1 Peter 3:15

This verse contains the the biblical justification for Christian apologetics and is embraced by all apologists regardless of their chosen apologetic method. The apostle Peter describes believers as:

“always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV)

As Calvin reminds us in his commentary, this instruction depends upon the words immediately preceding it. We cannot provide a defence of the faith unless we are honouring the object of that faith. We cannot defend  a hope that we do not possess. Also, the converse is also true: we will not be honouring Christ unless we give a defence of the hope that we have in Christ. The defence of our hope is undertaken within the context of a spiritual union with Jesus Christ and, consequently, within the worldview that Christ revealed by his life and teaching.

We honour Christ in our apologetics firstly by the manner in which we give a defence: with gentleness and respect. Gentleness, to avoid the “profane audacity” (Calvin) of contention and ostentation. And respect, since we deal with God’s creatures, made in his image. We respond to foolishness and ignorant questions with gentle and respectful answers, despite the temptation to inflict easy intellectual or moral defeats.

Secondly, we also honour Christ by ensuring he is the subject of our defence. This must be central in all apologetic endeavours and follows naturally from this verse. Calvin speaks about those believers who “think less honourably than they ought of the greatness of divine wisdom, and are carried away by profane audacity”. While Calvin was primarily referring to those who defend the faith in a contentious manner, Bahnsen takes Calvin to be referring to those who lay aside God’s revelation of divine wisdom in Scripture by seeking neutral ground with the unbeliever and adopting the stance of human autonomy. But, since our hope is in Christ, and since we can only know of Christ through Scriptural revelation, we must defend Scriptural revelation.

We should also remember that biblical hope is certain (Heb. 11.1). Worldly hope is uncertain. It is no more than a desire, since there is nothing that provides any assurance for such a hope. The hope that the believer defends is a certainty, not a probability, since it is underpinned by divine revelation and appropriated through God’s gift of faith. Jesus Christ is God’s only Son and is our Lord. He was crucified. He did die to redeem us from sin. He was buried. He did rise again, declaring victory over sin and death. He has ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Not probably, but certainly (Acts 2:36).

The Method of Systematic Theology

Van Til claims that “the method of Christian theism [is] the method of implication” (Introduction, p27). By this, Van Til means a combination of a priori and a posteriori approaches to systematic theology. Putting things simply, a priori knowledge is independent of experience (literally:”from what is before”), while a posteriori knowledge depends upon or is drawn from experience (literally: “from what is after”).

In this context, “a priori” refers to the body of facts received by revelation and which is therefore prior to experience. The truths of Scripture are first revealed by God to Man, and only then encountered by Man. There are many more facts available to us, but those contained in Scripture are not dependent upon nor drawn from our own experience.

Secondly, the Christian method possesses an a priori element since we interpret the facts of nature and experience in the light of a priori revelation:

“It may be admitted that the truths which the theologian has to reduce to a science, or, to speak more humbly, which he has to arrange and harmonize, are revealed partly in the external works of God, partly in the constitution of our nature, and partly in the religious experience of believers; yet lest we should err in our inferences from the works of God, we have a clearer revelation of all that nature reveals, in his word; and lest we should misinterpret our own consciousness and the laws of our nature, everything that can be legitimately learned from that source will be found recognized and authenticated in the Scriptures; and lest we should attribute to the teaching of the Spirit the operations of our own natural affections, we find in the Bible the norm and standard of all genuine religious experience.” (Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:12 [Ages Software, 2005])

On the other hand, the Christian method also has an a posteriori element. This refers to the “gathering and arranging of the facts of Scripture” (Introduction, p27). Hodge says such a collection must be i) conducted with diligence and care ii) be “comprehensive and, if possible, exhaustive” since:

“An imperfect induction of facts led men for ages to believe that the sun moved round the earth, and that the earth was an extended plain. In theology a partial induction of particulars has led to like serious errors.” (ibid, 1:13)

After all, it will be impossible to defend error.

Van Til continues by arguing that it is not enough for the Christian method to possess both an a priori element and an a posteriori element, since some flavours of idealism also embraces both. He then goes on to critique Idealism, which I will save for another time.