ministry in order to devote time to writing.

The December 2004 headline was eye-catching – “Famous Atheist Now Believes in God.” The Associated Press story went on to say, “A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half century has changed his mind. He now believes in God…based on scientific evidence.”

The professor in question was Antony Flew whom many rate as the pre-eminent British philosopher of the last half century, so his change of mind was certainly major news. Strangely, though, his story received the barest mention in the New Zealand media. Would that have been the case if a notable Christian, say Billy Graham, had announced that he had just become an atheist?

Overseas, the interest in Antony Flew’s announcement was huge. One commentator wrote: “Few religious stories have had such an impact.” Many welcomed the news. Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, wrote: “His colleagues in the church of fundamentalist atheism will be scandalized by his story, but believers will be greatly encouraged, and earnest seekers will find much in Flew’s journey to illuminate their own path towards the truth.”

Others were, as Collins predicted, “scandalized” by the news and reacted angrily. Richard Dawkins accused Flew of “tergiversation,” that is, apostasy or betrayal, and made disparaging comments about this being a change of mind made in “old age.”

Since then Flew has produced a book outlining his intellectual journey and the reasons for his new conviction. Its title: There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. He describes his journey as a “pilgrimage of reason”, not of faith, and writes, “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence.”

The question naturally arises: Why does he now believe this when he has defended and propounded atheism for more than half a century? His short answer is, “This is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”

Two of the most striking things about Antony Flew are his honesty and humility. He is prepared to admit where he has been wrong on a number of philosophical issues, not just on the existence of God. There is a humility and an openness to follow the evidence where it leads that is often lacking in the so-called “new atheists.” He is keenly aware of how easy it is to let preconceived ideas shape the way we view evidence instead of letting the evidence shape our ideas. Therein, he says, “lies the peculiar danger… of dogmatic atheism.”

So, just what evidence has brought about this remarkable turn-around in Flew’s convictions? In his view, modern science spotlights three dimensions of the natural world that point to God. The first of these is the existence of the laws of nature. After spelling out their precision, symmetry, and regularity, he asks how did nature come packaged like this? The point is not just that these laws exist but that they are mathematical. That is, they are not found through direct observation, but are discovered through experiment and mathematical theory. The laws are “written in a cosmic code that scientists must crack.” Einstein described them as “reason incarnate.”

So the burning question is: who created the code? Where do the laws of physics come from? Even Stephen Hawking asks, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

Flew, (following great scientists such as Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg and Dirac) comes to the conclusion that the only reasonable explanation for the laws of nature is that they originate in the mind of God. He quotes Einstein’s comment that the “laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

Flew concludes that those scientists who point to the mind of God as the explanation for natural laws “propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science,” a vision that he personally finds “compelling and irrefutable.”

The second area of recent scientific study that leads Flew to the God conclusion is the investigation of DNA and the life of the cell. For Flew the key philosophical question here is: how can a universe of mindless matter produce self-replicating life?

George Wald, a Nobel prize-winning physiologist, once responded, “We choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance.” He later revised his view and concluded that there was a pre-existent mind that was the matrix of physical reality. “It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life, and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create.” Flew concurs.

The third area of evidence that leads Antony Flew to God is the consensus among scientists about the big-bang theory. He writes:

When I first met the big-bang theory as an atheist, it seemed to me the theory made a big difference because it suggested that the universe had a beginning and that the first sentence in Genesis (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”) was related to an event in the universe. As long as the universe could be comfortably thought to be not only without end but also without beginning, it remained easy to see its existence (and its most fundamental features) as brute facts. And if there had been no reason to think the universe had a beginning, there would be no need to postulate something else that produced the whole thing.

But the big-bang theory changed all that. If the universe had a beginning, it became entirely sensible, almost inevitable, to ask what produced this beginning. This radically altered the situation.

Atheistic scientists have attempted to avoid the theistic implications of the big-bang. A number of escape routes have been tried. Stephen Hawking evokes the concept of “imaginary time.” Richard Dawkins and others posit the idea of multiple universes (the idea being that our universe was the product, perhaps through “vacuum fluctuation”, of other pre-existing universes.)

Flew regards the postulation of multiple universes as “a truly desperate alternative.” He writes: “If the existence of one universe requires an explanation, multiple universes require a much bigger explanation: the problem is increased by the factor of whatever the total number of universes is.” Then he adds, a little impishly, “it seems a little like the case of a schoolboy whose teacher doesn’t believe his dog ate his homework, so he replaces the first version with the story that a pack of dogs – too many to count – ate his homework.”

