Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.

All Saints' Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, PA, Pastor


Shall we play a little Freudian association game? College-bound, secular university, fundamentalist church, religion class, philosophy class, questions, agnostic, shipwreck. This is a familiar picture. The college sophomore loses her faith because of the challenge to the once dearly held beliefs by those in intellectual power. What was the responsibility of the church? What was the responsibility of Christian educators in general? Should there be a kind of Christian education that not only teaches what to believe, but why it should be believed?

Christian education does not readily connote apologetics. This essay is an attempt to establish the place of apologetics and to substantiate that place as normative in the church's educational program. The first task in this work is to define Christian education and also to define apologetics.


Beginning first with the notion of Christian education,

Christian education is the deliberate, systematic, and sustained divine and human effort to share or appropriate the knowledge, values, attitudes, skills, sensitivities, and behaviors that comprise or are consistent with the Christian faith. It fosters the change, renewal, and reformation of persons, groups, and structures by the power of the Holy Spirit to conform to the revealed will of God as expressed in the Old and New Testaments and preeminently in the person of Jesus Christ, as well as any outcomes of that effort. (Pazmino, p. 80-81 [all emphases mine])

This is a nice definition, but whatever definition one writes or chooses, the training the truth of Christianity will be included.


Many have given biblically derived definitions such as R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley (1984) in Classical Apologetics. "Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the Christian religion" (p. 13). From the other end of the methodological spectrum, the notable presuppositionalist Cornelius Van Til would also agree with one central term in the definition of apologetics, namely defense. Therefore, his monumental text on apologetics is properly entitled, The Defense of the Faith. "Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian Philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life" (Christian Apologetics, p. 1). Gordon Lewis says that apologetics is "the science and art of defending Christianity's truth-claims" (p. 340). And Francis Schaeffer refers to apologetics as "that branch of theology having to do with the defense and communication of Christianity" (p. 177). There is no debate as to the central idea of apologetics, defending the faith. This is chiefly because this concept is so clear in the Scripture. Paul says of himself,

...I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me...I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. (Phil. 1:7-16)

Illustratively, Paul demonstrates this in the court of Agrippa (also to the Jews, Felix, and Festus). "Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense" (Acts 26:1; cf. 22:1; 24:10; 25:8). To add to the concept of a kind courtroom defense which is most often Paul's context, two other key passages give insight.

But sanctify christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (I Pet. 3:15)

This familiar passage, indeed it is the locus classicus of apologetics, adds a new color to the light refracted from the prism of defending the faith. In the face of persecution and suffering, if we are faithful our goodness will evoke a question concerning our hope. Christians should be able to respond in any given circumstance, even in the face of trouble. This verse gives place to defense even in a personal testimony context. For one is to "be able" to defend "to everyone who asks."

From the biblical examples of apologetics, Paul employed somewhat differents kinds of arguments depending on the audience, though he "reasoned" (literally "dialogued") with both Jews and Gentiles.

In the case of the Jews, he "reasoned with the Jews according to the Scriptures" throughout his missionary journeys. He appealed to the Jews' authority (Scripture) and sought to prove Jesus was the Messiah from the fullfilment of prophecy. With the Gentiles Paul argued from a natural knowledge of God (Acts 14:17, 17:27) to repentance and faith in the demonstrably resurrected Son of God. Moreover, at one point a hall was rented for two years where he "reasoned that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). It's hard to imagine that kind of on-going teaching without a lot of apologetical interaction from the Greeks who were inundated with a misguided worldview.


Historically, apologetics has played a major role in the interaction of the church with various elements of society. At first the early apologists were concerned to answer the questions of the pagans about the veracity of Christianity in the context of it being seen as cannibalism and an Eastern cult. Another one of the first issues was of course Gnosticism of one kind or another. Such works as the Anti-Marcionite Prologue were part of the church's defense. As different issues arose, such as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and the relation of theology to philosophy, theologians who were in a very real sense apologists, defended the truth. This brings to mind the necessity of the integration of defending the truth with teaching and proclaiming the truth. After all, we ought to see Christianity as truth bringing about encounter, not as irrational, inexplicable religious experience.

Now at the end of the Twentieth century, Millard J. Erickson, speaking as an evangelical theologian provides a nice summary the tools of philosophy which may be employed in our service.

  1. Philosophy sharpens our understanding of concepts.
  2. Philosophy can help us ferret out the presuppositions behind an idea or a system of thought.
  3. Philosophy can help us trace out the implications of an idea.
  4. Philosophy also makes us aware of the necessity of testing truth claims. (Erickson, pp. 56-57)
This use of philosophy (as a tool) Erickson advocates is the kind of apologetical role which is a necessary part of a comprehensive Christian education. After one has extended the concept of apologetics from Peter's "accounting for the hope" (I Peter 3:15) in a personal testimony kind of fashion to systematic philosophical intricacy, a broad continuum is established which allows believers on a variety of academic levels to fulfill the biblical precedents and commands.


