At the time, I was an Assistant to the Executive Director for an LCMS owned and operated year-round Camp & Retreat Center in the local area, and really just a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" since I had no clue that the Small/Large Catechism existed let alone an entire book containing our Confessions called the Book of Concord.
I'll never forget how quickly the District President's (Rev. Chris Wicher's) head turned let alone the apprehensive and surprised look he gave me in response to my eager and enthusiastic admission.
At the time, I still had my old Evangelical, Non-Denominational blog and was doing a couple of weekly podcasts focused on Apologetics ("I Want To Believe Radio" and "Right Now Radio"), because I was still operating under the false assumption that I could argue non-believers into Heaven by appealing to their common sense and logical, rational mind.
For whatever reason, I completely ignored what God's Word had to say to the contrary (how's that for being a self-proclaimed Apologist, huh?)!
1 Corinthians 1:17-31 (ESV) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 2:1-16 (ESV) And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him" -- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one." For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:18-23 (ESV) Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future -- all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
I was lost in a world where everything had to be a "boycott" or a "debate" to make a point and to "prove" my faithfulness and true identity as a Christian. In other words, I was a self-righteous hypocrite, because I didn't understand the proper use of Apologetics or my role in the process.
Still, that's not to say that we Lutherans have no business concerning ourselves with Apologetics. After all, the "Salutary Use of The Law" (a.k.a. "Apologetics") can be very effective.
Here's Rev. Korey D. Maas on the subject...
Do Lutherans Do Apologetics?
Apologetics is a word that comes form the Greek word apologia meaning a defense against the charges made by the prosecution (see Acts 26:2 and 1 Peter 3:15). Agologetics as a theological discipline is the intellectual defense of the faith.
It is often heard that “Lutherans don’t do apologetics.” When heard, this claim is frequently followed by a supporting statement to the effect that, “You can’t argue people into faith.” For good measure, the historically-minded might even point out that Martin Luther himself had some not very nice things to say about theological appeals to fallen human reason. And while each of these statements might be true, each also needs to be thoroughly qualified. To say that Lutherans don’t do apologetics may be, unfortunately, largely true as a simple description of recent North American Lutheranism. Yet it is certainly not the case that Lutherans have always been averse to the project, as becomes evident even upon examining the prolegomena of many seventeenth-century Lutheran dogmatic works. Similarly, it is indeed true that Luther, in high polemical mode, did sometimes rail against reason’s misuse and abuse. Yet in less polemical writings -- the Small Catechism, for example -- he is quick to point out that reason is, of course, one of God’s good gifts. And even in his more controversial writings he could admit that “we must use our reason or else give way to the fanatics” (AE 37:224). But this is not at all to suggest that one can argue people into faith. Doing so, however, is not the task of apologetics. Given that faith is created by God Himself via the proclamation of the Gospel, the primary apologetic task might simply be characterized as addressing those intellectual objections the unbeliever raises in an attempt to dismiss a clear proclamation of the Gospel. And quite understandably, these objections are most frequently aimed at matters of empirical fact, the sorts of Christian claims that might at least in theory be verified or falsified by some logical or investigative means. The reason this is perfectly understandable is that Christianity, unlike most world religions, is firmly grounded in objective historical events.
To ask whether Jesus existed, or whether He publicly claimed to be God incarnate, or whether He rose from death in order to establish that claim is not at all to ask an esoteric “religious” question such as, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” It is to ask a question about objective, historical facts. It is, therefore, not surprising that the apostles themselves regularly appealed to empirical evidence in their proclamation of Christ. John insists that he writes about what he and his companions “have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” (1 John 1:1). Peter, presenting the case for Christ to a hostile audience, not only reminds his hearers that he was an eyewitness to the events described, but refers to these events having happened “as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). Likewise, the modern apologist says merely that if there are certain objections to the faith that can be addressed by reasonable appeals to evidence -- or certain foundational facts that can be similarly established -- then by all means, when speaking to the rational unbeliever, make every possible use of reason and evidence. By all means, tear down the intellectual barriers the skeptic has constructed to “protect” himself from a confrontation with the Gospel. No, doing so will not argue anyone into faith. But by means of reasonable and persuasive argument, as by means of the Law, “every mouth may be silenced” (Romans 3:19). And with mouths closed, perhaps way is made for ears to be opened.
Rev. Korey D. Maas is Assistant Professor of Theology and Church History at Concordia University Irvine, where he holds the 2008-2009 Harry and Caroline Trembath Chair in Confessional Theology. He is also currently a Guest Tutor at Westfield House of Theological Studies, Cambridge, England, and a Visiting Fellow in the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity.
This article is reprinted with permission from, For the Life of the World, Volume Thirteen, Number One – Spring 2009, published by Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN
Rev. Kurt Marquart, another Lutheran, continually emphasized the use of Apologetics as we enter the marketplace of ideas.
There is, as previously mentioned, a "Salutary Use of The Law" (i.e., "Apologetics") to silence the false reasoning of the non-Christian in preparation for the proclamation of the Gospel.