Some reports of Antony Flew’s conversion to theism claim that this does not amount to a belief in a personal God, but only to belief in an impersonal divine principle. This is quite untrue. In There is a God Flew explains in some detail how he struggled with the concept of a “person without a body” but came eventually to find the idea of an “incorporeal omnipresent Spirit” coherent. Following the three lines of evidence to their conclusion “has led me,” he writes, ‘to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.”(italics added)

What is true is that while Flew has moved from atheism to theism, he has not yet moved from theism to Christianity. However, he seems remarkably close. He ends his book with a presentation by N.T. Wright, a leading New Testament scholar and the Bishop of Durham, on the “Self-Revelation of God in Human History.” N.T. Wright addresses the evidence for the deity and resurrection of Christ.

At the end of this presentation, Flew says how impressed he is with Tom Wright’s approach which he finds “absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful.” The man who has had the courage to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, and to do so despite having to disavow his much-publicised earlier beliefs, is clearly open to further development in his thinking. Regarding Christianity, he writes, ‘If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat.”

There is, though, a sad postscript to the Antony Flew story. There has been a tendency for both Christians and atheists, to use Flew to score points off the other. Some Christians have become triumphalistic about the ‘conversion’ of a famous atheist. On the other hand, some atheists have gone out of their way to discredit Flew’s book, claiming it is really the product of his co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese, and that Flew, in his eighties when the book was published, was too mentally frail to have written it. Flew admits he suffers from nominal aphasia (a tendency to forget names) but has strenuously denied accusations that the book is not his work. In response to a highly-sceptical article in the New York Times, he wrote: “My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100% agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking.”

In light of this, there is no doubt that the book accurately reflects Antony Flew’s own position and presents his own “pilgrimage of reason.” In the midst of the dispute over authorship the book’s actual arguments have often been ignored in attempts to discredit the author. Now it is time to let the arguments speak for themselves and to consider them without party spirit or preconceived bias.

Ron Hay recently retired from the Anglican ministry in order to devote time to writing. (1624 words)

Biblical Interpretation and anticipatory models

View the original post and comments here.

McGrath says there is a sense in which the history of Christian theology can be regarded as the history of biblical interpretation.[1] This is particularly true of typological interpretation. It’s history touches the earliest stages of the Christian movement, and plausibly dates back to the interpretive method of the Christ himself. Over two thousand years it has been plagued by misuse and misunderstanding. A cloud of uncertainty lingers today over the nature of typology and the hermeneutical principles that might help establish the study of types.


A type, put simply, is an ‘anticipatory model.’[2] The traditional definition[3] of typological interpretation distinguishes it from allegorical interpretation in three key respects. First, the allegorical interpretative method treats the narrative as either feigned or, if not feigned, only for the purpose of representing a higher truth. The typological interpretative method understands the referent as an historical account with its foundation in fact.[4] Second, there must be an identifiable pattern of correspondence between dispensations. Third, there must be an escalation or heightening of the same truth embodied in the OT type and the greater NT antitype.[5] Fairbairn states, “The typical is not properly a different or higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense.”[6]

Jackson summarises, “A type is a real, exalted happening in history which was divinely ordained by the omniscient God to be a prophetic picture of the good things which he purposed to bring to fruition in Christ Jesus.”[7]

Precisely what constitutes a genuine type and what does not is the burden of the philosopher of typology and the theologian, and depends much upon the typologist’s definition and the guiding principles of interpretation one adopts.

History of Typological Interpretation

Typology was a new method arising almost uniquely in the apostolic age – the most likely origin Christ himself.[8] The NT writers had unity in their understanding and exposition of the OT, primarily within the framework of typological interpretation.[9]

The Christian writers of the patristic period had indeterminate views, inferred only from the occasional reference. In their writings it is often difficult to differentiate between the allegorical and the typological. The Latin fathers sparingly offer any, and when they did their usage of type had a common-sense character, being less given to the airy speculations of the Greek Fathers. No hermeneutical principles can be discerned in their writing to distinguish the fanciful from the truly typical.[10]

The Greek Fathers included Clement and his student Origen. These were both influenced by the method of Philo of Alexandria, the Jewish exegete of the Old Testament. Both had an elastic and arbitrary style of interpretation, the method of the latter being described as ‘the allegorical fury’. Origen expressly denied the existence of many Old Testament events.[11] Clement even went so far as to allegorise the decalogue.

The influence of the Alexandrian school, along with Ambrose of Milan and Augustine, was critical for the development of the Quadriga, the fourfold sense of scripture: literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. A consensus of accepted types developed in this time.[12] This method persisted throughout the middle-ages where there were no new methodological advances in typological interpretation.

