One might wonder why the Gospel would even need defending!
This question might even revert to the question of the nature of God. 'Why', you might ask, 'would I say that'? Lately; I have been involved in some rather heated discussions ( it IS a touchy subject among most Christians! ) about whether the Bible can actually be called the Word of God ( Jesus is the Word of God ( John 1:1-3 ), and whether God has preserved His Gospel within the translated pages of Scripture that we call the Bible. Although I believe that the Scriptures simply revealed the Word of God ( Jesus ), and that we now read those Scriptures in many different translations and versions; God has preserved that Revelation to such an extent, that the Gospel, although maybe in some more or less obscured forms, can be known and understood in most any translation out there. If we doubt the preservation of the Revelation of the Gospel; we doubt, or at least have a very weak view of, the nature of God Himself! One might even venture to say that if we feel that the Gospel needs our defense; we doubt the omniscience and omnipotence of God.
Whose is this 'Good News'?
One question we might ask, at this juncture, is 'what is the Gospel?' More importantly, maybe; 'Whose Gospel is it?' 'Gospel', as I believe everyone knows, simply means 'good news': this 'good news', of course, is that God condescended to take upon Himself the form of a Man, live a fairly normal human existence, and suffer a very painful ( excruciatingly so ) physical death upon the cross, the cruelest form of punishment known at the time, just so that His people could be restored to relationship with Himself. This was God's Revelation of His only-begotten Son to mankind!
We can debate ( as I recently have in certain forums ) whether the Bible is the Word of God, or whether it is simply a record, a chronicle of His covenant dealings with His people, as translated from the Scriptures, which were inspired by the Holy Spirit ( II Timothy 3:16 ), and revealed through holy men of God ( I Peter 1:16-21 ). As found in the original copies of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, then, we can surely trust that God's Word is revealed as given to the original scribes, but I do not believe, especially with all the different translations, and even differing manuscripts, out there, that we can call the Bible by the exalted name 'Word of God', or even trust in it as infallible.
Now, you may be thinking that I am doing what I spoke against above, seemingly doubting that God could have, or did, preserve the Revelation of His Word within the pages of the Bible, but I am merely pointing out that, as men are fallible, and finite, creatures, and even the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that we have available today may differ from others, to say nothing of the many different translations and versions out there; how are we to say, definitively, that one manuscript trumps the other, or that one version ( KJV? ) or translation is better or more trustworthy than another? Those that do this may base their 'doctrine' on faith, and on the 'fact' that one certain version reveals a more equitable picture of God, but as we all know; everyone out there may have a slightly different perception of what glorifies God. I believe that, by making these assumptions; we try to ( usually unconsciously or ignorantly ) limit God, saying that the Bible, or even Scripture alone, reveals the Truth about God. Here again, we must ask the question; 'which one?' How do we know that one certain version or translation reveals God more fully, as opposed to another? We trust, all of us, whether we stick to one certain version or translation, or not, that God has preserved the Good News about Himself, and of His Son; so when we limit God's Revelation to this and not that, are we not, after a sort, 'boxing' God in?
Defense or Apology?
I have probably not clarified, as well as I should in the past, that when I use the term 'apology', at least in the theological sense; I mean what Merriam-Webster's online dictionary records as the number one definition of this noun, 'a formal justification : defense'; although this purveys basically the same idea as the term we often use to describe our defense and justification of our ( perceptibly or otherwise wrong ) actions, this term was used in ancient times, such as in Plato's 'Apology', and Tertullian's 'Apology'. Even today, this term is used thusly, especially among theologians, to denote their defense of a certain doctrine. I have often used this term, sometimes to my detriment, to describe my explanatory, and clarifying defense of certain views that I have asserted.
I wonder if some have felt the need to apologize, in the more modern sense, for the seeming harshness of the Gospel ( God's election/predestination of some and not others ), or to defend its seeming weakness, the inability of God to save everyone through this 'good news', unless they accept it. There are the Arminians, who back up their claims, for the most part, with Scripture, yet seem to focus more on man's ability, rather than on God's, and we have the Calvinists, who also back up their 'doctrine' with Scripture, usually, but not always, different ones ( sometimes; even a different version or translation ), but seem to focus more on the inability of man, as opposed to the sovereignty of God. There are those, as well, who go to great extremes, more or less, on both sides of the argument: 'who's right?'
Dictionary.com, basing it on the more common sense of the term, defines 'apology' as 'a written or spoken expression of one's regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another' . This definition could also, in some sense, be applied as I did earlier, as a redress of even perceived ( though unintentional ) wrongs. I often have feelings of regret, remorse, even chagrin, over statements I have made, or things I have done ( more over things I have said, though ), because of the way they were received, or perceived, and so I then make my apology, further explaining, and clarifying what I meant by my statement or action. Having just read through much of Socrates 'Apology', as recorded by Plato, and his defense before the court of the Athenians; although my own situation is nowhere near as severe as his, I realize that my 'apology' is of much the same nature, and can easily fall under either definition given.
What is the Nature of the Gospel?
Most importantly, I believe; the Gospel of Jesus the Christ is not only a Revelation of Himself, as the Son of God, in essence, God Himself, but is, as the Covenant, an embodiment of Jesus, or God Himself. Gospel, as we have seen, means basically 'good news', and throughout the pages of Scripture, and even the Bible, have been revealed this Good News; the 'Good News' found, not so much in the revelation of that Good News, as in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God!
As we continue to defend ( as if He needs our defense ) the Gospel; let us remember always, that He needs not our defense, in fact, does better without it, and that all that is needed is apology ( sometimes in both senses ) for our interpretation of Him! May we always be ready ( I Peter 3:15 ) to apologize for our 'defense' of the Gospel!
Charles Haddon Shank