Lessons in Apologetics from Mount Carmel

Perhaps this is a bit allegorical, but I’ve noticed some parallels between Elijah’s situation and ours. He was living in a nation once devoted to the Lord, yet turned over to false religion. The spiritual climate was apathetic at best, thanks to the compromise of God’s children. He was a preacher of warning and truth in a land destitute of anything godly. While Israel was an ancient theocratic state with many differences with America (and in no wise do I say that America is the new Israel), the similarities still remain.

When Elijah contested the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he was showing to the children of Israel the glory of the One True and Living God. In a sense, then, he was engaged in apologetics: not how we think of it typically, with prepared speeches and footnotes and all, but a defense of the faith, which is the essence of apologetics:

I Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear

To “give an answer” is the Greek word, apologia, meaning “toward a defense.” This is what apologists do – defend the faith. Although scores of sermons and applications can be made of the contest at Mt. Carmel, Elijah was essentially doing apologetics that day, as he defended Jehovah against Baal.

For us today, apologetics is of the utmost importance, for which the contest at Mt. Carmel provides some valuable lessons:

1. Apologetics is a dire need of this hour

Apologetics is not the cure-all for the ills of Christianity. I’m not suggesting that we forsake worship services and outreach programs and condense all the church functions into apologetics classes. But with the growing number of groups that oppose Christianity, it is essential that we place an emphasis on the defense of the faith.

I Kings 18:2 And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria.

Samaria was the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In other words, it was the most important city of the people of God. And yet it is described as having a “sore famine.” What a terrible tragedy! And why? Because King Ahab followed his wife Jezebel’s instigation to incorporate Baal worship into Israel. As a result, God sent a drought. Conditions became so bad after about 3 years, that the King himself had to go out searching for food:

I Kings 18:5 And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.
6 So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.

The spiritual temperature in Israel was so bad that it affected the physical conditions. Again we see the parallel to our society today. Churches are closing down in record numbers while mosques are being built. The New Atheism continues to snowball. Skepticism is seeping into the churches. Liberalism is increasing. And none of this helps the growing rate of violence in schools, indecency, immorality, and other social ills. Certainly we live in a desperate hour.

2. The blame is usually misplaced

First, it is the staunch defender of the faith who is blamed for the problems:

I Kings 18:17 And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?

Elijah was accused of being the cause of the problems in Israel. He’s in good company, though: Jesus was also blamed (Luke 23:5), as were Paul and Silas (Acts 16:20).

As we engage in apologetics, we will be accused of being the cause of evil in the world. It is happening today. That’s why books like God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason are being written and promoted. People believe that religion, and Christianity in particular, is the great cause of evil in the world. Just listen to the way the New Atheism’s representatives talk about Christianity.

Sometimes, we misplace the blame as well:

Genesis 3:12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

What Adam said to God is exactly what Elijah, or Ahab, could have said of Jezebel. After all, she was the one from Phoenicia. She’s the one who’s father’s name meant “Baal is alive.” She instigated Baal worship when she came to Israel. Therefore it could be said that the spiritual and consequent physical conditions are all Jezebel’s fault.

Apologetics isn’t about casting the blame on atheists, skeptics, or followers of false religion. Our spiritual climate isn’t altered by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, Osama bin Laden or Yusuf Estes, Mormon missionaries or Jehovah’s Witness proselytizers. They’re wrong for blaming us. We’re wrong for blaming them. Who’s to blame?

I Kings 18:18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.

Elijah cast the blame on Ahab. Why? Because he was an Israelite. He was a leader. And he was a compromiser. The spiritual condition of Israel wasn’t the fault of the pagans. Not was it the fault of the defender of truth. It was the fault of the one who compromised.

Apologetics must have the goal of winning over Christians who would be prone to compromise. As we defend the faith, we must not be seeking to win an argument over an opponent of Christianity, but to dismantle their arguments in front of  weaker brethren, that they may see the power of God.

3. Apologetics, then, must be focused primarily on Christians

As we’ve noted here before, apologetics is for our benefit. It strengthens our faith. And it helps us to make firm decisions:

I Kings 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

The purpose of the contest at Mt. Carmel was to prove to the Israelites that Jehoavh was the True God and Baal false. In doing so, the Israelites were called upon to make a decision that would impact their lives.

Just as back then, Christians today are lingering between two opinions. This is why it’s not about the defender of the faith – we are strong in our convictions. Not is it about the opponent of the faith – they are strong in their convictions. It’s about the weak Christian who, although may be attending church and calling himself a Christian, is mightily influenced by the philosophy of the other side. He needs to take a stand. Apologetics calls him to do just that.

4. Apologetics must have the goal of bringing God’s people back to Himself

I Kings 18:37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.

“That this people may know that thou art the LORD God” is the battle cry of apologetics. Notice it is “this” people. Elijah had told Ahab to summon all of Israel to behold this battle. The display of God’s power wasn’t for the Canaanites or any other people. It was for God’s people, Israel.

The same is true for us. Apologetics, again, is for us. It turns our hearts back to God. We learn to trust Him, His message, His Book, and His will for our lives.

5. The results of apologetics is only through the power of God

I Kings 18:38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.

The prophets of Baal used their human strength to try to implore their god to come through for them (I Kings 18:25-28). Yet nothing happened. For Elijah, a simple prayer of faith (v37) was all he needed to see a breathtaking exhibit of God’s power. Only God could send the fire to consume the sacrifice. Only He could turn the hearts of Israel back. Only He could send the rains in Israel again.

Apologetics isn’t a matter of our logic or intellect. Although apologists must study, they must remember that the only good that can come out of their defense of the faith is from God Himself.

To apply these principles, it could be said that when James White debates Bart Ehrman in January over the text of scripture, it is not to win an argument against Ehrman, but to show the Christians who watch the amazing testimony of the Bible, so that they, through the power of God, would take a stand for the Lord and have their hearts turned back to Him.


2 comments so far

  1. […] that’s the whole point of evidence, reason, philosophy, logic, and apologetics. As I’ve argued before, apologetics is primarily for our benefit. The Bible defies logic at times (raising the […]

  2. Greg M. Johnson (@pteranodo) on

    A nation “once devoted to the Lord”, if you mean pre-1865 USA, was, in reality, a nation, according to those who follow the bible, “one turned over to false religion.”

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