Understanding Christian Apologetics
I just found your site and it is awesome! I, and so many others have sought answers to questions we thought did not have any answers this side of heaven. I have learned so much already and will be sharing what I learned with others. The one question I do have is likely a silly one but, what are Christian Apologetics and why are they called that? It almost seems that they are apologizing for being Christians. Thank you in advance and God Bless your organization.
Thank you so much for writing and also for your kind words. I'm blessed that the site has helped you to be able to share your faith more effectively.
Your question on Christian apologetics is very important. Let's look at what apologetics means, where the word comes from, and why we need apologetics in order to be mature Christians. We'll also seek to outline some tips for honing your skills in apologetics.
1. The Meaning of Apologetics
Although "apologetics" may sound like Christians need to apologize for something, the meaning of the word is quite different. Apologetics comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "to give a defense" 1 and it implies a defense supported by specific reasons and thought. This is the same kind of defense a defense attorney might give on behalf of his client, using reasons and arguments to prove innocence.
The concept of apologetics isn't unique to Christianity, either. In a more general sense, anytime a person is asked to defend a position or a belief in some system, he is asked for an apologetic. However, it seems the concept of rationally defending your convictions in today's society isn't valued as much as it had been previously. Professors may speak of someone's apologetic, but the phrase has fallen out of use in the popular vernacular.
In the Bible, the most famous apologetics passage is 1 Peter 3:15 where the Apostle commands believers to "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone that asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect."
2. The Nature of Apologetics
So what does Christian apologetics entail? The above passage in 1 Peter sets forth the nature of what Christian apologetics should be. Good apologetics needs to be based on reason, it needs to be knowledgeable, and it needs to be done in a spirit of gentleness and respect.
First, our arguments should be rational and based on good reasoning, again like a trial attorney. This is a very important point, since so many people today seem to view faith and reason as concepts in tension with each other.
Because apologetics at its core deals with truth claims, apologists are continually examining questions about the truth. "Is Christianity true?" "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?" "How can I know if God exists?" These are all questions that ask about ultimate realities. Of course there are many people today who deny the existence of an absolute truth, but they run into bigger problems (for more on this, see our article "What is Objective Truth"). For the others, people inherently understand that the truth should be consistent and not contradictory. In fact, contradiction is a sign that someone is not telling the truth. Therefore, if something is true, then it will be rational.
The Apostle Paul understood this well. In 1 Thessalonians he commands us to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good". This is a remarkable passage. So certain was Paul of the reasonableness of Christianity, he actually challenges believers to test its truth claims against all others. If another is more rational, then you should believe it instead! Rationality therefore becomes an important part of Christian apologetics and Christianity in general.
Because apologetics needs to be rational, it is important for the apologist to become more knowledgeable about Christianity as well as opposing arguments. In order to provide sound reasons for the hope of Christ, we have a responsibility to understand what others believe so we don't caricature their beliefs or build straw man arguments.
Many people get concerned at this point, thinking something like "Well, I guess I can't do apologetics. I don't know that much. I'm just not that smart." But being knowledgeable doesn't mean that you need to have a bunch of facts about world religions memorized. It first means listening to the other person and asking questions to make sure you understand their position. It also means that you know where to go to find answers to those arguments you're confronted with, and you should always strive to understand the Christian faith more clearly. Paul again warns that mature Christians should be able to handle the Scripture accurately, "rightly dividing the Word of truth".
Gentle & respectful
Not only should apologetics be approached rationally and knowledgably, but it should also be executed with sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of other individuals. Remember, faith is a central part of our self-identity; it's how we understand who we are. Faith is so fundamental to a person's understanding of himself and how he relates to the world, an attack on his faith can be viewed as an attack against him. So if the Christian just bashes a person because of the beliefs he or she holds, then his arguments become nothing more than noise. Remember, we are commanded to be "wise as serpents but gentle as doves."
3. The Need for Apologetics
Now, it sounds like apologetics is a lot of work, and that's probably true. In the church today, Christians want to have their faith, but leave the "heavy lifting" to professionals. However, it's not just important for believers to know why they believe something, it's absolutely necessary.
It Helps Us Deepen Our Relationship with God
One reason we need to develop a good apologetic is that engaging our minds draws us into a closer relationship with God. Jesus taught us this in Matthew 22:37. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." If we are commanded to love God with all our minds, then we need to continue to become more aware of who He is and if our worldview is aligned with God's.
Paul properly demonstrated the same idea when he said to the Christians in Rome, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed... by the renewing of your mind." (Rom.12:2) Also, notice the first part of 1 Peter 3:15, "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense...". By making a defense, we sanctify the Lord in our hearts.
