Every follower of Christ is commanded to be an apologist. Many verses could be cited, but the most well known comes from the apostle Peter. Writing to Christians in Asia Minor who are facing intense persecution, Peter encourages them to be ready to engage those who oppose the gospel. 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 Greek word translated “defense” is apologia. It’s used eight times in the New Testament and always denotes a formal defense (or reasoned argument) for one’s position.
So, the Bible tells us to be apologists. But does the Bible show us how to be apologists?
I think Acts 17 definitely answers this question. If we want to be effective apologists, we should imitate how Paul engages his audience—that is, we should be apologists like Paul. We should be a-Paul-ogists. (Okay, that’s a really a bad pun. Forgive me.)
As we read through Acts 17:16–34, we discover eight lessons on how to be an apologist. Each lesson corresponds to a specific passage. And each passage raises important questions.
Here’s a short exercise I’ve created for you. This could be done during your devotional time. Read the relevant verses that correspond to each lesson, and then answer the questions that follow. My hope is that this exercise will help you better internalize each of these essential attributes.
Lesson #1: Listen Apologetically (Acts 17:16)
An apologist is always on the lookout for opportunities that might lead to fruitful apologetic conversations.
Why do you think we sometimes miss apologetic opportunities?
How can we be better apologetic listeners?
What is the advantage of listening before speaking?
Lesson #2: Think Contextually. (Acts 17:17–21)
An apologist tailors his approach to his context.
- How did Paul change his approach to fit his religious context?
- Why is it important to find common ground with the person you’re talking to?
- Is our current cultural context more like marketplace-Athenians or synagogue-Jews?
Lesson #3: Respond Graciously (Acts 17:22–23)
An apologist needs to remember that his manner is as important as his message.
- Why does Paul start with admiration rather than condemnation?
- How can we respond graciously to those we disagree with?
Lesson #4: Know Deeply (Acts 17:24–27a)
An apologist must have an ever-deepening understanding of the Christian worldview.
- Why was the religiosity of the Athenians not enough?
- What knowledge did Paul share about God?
- Why is it important for an apologist to deeply know truth before he boldly speaks truth?
Lesson #5: Read Widely (Acts 17:27b–28)
An apologist must challenge himself to read, watch, and listen to things he doesn’t agree with so that he can understand and respond to the culture.
- Why doesn’t Paul just quote the Bible to those at the Aeropagus?
- Why does Paul quote from the poet Epimenides and the philosopher Aratus?
- How well do you know what the culture believes, and can you quote their authorities?
Lesson #6: Reason Wisely (Acts 17:29)
An apologist uses the power of reason to persuade his audience.
- What is Paul’s rational argument against idolatry?
- Why doesn’t Paul merely quote an Old Testament Scripture against idolatry?
Lesson #7: Speak Boldly (Acts 17:30–31)
An apologist never backs down from speaking the truth.
- Why does Paul end with speaking about repentance and judgment?
- Where does Paul’s confidence come from?
Lesson #8: Trust Faithfully (Acts 17:32–34)
An apologist doesn’t measure his success in terms of immediate results.
- What are the three different responses to Paul’s message?
- Why do you think Luke records the negative reactions (in addition to the positive responses)?
- Why should modern-day apologists be encouraged by this passage?