The Reformers were the next to make great advances in interpretation. Their emphasis on the literal sense and dissatisfaction with fanciful exegesis provoked a radical objection to the allegorical school. Luther still employed the Quadriga, but qualified the ascendancy of the literal sense when in 1515 he stated “In the Scriptures no allegory, tropology, or anagogy is valid, unless that same truth is explicitly stated literally somewhere else. Otherwise, Scripture would become a laughing matter.”[13] Although Luther, with other reformers, often fell back on old models of interpretation, in their fervor of this principle they also discarded all use type.

No further attempt to construct a well-defined and properly grounded typological system was made until 1610, when Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), published Tractatus De Legitima Scripturae Sacrae Interpretation.[14] His student Salomon Glass’ Philologia Sacra (1623) was influential to the formation of the Cocceian School in the latter half of the seventieth century.[15] Although this rough collection did not distinguish between the typological and allegorical, seeing both as equally warranted, they did distinguish between two sorts of types: innate and inferred. Innate are those that the NT expressly states (see Appendix A). Inferred types could only confirm truth already received and must conform to the practice of the NT writers in regard to similar examples. Without solid interpretative principles the Cocceian School was given to far-fetched analogies with only superficial resemblances between the OT and the NT dispensations.[16]

The Enlightenment, with essentially an antichristian philosophy and a growing discontent for the typological extravagances of the Coccein School, led to a slow decline in Europe. In Britain Clarke, Jortin and a pervading sense of a connection of the OT with the NT stalled this decline. Into this arena fell Bishop Marsh, the ablest and most systematic expounders of a discernibly new view.[17] He held the only legitimate types were innate, and if not explicitly stated were by obvious implication. He recommended an extreme caution when intending to extend the typical sphere.

Nineteenth century Victorian England was the high-water mark in typological interpretation. It was commonplace in sermons, hymns, and tracts to read the Bible in search of types anticipating Christ.[18] A flux between expanding and limiting the sphere of legitimate types persisted, as did the mediating view of Fairbairn.[19] Critical scholarship in Germany meanwhile, with few exceptions, repudiated the method of interpretation. Types became “an historical curiosity, of little importance or significance for the modern reader.”[20]

The twentieth century saw resurgence in interest in typological interpretation. Instrumental in this was the causative climate that gave rise to the dialectical school of theology, along with four specific factors, namely; a restudy of the use of the OT in the NT; the presence of typology in the OT; a recognition of the need for a Christological interpretation of the OT; and a renewed interest in the commentaries of the Reformers.[21]

In 1939 two dissertations were published; Goppelt’s Typos: Die typologishe Deutung des Alten Testaments im Neuen, considered the standard work on typology in the NT, and Weibe’s Dei Wustenzeit als Typus der messianischen Heilzeit. Through the 40’s escalating interest led to significant studies attempting to fuse the results of historical-criticism with biblical typology. It was not until the 50’s that these drew significant notice and battle-lines were drawn.[22] A “post-critical neo-typology” was born based upon an alternative conception of revelation and history that leaves no room for the predictive element in a type.[23]

The Latter Rain Movement[24] gave the typological interpretation of scripture new life at the popular level.[25]

Davidson notes that in the history of typological interpretation there has been no firmly established hermeneutical principles or solid semasiological and exegetical foundation for “typos”.[26] It is this to which he attributes the confusion of the nature of typology that exists today, and seeks to rectify that in his own doctoral dissertation. He concludes there is substantially more work to be done as almost every area of the subject remains unsettled, including terminology, definition, characteristics, relation to other modes of expression in Scripture, origin, scope and contemporary relevance.[27]

Critical Assesment

Remnants of the Cocceian and Marshian Schools of thought persists today, making assessment of the legitimacy of typological interpretation all the more relevant. The Cocceian mode can be seen in much of the popular literature of the twentieth century,[28] and is absent of sufficient ground to warrant some specific interpretations.

The Reformers I judge to be correct in their reaction against the typological/allegorical excesses of the middle ages, characterised best by Origen and Clement. As a hermeneutical principle it is reasonable to emphasise the priority of the literal sense above, but not in exclusion of, the other senses in the Quadriga.

The Marshian School’s reaction to the Cocceian School and capitulation to the Enlightenment milieu exceeded what was reasonable. Fairbairn’s four-knuckled argument against the Marshian principle that restricted the typical sphere to innate types is decisive. First, it is too narrow to allow investigation of the rational ground for the connection of type and antitype. Second, there is a double standard with respect to prophesy and type, for there is no need to assume inspiration in order to interpret prophesy, nor decide with certainty if prophesy has been fulfilled. Christ’s rebuke in Luke 24:25 gives us a reasonable ground “to infer the same liberty to have been granted, and obligation imposed in regard to the typical.”[29] Third, the author of Hebrews gives a sharp rebuke for the believer’s unfamiliarity with the type of Melchizedek.[30] Fourth, it is unreasonable to expect the OT types are listed exhaustively in the NT. Instead of an arbitrary selection of passages and groundless preference to the few portions of the OT, it is more reasonable (especially given divine inspiration) to afford the OT a homogeneous character.

