Christian apologetics: What good is it?
Apologetics simply is a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. The word is derived from the Greek noun apologia and means “a defense.” Apologia and its verb form apologeomai are used nearly 20 times in the New Testament, often in the classic legal sense, but more importantly to describe the call of God to all believers to defend the Christian faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).
But how is sound doctrine applied practically? Put another way, what good is Christian apologetics?
Apologetics has at least four practical applications.
How can 5 billion people be wrong?
The world’s population stands at more than 7.1 billion people. According to Adherents.com, this number includes 1.5 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion nonreligious people, 900 million Hindus, nearly 400 million Buddhists, and millions of followers of other faiths.
The website also reports there are 2.1 billion “Christians,” a broad category that includes Catholics and Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so-called “nominal” Christians. If the exclusive claims of Jesus are true, and even if everyone who claims to be a Christian really is, then roughly 5 billion people still stand outside the kingdom of heaven.
By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth and believe they have found it. So, how can 5 billion people be wrong? One way to approach the question is to understand the Biblical descriptions of the lost.
Christianity without hell
John Shore recently authored a commentary for Patheos entitled, “What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like.” Patheos is a website providing information about various religions.
Reprinted in TIME Ideas and complete with a photo of a dove soaring in the sunlight, the article’s main point is that Christianity without hell “would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love.”
Shore is a popular Christian blogger and author, yet his column features a string of shockingly bad theological statements that nevertheless resonate well in today’s relativistic culture.
Let’s look at just four of his false statements.
The great winepress of God’s wrath – Revelation 14:19
Previously: The angel had a sharp sickle – Revelation 14:17-18
Rev. 14:19 – So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. (HCSB)
The great winepress of God’s wrath
Verse 19 reads, “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” A winepress, also known as a wine vat, is a rectangular cavity carved out of rock or built artificially. Ripe grapes are placed in the winepress and trampled underfoot, with the juice flowing down into a lower receptacle. Usually, a full winepress signifies prosperity, while an empty winepress signifies famine. In this metaphorical reference, however, the fullness of the winepress suggests rampant evil that is now being judged.
The word “winepress” appears 20 times in 20 verses in scripture (HCSB). When it is used metaphorically, it depicts either Israel or God’s judgment:
- Isa. 5:2 (Israel) – “He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes.”
- Isa. 63:2-3 (judgment) – The Lord is asked, “Why are your clothes red, and your garments like the one who tread a winepress?” The Lord replies, “I trample the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in my anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered my garments, and all my clothes were stained.” This passage describes God as a warrior going to battle to defeat the forces of evil.
- Lam. 1:15 (judgment) – “The Lord has rejected all the mighty men within me. He has summoned an army against me to crush my young warriors. The Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah [like grapes] in a winepress.”
- Joel 3:13 (judgment) – “Swing the sickle because the harvest is ripe. Come and trample the grapes because the winepress is full; the wine vats overflow because the wickedness of the nations is great.” This verse describes the Day of the Lord, in which Yahweh will utterly defeat His enemies.
- Matt. 21:33 / Mark 12:1 (Israel) – Jesus says, “Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away.”
- Rev. 14:19 (judgment) – “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
- Rev. 19:15 (judgment) – “A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty.”
Here, in Rev. 14:19, in the trampling of the winepress “lies the true climax of the image of the wine harvest: the liquid that flows from the (red) grapes symbolizes the blood of the enemies whom God has destroyed in his anger” (Roloff, p. 178).
Warren Wiersbe shares the following insight: “Scripture portrays three different ‘vines.’ Israel was God’s vine, planted in the land to bear fruit for God’s glory; but the nation failed God and had to be cut down (Ps. 80:8–16; Isa. 5:1–7; see also Matt. 21:33–46). Today, Christ is the Vine and believers are branches in Him (John 15). But the world system is also a vine, ‘the vine of the earth’ in contrast to Christ, the heavenly Vine; and it is ripening for judgment. The wicked system – Babylon – that intoxicates people and controls them, will one day be cut down and destroyed in ‘the winepress of the wrath of God’ (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 14:6).
Next: Blood flowed … for about 180 miles – Revelation 14:20
A survey of Roman Catholicism
The Roman Catholic Church traces its beginning to the apostle Peter, claiming he is the rock upon whom Jesus built His church (Matt. 16:18). As the first pope, Peter is followed by an unbroken line of successors stretching to Pope Francis today. Non-Catholics establish the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church at A.D. 590 with Gregory I, who consolidated the power of the bishopric in Rome.
In any case, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members. The Catholic hierarchy includes cardinals and bishops and is led by the bishop of Rome, also known as the pope.
The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true church divinely founded by Jesus Christ. In addition, it teaches that its bishops are the successors of Jesus’ apostles, and that the pope, as the successor to the head of the apostles (Peter), has supreme authority over the church.
Categories of Catholics
While the Catholic Church claims to be the one true church, Catholics worldwide hold to a diversity of beliefs. Researcher Ken Samples has concluded that there are six primary categories of Roman Catholics:
Ultratraditional Catholics defend historical Catholicism and are critical of recent changes such as those coming out of Vatican II in the 1960s.
Traditional Catholics resist liberalism and modernism within the church, yet they generally accept the reforms of Vatican II.
Liberal Catholics celebrate human reason over the authority of the church; they also question the infallibility of the pope, church councils, and the Bible
Charismatic/evangelical Catholics emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the importance of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit-filled life.
Cultural Catholics are “womb-to-tomb” Catholics – born, baptized, married, and buried in the church. However, they essentially go through the motions of their faith without much regard for its meaning.
Popular folk Catholics predominate Central and South America. They combine elements of animistic or nature-culture religion with traditional medieval Catholicism (Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993).