Apologetics and Christian lawyers: always being prepared to give a defence

Timothy Laurence

The Bible says that Christians should be like lawyers.

We expect to hear that lawyers should be like Christians. At church we are rightly reminded how to live as Christians in a hostile environment. Among unbelievers we should live good lives – examples of humility, patience, truthfulness, and never retaliating when insulted. This is the tremendous teaching of Peter's first epistle – and how these values are sadly abandoned by many lawyers today! Yes - in these things lawyers should be like Christians.

But Peter then continues that all Christians need to be like lawyers in one sense:

"Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience…." (1 Pet. 3:14bff).

In other words, Christians need to be familiar with analysing arguments and making a rational case persuasively defending against accusations. Conveniently for us, this is what we spend our work life practising! The word translated 'defence' in the more literal translations is the Greek apologia from which we get our word 'apologetics'. It means a speech made in defence against an accusation. Paul did this when he was representing himself in court. Festus laid Paul's case before King Agrippa, and the word apologia is used here describing Roman legal procedure:

"It was not the custom of Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make defence concerning the charge laid against him." (Acts 25:16)

God commands all Christians to be like defence lawyers, defending our own Christian hope in the same way that we would in court. Christian lawyers therefore have a massive head-start here. We are the ones with the mind and skills to defend Christianity in a hostile world.

Introduction to Apologetics

Faith and Reason

Faith and reason are mutually exclusive in the eyes of many people today. When collecting his Humanist of the Year Award 1996 Dawkins said: "Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops." This is a profound misunderstanding of Biblical faith. When people say "I am happy that you have faith: I wish I could have a faith like yours", they are telling us that they think faith is the enviable ability to believe in the irrational.

But sadly many Christians have the same idea, and this is why non-Christians are misled. In their discourse even Bible believing Christians can unwittingly betray a tendency to misunderstand faith: "It takes more faith to believe that the universe came from the Big Bang than that God created it." We are using the concept of faith just like our unbelieving friends: it is an ability to believe the unbelievable. We should not use this misleading line.

Thomas: faith and sight

But how does the Bible speak of the basis of belief? Dawkins isn't a gifted expositor. In the same speech as that quoted above, Dawkins thinks the apostle Thomas should be the patron saint of scientists, and condemns the way Christians criticise him for his desire for evidence. But Dawkins has scored an own goal here.

The importance of rational acceptance of evidence is John's assumption throughout his Gospel – such that 'accept' is often used interchangeably with 'believe'. Indeed, this was the basis of his Gospel as he writes after the Thomas episode: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (Acts 20:30,31). The Gospels are intended to be accepted as historical fact, and when you then live in the light of those facts, John says you have faith in Christ because you have received Him.

With Thomas, Jesus' point was that there was there was a mountain of reasonable evidence for Thomas to accept that Jesus was alive. His reliable fellow disciples gave independent and corporate eye-witness accounts of being with the risen Christ.  So Thomas was being stubbornly perverse not to accept it.

The moral is that eyesight evidence is not the only kind of evidence, and where other evidence is abundant, sight is unnecessary. Thus "faith is the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1). Faith is where you take action in area X on the basis that you're convinced in area Y, and that it is rational to assume consistency between them. It can be scary, but we strengthen ourselves on the knowledge that we are so convinced in Y that we can be confident in X even if it is a new area. The bigger the apparent distance between Y and X, the greater the necessary faith.

Trinity and Creation as the basis of faith

It shouldn't surprise us that faith is 'living here on the basis of what you know from there'. It is a definition assumes two things about reality. First, knowledge – that it is possible to know things truly. Second, coherence – that the 'here' is coherent with the 'there': the same truths are common in each sphere.

These assumptions about reality are shared by atheist scientists everywhere, but only Christians have a basis for them:

"In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4)

Before the universe existed, the Trinity was there. Three Persons in coherent unity, each distinguished only by their role. The Son of God is the logos, which carries the idea of rational communication, and it is where we get our English word 'logic'. In other words, God the Son has been eternally responsible for the rational self-communication of God.

First this was happening inside the Trinity: He has always been the delight of the Father as the perfect image of God. Next this self-communication was done outside the Godhead, creation as a rational and communicative overflow of God's relationship within Himself. This is why life in the universe is beautiful, objective, diverse and yet unified and rationally coherent, personal, and knowable. Creation by the Son gives us a basis for knowledge and coherence, and thence, faith. Finally, the logos became flesh and dwelt among us.

