The word apologetics can be a little confusing, it doesn’t mean to say sorry although you should if you’ve done something wrong. It comes from a Greek word used several times in the New Testament (NT) such as 1 Peter 3:15 as well as Philippians 1:7,16 and means to give a reason for something. So as Christians we’re giving a reason why we think Jesus is the God-man, God incarnate, why he lived, died and rose from the dead. It doesn’t mean we’re apologising for anything, however the English word apologise does derive itself from the same root word. This is important, the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that if Jesus hasn’t risen from the dead then Christians should be pitied for their misplaced hope and trust, so it’s important that there are good reasons to think that Jesus died and resurrected as it has both existential and theological implications for humanity.
The Christian Apologist Greg Pritchard describes Apologetics as this ‘explicitly and fundamentally Christian. Apologetics is, or it should be, a form of Christian love […] We need to love them enough to listen to them, to ask them questions, to answer their questions, to challenge them to become genuine seekers of truth, to urge them to examine the claims of Christ […] Apologetics is an application of Christian leadership, which includes a biblical way of life.’
So apologetics describes the practice of a Christian giving a reason or justification for their belief in God and trust in the Gospel being true when required to do so, or in environment where this may be required; such as for an evangelistic talk at a university or a church, or down the pub with friends.
Tim Keller and a Vital Distinction
Tim Keller provides a helpful way of viewing and remembering what exactly apologetics is for. When we talk to someone about Jesus, the Gospel is the ‘what’ and apologetics is the ‘why’. Often Christians answer the why questions with the what as the answer, which is ultimately unfruitful and confusing for the person we’re trying to share with. Ideally we want to answer the why questions so we can get to the what. So apologetics and evangelism are intrinsically linked, they work in partnership. Evangelism is preaching the gospel to those who are listening and apologetics is answering the objections of those who are asking. The goal of apologetics is always to get to the gospel, to talk about Jesus! Apologetics is not a discipline for a select few, it’s the calling of every Christian to be prepared and equipped to persuasively present the Gospel. We are Christians because we think it’s true, so it’s understandable that at some point we will be required to justify why we believe that to be the case. So we must think about how we would answer someone who asked us why we are a Christian.
Apologetics and the Bible
Many people are surprised to find out that apologetics was something practised by Jesus, Paul, Peter and is found throughout the NT and the early church. Some examples of this are when Jesus used apologetics when he refers to a Roman coin to prove that the Jews should pay their taxes (Mark 12:13-17). Paul is described in the book of Acts as persuading different people in different cultures at twelve different cities. In Acts 17 he reasons with the Athenians, in Rome in Acts 28:23-24 Paul tries to convince them of their need for Jesus, in Corinth Paul spent every Sabbath trying to persuade the Jews and the Greeks in Acts 18:4. Paul also does this elsewhere, seeking to persuade people albeit with the knowledge that it is God who saves, in Acts 9:22,28-29, 13:26-33, 17: from verse 17.
The whole of the book of Acts is full of apologetic encounters and the book of Acts itself is an apologetic written to demonstrate to the world the truth of the Gospel. Paul informs us in 2 Cor 10:4-6 that we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God. So Apologetics in some sense means defending and refuting arguments that exalt themselves above Gods word. In our culture today this could mean understanding and defending the Christian view of marriage and gender roles, apologetics isn’t just giving reasons for why God exists. It was also a vitally important discipline in the early church where their lives were regularly on the line, they wanted to present the best case to those who were persecuting them. There is a long historical line of apologists present in the early church, such as Quadratus, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Origen and Tertullian all of whom are worth typing into Google or looking up in the library.
The Role of Christian Character in the Apologist
So let’s have a quick look at 1 Peter 3:15-16 which says ‘but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame‘. This is exactly what those early apologists were trying to live out. So there’s a few things we can take from this passage to tell us a little more about what apologetics is and isn’t.
The main emphasis isn’t on producing good arguments but instead on our character and behaviour, it’s no good being able to present the Gospel persuasively and passionately if your life, character and behaviour undo everything that comes out of your mouth. To be a good apologist means primarily being in right relationship with God, because if we’re not, there’s a tendency to boast in our knowledge and not in Christ. Otherwise we’re at risk of being informed Christians who are culturally well-informed but damage our witness through our ungodly behaviour. It’s not good enough to be prepared to answer people’s questions and share the gospel only then to undo it through the way we live.
The Case for Faith – Lee Strobel
Confident Christianity – Chris Sinkinson
TACTICS: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions – Gregory Koukl