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The Claims of Christ: What Jesus Had to Say About Himself
Apologetics: The Defense of the Christian Faith
By Dr. Barry L. Davis
As we begin our examination of the claims of the Christian faith we must first look at the need to make such an inquiry. Why should anyone investigate the evidence to see whether or not Christianity is true? The answer to this question can be simply stated: There are a variety of choices that we, as human beings, have with respect to the existence or non-existence of God or gods. Christianity is only one of these many options. In addition, the Christian faith makes some unique claims about itself. For these reasons, it must be carefully examined along with the other belief options of humanity.
Humanity has the following choices when it comes to believing in the existence or non-existence of God or gods:
Agnosticism says, "I do not know if God or gods exist." Some agnostics believe that it is not possible to know if a divine "being" or "beings" exist. Their view is that one cannot know anything about these matters. On the other hand, there are those agnostics who think that knowledge about God is possible, yet they are not convinced that there is enough evidence to prove the case. Whatever the exact position may be, an agnostic claims no knowledge, one way or the other, about the existence of God.
Contrary to agnosticism, which says it does not know, are theism and atheism. Both of these groups claim to have knowledge about the existence of a supernatural being or beings. The atheist claims to know that God or gods do not exist. The theist claims to know that God or gods do exist.
Those who believe in the existence of God must decide whether they believe in polytheism or in monotheism. Polytheism believes in the existence of many gods, though a polytheist may choose to worship only one of these gods (this is known as henotheism). A monotheist believes only one God exists - no other so-called gods have any real substance.
If only one God exists, then it must be determined whether that one God is a personal or impersonal being. Pantheism (God is creation) believes that the one God who exists is impersonal - he has no personal existence apart from creation. Creation and God are one-in-the same. Those who believe in a personal God make a distinction between God and His creation - God exists separately and independently from that which He created.
If only one God exists, and that one God is a personal God, then our next question considers His involvement in our world. Is the one God intimately involved in the affairs of humanity? Deism says that God is not involved with humanity. God started everything in the beginning and then backed off from His creation. He is no more than an onlooker. This is opposed to a God who is personally involved in the lives of the beings He created (such as the God revealed in the Bible).
We now come to our final option. If there is one personal God who exists, and He is intimately involved in the affairs of humanity, is this God a unity or a Trinity? Is there only one person, or is there a plurality of persons within the nature of the one God?
These are the various belief options that humans have. Each human being will fit into one of these categories with respect to his or her belief about the existence or non-existence of God or gods.
With so many belief options that are possible, certain questions naturally arise for the Christian: Why believe in Jesus? What makes Christianity different than these other possibilities? It is, therefore, the responsibility of the Christian to respond to these types of questions.
The job of defending the Christian faith, and answering questions such as these, is known as apologetics. One person has defined apologetics as "proving what you never doubted by arguments you don't understand." This, however, is certainly not the case!
Our English word "apologetics" comes from two Greek words - the noun apologia and the verb apologeomai. In the New Testament era, these words meant "to give a defense or reply." They are found some eighteen times in the New Testament.
The apologist's job is to remove roadblocks that keep people from believing in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, people grow up with certain misconceptions about Christianity and Christ. These may include: Jesus never existed; the Bible is unreliable; the records about Jesus have been changed throughout history; miracles have been disproven, etc. These accusations must first be answered before these people can hear the gospel. Apologetics, therefore, is not the gospel but rather consists of answering questions and objections so that people are then able to hear the good news of Christ.
The ultimate goal in answering doubter's questions is to bring that person to faith in Christ. We want the unbeliever to see themselves as lost sinners needing a Savior. This is what the apologist is trying to accomplish. It is not attempting to win arguments or to establish us as smart.
The defense of the faith also consists of the clarification of the gospel message and the belief system of Christians. There is a core belief system that needs to be defended. These beliefs include: salvation by grace through faith; Christ is the only way to know God; and the Bible is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice. The apologist proclaims these beliefs and defends them against attack.
In addition, each generation of believers must respond to the attacks of their own particular generation. The attacks change from generation to generation, yet the doubts continue to surface in the form of the same question, "Has God really said?" This question, originally asked by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is still being asked today in one form or another.
But why not just proclaim the gospel? Why bother with arguing with people and presenting evidence? Many would say that giving reasons for the faith is a waste of time. The best option is to just preach the gospel and pray for that person to respond to the simple message. However, this is not the biblical approach.
The Bible says that God created humans with the ability to think and reason. If we devalue the use of the mind then we are devaluing one of the gifts that God has given humanity.