The benefits of a well-grounded typological interpretation are substantial. It allows one to see scripture as a single integrated whole and the unity of design. It clarifies the meta-narrative in scripture and calls attention to the Bibles divine origin. It gives us a view of a singular sacred history, of deep appreciation for the artistry of God and the execution of his sovereign plan of redemption, and deepens ones understanding of the entire biblical message. It shows the subservience of one dispensation to the other[31] and demonstrates the Augustinian axiom “In Vetere Novum latet et in Nove Vetus patet” (The New Testament is hidden in the Old; the Old is made accessible by the New).[32] The study of types bring forth the more significant conceptual background of the NT as opposed to the mythology and philosophy of Greece and Rome suggested by nineteenth century critical scholars and today’s popular detractors of the Bible. It offers valuable insights into how Jesus and his apostles interpreted his acts and teachings.[33]

The benefits of typological interpretation should be weighed against the dangers involved. Karlberg states, “Resolution of lingering differences of interpretation among evangelicals depends, to a large extent, on a proper assessment of the nature and function of OT typology.”[34] The Cocceian slope is greased by well-meaning popular expositors that fail to communicate the sound principles from which they derived their conclusions. These concerns highlight the need for a detailed and sophisticated investigation into the hermeneutical rationale for legitimizing typological interpretations. This is vital for correct doctrine and if Scripture is to avoid becoming – in Luther’s words – a laughing matter.

[1] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 171.

[2] Chuck Missler, Cosmic Codes (Minnesota; Koinonia House, 1999), 189.

[3] This distinction between the allegory and typology in the traditional definition draws criticism from: Peter Martens “Origen the Allegorist and the Typology/Allegory Distinction” Notre Dame University. Cited 1 June 2009. Online: click here

Also, Davidson critiques the way in which the definition of type is imposed upon the text, rather than a semasiological and exegetical foundation establishing the understanding of “typos”. Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, Michigan, Andrews University Press; 1981)

[4] When the literal sense looks fabulous and is considered incapable of being actual, or employed as it was meant to be fabulous for the purpose of communicating a diverse or higher sense, it is considered allegorical. The typological, on the other hand, requires the reality of the literal sense.

[5] W. Edward Glenny, “Typology: A summary of the present evangelical discussion” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (Dec 1997), FindArticles.com. 1 Jun, 2009. click here; Leonard Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mi; Eerdmans, 1939) 18.

[6] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 3.

[7] Wayne Jackson, “A Study of Biblical Typology” n.p. Christian Courier, Cited 1 June 2009. Online: click here

[8] James D. Smart, The Interpretation of Scripture (London; SMC Press, 1961), 94.

[9] Leonard Goppelt, Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mi; Eerdmans, 1939), 194.

[10] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed., (London; Oliphants, 1953), 7.

[11] “…where the historical narrative could not be made appropriate to the spiritual coherence of the occurrences, He inserted sometimes certain things which either did not take place or could not take place; sometimes also what might happen, but what did not.” Translated by Frederick Crombie. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. click here.

[12] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 171.

[13] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 173.

[14] : Peter Martens “Origen the Allegorist and the Typology/Allegory Distinction” Notre Dame University. Cited 1 June 2009. Online: click here

[15] The Cocceian school included Glass, Cocceius, Witsius and Vitrina. Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed., (London; Oliphants, 1953), 22.

[16] Ibid., 18.

[17] The Marshian school included Macknight, VanMildert, Conybeare, Nares, Chevalier, Horne and many others. American Joseph Muenscher writes “no person, event or institution, should be regarded as typical, but what may be proved to be such from the Scriptures.” Joseph Muenscher, “On Types and the Typical Interpretation of Scripture,” American Biblical Repository, (Jan 1841): 108

[18] George R. Landrow, “Typological Interpretations of Scripture in Nineteenth-Century Britain” n.p. A Victorian Web book. Citied 1 June 2009; click here

[19] Similar mediating views in the period come from Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkof, and J. Barton Payne. Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, MI; Andrews University Press; 1981), 48.

[20] Geoffrey W. H. Lampe and Kenneth J. Woollcombe “The Reasonableness of Typology” Essays on Typology (Naperville, IL, 1957), 17.

[21] James D. Smart, The Interpretation of Scripture (London; SMC Press, 1961), 94-96.

