What is Christian Apologetics?

BirthChristApologetics 101: Part 1

This is the first in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

What is Apologetics? (audio)

What is Apologetics? (pdf)

Christian apologetics is the field of study concerned with the systematic defense of the Christian faith. More simply put, it is a reasonable defense of Christianity. The term “apologetics” is derived from the classical Greek word apologia and was used in a legal sense: The prosecution delivered the kategoria and the defendant replied with an apologia, or a formal speech to counter the charges. The verb form, apologeomai, means “to make a defense.” The Christian apologist is engaged in defending Christianity’s claims to the truth.

In Scripture, the apostle Paul uses the term apologia in his speech to Agrippa when he says, “I consider myself fortunate … that today I am going to make a defense before you” (Acts 26:2). Paul uses a similar term in his letter to the Philippians (Phil. 1:7, 16). And Peter tells believers they should be ready to give a defense or answer for their faith in 1 Peter 3:15. The term is used in a negative sense in Romans 1:20, where Paul says those who reject the revelation of God in creation are “without excuse.”

Why Christianity is a reasonable faith

Christian apologists throughout the centuries have appealed to eyewitness accounts (specifically having to do with the person and work of Christ), as well as to Scripture, history, philosophy, archaeology and other scientific disciplines. Many have suffered martyrs’ deaths, not because they clung foolishly to a blind faith, but because they were fully convinced of the truth of Christianity based on careful examination of the evidence.

Consider how these passages of scripture exhort Christians to use reason in defending their faith:

  • 2 Cor. 10:4-5: …since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. 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.
  • 1 Thess. 5:21: …but test all things. Hold on to what is good.
  • Titus 1:9: holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.
  • 1 Peter 3:15: …but set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
  • Jude 3: Dear friends, although I was eager to write you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.

Why apologetics matters

There are at least three reasons apologetics is essential to Christians:

Our faith depends on it. William A. Dembski, research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of The Design Revolution, comments: “It’s worth remembering that until two centuries ago, most people in the West saw the Resurrection of Jesus in historically the same light as other events of antiquity, such as the murder of Julius Caesar. The Resurrection and Caesar’s murder were both regarded as equally factual and historical. Unfortunately, in the two hundred years since the Enlightenment, Christians have steadily retreated from seeing their faith as rationally compelling. Instead of being apologists for the faith, we have become apologetic about it” (Foreword to 5 Minute Apologist, p. 11). The Bible tells us to love God with all our “minds” (Matt. 22:37). Emotions and experiences are important gifts of God, but they are not compelling reasons for trusting in Christ, Muhammad, the Buddha, Krishna, Joseph Smith, or anyone else. We should be as the Bereans, who, upon hearing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, “welcomed the message (of Paul and Silas) with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so…. Consequently, many of them believed” (Acts 17:10-12).

Our witness depends on it. Every major world religion and every major cult of Christianity has a high view of Jesus, yet fails to properly answer the question Jesus asked in Matthew 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” Muslims, for example, teach that Jesus was a prophet, but they deny His deity and substitutionary death on the cross. Many Hindus readily accept Jesus into their pantheon of 330 million gods yet refuse to accept His uniqueness as the eternal Son of God. Mormons insist that Jesus was a man who became a god. If we truly believe, as Peter did, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), we need to know what that means and why it’s true.

Our future depends on it. Christianity is under attack on many fronts – from atheists who mock it (The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens) to charlatans who fleece the flock rather than feed it (see 1 Peter 5:2-3; 2 Peter 2). The apostle Paul warns that in the days before Christ’s return people will “depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). He further warns that a time is coming when people will “not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). In fact, Paul says there will be widespread apostasy (a standing apart from the truth) before the return of the Lord (2 Thess. 2:3).

“Never do we see a call to obedience and worship grounded merely on an appeal to blind, isolated faith,” writes Scott Pruett. “It is always set in the context of historical actions and objective knowledge; and God has given us an ample and defensible testimony of these things in which we are to invest our faith” (What is apologetics? www.lifeway.com/apologetics). Demski summarizes it well: “Yes, our salvation is ultimately due to the grace of God. But every act of divine grace presupposes the means of grace by which God makes His grace real to us. Christian apologetics is one such means of grace” (ibid., p. 12).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

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