Apologetics, in its most basic of descriptions, is the defense of the Christian worldview (1 Pet 3:15). What needs to be carefully understood in that very short description is that this defense is not the defense of a mere thesis which exists within a particular area of study. In that sense, we may only be limited to, strictly speaking, a defense of our view. Rather, the defense of Christianity as a worldview takes on a much broader modus operandi, or mode of operation. In other words, Christian apologetics does not only operate within the capacity of a defense, as understood in the normal sense, but it also operates polemically, that is, in the capacity of deconstructing an opposing worldview.
Christian apologetics necessarily does this if it is understood to be a setting forth of a distinctly Christian worldview. Within the advancement of a Christian worldview resides also the advancement of a Christian theology and philosophy. Throughout the course of our defense, the setting forth of our worldview works to deconstruct (polemically) the ungodly worldview against which we stand. This inevitably happens because, along with the advancement of an exclusive worldview like Christianity, comes the inevitable conflict between it and all other ungodly worldviews. This is why we hear “no neutrality” from people like Dr. Greg Bahnsen.
There is no neutrality because we are taking a view of reality as a whole and setting it in opposition to all other views of reality. What the Christian worldview does, by virtue of the power God made manifest in the gospel, is exhaust all other options, that is, all other conceptions or views of reality. In other words, only Christianity, when submitted as a whole, stands as a sufficient explanatory worldview which accurately explains the world in which we live. What the Christian philosopher will find is that all other man-made philosophies fall short of the completion of this task.
WHAT IS POLEMICS?
As I mentioned above, polemics is essentially the deconstruction of an opposing stance. In our case, within the context of Christian apologetics, polemics functions broadly by eliminating other concepts of worldviews set forth by man. Thus, apologetics and polemics cannot be separated.
One may ask, if this is the case, why do some Christians make such a strong distinction between the two? In all fairness, it is formally proper to make a distinction between apologetics and polemics, but we hold that polemics functions in context of Christian apologetics by virtue of setting forth Christianity as an entire worldview. However, a stronger distinction is needed for those who atomize the defense of Christianity.
In other words, the apologists who attempt to support one subset of theism at a time by way of evidence or classical argumentation. For example, “God exists.” is a proposition often debated. However, this proposition only grasps part of the problem. Therefore, if we do not submit Christianity in its entirety by advancing a distinctly Christian theology and philosophy, we atomize Christianity and separate parts from the whole. But this is confusing, if not misleading, because now we need to ask, assuming the apologist never clarifies, “which God exists?” General theism never saved anyone from the wrath of the Christian God.
With a comprehensive approach to apologetics this does not happen. Thus, the stronger distinction, even separation, between apologetics and polemics is unnecessary. We defend, and as we defend, we tear down the secular strongholds. It’s a simultaneous “striking while blocking” strategy. In fact, I would argue that this is the biblical strategy. In Scripture, we find both defense and offense.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Cor 10:5)
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Pet 3:15)
If Scripture ought to be seen as a whole, considered as such, surely these terms are to be considered together. Other examples include Paul’s address to the Areopagus in Acts 17 and also in Romans 1. With the setting forth of a Christian worldview as a whole, they (defense and polemics) become inseparable, yet distinct. However, this inseparability is not possible with an atomized view of apologetics. Typically what this type of apologetic looks like is a process by which we work, step-wise, toward the conclusion of the Christian God. But at the outset, it is thought, we must start with generic deity, i.e. “does God exist?”
What if we are engaged in a formal debate where this is the resolution? We state in our opening constructive that the God, of which we speak, is the Triune God of the Christian Bible. We also submit to the audience our view of Christian theology and philosophy (worldview). But we never, for a moment, admit the need to find common ground by starting with a general god, and then working toward Christianity, in hopes of eventually reaching a proof and justification of a distinctly Christian worldview.
In our apologetic it can be seen how and why defense and offense (polemics) exist together. They are not separate categories in which Christians operate within according to a certain situation, they are involved with one another in our comprehensive apologetic. Both of these terms, or categories, obtain in Scripture. Scripture, when considered as a whole, demands that these two terms also be considered together. The advancement of a Christian worldview confirms this unity and demonstrates it by the exhaustion of all other ungodly belief systems. Upon engaging with an unbeliever, provided the resolution is generic, we are to clarify the system we are seeking to defend. This is the Christian system, the unique Christian worldview which stands against all other conceptions of reality.
For example, atheism stands against all other religious systems such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Likewise, Christianity stands against all of those as well. The problem however is that the relativism which comes with atheism is basically indistinguishable from the relativism which comes from Hinduism. The humanism which obtains in Buddhism is shared with atheism, and there are many other philosophical commonalities to be found. On the other hand, Christianity sharply disagrees with all of them in every respect by virtue of the Triune God revealed in general and special revelation, and by the analogical thought over against univocal thought inevitably contained in every worldview besides Christianity. We are at sharp odds with the world and its religions/ideologies. As this is demonstrated, it becomes more and more apparent that this is the case.
I hope that this was helpful in understanding the inseparable relationship between Christian apologetics and polemics. They are involved in one another and function simultaneously if, and only if, Christianity is set forth as a whole. There has been more and more talk about polemics as of late, most of which, according to my experience, has sought to separate an offensive polemic from apologetics. As this separation grows, so does the lack of biblical soundness within our Christian defense.-Author not listed in article.