[22] Protagonists in the debate through the 50’s and particularly the 60’s are Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard von Rad, Friedrich Baumgartel, Walter Eichrodt, Geoffrey Lampe with Kenneth J. Woollcombe, Hans Walter Wolff, and David L. Baker.

[23] Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, MI; Andrews University Press, 1981), 111.

[24] Wikipedia, “Latter Rain Movement” Cited 1 June 2009. Online click here

[25] Key proponents from that movement include Kevin Connor, Interpreting the Symbols & Types; and Bill Britton, Jesus The Pattern Son.

[26] Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: a Study of Hermeneutical TYPOS Structures (Berries Springs, MI; Andrews University Press, 1981), 45.

[27] Ibid., 113.

[28] Ibid., 48

[29] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 22.

[30] Heb. 5:11-14

[31] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 24.

[32] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 172.

[33] Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 5th Ed. (London; Oliphants, 1953), 24.

[34] W. Edward Glenny, “Typology: A summary of the present evangelical discussion” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (Dec 1997), FindArticles.com. 1 Jun, 2009. click here; M. W. Karlberg, “Legitimate Discontinuities Between the Testaments,” JETS 28/1 (March 1985) 19.

Against Subjectivism

This is a post by Stuart McEwing on our blog about the nature of moral claims and whether there is a foundation for morality apart from God. Is morality an objective feature of the world? And if it is, are the naturalistic explanations of objective morality sufficient? You can view the post or join the discussion here.

Essential to the moral argument is affirming the existance of objective moral values and duties. If naturalism is true then there are no objective moral values and duties, and therefore all moral values and duties are merely subjective. But this brand of ethical theory, called Subjectivism, we find inadequate for the following reasons.

For one it does not adequately explain our shared moral experience. If a subjectivist were to see a woman being abused, victimised and raped, saying “this is wrong” is saying noting more profound that “Hey, such action is not acceptable to me.” He cannot rightly condemn the rapist for the rapist is only doing what feels right for him. But surely that doesn’t make sense. Such an action is morally reprehensible no matter how one feels about it. Rape is wrong for all people at all times, because it is an invasion of something sacred. But how can it be sacred if it is pure matter? The only way it could be sacred is if it is as the Bible says: the body is the temple of the living God.

If morals are not objective then one would have to say that Hitler’s extermination of the Jews (dissenting Christians, homosexuals and disabled) was only wrong in the sense that it was unpalatable – a mere preference of taste. If subjectivism is true, then Hitler was only acting unfashionably, doing nothing more serious than breaking another social convention like belching at the table, or driving on the right hand side of the road instead of the left.

But if you want to affirm that Hitler was really wrong, and that rape is wrong, and that other virtues like kindness, generosity and love are truly right whether believed or not, then it follows that there are some moral obligations that are objective, and subjectivism is false.

Secondly, it does not adequately explain how we live. Day to day we assume morals really are more than mere subjective expressions of taste. We praise good sportsmanship and deplore game-fixing. We object to be being treated unfairly and we cry out for justice as if it really is a right of ours. We declare acts of terrorism evil and we applaud fire-fighters who run into burning buildings to save lives. Like Princess Di we give to charity because we think it is right, and that not giving when we are capable is somehow wrong. We cherish people like Ghandi, who acted honourable in response to British Imperialism.

Examples are manifold. Everyday we face a thousand decisions and at every decision we understand that there is a standard of right and wrong that supersedes all opinions and judges each appropriately.

Bertrand Russell espoused subjectivism in his writings but could not live consistently with it. He was involved in protests for nuclear proliferation, animal rights campaigns and even spent a number of months in jail for refusing to pay the war tax. In other words he lived like there were moral obligations, and that these moral obligations were valid and binding for all people at all times, and not merely expressions of preference.

Richard Dawkins, the popular evolutionary biologist says “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. . . we are machines for propagating DNA” and yet his latest book is full of moralising. He has shown he does believe that some things that are evil, some things are good, and these not merely right and wrong for him, but wrong for everyone. He is at bottom a walking talking self-contradiction.

Such a moral awareness can be described as basic and bedrock, as the atheist philosopher Kai Neilson puts it:

<blockquote>”It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife beating and child abuse] to be evil that to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot reasonably believe any of these thongs to be evil. . . I firmly believe that this is bedrock an right and tha anyone who does not believe it cannot have probes deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”</blockquote>

We have more reason to deny the physical worl is objective, lthan we do to deny the objectivity of moral values and obligation. Though modification may be necessary on further reflection we have no reaso. To distrust our basic intuitions. Indeed, the atheist moral philosopher David O. Brink considers it the default possision. He says;

<blockquote>”There might be no objective moral standards. . . But this would be a revisionary conclusion, to be accepted only as the result of extended and compelling argument that the commitments of ethical objectivity are unsustainable.”</blockquote>

The objectivity of moral values and duties should be considered what philosophers call properly basic beliefs: something that is perfectly acceptable to believe on the basis of your own experience, only to be abandoned if successful defeaters are found. People who fail to see that moral obligation is objective are simply morally handicapped and there is no reason for their impaired vision to call into question what we clearly see.

