The practice of Christian apologetics must be approached in a way that seeks to strengthen one’s intellect and understanding of God so that we can make a comprehensive case/defense for the existence of God. Apologia is the Greek word that describes the action of ‘giving a defense’. There is a Biblical call for all Christians to be apologists, which necessarily entails that we love the Lord with all of our minds. Over the years I have developed a passion for apologetics. Sadly however, I’ve come to notice that ministries in apologetics within the church are quite lacking during a time when we need them the most. Young adults are leaving the church at a rate that is much higher than we’ve ever seen in the past. The apologetics community has noticed a trend of skepticism among the church as far as embracing apologetics is concerned. As apologists, this fact has increased our concern for the future wellbeing of the church. Secularism is on the rise and loyal Christian adherence is on the decline among the present generation of young adults. It’s important to ask the question now, will the church regret not taking a more apologetic approach when the church has significantly weakened over the next century?
It’s true, being a competent apologist is not an easy task. It takes much time, prayer, and study. Regardless of difficulty, apologetics is an essential part of a Christian life. The classic scripture outlining our call to be apologists is 1 Peter 3:15, “15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Jesus clearly stated that the greatest commandment is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30-21, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27) Jesus makes a specific mention of the ‘mind’. This should give all Christians a clue that we shouldn’t exclude the mind when practicing our Christian faith. The Apostle Paul parallels his Christian life as a ‘race’ in 2 Timothy 4. If this life is a ‘race’, why would the church unnecessarily delay training? I love the way Paul phrases his charges to future Christians regarding the vital importance of living a prepared Christian life,
2 Timothy 4: 1 – 8: In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
It’s evident that without intellectual preparedness, the dullness of our minds will ultimately illustrate our inability to “preach the word” and to be “prepared in season and out of season.” Apologetics is an art that will help Christians identify “sound doctrine” and help decipher the truth from what many people’s “itching ears want to hear.” Knowing the truth and effectively deciphering the falsehoods will help us “keep [our] head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist.” The directions Paul has laid out describe a transcendent directive that will last until the second coming of Christ. This isn’t an ‘I want you to do this but it’s no big deal if you don’t want to’ type of directive. The opening sentence of 1 Timothy 4 outlines the severity of his charge, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge.” This charge does not sound like a fluffy little remark in passing. This sounds like a firm command to all Christians because it’s directly connected to “God and Christ Jesus” and his judging of the “living and the dead.”
As the Western world is progressively growing more secular, Paul’s charge is more relevant today than ever. Paul’s description, “ 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” applies today in a shockingly prophetic way. Denying Christian apologists the opportunity to increase the volume of educated Christians who could “preach the world” and “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” effectively shoots the church in the foot. If Western churches aren’t effective at genuinely convincing a skeptical audience (as statistics show), why aren’t more churches warmly welcoming apologetics as a pillar of their local ministry to reach the unbelievers who desire dialogue from informed well-spoken Christians?
Can Everyone Be an Apologist?
The short answer is yes. Everyone can, however not everyone has strengths (or interests) in this area. Admittedly, I struggle with my prayer life. That is a weakness of mine and I have to rely on other people within my church family to encourage me with that. However, my weakness in prayer doesn’t mean that I don’t pray. Prayer is a directive from God, along with apologetics. Should directives from God be ignored simply because they aren’t aligned with our strengths? Absolutely not.
Many people become frustrated with the difficulty of apologetics because it necessarily entails the understanding of various fields of study (i.e. theology, history, philosophy, science, etc…). Many people find these topics overwhelming, especially if they’ve never studied them before. Admittedly, apologetics can be an intimidating area of practice. The ontological argument still makes my head hurt. For the apologist who wants to get started with some easy reads, start by reading the ‘The Case for…’ books by Lee Strobel, which provide a great surface level explanation of apologetics and general understanding of the best arguments for the existence of God. This is how I started out as an apologist and I genuinely feel these were the books that kick started my passion for learning more about Christ and how to persuasively develop a convincing case for his existence.
