One of my professors asked the Questions: “What is the appropriate role of apologetics in Christianity? In other words, should apologetics be used for evangelism or strengthening the church?” He asked us to write a response essay… here’s mine for you’re critiquing or edification (preferably the later). =)
The practice of apologetics is biblically mandated and an indispensable tool for use in both evangelism and strengthening the church, not merely one or the other. The purpose of this essay is to define apologetics, establish from Scripture that it is biblically non-optional for every believer, and illustrate its dual use as both a tool for evangelism and edification.
Apologetics defined: Before we can figure out where a thing belongs we must know what that thing is we are trying to place, so it is important that we have a working, biblical definition of apologetics if we are to accurately discover its role in Christianity. Noah Webster defines apologetics as “to speak in defense of; defending by words or arguments; said or written in defense or by way of apology; as an apologetic essay”1. The mother of our word “apologetic” can be found in the pages of Scripture. We see it exemplified in Paul’s life as he wrote to the believing Philippians, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” (Philippians 1:7) Festus reminded king Agrippa, concerning Paul, that it was Roman custom to not condemn a man until he was given opportunity to give an apologia concerning the charges that were brought against him when he said, “When I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.” (Acts 20:15-16) We also see this in I Peter 3:15 when we are told to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” In each of the passages cited above, the word translated into English as “defense” is from the Greek root apologia.
A cursory look at the passages given shows that our dictionary definition is correct in as far as it goes. The goal, though, is not to have a working definition but a working biblical definition. The definition thus far could be stated simply as “boldly giving a defense and proof of Christianity”; which is good in that it shows the aim of apologetics is to defend Christianity not the believer of Christianity (there is a big difference). This definition fails, however, in that it does not speak of how one is to go about defending Christianity. There are various approaches to apologetics: experiential, presuppositional, evidential, historical, and classical2; but that is not what I mean by “how one is to go about” it. In Philippians 1:7 and I Peter 3:15 we see that there was a certain love, gentleness, and reverence that accompanied their defense. Paul described it to the church at Ephesus as “speaking the truth in love”. (Ephesians 4:15) Earlier, he had given the same instructions to the Corinthians by saying, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1) and warning them that knowledge has the capacity to make one arrogant, but love edifies. (I Corinthians 8:1) It is easy for us to begin to use the truths we know to win a debate or victoriously shut the mouths of lions and lose the reverence for the things we are speaking and the love for the truth as well as our fellow human to whom we are presenting our case. Sometimes our apologetic takes the offensive, polemically showing how the opposing view falls short of consistently dealing with the facts. This is fine, but we must guard our hearts whether we are defensive or offensive. If we present our defense of the faith with an unchristian spirit then we do a much better job at destroying it than defending it. Therefore, if one is to biblically engage in the practice of apologetics, he must not only be able to give a reasonable defense of his faith, but do so in the spirit of Jesus Christ. This cursory look sums up our biblically working definition of apologetics as: “Boldly giving a defense and proof of Christianity in a spirit of meekness and humility.”
Non-optional: In establishing that apologetics is a requisite of Scripture I would draw your attention back to I Peter 3:15, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Peter makes giving a defense of the faith non-optional. Scripture refuses to let us relegate apologetics solely to the seminary students and pastors, but clearly shows it to be a responsibility and privilege given to every child of God. Peter expected his readers, who didn’t have free access to the entire Scriptures as we do nor a plethora of study helps, to be able to engage the unbelieving world around them in defending the faith. This world is antagonistic towards the gospel of Jesus Christ, and requires a constant apologetic to confront its skepticism and rejection. G.K. Chesterton, in his defense of the faith titled Orthodoxy said,“To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan….For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration.”3 It is this defense and proof of the gospel that every believer is commanded to boldly, yet humbly, be about.
Dual purpose: The aim of apologetics is two-fold: evangelism of the unbeliever and edification of the believer. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the very air the church breaths. We preach it, sing it, teach it, live it. It is this very thing that stirs our hearts, and there is no greater truth and no greater mystery than what is summed up in that one little word – gospel. We will be singing its wonders to the One it tells us of for all eternity (Revelation 5:9) And when we present a defense of it it, it works like a double edged sword cutting both ways. Proverbs illustrates this concept when it records, “Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge” (Proverbs 19:25) A modern example of this can be seen in the books of Lee Strobel. Lee travels all over compiling evidence by knowledgeable believers in various fields of expertise in order to present a defense of the faith against the liberalism, skepticism, and atheism being propounded today. An atheist can read one of Lee’s apologetic works and come to faith in Christ by The Holy Spirit convincing him of the truth of what he reads. A Christian, who may have no formal theological training, can pick up the same book and have his faith in God strengthened as he sees how what he has believed accurately corresponds to reality and history and be better equipped to give a defense of the faith the next time he is confronted with an issue by a nonbeliever. This isn’t because of anything inherently within Lee, but because of the truth he defends. The same gospel that seems foolish to the unbeliever, causing us to give a defense of it to him, has the power to simultaneously strengthen the believer with its truth (I Corinthians 1:18-24)
Conclusion: There is more to be searched out and mastered, such as the five types of apologetical approach mentioned above; and maybe this essay will spur the reader to do so. But the aim of the essay is to give the reader the vision that the field of apologetics is something akin to a battle field; a place where belief wars against unbelief expending every ounce of energy, while simultaneously being strengthened by knowledge of his comrades fighting alongside him. A field where fighting is non-optional and it is necessary that every believer be ready to engage, yet in a way so loving as to seek to make friends of his foes. The same sword that dripped blood in battle begins afterward to drip balm on the very wounds it inflicted. Apologetics is not about defending the Christian making him look brilliant, but defending the Christ making Him look glorious! It is not about revenge, but reconciliation. It is lifting Christ up before the eyes of the skeptic showing him why he has every reason to believe, and before the eyes of the believer confirming to him that he has not forsaken his reason in believing.