Finally, personal subjectivism and cultural relativism are inadequate to explain moral debate and moral reform. These are two correlatives of the above considerations. If all there is to right and wrong is a factual claim about the likes and dislikes of a particular person or culture, then what sense is there in protesting for the civil rights of black American’s in the 50’s and 60’s? There wasn’t anything objectively wrong about racism and apartheid, just like there wasn’t anything ultimately praise worthy about the abolition of slavery. These were just the changing winds of fashion. A fad that was in one day, and could quite possibly be out the next.

If cultural relativism is true, then there was nothing wrong about lashing a run-away slave to within inches of his life during the heydays of slavery in the south, for that was an acceptable practice for that culture. Though unacceptable now, there is nothing incoherent given cultural relativism that slavery may, in 50 years time, be acceptable again. But if you disagree and think that slavery can never again be acceptable, and if you think that moral progress has been made: if you think that mankind has grown up in his thought and that a deterioration of the collective moral conscience would be abominable, then you are pre-supposing a standard of right and wrong outside of your own feelings and culture, and it follows that there is an objective frame of reference for moral debate and reform.

In summary then, (1) our experience assumes and confirms to us a realm of objective moral obligations beyond social convention, emotional preference, or adaptive mechanism. (2) We all take moral duties to be properly basic, bedrock intuitions that we can’t not know to be true. (3) Moral debate and moral progress presupposes an objective, external standard. It is for these reasons that we take subjectivism to be false, and that therefore there are some moral obligations that are objective features of the world.

Preorder the Hitchens v Wilson documentary “Collision”

The documentary of the debate tour involving new atheist Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and evangelical theologian Pastor Douglas Wilson comes out this month. Both are lively speakers and the topic addressed (“Is religion good for the world?”) continues to be a source of heated debate. You can preorder it now on amazon. Also check out the official site to watch the first 13 minutes.

Darwin was Wrong – Conference and Webcast

I have recently been listening to some dialog on the topic of Creation and Evolution, and have generally found it very frustrating. It seems to me that the proponents of each view are, on the whole, talking past each other. Creationists say transitional fossils, claimed necessary by Darwin himself for his theory, are largely missing. Evolutionists on the other hand concede that they are missing (Gould) or that they are not missing (various people), both of which support evolution. My plea — can we please have definitions spelled out clearly before these discussions, and can we have the evidence honestly put in front of our eyes. Hand-waving arguments are just not sufficient! Anyways…

This conference — full of PhDs — looks like it might be a bit interesting.  I hope they release the MP3s or videos online.


Darwin was Wrong - Conference and Webcast

October Events in Auckland

Faith at University

What are the common issues that Christians face in their study at university? This symposium will seek to address that question and help to introduce young people to the challenges and skills necessary for their faith to survive the tertiary environment.  Guest speakers include Paul Windsor, Dr David Richmond, Doug and Puti Wilson, Yael Klangwisan (Laidlaw College), and issues discussed will be university life, how Christians can impact the university, how a career as a scientist can relate to faith, and apologetics in the academy. This has been set up particularly for young adults and Year 13s, and will feature Scripture Union, TSCF, Student life, and Thinking Matters.

Get in quick and email youthgroup.lcc@gmail.com or register via their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=124180167831

When: Friday 16th Oct, 7:00 – 9:30pm
Where: Lynfield Community Church, 35 the Avenue, Lynfield

Thinking Biblically in a Postmodern World

Dr. Bryan Martin will discuss post-modernism and how this new cultural and philosophical mood relates to the Christian worldview.  Bryan is the director of Biblical Foundations at the Hamilton Christian School and is married to Laura and they have three young children. He has trained as a teacher at the University of Waikato and has since graduated with degrees in Divinity and Ministry from The ‘Masters Seminary’ in the USA. After nine years in full-time ministry, including four years of pastoring a Church in the UK, Bryan now lives in hamilton, NZ, where he serves as an elder in his home church.

