What is Christian Apologetics, and Why Is It Important? by Dr. Ross Parker (Assistant Professor of Christian Studies)

August 12, 2015

I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church in the not too distant past. I’m grateful for that church – in it I was saved from my sins, and through it I came to know God more deeply and love God’s written Word. In my time in this church and at church-related events, though, I don’t recall ever hearing about Christian apologetics.[1] I imagine my experience isn’t unique – I believe that there is a dearth of emphasis on this topic in the evangelical church. So in my first post here at Church and Gospel, I thought it might be good to start by discussing what Christian apologetics is, and then explain why Christian apologetics is the task of every Christian.

To begin – Christian apologetics is not saying to others “I’m sorry for being a Christian.” Rather, the Greek term apologia (the word we have anglicized as apologetics) meant, during New Testament times, “a defense”, referring primarily to providing a defense in a legal context. A famous non-biblical example of an apologia is The Apology written by Plato, which provides an account of Socrates’s defense against the charges of corrupting the youth and introducing new gods to the Athenians.

But giving an apologia isn’t limited to providing a defense in legal contexts. Any time a person provides a defense – giving reasons or an explanation – for his position concerning a particular matter, or his actions based on that position, he is giving an apologia. It follows that a person can be an apologist for many different kinds of truth claims. For example, you might be an apologist for the claim that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. To engage in this kind of apologetics, you would give reasons to support the claim, and answer objections to the claim.

So Christian apologetics is providing a rational defense of the fundamental claims of Christianity. A Christian apologist provides evidence to support the truth claims of Christianity, and responds to challenges to Christianity’s truth claims. I like James Beilby’s catchy definition of Christian Apologetics – he describes it as “defending and commending the [Christian] faith.”[2]

For the Christian, engaging in Christian apologetics is not optional; it’s an essential part of faithfulness to Christ. This is so because, first, we’re commanded in scripture to be Christian apologists. In 1 Peter we are instructed as follows:

…in 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, ESV)

Here we’re instructed to be ready to “make a defense”, which translates the Greek term apologia. And note that Peter doesn’t say that some Christians should be ready to make a defense – it seems clear that this is an instruction for all.

 

Second, Christian apologetics is essentially integrated with evangelism. We are called as Christians to share the gospel with those around us. In sharing the gospel, we are asking people to repent of their sins, claim Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins, and put their faith in Christ as their Lord. And these specific components of salvation have further truth commitments built in to them (that Christ is the second person of the Trinity, for example). So accepting the gospel includes a commitment to the truth of the fundamental claims of Christianity. This implies that in proclaiming the gospel and calling others to accept it, we are calling them to commit their lives to certain truth claims. It’s possible that some to whom we proclaim the gospel will already be committed to the truth of these claims, but many will not acknowledge their truth. So it’s vital that we be able to be used by the Holy Spirit to give a defense (reasons) of the truth of these claims to those we evangelize. In doing this, we engage in the task of Christian apologetics.

As we live in a culture that is increasingly opposed to the truths of the Christian Worldview, Christian apologetics will be vital for the church. So in future posts, I hope to briefly address some of the most pressing issues connected with defending the fundamental Christian truth claims, as well as link to great resources from Christian apologists.

[1] Note, though, that my wife will tell you that the fact that I don’t remember hearing anything about Christian apologetics until I went to college isn’t a great indicator that I didn’t actually hear about Christian apologetics.

[2] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 14.

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