Not everyone will have an interest in learning about apologetics just like not everyone has an interest in running a prayer ministry. However, we should be familiar with these practices of ministry despite our interest if we are going to be strong ambassadors for Christ. That is why I believe we can all be apologists for Christ. Equipped with knowledge for the existence of God along with our capacity to live a life that uniquely reflects the impact Jesus has made on our lives, we can all effectively embody a Christ-following apologist. One doesn’t have to be the equivalent to Ravi Zacharias, John Lennox, or William Lane Craig to be considered an apologist. Like J Warner Wallace says, we should be content with being One Dollar Apologists because we have the ability to reach people that these big name apologists can’t reach. Apologetics is the fuel by which evangelism operates in a secular society that is in search of answers to the hard questions.
The Importance of Communication
Not only can the practice of apologetics advance our knowledge of a wide variety of topics, but it can aid us in our ability to effectively deliver this knowledge clearly and persuasively to unbelievers. In Greg Koukl’s book Tactics, which I would highly recommend to anyone, he explains how to effectively communicate with unbelievers of all persuasions. Regardless of how much knowledge one has, learning how to communicate your knowledge is the first step in becoming a fruitful disciple. While gaining knowledge of apologetic topics in combination with learning the skills to communicate under a variety of different circumstances, it would be hard to deny the utility and value of such a skill once one has begun having fruitful conversations with unbelievers. Jesus and Paul were masterful in the art of communication. Given this fact, shouldn’t we desire to follow in their footsteps and intentionally learn the best ways to evangelistically communicate the Word?
Since becoming proficient in Koukl’s Tactics, I have become a significantly better communicator in all areas of my life. Some within the church have resorted to ‘the Bible says so’ approach without any further discussion. This tactic is a conversation ender rather than a tactic that would open up potential roadways in the heart and mind of the unbeliever through persuasively communicating the merits of our Christian convictions. If one ends the conversation by using poor tactics, an opportunity to convincingly communicate the Word is eliminated before substantive dialogue was a possibility. Without the ability to communicate effectively, the amount of knowledge becomes completely irrelevant.
Common Objections to Apologetics
I have some thoughts as to why apologetics is being kept at an arm’s length in many churches. Apologetics can be misconstrued as being impersonal and argumentative. Many in the apologetics community have experienced these same roadblocks. Some Christians critique the practice of apologetics as being motivated by ‘winning arguments’ with those that disagree with us. Rather than being charitable to the real purpose of apologetics as it’s described in the Bible, many have chosen to stick with what’s comfortable and not venture out into uncharted territory. Francis Schaeffer addressed this concern beautifully when he said,
“You are not trying to win an argument or knock someone down…You are seeking to win a person, a person made in the image of God. This is not about your winning; it is not about your ego. If that is your approach, all you will do is arouse their pride and make it more difficult for them to hear what you have to say”
Next, many people simply feel apologetics is irrelevant. After all, why would God need anyone to defend Him? God doesn’t need us to defend Him however He has directed us to spread the Good News as His disciples. As His disciples, it would be important to our evangelistic efforts to know a thing or two about how to persuasively talk about the merits of our position. Frank Turek frequently talks about the difference between ‘belief that’ and ‘belief in’. For example, prior to asking my wife to marry me, I believed that she would make a good wife. With the knowledge I had accumulated about my wife, I believed that she would make an exceptional wife (which she is!). After believing that she would be a suitable wife based upon everything I know about her, I took the step of faith to ask her to marry me because I believe in her. How can we evangelize unbelievers, let alone convince them to place their faith in Christ, if we reject the idea that God wants us to provide intelligible reasons for why people should believe in Him? Most unbelievers want to believe that God exists before they place their faith in Him to become a life long Christ follower.