Apologetics Helps Secure Our Faith
Besides helping us minister, accurate knowledge helps us during our trials of faith. There have been those times in my life where I was in a very difficult situation - one of those "faith-testing" trials. But, because I had already worked through the evidence for believing in Jesus, any doubts I may have had were easily extinguished. I didn't have to run through all the arguments again. I merely reflected and thought, "I've thought through this and there really isn't any other answer. My faith is true."
The last point I want to highlight is a good apologetic will also protect Christians from believing heretical teachings. Many of the modern cults we see today got their start in the revival movements of the early 19th century2. Many of these cults gained a foothold because people were eager to believe in God, but had no disciplined and thoughtful people to show them why certain teachings could not be true.
Even now controversial teachings are creeping into the evangelical church. A recent Barna poll showed that although most Christians believe in God, 60% mainline Protestants believe that Satan is not a real being but just a symbolic form of and more than two out of every five adults believe Jesus committed sins while he was alive on the earth.3 Homosexual marriage and other social issues have also infected the church, conforming us more to the world than to Christ.
We Are Commanded to Do It!
Another thing to note in the passages above is they are all commandments, not suggestions. It's a lie of the enemy that we don't need to try and grow intellectually to deepen our relationship with God. For one thing, we need apologetics to effectively evangelize. Jesus used it in Matt. 22 when the Sadducees tested Him on the question of the resurrection. Paul used apologetics constantly to demonstrate the truth of Christ; the most famous episode occurs in Acts 17 on Mars Hill, but Acts 19:8 is another great example. There, it says Paul "entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God."
Paul reasoned and persuaded, using arguments to bring others to Christ.
Likewise, we are obligated to share the truth with those who don't know.
Remember - they're lost! The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 is as
relevant here as in other forms of evangelism. We need to teach the world
and apologetics is one way we do so.
4. How to Do Apologetics
In all of this, I've demonstrated the need for apologetics, but how does an ordinary Christian go about in honing their apologetic skills? Does it take years of seminary or college? Not really. Just like every other facet of the Christian walk, developing reasoning skills is a life-long pursuit. But here are a few tips that everyone can do to get them started on that road.
The first thing to do when beginning to study apologetics is just to gather a list of good resources you can rely on. Knowing where to go for answers whenever a difficult issue presents itself can help immeasurably. Bookmark good apologetics Web sites. (For a listing of apologetics sites beside ComeReason.org check out www.apologeticsindex.org).
You should also build a good library of books dealing with theological and apologetic issues. Start with texts that cover a broad range of topics, such as Norman Geisler's Encyclopedia of Apologetics and add more specific books as you deal with those specific topics. Again, look at our gooks area for a start.
Pick an issue
Once you've established a basic library of knowledge, pick an issue that you'd like to discuss. Pick something you feel strongly about. Perhaps you saw an editorial in the local paper where you disagree; perhaps you have a co-worker who has an objection with Christianity. Whatever the motivator, choose one issue and dig in - learn as much as you can on it. Make sure that you listen to the opposing views before generating an answer. Ask questions of you opponent and restate his position back to him, or have someone else without a vested interest review your answer before you publish it. It's important to learn both sides of an issue so you aren't building a straw man.
Go On the Offensive
Lastly, go on the offensive. Write a letter to the editor of the paper. Ask others what reasons they have to hold to their belief system. Christians have gotten into the habit of only defending their beliefs - but non-believers should be able to offer reasons for what they believe, too!
For most of the last two millennia, Christianity was at the forefront of critical thinking. If you wanted to ask an expert, you went to your clergyman. Seminaries trained individuals to think and a Doctorate of Divinity was held in as high regard as a Ph.D. I believe we need to reclaim the Christian mind to the glory of God.
I think Proverbs 22 says it best:
"Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge, To make you know the certainty of the words of truth that you may correctly answer him who sent you?"
We have an awesome gift in our Bible. It is the Word of God, written to us! It gives us certainty. God has given us "the words of truth" so that we may go out and "correctly answer" the world. It is our responsibility to be faithful to Him and engage our minds as much as we engage our hearts in our faith.
For more on this idea, see Dr. J.P. Moreland's book, Love Your God With All Your Mind.
I know this answer is rather long - I guess it's something I feel rather passionately about! But, I hope it has helped clarify all that apologetics is and should be as well as stirring Christians to action.
May God bless you as you seek to know Him,
1 - Perschbacher, Wesley J. Ed. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon
Hendrickson Pub. Peabody, MA. 1990 p. 46
2 - During the time of the Second Great Awakening, the "Burned-Over District" of Western New York is the starting point for Mormonism, Millerites (from where we get Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists), modern spiritualism, and the roots of modern Pentecostalism. See http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Burned-over%20district
3 Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist." Barna Research Group "
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