The Importance of Apologetics
Apologetics is not, as it might sound, apologizing for one’s faith. Rather, the word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means a defense of one’s opinions or beliefs. If theology is the study of what one believes about God, then apologetics is the study of why one believes what they believe about God. If this is what we mean by apologetics, then all Christians are apologists! We all have some reason why we are Christians. The important questions are: what are those reasons, and are they any good?
I do not mean to say that one needs argument or evidence to be rational in holding to their Christianity. Chances are, the reason many of us are Christians is due to a personal experience with the risen Christ and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that lives inside of us. Obviously, this is not an argument per se in the sense of it being a set of propositions leading logically to a conclusion. However, as the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued, this inner witness of the Holy Spirit can act as the warrant for one’s belief in Christianity1. And if this is the reason for your belief, then this is your apologetic!
I think there are at least 5 reasons that every Christian needs to be doing apologetics:
1) Apologetics is biblical.
2) Apologetics reveals the heart.
3) Apologetics aids in the knowledge of God.
4) Apologetics strengthens our faith and emboldens evangelism.
5) Apologetics shapes culture.
Apologetics is Biblical
The strongest biblical support for apologetics comes from merely observing Jesus in his ministry. Jesus never just presented the gospel to unbelievers and expected them to accept it immediately. That would have seemed unreasonable! Rather, Jesus presented miraculous signs to serve as proof that he is the Son of God. Luke 7:20 describes a scenario where John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus if he was the expected Messiah. Jesus’ response? Luke 7:21-22, where he healed many people and used his miracles as proof that he is the promised Messiah.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Look at how the apostles copied Jesus’ ministry. Acts 18:4 says “And he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.” Paul knew that reason is a powerful tool, and so he took advantage of it for the kingdom of God. Peter makes it a point to emphasize the defense of the faith in 1 Peter 3:15: “but 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,”. Not only does Peter command us to “always be prepared to make a defense”, but he also tells us how to do it (with gentleness and respect). It does not get much clearer than that. Some other verses that speak to apologetics directly include 2 Corinthians 10:5, Colossians 4:5-6, and Titus 1:9.
Apologetics Reveals the Heart
More often than not, sharing arguments and evidence does not result in an immediate conversion. Rather, these arguments and evidence are most potent in revealing the heart of the unbeliever. Often, unbelievers have disguised an emotional or spiritual problem with God as an intellectual problem—primarily in the realm of evil and suffering they might experience.
The problem of evil and suffering is probably the foremost intellectual objection to the truth of theism and Christianity in particular. Essentially, the objector is saying it is either logically impossible or highly improbable that God exists while there is evil and suffering in the world. In the case of the unbeliever above, this might seem to be a valid intellectual reason to fall away from God. However, with a good apologetic that can answer why this objection is unsuccessful, the unbeliever is forced to deal with the reality of their emotional problem. For example, they could be angry with God for taking away someone they cared about. And it is this moment that allows you to share Jesus and the good news of the gospel with this person. But, if you did not have a good answer to their intellectual problem, then you likely would not have ever received the opportunity to share Jesus.
Apologetics Aids in the Knowledge of God
Apologetics is one of the best ways to love God with all your mind. (Jesus commands us to “love the Lord your God…with all your mind” in Luke 10:27). Wrestling with difficult questions about the existence of God and resurrection of Jesus leads to a knowledge of the nature of God that one simply does not arrive at in other ways. We as Christians are tasked with knowing God more and more each day. Apologetics involves using the minds given us by God in order to observe and reflect upon who God is by our use of reason.
Let’s take an example of one of the more common arguments for God’s existence: the moral argument. It goes as follows:
1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2) Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3) Therefore, God exists.
Putting aside the defense of this argument, let’s take a look at what this argument proves. From just the premises in this argument, the being found in the conclusion must be a personal, necessarily existent being who is the ground of all goodness. That conclusion fits the Christian conception of God to perfection! Talk about knowing God! We see this in all sorts of arguments for God’s existence.
Apologetics Strengthens Our Faith and Emboldens Evangelism
Not only does apologetics strengthen my own faith when I begin to doubt, but I’ve found that it emboldens me to share my faith with others. Doubts are an unavoidable part of every Christian’s walk with God. Everyone has them, and we all deal with them differently. Being well-trained in apologetic arguments helps me with those times of doubt where I do not feel God’s presence. In those seasons of my life, it is reassuring to have a solid foundation of logic and evidence on which to rely.
One of the reasons that Christians are hesitant to share their faith is that they are afraid of being unsure of what to say when an unbeliever asks them a difficult question. This fear can paralyze Christians into keeping their faith to themselves, which is obviously not what we are commanded to do. One of the common sayings in the apologetics community is that those who do not see the need for apologetics probably have not evangelized very much. We undoubtedly will be asked some very difficult questions throughout your time evangelizing but knowing that we have good answers to these questions can actually make evangelism more exciting! We’ll find ourselves wanting the unbeliever to ask us those tough questions so that we can give them the good answers they’ve been waiting for.
Apologetics Shapes Culture
One of the dangers facing the American church today is that, without sound apologetics, Christianity could lose its status as an intellectually viable option for unbelievers. If people do not feel as though they can be intellectually honest Christians, then they will become hardened and turned off to the gospel. William Lane Craig gives the following illustration2. Suppose you were walking on the street and a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement invites you to believe in Krishna. Clearly, here in America that is seen as a very odd thing to do. But in Dehli, this invitation likely seems like a reasonable request. What’s the difference? In America, the Hare Krishna movement is not seen as possessing intellectual viability. Most Americans find it unbelievable that anyone would follow Krishna, but in Dehli it is still seen as something reasonable. Without apologetics, evangelizing to someone about Jesus could be seen as being on the same level as inviting someone to follow Krishna. Christians need to always be prepared with sound reasons for the rationality and truth of Christianity. Otherwise, our job as evangelists gets much harder.
So what does the church need to do? Well, we all don’t need to go and receive a PhD in metaphysics or biology in order to know apologetics. Not all Christians are gifted in those areas. However, we are created in the image of God, which means any excuses about a lack of intellectual capacity to be at least “functionally apologetic” are no good! To say that I’m not smart enough to learn apologetics is like saying God did not create me with a mind capable of knowing him. But here’s the best part: all of the hard thinking has been done for us! We as Christians stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants, from Augustine to Anselm, from Aquinas to Luther, and from Plantinga to Craig. There is so much material already written on nearly every question we might have (and a lot more of it on questions we did not even know we had).
I’d like to recommend a few resources and books as well. For the new student, read William Lane Craig’s book On Guard and check out the “beginner” articles and podcasts found at freethinkingministries.com. For the intermediate to advanced learner, read Dr. Craig’s book Reasonable Faith and dive into more of the “intermediate” and “advanced” articles and podcasts at freethinkingministries.com and reasonablefaith.org. Also, if you see me at church on Sunday, introduce yourself. I’d love to sit down and talk with you about anything that might be on your mind. Providence, our church could become an example of how to do apologetics for the kingdom of God. Let’s get started!
1. Alvin Plantinga. Knowledge and Christian Belief. Grand Rapids, Michigan.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015
2. William Lane Craig. Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008