I’ve also observed Christians saying that somehow apologetics would obstruct our ability of developing meaningful relationships. Many in the church have a mistaken presupposition that apologetics is only intellectual in practice and that it removes the emphasis that we should place on becoming salt and light in our communities. This is a gross misrepresentation of what a true apologist should look like. Remember the last part of 1 Peter 3:15, “and do this with gentleness and respect”? This is a directive concerning the nature of our conduct during the course of apologetics. When assessing the holistic directives that God has placed upon us through His word, it would be a weighty claim to prove that apologetics is merely the act of arguing with someone with a complete disregard for fruitful relationships.
Obviously, all of those objections against apologetics do not hold water. Is it possible that people can get too caught up in apologetics and lose sight of knowing God personally rather than merely knowing about Him? Absolutely, but the same is true about people in other areas too. Christians must appreciate that a balance must be found. Is it wrong to spend more time in your area of interest? Not necessarily, but it does become a problem when it consumes every part of your spiritual life.
My plea to the church is that it overcome it’s skepticism of apologetics and approach the church with a holistic mentality by encouraging congregations to seek the Lord with all of their minds and use this knowledge to evangelize through substantive dialogue. Encouraging the church to be apologists in their lives may ignite a passion that they might have never known they had. If we’re Christians, wouldn’t we want to be in a relationship with God that would allow for emotional and intellectual connectedness so we could serve as better ambassadors for Christ?
Apologetic Verses in the Bible
The church’s skepticism should be overcome by numerous Biblical examples found within our scriptures. Throughout all of these scriptures, you’ll find that the Bible provides abundant directives and examples that encourage Christians to be prepared to provide solid reasons for our faith in Christ. One would endlessly strain to find a single scripture that would encourage a lazy intellect. I’ve provided some (of the many) verses that support the church’s call to openly participate in apologetics,
2 Corinthians 10:5 – We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
Philippians 1:7 – It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
Acts 22:1 – Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.
Acts 25:16 – I [Paul] told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges
Matthew 22:15-33 (example of apologetics with Jesus ) – Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar – 15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Marriage at the Resurrection
23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
Colossians 2:8-9 – See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.
Jude 3 – Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.
Acts 17:24-31 (example of apologetics with Paul) – 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Sadly, there are still many within the church that remain skeptical of apologetics despite the unambiguous scriptural directives for Christian case making. It’s hard to diagnose exactly why the directive for apologetics is largely being ignored. We don’t observe the church deliberately avoiding directives to pray, give charitably, and commune together. Then why is this particular calling so easily swept under the rug? Is the church comfortable with living in its own bubble despite the statistics objectively illustrating that many young adults are leaving the church after high school? Why does skepticism towards the embracement of apologetics seem to linger?
As J Warner Wallace says, sometimes you have to make the case for case making. This is most certainly the case. In order to remove certain fears of apologetics within the church that I discussed above, apologists have to effectively prove to the church why it is needed despite the fact that it’s already clearly communicated in the Bible. We need to point out examples of it within the Bible and its efficacy by those who used it (i.e. Jesus, Paul, etc…). It’s essential to clearly advance an apologetics ministry within the church that will unite the congregation as a whole and can be smoothly incorporated in the local evangelistic efforts of the church.
Is apologetics the silver bullet that will save the entire church and the unbelieving community? No. However, the unwarranted skepticism of Biblical directives has impeded the church’s ability to keep young adults in a healthy relationship with Christ and grow the church by effectively evangelizing unbelievers in a strongly secular culture. The practice of apologetics can provide the necessary tools to any Christian when he or she is trying to navigate through a difficult discussion with an unbeliever. As Greg Koukl says, ‘put a stone in their shoe’ and give them something to think about. The only way we are going to make every evangelistic opportunity count is if we are prepared to confidently and persuasively speak about the merits of Christianity. It’s time for the church to recognize the utility of apologetics and promote more apologetic teachings among the congregation in an effort to expand the kingdom. It’s a fool’s errand to obstruct a healthy practice from being implemented within the church. So, let skepticism of apologetics be a thing of the past! In the end, when apologetics is done Biblically, we’ll all notice a greater closeness with God and each other.