by John Stewart, International Director, Ratio Christi

The study of God is called “theology,” and the approach to the study of God that addresses subtopics such as salvation, sin and man is called “systematic theology.” The purpose of studying God in a systematic fashion is to cover all teaching about God, His purpose, and His work in history that are presented in the Bible. Systematic theology has been divided into three branches: Dogmatics, Ethics and Apologetics. “Dogmatics” deals with the doctrines that are stated or implied from Scripture. “Ethics” involves Christian morality that is presented in Scripture. “Apologetics” is a facet of evangelism that involves the use of evidence, reason and logic in defending and proclaiming the Christian message. It is this third branch of systematic theology, apologetics, which has been neglected for too long in our seminaries and Bible colleges, but is now making a roaring comeback.

The term “apologetics” is a transliteration of the Greek work apologia that was used in ancient Athenian courts of law to describe the practice of defending one’s position. If a person was accused of committing either a civil wrong or a crime, the accused person, today called the “defendant,” had an opportunity to present evidence to counter the accusations. Similarly, in the New Testament, many passages use the Greek word apologia to describe the presenting of evidence to defend one’s beliefs about the Person and work of Jesus. In fact, in the New Testament, every use of the term apologia (both noun and verb forms) except two comes from Jesus Himself (e.g., Luke 12:11) or the apostle Paul (e.g., Philippians 1:7). (The exceptions are: (1) Luke in Acts 19:33; and (2)  Peter in 1 Peter 3:15.)

As we see in Scripture, e.g., I Peter 3:15, Acts 26:1-2, a part of the Christian’s life is to testify as to why we have hope in Jesus. This testimony (in the form of giving evidence of our own conversion, or evidence as to why we believe the Bible is a reliable record of the life, teachings and resurrection of Jesus) is the essence of apologetics. It is a species of evangelism, i.e., the proclaiming of the good news (“gospel”) that Jesus died for the sins of the world, rose again to prove He was the Christ (Hebrew equivalent is “Messiah”) and offers forgiveness to all who trust Him as Savior. Apologetics involves using evidence, reason and persuasion as a lawyer would do in court to prove his or her case. In the classic sense, it involves “argument,” not in the sense of being argumentative, but in the sense of making a formal, organized, rational presentation of one’s position. This was the essence of the evangelistic technique of the apostle Paul, who told the church at Philippi in Greece that they were partakers with him of God’s grace “in the defense (apologia) and confirmation of the gospel.”

Why has the church and missions, in large part, abandoned the biblical and historical practice of apologetics as a means of reaching non-believers with the gospel? Several reasons exist, but due to space limitations, a highlight of some of the main reasons will illustrate the point.

Failure of Seminaries
First, most seminaries and Bible colleges have not offered courses in apologetics and apologetic techniques. No wonder many of today’s Christian leaders don’t see the need to implement the defense of the faith into the church program. Many Christian leaders shy away from engaging in and promoting apologetics, what some see as the “intellectual side” of evangelism, since these leaders have little background or experience in approaching the Scriptures apologetically. Perhaps if Christian leaders spent half the time reading the Bible apologetically that they do devotionally, there could be a renewed emphasis on evangelism that moves the church away from emphasizing “all about me” teachings and move toward fulfilling the Great Commission to disciple all nations (Matthew 28:19).

Second, the average believer lacks training in apologetics that would instill the confidence and ability necessary to engage the culture and non-believers with the evidence for the Christian faith. This problem relates back to pastors’ and Christian leaders’ lack of education and enthusiasm for dealing with the intellectual defense of the faith, which stems from seminaries and Bible schools. What has been the result when churches are virtually silent about how to respond to the intellectual attacks on God and the Christian faith? Many Christians are leaving the church. Some surveys conclude that as many as 70% of professing Christians who enter the university will walk away from their faith by the time they leave school. Parents typically have not been equipped to prepare their teens for the intellectual (and moral) challenges they face from the moment they set foot on the university campus because the church has not equipped either parent or student.

Third, with the increasing secularization of America, following the destructive path of Western Europe, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid the negative stereotyping that popular media has attached to Bible-believing Christians. Most people, especially young people, want to be accepted. For acceptance into what C.S. Lewis calls the “Inner Ring,” which on high school and university campuses typically includes the “popular crowd” of “cool people,” the price to join includes leaving Christian notions of sexuality and moderation at the door. The price of entry into the Inner Ring nearly always involves compromising Christian convictions by either remaining silent when an opportunity arises to speak the truth, or else by setting aside convictions and engaging in unbiblical behavior in order to belong.