When: 17 & 18 Oct
Where: Manurewa Bible Church, 84 Maich Rd
Cost: Donations are encouraged to help cover costs

2-3: Understanding our Times: What is Postmodernism?
3.15-3.45: Afternoon Tea
4-5: Irreconcillable Differences: Post-Modernism and the Bible
5.15-6.45: Fellowship Tea
7-8: A New Church in Town: Understanding the Emerging Church
10-12.15 Divine Architecture: Following the Master’s Plan for His Church (regular Sunday Service)
7-8 Courageous and Unashamed: Impacing our generation with the Gospel

(source: Joe Fleener at Emeth Aletheia)

Unlimited Apologetics: Faith and Science symposium

Stuart McEwing will be delivering three talks: “The Argument from Evolution,” “Conflict in the Conflict Thesis?: Historical Perspectives in the Relationship Between Science and Christianity” and “The Death of Science in the Modern Era?”.

When: Tuesday, 20 October, 2009, 7-9pm.
Where: Encounter Christian Centre, 495 Rosebank Rd, Avondale.
COST: Free

Christian Apologetics in NZ

This article appeared in the January issue of our Thinking Matters journal. The author, Dr Steve Kumar, has been involved in apologetics in NZ for over thirty years and is  a sought-after speaker in academic and church settings around the world. He has debated several notable skeptics and atheists, including the head of the philosophy departments at the University of Waikato and Sydney University, and has authored the popular ‘Christianity for Skeptics’. For more articles from our journal, head to our Journal site.

The church has encountered many challenges throughout its history. For prominent Church historian Mark Noll, the response of the Christian community to these moments of crisis can be distilled into two tendencies: Christians, he contends, commonly react by either mounting a campaign of hollow political action, or by retreating into isolated communities of personal piety. As we observe the profound intellectual and cultural changes occurring in our nation, and seek to avoid the twin dangers that Noll delineates, I believe we must recognise the value of a commitment to the intellectual life of our congregations. We must recognise that to neglect this important aspect of Christian discipleship would be to compromise the health and mission of the church here in New Zealand. I take it, therefore, as a pleasure and privilege to be able to commend the essays of this journal as a part of an effort to ensure the vitality of apologetics in our country.

Apologetics—the art of demonstrating the truth of the Christian faith—has had a short but strong history in New Zealand. We were, in many respects, a country that led the world in the area of apologetic ministry. We were the first nation to originate an organized body of associated persons together for the single purpose of apologetics. New Zealand also was the first country to hold conferences directly addressing apologetics training and themes. Today, it is encouraging to see more Christians engaged in apologetics than ever before.

The enterprise today is significantly different than when I first began teaching, almost thirty years ago. At that time, Christianity was still very much a part of the fabric of the New Zealand society. The language, tradition and norms of the church still seemed to shape Kiwi life; yet this presence was almost singularly cultural. A deep intellectual crisis had occurred, and was beginning to be felt. Secularism had triumphed, and the church consequently had abdicated the public square. In many assemblies, doctrinal atrophy and a theological capsize to modernism had allowed neo-orthodoxy and existentialism to take root.1 An uncritical experientialism2 and irrational fideism3 abounded. This had severely affected the witness of many Christian communities. Cultural engagement was minimal, often confined to evangelistic crusades and outreach programs that were unwilling to go beyond expositing Scriptural passages.

Into this milieu, the introduction of apologetics was treated with suspicion, ignorance, and on some occasions naked hostility. Defending Christian beliefs with rational arguments was considered to be excessive intellectualism; obscurantist, unspiritual, too American, and wholly peripheral to the work and worship of the church. I remember clearly the response of one congregation, adamant in their contention that apologetics was some manifestation of a Christian cult (I’m glad to say that this same assembly now regularly hosts apologetic events). At many of our theological colleges, the reigning paradigm of Barthianism4 meant natural theology and therefore apologetics was viewed with deep skepticism. Those colleges that were evangelically conservative had programs dedicated to equipping believers for overseas missions, but none that were directed to engaging the secular humanism5 that was threatening our own shores. Philosophy and the intellectual defense of Christianity were considered corrosive and unhelpful to faith. I remember when this resistance and criticism came to a head in 1979, with Lloyd Geering speaking out against a series of apologetic seminars that apologist Terry Hill and I were doing throughout the North Island.