The message of Christ is addressed to the minds of its listeners. We must use our minds to weigh and evaluate the evidence concerning Christ. God does not bring anyone into His kingdom by bypassing the mind.
We also find that each New Testament book has been carefully written and thought out. The arguments for Jesus being the Christ are not emotional but rather are reasonable and logical. The expectation is that the reader will be able to follow the line of argumentation and then respond in belief.
While emotions do play an important part in Christian experience they are always linked to a sound mind and sound preaching. Nowhere do we find the writers appealing to experience alone as the test of truth (2 Timothy 1:7).
In fact, the Bible encourages honest investigation of the message of Christ. When people have legitimate questions concerning the Christian faith, they deserve to be given honest answers. We should not tell them, "Just believe," or "You have to take it by blind faith." The Bible never encourages this type of response:
Test all things, hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
This verse commands Christians to know what they believe about God, why they believe it, and then be able to give an answer to those who ask questions about what and why they believe.
Furthermore, we find those in the New Testament giving intelligent answers to the questions asked about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ" (Acts 17:2,3).
This passage tells us that Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with the unbelievers. He took the time to listen to their questions and then give them answers.
When Paul was in Athens, he went to Mars Hill. At that place he gave answers to the honest questions of the skeptics (Acts 17:16-34). Nowhere do we find him encouraging people to embrace the Christian message with blind faith or merely upon some religious experience.
In another example, when Paul brought the good news to Ephesus, he hired a lecture hall. Then for two years he taught the people daily, proclaiming the message of Christ and answering the people's objections and questions.
In the Book of Acts we read the following about the Bereans.
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).
This type of behavior - the searching of the Scriptures to find out the truth - is applauded by the biblical writers.
Before we examine the case for Christianity there are a few more introductory matters that need to be covered.
Though humans have many different belief options do these choices really matter? Is it possible that all these different belief systems (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc.) are ultimately saying the same thing? If this is the case, then why make such a big deal out of Christianity?
Often we hear it asked in this manner, "Why make such a big issue about Jesus Christ and Christianity? All religions ultimately teach the same thing. Was not Jesus basically saying the same thing as Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, and the other founders of great religions? They all teach that God is love, we are to love our fellow man, and that we should give of ourselves for others, do they not? If this is the case, then why single out Christianity for special attention?"
The answer is simple: the Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and other religious groups cannot all be experiencing the same God because the way they define God is contradictory. For example, Buddhism believes in an impersonal God - they do not separate God from creation, they are one-in-the same. However Christianity believes and teaches that God is personal - He is not the same essence as His creation but has a separate and independent existence from it. There are many such examples of major differences between the various religions.
Since the various religions teach different and contradictory things about the nature of God, and how a person can get to know Him, they cannot all be true at the same time. They can all be wrong, but they cannot all be true. It is impossible for God to be personal and impersonal at the same time and in the same way. Hence, to say that all religions are ultimately the same shows a lack of understanding of these religions and what they are teaching.
Remember: The main question that needs to be addressed concerning the various religions is not, "Do they contain some truth?" The real issue is, "Can they save?"
Next, we must consider the unique claims of Jesus. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). He claimed to be the exclusive way in which a person can know the only God who exists. Therefore, according to the Christian faith, any religion which teaches another way to know God is, at that point, incorrect. This claim of Jesus does not make it true in-and-of itself, however it does rule out the possibility of Christianity being compatible with any other religion.
Throughout history many religious leaders have come on the scene and attracted large followings--the Buddha, with his teachings on how to cope with life's suffering, gained millions of adherents, Confucius, with his precepts on how members of society should get along with each other, likewise numbers his followers in the millions. The same can be said for Mohammed and the religion of Islam. Yet, Jesus has demonstrated that He is in a different class from these, as well as all the other founders of world religions.
We now move on to our next question, "So what if Jesus is unique? Does it really make a difference?" A popular response to this question is, "I'm glad Jesus has helped you, you need help! But don't tell me I have to believe in Him. What is true for you may not be true for me. It's enough that a person believes in something but ultimately it does not matter what you believe."
The Bible refutes this kind of thinking. It is important what we believe. In the New Testament, it is always the object of faith - Jesus Christ - and not faith itself, that is stressed. As far as the Bible is concerned, correct belief is crucial. The New Testament teaches that right belief consists of several things.
Though the Bible encourages people to put their faith in Jesus, it is neither blind nor irrational faith. No one is asked to sacrifice his intellect when they put their faith in the God of the Bible.
Finally, as we examine the case for Christianity we will discover the evidence is more than sufficient to believe. When all the evidence is in, it will be clear that the Christian faith is true--Jesus is the one whom He claimed to be. Therefore each individual must ultimately make a decision concerning Him.