What Is Apologetics?

For some believers, apologetics has a questionable reputation. It amounts to intellectually bullying or argumentative one-upsmanship. It's all head and no heart. However, is this an accurate view of apologetics?

When Christians ask me what I do for a living, I’m hesitant to answer.  Inevitably my reply includes something about “apologetics.”  But for some believers, apologetics has a questionable reputation.  It amounts to intellectually bullying or argumentative one-upsmanship.  It’s all head and no heart.  So you can understand my hesitation.  However, is this an accurate view of apologetics?

I Peter 3:15—kind of the apologist’s theme verse—says to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Simply put, that’s apologetics.  But in this short description, we discover three important details.

First, doing apologetics means playing defense.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics.”  Think about a football game.  At any time during the game, one team is trying to score (the offense) while the other is trying to stop them (the defense).  If your team has a really bad defense, you’ll get blown away.  Similarly, maybe you’ve been roughed up by some really tough objections to Christianity.  You’ve heard the challenges before.  “How can a good God allow suffering?” “The Bible is full of errors.”  “Jesus can’t be the only way to God.”  Apologetics helps us defend Christianity against tough questions.  

Second, doing apologetics means playing offense.  Back to the football analogy.  A good defense is vital but you can’t win if you don’t score.  The offense must advance the ball to get a touchdown.  In the same way, apologetics attempts to give a “reason” for our hope by advancing arguments in favor of Christianity.  We offer evidence for God’s existence, reasons to trust the Bible, and arguments for the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  By playing offense, we give others good reason to think Christianity is true. 

Third, doing apologetics means giving hope.  What are you defending and giving evidence for?  “The hope that is in you.”  Ultimately, apologetics points people to our hope, Jesus Himself.  That’s why “we demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  Objections raised against Jesus must be demolished.  But notice something.  The Bible doesn’t say we demolish people.  Rather we demolish arguments.  Belittling others is not our goal.  Merely winning arguments is not enough.  Instead, we remove obstacles of doubt to Christianity so people can take a serious look at Christ, the only source of hope for this world.  True apologetics is hopeful. 

Notice, I Peter 3:15 is sandwiched between two very important sentences.  Peter starts the verse with a challenge:  “Set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.”  Apologetics should be done amidst a certain kind of life, one where we surrender more and more of ourselves to Christ.  When we do this, He transforms us.  So a transformed life is the beginning point for our apologetics. 

And what will this kind of apologetic look like?  Defense doesn’t mean being defensive.  Offense doesn’t mean being offensive.  Rather, verse 16 tells us our defense is made “with gentleness and respect.”  Doing apologetics with Jesus as Lord and Master of our lives means our encounters will be marked by humility, warmth, grace and love, even while we stand boldly for the truth.  By doing so, we follow in the way of Jesus, who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Brett Kunkle

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