As a result, if we know God has revealed Himself in the flesh we can be sure that we know God, and if we can be sure we can know Him, we can be sure that His promises are true for all of reality, since it is coherently modelled on Him. If we then live in the light of His promises in this life, we are said to have faith.

False teaching

Being unbiblical, it shouldn't surprise us to learn that the false dichotomy between faith and reason is a human invention: it created what became liberal theology through Kierkegaard at the start of the 19th century. It came as a result of his thinking having been influenced by atheistic philosophy which had detached God from the universe, and as a result had to resort to irrationality in order to invent meaning.

Preaching by persuasion

Satisfied that faith is consistent with reason, we must admit that our legal training in using evidence and argument is therefore ideally suited to defending and advocating  faith. We are called to 'reason', 'persuade' and 'prove' things, just like Paul did:

"…He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas…"  (Acts 17:2-4)

"And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief…he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years…" (19:8ff)

Sin and the 'Foolishness' of the Cross

Two objections may arise at this point. First, if our faith is so rational, why do so many rational people not accept it?  Second, didn't Paul say "my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:4) and that "the message of the cross is foolishness" (1:18)? Doesn't this mean that 'apologetics' should be replaced by simple proclamation? Shouldn't we just state the message, rather than argue it?

Sin is irrational

These two objections are two ways of looking at the same problem. The Bible says that so-called 'rational people' do not accept the truth because they are in fact ultimately not rational. Satan and Adam's first sins were irrational. Fallen man now has a moral rejection of the premise that God is God, and because they don't like the truth, they refuse to accept it, like the stubborn Jews with whom Paul reasoned above. Romans 1 writes of humanity: "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (1:28) and consequently, "professing to be wise, they became fools". (1:22). Theologians call this the 'noetic effect of sin': the darkening effect of sin on human knowledge.

A case study is Nicodemus: a clever, rational, educated man. So why did he seem to be barely beyond kindergarten when talking with Jesus? The passage explains the human heart: "…men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (3:19). As a result, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not understand it." (1:5). There is often nothing wrong with the logic, but if the starting assumption is to reject God, there is no way of reaching truth. The only thing which can change a starting assumption is to be born again from above by the Spirit – and this is why Jesus gave Nicodemus that very prescription (3:3-5).

Paul stood against falsifying the content of the message to make it sound plausible to proud sinners. He preached the cross which is God's rational wisdom, which is "foolishness to those who are perishing", and depended on the mighty power of the Holy Spirit to bring new birth.

Relationship with God

We need faith in God's work

The result is that our necessary dependence on the Holy Spirit means apologetics is an adventure of our faith as much as our reason.

If we present the gospel as an un-argued mystical leap of irrational faith, the fact that non-Christians find it weird is not a problem to anyone. They respect it and wish that they had 'faith' like ours. But if we sanely argue and try to persuade that it is intellectually and rationally coherent and matches observable reality, we know we will be ridiculed as the greater fools with the loss of intellectual dignity.

So God is asking us to do what is humanly impossible: to persuade people using reason when they will only be persuaded when God makes them regenerate (literally, born again) which shifts their presuppositions: "And the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message." (Acts 16:14). So we are putting our reason forward for ridicule on the expectation that God will act. So this is the path of maximum reason and maximum faith: maximum relationship with God.

We need faith in God's pleasure

But if God doesn't open their blind eyes, does this mean that our evangelism and carefully reasoned apologetics are a waste of time? No. Our currency is not materialistic. We do not value an activity on the basis of material results – even results like souls moved across the line into a new kingdom. We must value an activity as God has always done since before Creation – on whether it brings pleasure and glory to God by reflecting His own beauty back to Him. And the Bible says it brings great pleasure to God if we rationally communicate His truth before Him, just as His beloved Son, the logos has done for eternity.

As Christian lawyers we have a privilege and a responsibility to learn to defend our Christian hope with reason. May God develop in us all the childlike relationship with Him without which we will not have the desire or faith to use our lawyers' training as the Bible asks.

God willing, future articles in this column will help us defend against specific attacks on our hope. But there are many excellent web-based resources which I cannot commend highly enough, especially UCCF's brilliant apologetics website: www.bethinking.org which has a well indexed resource of dozens of articles and recordings. 

First published in the Justice Seeker magazine, Autumn 2006

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