As we approach the start of another year, I thought it might be valuable to revisit why we do what we do. That is, why do we invest so much time, energy, and resources into an apologetics ministry? Why is apologetics so important?
For those unfamiliar with apologetics, it might be helpful to define what apologetics is before looking at why it’s important. Simply put, Christian apologetics is giving a reason or defense for the Christian faith.
There are two sub-disciplines of Christian apologetics: positive apologetics and negative apologetics. Positive apologetics involves giving an argument for Christianity. For example, giving arguments for God’s existence or the reliability of the Bible. Negative apologetics involves answering objections against Christianity. For example, answering the problem of evil.
When people ask me why we should engage in Christian apologetics, I have four broad responses—an approach I learned from Dr. Norman Geisler at Southern Evangelical Seminary.
First, the Bible commands it.
Apologetics is not optional. Every follower of Christ is instructed to be an apologist. Let me give you a few verses to back this up. Probably the most often cited passage comes from the apostle Peter. He writes,
[I]n 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. (1 Peter 3:15)
The apostle Paul says the same thing in a different way. He writes,
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5–6)
In my favourite passage on the subject, Paul says,
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
Paul also tells the church in Philippi that they are all partakers with him of grace, both in his imprisonment “and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7). Similarly, Jude says it was “necessary for him to write appealing to [his readers] to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The Bible is clear. Yet, if you walked into most churches in North America and asked what they teach on apologetics, they would probably look at you like you had three heads. This is because apologetics is treated as if it’s an extra at best or an error at worst. Whether it’s apathy or animosity towards apologetics, both are often fueled by anti-intellectualism.
As we’ve seen, God commands apologetics. Therefore, those who refuse to “make a defense” or “answer each person” are disobeying God’s command.
So, why do apologetics? Well, the Bible commands it. And that alone should be reason enough. But that’s not the only reason why we do apologetics.
Second, the culture demands it.
The late philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer referred to apologetics as pre-evangelism. This is the idea that God uses well-reasoned answers and arguments as a springboard to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his book Mere Apologetics, Oxford theologian Alister McGrath says, “Apologetics lays the ground for the invitation; evangelism extends it.”
For example, it makes no sense to talk about the Son of God—who communicates the word of God, and performs acts of God, and brings the salvation of God—unless there is a God. Apologetics lays the groundwork for belief in God through arguments and evidence.
In addition, the culture is deeply saturated in three dominant philosophies: relativism, pluralism, and naturalism. Relativism says there is no absolute truth. Religious pluralism says there is no exclusive truth in religion (all views are equally true). Naturalism says there is no supernatural truth.
Do you see a problem in doing evangelism in this cultural climate? We are presenting an absolute truth to a relativistic culture, an exclusivist message to a pluralistic culture, and a supernatural view to a naturalistic culture. It is no surprise that Christians are confronted with questions like, How can Jesus be the only way? Has science proven that miracles are impossible? and Who are you to force your morality on me? These questions grow out of the soil of a secular worldview. Apologetics responds to these questions at the worldview level.
Not only does the Bible command apologetics, but the culture also demands it.
Third, the church needs it.
This fact cannot be overstated. We just looked at how apologetics is pre-evangelism to the culture. However, apologetics is also post-evangelism to the church. The challenges to faith don’t evaporate once you become a Christian. In fact, they intensify. This is where apologetics comes in.
Arguably, the most important generation of the church is the next generation. Yet, all the research we have shows that approximately three in five young people disconnect from their church by the age of 15.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. In Judges 2:10, after Israel finally enters the Promised Land and Joshua dies, we read, “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” It took one generation to abandon God and turn to idols.
How do we help curb the next generation’s drift away from God? The answer is—yes, you guessed it—apologetics.
Lest you think this is merely the biased opinion of a professional apologist, consider the research of David Kinnaman—the president of Barna Research. In 2012, Christianity Today summarized Kinnaman’s findings into six reasons why young people leave the church. What’s interesting about the list is that each of the six reasons relates—in some degree—to apologetics. If the church would begin to take the life of the mind more seriously and equip its young people to understand and defend their faith, we could meet these challenges head on.
The church desperately needs apologetics because it helps to provide real responses to the reasons people leave the faith.
Fourth, the results confirm it.
Apologetics works. That is, we have evidence of people coming to a knowledge of the truth through apologetics.
For instance, there are multiple occasions in Scripture where the disciples model using reason and evidence, and people are persuaded as a result.
Acts 17 says Paul employed apologetics in Thessalonica. It reads,
Now when they had travelled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. (Acts 17:1–4, NASB)
It was Paul’s custom—his routine—to reason with the people he spoke to. And as he reasoned from the Scriptures, he would appeal to evidence to make his case. Paul was doing apologetics. As a result, people were persuaded and followed Christ.
There are also many contemporary stories of people coming to know and trust God through apologetics. These include C. S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, Nabeel Qureshi, Abdu Murray, and many others.
Why apologetics? Well, the Bible commands it, the culture demands it, the Church needs it, and the results confirm it. Taken individually, each reason should motivate us to engage in apologetics. However, taken all together, these provide a powerful apologetic for apologetics.