The doctrine of hell is disturbing. The very idea of suffering and separation beyond the grave elicits a wide range of responses, from anguish to anger.
The possibility of departed loved ones languishing in outer darkness only adds to the grief of those laying flowers on their graves.
Some atheists cite hell as a reason to deny the existence of a loving God.
What’s more, Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering in hell so repugnant that he rejected it in favor of annihilationism.
According to a 2014 survey by LifeWay Research, fewer Mainline Protestants believe in hell than do Americans in general (55 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
And for many evangelicals, hell remains an inconvenient truth.
Apologetics simply is a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. The word is derived from the Greek noun apologia and means “a defense.” Apologia and its verb form apologeomai are used nearly 20 times in the New Testament, often in the classic legal sense, but more importantly to describe the call of God to all believers to defend the Christian faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).
But how is sound doctrine applied practically? Put another way, what good is Christian apologetics?
Apologetics has at least four practical applications. We may use apologetics to:
Build. There is a positive case to be made for Christianity, and apologetics helps us get there.
The Bible, history, archaeology, and other sources help establish that a real person named Jesus burst onto the scene 2,000 years ago. He claimed deity, performed miracles, spoke the truth, modeled compassion, died on a Roman cross, was buried and rose physically on the third day. His coming to earth was the most important event in human history.
Further, apologetics helps us know who God is; who we are; why there is purpose in life; how we can be restored to a right relationship with our Creator; why we can face death without fear; and what God is doing about evil in the world.
A surviving waiter, quivering as he looks up from the carnage, asks, “Why?”
Before walking out the door, the panda tosses the waiter a poorly punctuated wildlife manual and replies, “Look it up.”
The waiter searches for the relevant entry and reads aloud: “Panda. Large, black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
This joke serves as the namesake for Lynne Truss’s best-selling book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”
It also reminds us how easily our language may be mangled – or manipulated – so that two people using the same words can intend totally different meanings.