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Introduction to Apologetics

I have run across more than one person who has had a misunderstanding about the nature of apologetics. Whether it is the Christian who thinks that "apologetics" involves apologizing for the Christian faith or the person who doesn't think that apologetics is relevant, there are many misconceptions about this branch of theology. What is it? Why should we care? What is the point? These are the questions that I hope to answer in this post.

In 1 Peter 3:15-17, we read, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." In this passage, Peter commands his readers to always be prepared to make a defense of their faith, but to do so in a respectful way. This command still applies to us today.

Apologetics is a branch of theology that deals with the defense of a faith. Christian apologetics, therefore, is the branch of Christian theology that deals with the defense of the Christian faith from attacks from skeptics and those of other faiths. The Greek word from which we derive our word "apologetics" carries the connotation of a legal defense. Imagine that you are on trial for being a Christian. The judge looks at you and asks you to explain why you are a Christian. When you respond, you are acting as an apologist. Apologetics involves reasoning with people and making an argument for the truth of Christianity.

The English word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia" (ἀπολογία). This word is used 8 times in the New Testament. In Acts 22:1, the apostle Paul made his defense of the Christian faith before an angry mob that wanted to kill him. In Acts 25:16, Festus informed King Agrippa that, as a Roman citizen, Paul had a right to make his defense against any charges brought against him. In 1 Corinthians 9:3, Paul begins his defense against those who doubted him. In 2 Corinthians 7:11, Paul speaks of the Corinthians' desire to clear themselves. In Philippians 1:7, Paul recognizes the church at Philippi as partners in his defense of the Gospel. A few verses later, in Philippians 1:16, Paul reminds the Philippians that he was put appointed for the defense of the Gospel. In 2 Timothy 4:16, Paul writes about those who deserted him when he gave his defense. Finally, in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter commands his readers to always be prepared to give a defense (or reason) for the hope that they have in Christ.

The Christian church has a long history of engaging in apologetics. The apostle Paul made it his regular practice to go and argue for the truth of the Christian faith in the synagogues and in the marketplaces (see Acts 17:16-33). Justin Martyr, Augustine, and other early church fathers defended the Christian faith by the arguments that they put forward. Other Christian leaders throughout history, such as Thomas Aquinas, have also engaged in the practice of apologetics. In a broad sense, every Christian is an apologist of some kind, because every Christian is a theologian who relates to non-Christians. Unfortunately, the study of apologetics is often neglected in the church today, despite its importance. In the preface to his book, "Reasonable Faith," William Lane Craig writes, "It's no longer enough to teach our children Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics." I believe this statement to be true, especially with the modern attacks on the Christian faith.

Many have distinguished between what are often referred to as "offensive apologetics" and "defensive apologetics." Offensive apologetics is the practice of making a positive case for the Christian faith. It involves providing an unbeliever with positive reasons to believe that Christianity is true. Defensive apologetics, on the other hand, is the practice of refuting arguments posed against the Christian faith. Someone engaging in offensive apologetics might offer the Kalam Cosmological Argument as positive evidence for the existence of God. Someone engaging in defensive apologetics would respond to a skeptic asking, "Who made God?" and point out the faults in this line of reasoning.

There are several ways in which people have misunderstood apologetics, and I would like to address some of these very briefly. Apologetics has absolutely nothing to do with apologizing for the Christian faith. It has to do with defending the Christian faith. Apologetics is not an excuse to ignore the spiritual dimension of the people you are trying to evangelize. The goal is to win the person, not the argument. There are times when winning the argument may result in losing the person. Remember, the person is far more important. Apologetics is also not a way to force non-Christians to become Christians. You cannot force anyone to come to faith in Christ. Even the best argument cannot address many issues of the heart. If the problem is a heart problem, it is important to address that problem rather than a possibly non-existent intellectual problem. Apologetics is not a discipline to be used to beat people over the head with facts. Finally, apologetics is not just a discipline to be studied in order to sound smart.

All of this is good information, but why should someone study apologetics? The most important reason is that apologetics is useful in evangelizing. There are some individuals in our culture who have intellectual issues with Christianity. Apologetics can help clear up these intellectual issues and thus help the unbeliever be more open to the message of the Gospel. Believe it or not, there are some people who want to come to Christ, but have unanswered questions. It is a good idea for apologists to seek out these people. Christianity also helps to shape the culture. If our culture dismisses Christianity before it ever looks at the evidence for it, Christianity will not be dismissed before it is ever tried. Apologetics can also help to strengthen the faith of believers. Finally, apologetics can help confront non-believers with the truth of the Gospel.

Apologetics is an important part of theology, and apologists are an important part of the church. Apologetics works in reaching those who have intellectual issues with the Gospel. Therefore, it is vital that Christians today study apologetics to aid in reaching these people.

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