Yet against this background of indifference and hostility from some quarters, there was equally a remarkable level of interest both inside the church and out. Many Christians were open to a faith grounded by sound, accessible arguments. Many believers saw that they could face their intellectual doubts squarely and with confidence with the philosophical tools of apologetics. As this interest in apologetics grew, God brought together a group with a vision to enhance the apologetic witness of the church, and to forestall the Christian concession of the public domain to secularism. In 1980, united by this common purpose, a number of Christians including Ray Brooking, Frank MacDonald, Keith Wilson, John Bottomly, Ross Sutherland, Wayne Laurence, myself, and others formed the New Zealand Evangelical Apologetics Society. The mission of the society was multiform, and included an apologetics print journal, Apologia, and regular organized camps in Hamilton, Rotorua and other parts of the North Island. Our chief aim, however, was to expose Christians to the teaching of the foremost apologists at that time, and it was therefore our privilege to set up a forum for guest speakers. We were humbled to be able to host John Warwick Montgomery and Norman Geisler on regular occasions. The initial response was overwhelming and it was established as an annual event throughout the eighties and early nineties. We broached themes from God’s existence, the problem of evil, and the reliability of the Bible to the New Age Movement—with guests that included some the seminal apologists of evangelicalism at the time: Josh McDowell, A W Wilder Smith, Harold Lindsell, Walter Martin, Ron Carson, Dave Hunt, Dwayne Gish, Ravi Zacharias (before he would come to think of himself as an apologist) and former guru and Yogi, Rabi Maharaj. The society was also able to establish connections with our Australian counterparts, and we set up many events with evangelical scholars from that country, including John Heininger.

One of the significant needs that we saw urgently requiring attention was the lack of apologetic-focused programs at our theological colleges. In 1985, we therefore opened the first apologetic school in Howick, principled by Dr Tony Hanne. The school had a focus on discipleship and basic apologetic training, with a view to furnishing believers with greater intellectual depth and precision. We saw it as important that Christians seek to value the history of ideas and see philosophical acuity as bound up with their calling. It is enormously encouraging to know that many of those who attended are now involved in ministry in New Zealand, and benefited from this training.

But our mission went beyond the church. We wanted to reach the greater secular audiences and to increase the vitality and influence of Christian truth in the marketplace of ideas. This included a significant commitment to working alongside campus ministries and presenting a Christian counterposition to the broad philosophical approaches to life prevalent at that time: existentialism6 and a waning but still alive logical positivism7. In an effort to engage other intellectual arenas, we also endeavored to maintain a presence in the media, on both television and the secular broadcasting networks, via informal debates, and in providing international guests for interviews. We also were able to organize several local debates with prominent New Zealand and Australian skeptics—ranging from members of the humanist societies to the heads of philosophy departments—such as Alistair Gunn and Bill Cooke.

By the early nineties apologetics had become much more recognized as integral to the witness of the church. In both local churches, and in many settings of formal theological education, the mindset towards philosophy and apologetics had softened. Other organizations, such as the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society, were founded. Grassroot church programs that took advantage of apologetics in evangelism, such as the Alpha course, were set up. Many colleges and theological institutions throughout New Zealand began to start addressing the deficiency of apologetics programs, including apologetics training as part of their missions curriculum.

Several trends have even furthered the advancement of the enterprise today. Both the work of Christian philosophers in the West and the increased strength of evangelical scholarship has greatly aided in providing an undercurrent of intellectual respectability for belief in God. The explosion of technology cannot be underestimated: personal computers, the internet, blogging, and a vast proliferation of books on the subject have also contributed to the popularity of the discipline in this country.

Amidst these encouraging signs, however, there are also many causes for deep alarm. Despite the increase of Christians willing to defend the intellectual superiority of biblical truth-claims, vast ignorance of apologetics still pervades many congregations. Biblical illiteracy has become endemic not only in our society, but sadly in many of our churches as well. In our places of learning, modernism may have been vanquished but in its place has arisen a new specter that is equally hostile to the gospel. Whatever insights we may concede to this new intellectual mood, it has many claims that are detrimental not only to the church, but for anyone who cherishes objective truth and morality.

The trends of our political climate are equally unsettling. The fraying of moral norms and institutions such as marriage and the family are a particular source for concern. Even more fundamental than this is the demonization of those who wish to bring their religious sentiments into public life. As our nation abandons its Christian heritage, we must realize all the more that a philosophy of life will always shape the principles behind legislative enactments and political judgments. If Christians allow the influence of biblical claims to be negated, secular humanism will fill this vacuum.

Just as it was for the early church, from the first apostles to Justyn Martyr and Greek polemicist Origen, the enterprise of apologetics remains an indispensable resource for the church to face these new challenges today. Inaction or accommodation will not suffice, for nothing less than the soul of our nation is at stake. If we are to avoid the perils that Mark Noll delineates—superficial political activism on the one hand and cultural withdrawal on the other—we must continue to see the importance of renewed minds as much as renovated hearts. We must be aware also of our spiritual vulnerabilities, and undertake to have our apologetic efforts molded and maintained by the Holy Spirit. For our society will never want our answers if it does not see our own lives as evidence of a God who restores and transforms. Let us not neglect this glorious calling we have been given, and let us further seek the raising of future generations willing to invest not only semantics, but their lives and souls in apologetic witness to the Christ who exerts His claim as the King and Lord of ours and every nation.