The Moral Dilemma
Part of the maturing process, including spiritual maturation, involves young people developing their own decision-making abilities. It is often a time of peer-induced experimentation. Ideally the challenges and temptations that confront our youth should result in their learning how to say “no” to what is biblically wrong, and provide an opportunity to take ownership of the faith they were taught by their parents. The reality is that temptations take a toll on many professing Christian youth, egged on by the world and its secular “values” that are usually antithetical to biblical morality. Some of our young folks, like the prodigal son in the gospel of Luke, spend a season out of touch with their Christian moorings, often discovering the hard way that God’s way is best, but eventually coming back to the Father’s house. Some in developing their own walk of faith, reject the traditional worship styles of their parents, but hold on to Jesus and move into more contemporary and “authentic” styles of worship. Some walk away never to return.

A Solution to Reversing the Trend Among Young People
The university has become the breeding ground for skepticism and apostasy among our professing Christian young adults. What can be done to reverse the trend of youth walking away from their faith because of the influence of the university? There are three possible courses of action (other than doing nothing, which can hardly be a solution):

1. If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em
In this course of action the Christian identifies the skeptics and non-believers as God’s children, hoping that being nice and non-confrontational toward non-believers, they might see that Christians are not “judgmental”, and reconsider whether Christianity might be true. Of course being “nice” is generally more desirable than being “not nice,’ but even in theory this course of action is naïve and timid. In practice, liberal Christians have been doing this for decades, identifying with the complaints and causes of the world. The result? Liberal Christians have become so adept at identifying with non-believers that one can no longer tell them apart.

The liberal Christian approach is not what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:22). Paul never embraced the values of the non-believers in order to influence them, nor did he hold back confronting them with the claim that Jesus is the Christ. Instead, Paul confronted non-believers with evidence and reason as to why Jesus was the answer to the universal problem that we are all sinners, separated from God, and destined for eternal separation from God unless we call on Jesus to save us. He confronted them with truth and love.

Paul didn’t preach righteous conduct to win souls for Jesus, since trying to earn salvation by good works is contrary to the gospel of grace. Instead, once a person becomes a believer, he or she then has the power through the Holy Spirit, the roadmap of Scripture. The forgiveness we receive motivates us to change our behavior. Thus, to the Christians in Corinth he provides a list of behaviors that are contrary to those who will enter God’s kingdom, but hastens to add, “And such were some of you” (I Corinthians 6:11). Jesus never said, “Clean up your life then come to Me.” He just says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). As one pastor illustrated, Jesus comes into the lives of those who call upon Him, bringing the mops and buckets with Him in order to cleanse our souls. It is not done from the outside, but from the inside.

Thus, the approach by liberal Christians to the skepticism and unbelief on the university campus does little more than to make the non-believers think they don’t need Jesus, since their beliefs and practices are never questioned. Additionally, it is a subtle encouragement, if not an outright excuse, for professing Christians to go along with the ways of the world under the misguided notion that what they are doing can somehow be labeled “evangelism.” The compromise this requires not only undermines any hope of seeing the changed lives that Paul experienced when he used apologetics to confront non-believers, but also swings the door wide open for the believer to fall headlong into a Christ-denying life.

2. If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Separate from ‘em
Some Christian denominations in the 20th century noticed the attrition rate of professing Christians who went to college. Rather than train their pastors and parishioners in how to survive and flourish in the intellectual battlefield of the university, they simply condemned higher education as being so spiritually unhealthy that no true Christian should pursue studies at secular colleges. This approach, too, had been tried in former times. In the fourth century, when Christianity became legal and acceptable in society, a monastic movement was born. Those who embraced the non-biblical concept of “works-righteousness” (i.e., earning salvation by our works) looked for ways other than martyrdom to earn favor with God. The next best thing was thought to be living lives separate from the populous, and engaging in practices (called “asceticism”) that denied and punished fleshly impulses. Those who practiced this approach to living the Christian life believed the world’s influence was too strong, so one must separate in order to stay “pure.”

