Apologetics and Spiritual Warfare
By Shandon Guthrie
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Christian apologetics is not only about the justification and defense of the Christian worldview, for that would be functionally indistinguishable from merely debating Christianity. Apologetics is set apart in its purpose: to bring nonbelievers to Christ. One’s knowledge and tactics are thus used in service to one’s evangelism when more is required at the behest of the inquirer. But the practice of spiritual warfare looks to be something else entirely. It is not so much an engagement with nonbelievers as much as it is an engagement with nonhumans. John Gilhooly summarily defines spiritual warfare as “a theological term used to describe the ongoing battle between the church and the Devil and his angels.” Such a notion has, in the words of Paul Rhodes Eddy and James K. Beilby, “inspired Christians toward courageous living, wise discernment, engaging prayer, and bold action.” While apologetics might sound like a specialized area reserved only for the intelligentsia and spiritual warfare a matter left only to the super-spiritual among us, the two are not to be confined to incommensurable domains. Instead, as I mean to argue, to be an apologist is to be, in part, a spiritual warrior; and to be a spiritual warrior is to be, in part, an apologist.
This might sound counterintuitive, for we may be conditioned to believe that being a spiritual warrior is a different gift to the body of Christ than that of being an apologist—being two distinct varieties of service but the same Lord, so to speak (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.5). But these are not separate offices like the pastor and the prophet. The truth is apologetics and spiritual warfare are mutual, complementary practices that every Christian should employ. Indeed, to neglect either one’s inner apologist or one’s inner spiritual warrior is to operate out of a disunity between mind and spirit. It is, to put it another way, to fail to be a properly functioning Christian. Let us consider with a bit more precision why this is the case.
No Apologetics Without Being a Spiritual Warrior
Given the teleological objective in doing apologetics, the ideal apologist aims to win souls to Christ by reducing intellectual obstacles that stultify belief and advancing a positive case in its stead. The apologist is a missionary. And no missionary expects that making disciples of all nations will obtain apart from prayer and one’s pursuit of holiness. While advancing arguments and defusing objections are crucial for outsiders blinded by falsehood, such does not occur in a vacuum. The apologist must also be conscious of the wider spiritual dynamics at work in her apologetic engagements. She must be mindful of any spiritual opposition taking place behind the scenes and act accordingly.
There is one well-known reason for this. Paul tells us unequivocally that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6.12). Since the apologist aims to rescue the nonbeliever from her nonbelief and out of the clutches of these “cosmic powers,” the nonbeliever is evidently not the villain but the victim. The true villains are otherworldly—having set in motion antecedent conditions that have (further) thwarted our ability to see the light. Paul, after using the armory metaphor to teach Christians how to “stand firm” (Ephesians 6.13), concludes by further instructing his readers that they are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6.18; Paul models this in Philemon 1.6). We are only planting the seeds; it is God who will water. But prayer is not solely for the sake of moving the nonbeliever to receive the gospel through one’s apologetic preaching. The apologist is to likewise pray for herself as one who is given an appropriate opportunity to preach the word (Colossians 4.3; 2 Thessalonians 3.1) and as one adequately prepared to do so (Colossians 1.9). Prayer supports the apologetic objective and without it we don’t have a prayer.
One more thing. In a Christian worldview, demonology is a sobering reminder that the defender of the faith must be seriously prepared not only intellectually but also morally (1 Timothy 3.7-8). The pursuit of righteousness preserves our reputation which is important in our evangelism (for it can be exploited by enemy forces). The work of Ravi Zacharias has so obviously been eclipsed by the man himself in his alleged moral disgrace. We are called to take precautions in avoiding the trappings of compromise and ethical deviance lest we, too, fall into the devil’s snare and attenuate our effectiveness to others.
