The second major aim of apologetics is to tear down the intellectual idols of our culture. Here, apologetics operates on the offensive, pointing out the inconsistencies and errors of other faiths and worldviews.
The third, and what I believe is the most valuable, aim of apologetics is to encourage the saints, to shore up the church—just as the first concern that Moses had was to be able to demonstrate that God had called him to go to the Israelites and lead them out of Egypt. Moses was an apologist to his own people.
The toughest three years of my life were my seminary years, because I was a zealous Christian studying in a citadel of unbelief. Every day, the precious doctrines of our faith were attacked viciously by my professors. One professor lashed out at a student in my class for coming to seminary with too many preconceived ideas, such as the deity of Christ. Another professor attacked a student when he preached on the cross. “How dare you preach the substitutionary atonement in this day and age!” the professor said. There was a hostility that was palpable in the air, and it was discouraging. All kinds of questions were raised, and even though I understood the philosophical assumptions behind the critics’ attacks, there were still many questions I was not equipped to answer. Intuitively I knew these men were wrong, but I couldn’t answer them.
At that time, there was basically one major seminary in the United States that was faithful to historic Reformed theology—Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. After classes were over at my seminary for the day, I used to read Westminster professors such as J. Gresham Machen, John Murray, Ed Stonehouse, Ed Young, and others. And they would give me answers to the questions I had. After a while, when I heard a question I wasn’t able to answer, I had confidence that God had raised up great men of learning who knew far more than I did and were able to answer these skeptical questions.
I said to the Ligonier staff many years ago: “The work that we do in apologetics may not be understood in all of the details by all the Christians who hear it. But if we can answer these questions and show the credibility of Christianity, the folks in the church will not be devastated by the voices of skepticism that surround them.” We’ve known students in our churches who’ve gone to college—even professedly “Christian” institutions—and had a crisis of faith. In many cases, they’ve hung on by their fingernails because they were being beaten down every day, ridiculed and scorned for their faith in Christ. What such kids need is the task of apologetics inside the church, to calm their fears. And it is not just college students, it is all of us who live in this fallen world. Because if Satan can’t take away our faith, he might be able to intimidate us to such a degree that we are paralyzed, that we are not quite as bold as we were before. And so, not everybody is called to be a professional apologist, but we are all called to study apologetic issues and to see that there are reasons for the hope that is within us.