People need to "know why they believe what they believe," as Paul Little's book by that title has indicated. This is due to the way God has made us. It should not be surprising that those who study human development affirm this notion. Piaget has demonstrated that there is a change in the quality of thinking in the development of an individual. This stage is called "formal operations." In this stage, a person is able to think in an abstract manner and actually consider possibilities that have not come to be known by that person in experience, as well as logical deductions. Formal operations, it would seem then, is the psychological prerequisite to a thorough apologetic. This is an interesting area to consider since many researchers have correlated developmental changes with the development of faith. Cathryn I. Hill correlates Kohlberg (moral), Piaget (cognitive), Fowler (faith), Spidell and Liberman (guilt alleviation), Marcia (identity), and Young (values) ( p. 310). Hill makes a revealing statement relating to the present essay, "Evidently, failure to develop formal operational thinking or mutual interpersonal perspective-taking will halt development at the conventional level of faith" (Hill, p. 312). Hill explains "rebellion in the church" by saying that if one is "not to depart from the way," teens must take ownership of their faith.

Similarly, Perry Downs summarizes John Westerhoff III's stages of faith. The stage during later adolescence is significant. "Searching Faith is characterized by doubting and questioning" (in Benson and Senter, p. 54). The relevant connecting point in this discussion is the theological definition of biblical faith. The standard definition of faith handed down from the reformation distinguishes three aspects of faith: The notitia--notes or information, assensus--ascent or agreement with the facts, and fiducia--personal trust in the facts (Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley, p. 21). We as rational creatures must apprehend the facts with the mind and then follow through with personal commitment. Apologetics is especially important for the assensus.Apologetics aims to convince an individual of the truth.This, I believe, is used of the Holy Spirit to bring assurance and is essentially "ownership." Therefore when the adolescent begins to question and wants to become the "young atheist," the church's responsibility is to not only demonstrate a life in consistency with the message (which often brings the most doubt), but also to answer those questions apologetically so that some college professor with greater intellectual talent will not destroy faiths' foundation. We ought to present the faith in such a way that the growing Christians know that it is the unbeliever who is "without an apologetic," not the Christian! As the apostle says, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5).


There is really a dearth of materials aimed at fostering intellectual cogency in the church's educational curricula. Apologetics should be involved in the church's educational program in a two-fold way :

  1. To present the Christian world view to the unbelievers (effectively)
  2. To help critic and renovate the Christian's world view so that it truly is Christian.
The main cognitive outcomes of the necessity of defending the faith within the church's educational life would be as follows:
  1. Knowledge of resources for apologetics (people and materials).
  2. Knowledge of the general rational ground of the faith.
Outcomes of Attitude:
  1. Certainty, subjectively of the truth.
  2. Confidence in the Christian message.
Outcomes of Behavior:
  1. Ability to verbal present and give a reasonable defense of the gospel.
  2. Ability to critically evaluate the teaching of the church and thus have discernment in their action as result (the method carries over).

If we exclude a defense of the faith from Christian education, we may very well speak loud and clear through the "null" (unspoken) curriculum that our faith is an irrational "leap in the dark." We should pray that all of the Christian educators as well as apologists might have as a goal to "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered" (Jude 3).


ReferencesBenson, Warren S. and Senter, Mark H. III. The Complete Book of Youth Ministry. Chicago: Moody Press, 1987.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983.

Gerstner, John. "The Natural Theology of Jonathon Edwards". (tape) Mt. Olive Reformed Tape Library, Mt. Olive, MS.

Hill, Cathryn I. A Developmental Perspective on Adolescent "Rebellion" in the Church, "Journal of Psychology and Theology". 1986, Vol. 14, No. 4, 306-318.

Laurent, Robert. Keeping Your Teen In Touch With God. Elgin, Illinois. Weston, Ontario: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1988.

Lewis, Gordon R. Testing Christianity's Truth Claims. Chicago: Moody Press, 1976.

Pazmino, Robert W. Foundational Issues in Christian Education. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Rienecker, Fritz and Rogers, Cleon. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976.

Sandberg, Mark R. "Paul's Method in Acts 17-19: Reasoning and Persuading." Unpublished, 1988.

Schaeffer, Francis A. The God Who is There. Downers Grove, Illinois: 1968.

Schaeffer, Franky V. "Christianity as Truth Rather Than a Religion." (tape) Word Pub., 1983.

Sproul, R. C., Gerstner, John and Lindsley, Arthur. Classical Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.

Sproul, R. C. and Bahnsen, Greg. "Apologetic Methodology Debate". (tape) Mt. Olive Reformed Tape Library, Mt. Olive, MS.

Van Til, Cornelius. Christian Apologetics. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1976.

Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1955.