No Being a Spiritual Warrior Without Apologetics
Scripture supposes that falsehoods ultimately originate in Satan (cf. John 8.44) and are likewise disseminated by demonic beings (1 Timothy 4.1; Revelation 2.24). Falsehood is one of the choice weapons leveled against (would-be) Christians. Indeed, one of the very components of the armor (panoplian) of God is “the belt of truth” (Ephesians 6.14; emphasis mine) which implies that falsehood is that which the spiritual warrior must combat. The onslaught of falsehoods thus saddles the spiritual warrior with the need to counter them with contravening arguments. On this, Paul associates waxing apologetic with “the weapons of our warfare,” for the spiritual warrior must “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10.4-5).
The panoplian is fundamentally about what it means to be a properly functioning Christian who postures herself to stand against the onslaught of fear, moral temptation, and deception. According to Ephesians 6, the spiritual warrior embodies a network of virtues that support Christian holiness and pious wisdom. Other than donning “the belt of truth,” the spiritual warrior must also ably wield the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17; cf. 1 Peter 1.25). And we ought to expect this, for countering falsehood will require a responsible handle on the truth—not the least of which includes the teachings of Christ.
The apologist seeks to make disciples by argumentatively justifying the Christian proclamation. The spiritual warrior seeks to rebuff the multifaceted attacks of dark spiritual forces seeking our demise. The two are not, however, wholly unrelated engagements. The spiritual warrior must defend and speak truth. That is in part what apologetics involves. The apologist is to pray and to take seriously that the falsehood she combats is a weapon wielded by a spiritual enemy that seeks to blind us from pursuing God. That is in part what being a spiritual warrior involves. Therefore, let us be effective apologists by, in part, being spiritual warriors; and let us be effective spiritual warriors by, in part, being apologists.
 There is a possible exception to this. That is, sometimes apologists focus on what are considered non-essential doctrines of mainstream orthodoxy. And they do so with the intent of correcting “misunderstandings” about sacred matters within the fold. These disputes tend to focus on contrary interpretations of Christian doctrines and the Scriptures from which they putatively derive. This area of apologetics is sometimes referred to as intramural apologetics (T. Cabal, D. Falk, and F. Rana, “Biological Evolution: What is It? Does it Explain Life’s History?” in Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre (eds), Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and Biologos [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic], 141). But this only means that the teleology of apologetics is twofold, depending on who the object of one’s apologetic musings are aimed at. Accordingly, the discussion that follows applies equally to this notion as well.
 John R. Gilhooly, 40 Questions about Angels, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2018), 23.
 Paul Rhodes Eddy and James K. Beilby (eds), Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 1.
 All scriptural quotes herein are taken from the English Standard Version.
 For an expanded and readable discussion on the interplay of spiritual warfare and apologetics, along with a critical evaluation of what spiritual warfare is through the eyes of a philosopher, see my recent book, The Conqueror’s Tread: A Reasoned Approach to Spiritual Warfare (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2022).
— Shandon L. Guthrie has a Ph.D in philosophy from Manchester Metropolitan University and is an instructor of philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the author of The Conqueror's Tread: A Reasoned Approach to Spiritual Warfare (Wipf & Stock, 2022) and Gods of this World: A Philosophical Discussion and Defense of Christian Demonology (Pickwick, 2018). He has also written or contributed to academic journals and books on the topics of angelology and demonology.
From Plato to Christ
How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith
What does Plato have to do with the Christian faith?
Quite a bit, it turns out. In ways that might surprise us, Christians throughout the history of the church and even today have inherited aspects of the ancient Greek philosophy of Plato, who was both Socrates's student and Aristotle's teacher.
To help us understand the influence of Platonic thought on the Christian faith, Louis Markos offers careful readings of some of Plato's best-known texts and then traces the ways that his work shaped the faith of some of Christianity's most beloved theologians, including Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Dante, and C. S. Lewis.
With Markos's guidance, readers can ascend to a true understanding of Plato's influence on the faith.
Read our recent excerpt from From Plato to Christ, “What Plato Got Right and Wrong.”
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— Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary
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