Author Tim Barnett
Published on 01/24/2020
Christian Living

Apologetics Removes Obstacles to the Gospel

In this fourth part of Tim’s “Why Apologetics?” series, he explains how apologetics does the work of pre-evangelism by responding to people’s ideas at the worldview level, removing obstacles to the gospel.


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 this invitation; evangelism extends it.”

That’s it exactly. Apologetics and evangelism work together. For example, for many people it makes no sense to talk about the Son of God, who communicates the word of God, who performs acts of God, and brings the salvation of God, unless there is a God. This is where apologetics is so valuable. Apologetics lays the ground—it builds the foundation—for belief in God through arguments and evidence. This is pre-evangelism.

In addition, the culture is deeply saturated in at least three dominant philosophies: relativism, pluralism, and naturalism. This is the cultural water that we all live in. Relativism says there is no truth. Pluralism says there’s no religious truth. And naturalism says there’s no supernatural truth. Do you see a problem in doing evangelism in this cultural climate? We are presenting 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?” or, “Hasn’t science proven that miracles are impossible?” or, “Who are you to force your morality on me?” These questions are born out of a secular worldview that we swim in. Apologetics responds to these questions at the worldview level.

Now, these philosophies produce questions that become obstacles to the gospel. I call them gosptacles. (Now, everyone say “gosptacle”!) The apologist’s job is to help remove these gosptacles—these obstacles to the faith. We answer questions, respond to challenges, [and] refute bad philosophy in the hope that people—with the help of the Holy Spirit—will be more receptive to hearing and receiving the gospel.

In an address delivered in 1912 (over 100 years ago) at Princeton Theological Seminary, J. Gresham Machen said, “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.... Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.”

That’s the job of apologetics.

Not only does the Bible command apologetics, but the culture also demands we use apologetics to reach them.