We may not realize it, but many of us engage in Apologetics whenever we discuss abortion or creation with family members, friends, co-workers, and/or our neighbors let's say.
If we're doing it right, then we start by using reason to silence the false thinking of pro-abortionists and/or evolutionists, and then we follow-up by proclaiming the truth of Scripture and Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind. That's a good thing.
In addition, we can consider the effect of Apologetics on ourselves, on the the believer, even if the non-believers never allow us to get as far as confessing the Gospel to them.
I suppose that Apologetics can edify us Christians by strengthening our faith, but even then the credit goes solely to the Holy Spirit for our sanctification and strengthening of our faith and not our own "commitment to" an Apologetics study let alone our own "will power" to learn such facts or "unique ability" to somehow "make ourselves stronger Christians" let's say.
Besides, we need to remember that we confess the bondage of our wills and believe that we can't come to Christ through our own power or reason anyway.
Indeed, our minds -- prior to conversion -- are in gear and driving down the road for the devil toward sin (actually, we're already sinning along the way). So, there is no "neutral gear" let's say where we're simply going about our business until one day we hear an Apologetics presentation to "prove" something we find in the Bible, and then, suddenly, the light bulb finally goes off in our heads, and we "decide on the spot" (or afterward) to put the "transmission into high gear" for Jesus.
So much of Christian Apologetics today is centered around "Decision Theology" or this un-Biblical belief that we choose Christ rather than Him choosing us and working faith within us. As a result, man on both sides of the equation usually gets all the glory (the guy/gal giving an Apologetics argument and the guy/gal accepting the Apologetics argument).
We believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans that it doesn't work that way -- even if a person wants to credit the Holy Spirit for such a response.
Here's what the Solid Declaration says regarding the human will prior to conversion...
6] In order to explain this controversy in a Christian manner, according to the guidance of God’s Word, and by His grace to decide it, our doctrine, faith, and confession are as follows:
7] Namely, that in spiritual and divine things the intellect, heart, and will of the unregenerate man are utterly unable, by their own natural powers, to understand, believe, accept, think, will, begin, effect, do, work, or concur in working anything, but they are entirely dead to what is good, and corrupt, so that in man’s nature since the Fall, before regeneration, there is not the least spark of spiritual power remaining, nor present, by which, of himself, he can prepare himself for God’s grace, or accept the offered grace, nor be capable of it for and of himself, or apply or accommodate himself thereto, or by his own powers be able of himself, as of himself, to aid, do, work, or concur in working anything towards his conversion, either wholly, or half, or in any, even the least or most inconsiderable part; but that he is the servant [and slave] of sin, John 8:34, and a captive of the devil, by whom he is moved, Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:26. Hence the natural free will according to its perverted disposition and nature is strong and active only with respect to what is displeasing and contrary to God.
8] This declaration and principal [general] reply to the chief question and statement of the controversy presented in the introduction to this article is confirmed and substantiated by the following arguments from God’s Word, and although they are contrary to proud reason and philosophy, yet we know that the wisdom of this perverted world is only foolishness before God, and that articles of faith must be judged only from God’s Word.
9] For, first, although man’s reason or natural intellect indeed has still a dim spark of the knowledge that there is a God, as also of the doctrine of the Law, Rom. 1:19ff, yet it is so ignorant, blind, and perverted that when even the most ingenious and learned men upon earth read or hear the Gospel of the Son of God and the promise of eternal salvation, they cannot from their own powers perceive, apprehend, understand, or believe and regard it as true, but the more diligence and earnestness they employ, wishing to comprehend these spiritual things with their reason, the less they understand or believe, and before they become enlightened and are taught by the Holy Ghost, they regard all this only as foolishness or fictions.
10] 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him. 1 Cor. 1:21: For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Eph. 4:17f.: They (that is, those not born again of God’s Spirit) walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. Matt. 13:11ff; Luke 8:18: Seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand; but it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Rom. 3:11. 12: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are all together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Accordingly, the Scriptures flatly call natural man in spiritual and divine things darkness, Eph. 5:8, Acts 26:18. John 1:5: The light shineth in darkness (that is, in the dark, blind world, which does not know or regard God), and the darkness comprehendeth it not. Likewise, the Scriptures teach that man in sins is not only weak and sick, but defunct and entirely dead, Eph. 2:1. 5; Col. 2:13.
11] Now, just as a man who is physically dead cannot of his own powers prepare or adapt himself to obtain temporal life again, so the man who is spiritually dead in sins cannot of his own strength adapt or apply himself to the acquisition of spiritual and heavenly righteousness and life, unless he is delivered and quickened by the Son of God from the death of sin.
12] Therefore the Scriptures deny to the intellect, heart, and will of the natural man all aptness, skill, capacity, and ability to think, to understand, to be able to do, to begin, to will, to undertake, to act, to work or to concur in working anything good and right in spiritual things as of himself. 2 Cor. 3:5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God. Rom. 3:12: They are together become unprofitable. John 8:37: My Word hath no place in you. John 1:5: The darkness comprehendeth (or receiveth) it not [the light]. 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man receiveth not (or, as the Greek word properly signifies, grasps not, comprehends not, accepts not) the things of the Spirit, that is, he is not capable of spiritual things; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them.
