Prelude to a Colloquium: The Merits of Covenantal Apologetics

Looking forward to the Covenantal Apologetics Colloquium, I thought I might share some reflections on the uniqueness of Covenantal Apologetics (CA) and, in that sense, on what makes it worthy of special attention. I won’t here offer a detailed definition of CA, since this is done elsewhere (see especially Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics), nor a technical comparison with other methods, since I’m not out to bore readers nor to appeal to the lowest possible number of them. But even without the technical detail, much can be said about the general ethos of CA toward distinguishing it from other ways of thinking about the defense of the faith. So that’s what I aim for here, to answer in broad strokes this question: what is covenantal apologetics all about?

You might say that covenantal apologetics is distinguishable from other approaches to apologetics first of all because it bothers to distinguish itself from other approaches. Put it this way: CA is, more than any other approach to apologetics, methodologically self-conscious, so much so that it may frequently be found busy with questions related to the very nature and possibility of apologetics—an undertaking one might judge apologetically uninteresting, even a waste of time. But CA seeks in all things, in apologetics, too, to be self-consciously under the authority of the Word of God. Consistent with the Reformed spirit, with the ongoing sanctification of the believer and the purification of the church until the Lord’s return, CA is actively concerned with the theological purity of the apologetic endeavor, with faithfulness to the Christ of the Scriptures in all aspects of Christian encounter with unbelief and the suppression of the truth, even where that means self-scrutiny.

This is because CA believes that apologetics—the defense or vindication of the faith—is the duty of every Christian. It is a Christian duty. Christians are called not simply to confess Christ, but to proclaim the full counsel of God, to give reasons for our hope, to take every thought captive, to watch our doctrine and mind our witness. But apologetics is not an arbitrary command; it is implied even in the redemptive nature of Christian truth, interrupting as it were a world captive to the truth-suppressing industries of idolatrous image-bearers.

CA is built on the conviction that apologetics, if we think especially of that notion of theologico-methodological self-scrutiny, ought to flavor the whole of the theological encyclopedia. Every discipline may be energized and sharpened by apologetic readiness. Perhaps this is nothing more than the common historical observation that doctrine takes shape in the heat of conflict. But the ethos of CA adds at least this: the clarification and articulation of the authoritative teaching of Scripture in the heightened intensity of conflict is our business so long as there is opposition to be opposed, and opposition there will be until the end. In that sense apologetic awareness throughout the church’s theological apparatus is a much needed service to the body of Christ and to her witness to the world until Christ’s return. It is part of already-not-yet stewardship. Paul writes that Jesus himself gave to the church leaders for the equipping of the saints, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:12–14). Apologetics is the duty of individual Christians, and of the church, for her own safeguarding and for her witness to the nations.

CA considers Christian truth as a unit, such that every doctrine relates to every other, and all doctrines stand in equal relationships to their center: the one, true, tri-personal God, creator and lord of all. In that sense CA views apologetics as the sharpening of the full counsel of God, as in a sense delivering systematic theology, as the concerted testimony of the canonical Scriptures, to and for the church in the present age.

Many thanks to Reformed Forum for sponsoring the Covenantal Apologetics Colloquium. For further information, post questions in the comment section below (or here), or contact RF via email.

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Bruce Sanders

4 years ago


Since both ‘apologetics’ and ‘polemics’ from the Reformed covenantal perspective have been frequently covered during CTC podcasts, do you see the 10,000-word papers being a repeat of that content, or a breakout to new ground?

If the latter, I suggest you first request 100-word papers from Reformed pastors and elders (who are Machen’s warrior children at the apologetic front so to speak) on what they need by way of new ‘support’ to be more effective in the crusade.

I leave you with one example: A recent survey of 2000 Christians in Britain asked two questions: (1) do you believe the Genesis story is true (6000 years, 6 x 24 literal days, Adam and Eve), and (2), are you absolutely convinced? The results for (1) were 17% (down from 24% in a previous survey), and 11% for the same group for question (2) … in other words, less than 1.9% of the total Christian sample convincingly believed the story is true. This presents unique challenges for Reformed apologetics verses other churches.

While this might not be the most pressing topic for Reformed in America, I do think there is benefit in soliciting feedback so as to channel the papers for maximum benefit.

Nate Shannon

4 years ago

Hello Bruce,

Thanks for your comment. Something like the relation of Scripture or revelation to nature and history would be a great topic, one right at the heart of Vos/Van Til. More literature on that theme wouldn’t hurt!




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