For most of us in the apologetics endeavor, on many occasions I have found myself having to explain what apologetics is to my Christian friends. I have also noted elsewhere that I have had to give an apologetic for why we should see the need for apologetics. After the last election (in 2016), I have found a very simple way to explain the role of apologetics. Given there were so many debates and so many Christians had to give reasons or justification for why they picked a specific candidate, I have used this as a springboard to explain the need for apologetics.
I generally ask my fellow Christians if they had to give reasons for why they picked a specific candidate. They always say “yes.” Then I ask them if they have to had to ever give good reasons for why they chose a specific vocation or a specific major to study. Again, they agree they have had to do that as well. What about giving good reasons for why they picked a specific church? Or what about giving reasons for why they picked a specific spouse? Or what about giving good reasons for picking a specific place to live? Or what about giving reasons for why they follow a specific sports team? The list goes on. The point is we have had to give reasons for almost every position we have taken or choice we’ve made. In the book Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking, the authors note the following definitions:
- Argument: the process of giving a systematic account of reasons in support of a claim or belief.
- We use effective argumentation to defend our position as a reasonable option among various choices.
- Claims and beliefs go hand in hand. For anything you believe, you can state that belief in the form of a claim
So as we’ve just noted, almost all Christians have to give reasons to support their positions/claims or choices they’ve made. Therefore, why wouldn’t a Christian see the need to give good reasons for why they think there is a God and Jesus is His Son? It seems like this issue impacts one’s view of reality. So this is a huge issue. Once I explain it this way, most Christians see the need to learn apologetics. Also, if the Bible is the Word of God, we see plenty of places where Jesus and the Apostles gave reasons for their claims and asked others to do the same. For example:
The word “apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). Furthermore, Paul wrote of ‘defending and confirming the gospel’ (Phil. 1:7). Luke records that Paul spent time reasoning and explaining that Jesus suffered and rose from the dead. (Acts 17:2–3). Also,” Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Paul also appealed to what is called ‘natural theology’ in Rom.1: 18-21. Here, Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer (God is the cause), His “everlasting power and divinity” are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect). When John the Baptist questioned if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus likewise appealed to the evidence of his works (cf. Matthew 11:4–6). Peter commands Christians to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:15) The Greek translated as ‘give an answer’ in 1 Peter 3:15 is apologia – from which we get the word ‘apologetics.’
In his book Evangelism and the Early Church, author Michael Green notes that the early church advanced the gospel through the first four centuries because of three things: (1) The ability to engage in persuasive apologetics and outthink her opponents, (2) The transformed character and biblical compassion of believers, (3) The manifest power of the kingdom of God.
After doing outreach for the past fifteen years, I am saddened to say that one of the predominant reasons our culture rejects our faith is because of a lack of information. Therefore, it is the Christian’s responsibility to give the individual the right information so they can make an informed decision about the gospel. Furthermore, many people are simply rejecting a caricature of our faith. And most importantly, if parents or pastors cannot articulate what they believe to a teenager or a college student, they may be showing that their faith is not important to them. I once heard a story of a father who had raised his daughter in the faith. After going to college, she returned home to tell him she had left the Christian faith. His daughter, along with so many other young people had attended plenty of youth activities and pizza parties. However, she had never been taught about why her faith was true. Stories like these could be multiplied. Therefore, it is incumbent upon parents and pastors to have apologetic training. In an age of intellectual skepticism, both teenagers and college students walk away from the faith because of unanswered questions.
“But Doesn’t Faith Come From Hearing the Word of God?”
Most recently, I had a discussion with another fellow Christian about the role of apologetics in evangelism. I was discussing how difficult it is to do outreach on a college campus without apologetics. The fellow Christian proceeded to tell me that apologetics isn’t the issue. Instead, her response was that students come to faith by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:5-13). I responded that she was confusing evangelism and apologetics. I have seen this happen on several occasions. Mark Denver summarizes the confusion:
“People mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we’ve considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel. Apologists for Christianity argue for its truth. They maintain that Christianity better explains that sense of longing that all people seem to have. Christianity better explains human rationality. It fits better with order. They may argue (as C. S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity) that it better fits with the moral sense that people innately have. It copes better with problems of alienation and anxiety. Christians may – and should – argue that Christianity’s frankness about death and mortality commends it. These can be good arguments to have. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism. Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what’s wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel. For that matter, Christians can raise questions with their non-Christian friends about the purpose of life, what will happen after death, or the identity of Jesus Christ. Any of these topics will take work and careful thought, but they can easily lead into evangelism. It should also be said that apologetics has its own set of dangers. You might unwittingly confirm someone in their unbelief by your inability to answer questions that are impossible to answer anyway. To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”— Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, (pgs. 76-79).