Much could be said in response to the “separation” approach to living the Christian life. However, it should be sufficient to point to the example of Jesus and the apostle Paul to see how followers of Jesus should live. Jesus deliberately associated with outcasts, skeptics, and sinners, and when asked about His practice, He replied, “Only those who are sick need a physician.” Jesus associated with sinners, but He did not associate with their sin. Holding to the “separation” mentality is a tacit admission that the power of God and His Word in the life of the believer is not sufficient to withstand the influences of the world. The apostle John addressed this when he said, “…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (I John 4:4). Similarly, Paul in his 13 epistles never told believers to isolate themselves from unbelievers. He only warned Christians not to be “bound” (“yolked”) with unbelievers, meaning intimate associations. If truth is on the side of the Christian, then Christians should not be worried about engaging in discussions of truth with non-believers, whether on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:1ff) or on the university campus. Abandoning the university to secularists, skeptics and unbelievers is not a biblically or logically sound way to address the spiritual dangers on campus.

3. We Can Win ‘em
The search for evidence for the truth of Christian claims has compelled many skeptics, agnostics and atheists to come to believe that Jesus did prove that He was the Messiah, God’s provision for sin. When the facts are known, and the evidence is presented with conviction, some who once were “dyed in the wool” atheists were converted. C.S. Lewis, the great Oxford professor and writer, ascended from atheism to Christianity by examining the evidence, and became one of the leading apologists for the Christian faith. More recently journalist Lee Strobel turned from atheism to accepting Jesus as the Christ. He has written several books about his spiritual odyssey. Historically, Paul confronted philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens with the message of Jesus and the evidence of His resurrection from the dead, resulting in some believing in Jesus, including Dionysius, who, according to church history, later became bishop of Athens.

These are just a few examples of how an intelligently presented gospel message can resonate in the hearts and minds of thinking people. The university is a place where students, if given a chance to hear the evidence for the Christian faith, can weigh the evidence. For those at the university who already identify as Christians, this evidence can confirm the intellectual soundness of their faith, showing how Christianity is a faith rooted in fact (i.e., the facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the New Testament documents). Those professing Christians who otherwise would be at risk for doubting their faith because of the intellectual challenges to Christianity they hear from their professors and fellow students can be assured that Christianity is an intelligent faith.

For the non-believer, including many who have misconceptions about what Christianity actually teaches due to often slanted presentations by skeptics, the presence of informed Christians on the university campus can be the catalyst to reconsider Christianity, and come to the cross of Christ as a result. This last point, along with the benefit to the professing Christian whose faith will be intellectually and morally challenged on the university campus, is the reason that a new campus apologetics ministry was established about five years ago--Ratio Christi (“the Reason of Christ”).

Ratio Christi
Founded as a means to present the evidence for Christianity on college campuses by placing trained apologists at universities, Ratio Christi established its first campus club in North Carolina in 2008 at Appalachian State University. Since that time Ratio Christi has expanded to over 100 campuses across America, and is expanding internationally into Canada, South Africa, and several other countries. Currently there are approximately 30 missionary apologists whose full-time ministry is to lead Ratio Christi chapters at university campuses. The interest in campus apologetics is overwhelming, and Ratio Christi is at the forefront of a movement to redeem the academy by having an active presence of informed believes who engage the culture and are ready to answer questions as to why Christians have hope in Jesus.

Ratio Christi sees its mission as being a supplement to churches and existing campus fellowship ministries rather than being a replacement for campus clubs. The unique aspect of Ratio Christi is the focus on apologetics, the intellectual facet of evangelism, as the means to strengthen believers and persuade non-believers that they, too, should follow the Jesus of the Bible. Parents who have students at the university, or soon may have students at the university, and students already in college can go to the Ratio Christi website (RatioChristi.org/Chapters) to find out whether there is a chapter at a particular university. If there is not yet a Ratio Christ chapter at a particular university, parents and students are encouraged to contact Ratio Christi and request that a chapter be set up. There are many trained apologists, and those in training, who are looking for opportunities to establish Ratio Christi chapters where there is need and interest. Ratio Christi also encourages trained apologists to contact the organization through the website to find out more about the ministry of Ratio Christi, and how trained apologists can become supported missionaries who can work full time as chapter directors on university campuses.

As a growing movement and ministry, Ratio Christi invites those who understand the need to re-claim the university with an active, intelligent Christian presence to support Ratio Christi by spreading the word to churches, parents and students, and by supporting the ministry financially so that the work will continue to grow.

More information can be found at RatioChriti.org/International  

Donations to the international effort can be made here.