13] Much less will he truly believe the Gospel, or assent thereto and regard it as truth. Rom. 8:7: The carnal mind, or the mind of the natural man, is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. And, in a word, it remains eternally true what the Son of God says, John 15; 5: Without Me ye can do nothing. And Paul, Phil. 2:13: It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
14] To all godly Christians who feel and experience in their hearts a small spark or longing for divine grace and eternal salvation this precious passage is very comforting; for they know that God has kindled in their hearts this beginning of true godliness, and that He will further strengthen and help them in their great weakness to persevere in true faith unto the end.”
-- Book of Concord, SD II, 6-14
I didn't mean to get sidetracked here, but it's important for us to remember all of this in relation to a subject like this.
True conversion occurs when we are baptized, when we hear the glorious Word of God preached, and/or receive the Lord's Supper.
John 6:44 (ESV) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
1 Peter 3:21 (ESV) Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Romans 10:13-18 (ESV) For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world."
Matthew 26:26-28 (ESV) Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Even so, please don't misunderstand me either.
I'm not suggesting that Apologetics doesn't have any value whatsoever. Quite the contrary!
Here's Lyle W. Lange in his excellent "Lutheran Apologetics: From Our Classrooms And Into The World" paper...
"I don’t do apologetics. I just step aside and let God’s Word defend itself." "Apologetics undermines Scripture’s authority and the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion." These are two responses Lutherans have offered for not engaging in apologetics. While these sentiments may flow from good intentions, they reveal a misunderstanding of what constitutes biblical (and confessional Lutheran) apologetics. Biblical apologetics (1 Peter 3:15) is always being ready to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope that you have. A challenge to, or a questioning of, the Christian faith calls for apologetics.
While an unbeliever cannot be convinced of the Gospel by the mere facts that we're able to present during a discussion with them (no matter how clever we are in presenting them), they can be made to cease from one of their arguments against our cherished and shared faith.
Sure, they will have more reasons for their unbelief, but at least this sort of information can cause them to abandon one reason, and, in some cases, perhaps even cause them to be a little "gun shy" of trying to spread their skepticism to others for fear of being exposed as being out of date, not evidence based, unscientific, and unhistorical. That alone might be worth our interest in apologetics.
With that in mind, we should also spend some time quickly addressing the critical difference between "Presuppositional Apologetics" (the majority of Christian Apologists today) and Lutheran Apologetics since they are distinct.
You’ve all been there before: that algebraic formula that starts with the logical precision of a Vulcan only to wind up looking worse than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe by the end of the equation. It happens in theology too. Errors in the doctrine of original sin, for example, result in relics and altar calls instead of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Errors in Christology result in Dr. Pepper and Doritos instead of Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and a real absence instead of Jesus’ real presence. It depends on where you start. Apologetics is no different. Where one begins the argument will determine where the we lead the non-believer in the course of the discussion: to the cross and the certainty of Jesus’ death and resurrection in history or doubt in the very nature of truth and historical investigation altogether. Using poor methods leads both speaker and hearer astray from the overarching goal of apologetics -- the proclamation of Christ Crucified – and ultimately undermines Christian proclamation of the Gospel. Everyone does apologetics. There are good arguments, bad arguments and no arguments. The question is, what is the best method? Lutherans approach apologetics the way we do because of the way we “do” theology; the Reformed approach apologetics the way they do because they “do” theology the way they do. Admittedly, the title Lutheran and Reformed Apologetics is vague. Many Lutherans have fallen prey to the presuppositional approach in spite of their rich, evidential apologetic heritage and many in the Reformed camp have embraced evidential apologetics. Broadly speaking however, Lutherans (e.g. John W. Montgomery), approach apologetics evidentially while the Reformed (e.g. Cornelius Van Til), typically employ presuppositional methods.
Please be sure to read the rest of that excellent overview from Rev. Sam Schuldheisz on what sets Lutheran Apologetics apart from popular Apologetics.
Bottom line, we are not God's lawyers, and nobody is going to be argued into Heaven apart from the propositions and witness of Holy Scripture and the resultant working of the Holy Spirit, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss apologetics with non-believers.
What does Scripture say?
Jude 1:3 (ESV) Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Even John Warwick Montgomery acknowledges that, "Indeed, the tone of the Reformation Lutheran Confessions in general, with their constant stress on refuting 'antitheses' as well as setting forth 'theses,' reveals a veritable preoccupation with the defense of sound teaching over against falsehood."
You can read more in his "Christian Apologetics In The Light of The Lutheran Confessions" for more great insights on this topic.
Apologetics is always about contending for the faith and defending the faith. When you have the truth, how can you not stand and speak it?
In a Lutheran layman's terms, such discussions are most certainly helpful,but we should never believe that they serve as a Means of Grace in and of themselves.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!