Have you ever wondered how you might defend your beliefs about the origin of all life and the universe? What our purpose is here on earth? Where man gets his morality and ethics? What happens when we die? Christian Apologists devote study to these questions, among other issues with the Bible, Theology, Philosophy, Science, and Culture. And their argument is that the best answers to all of life’s toughest questions lie in the truth of Christianity. There are Apologists for other religions and worldviews (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Pantheism, etc.) but this article focuses on the Christian Apologist.
Apologetics (Christian Apologetics) is the defense of the Christian Faith against inconsistent and false claims. The discipline of Apologetics also serves to strengthen the faith of Christians and support the ministry of Evangelism. The study of the discipline of Apologetics is strongly associated with theological and philosophical studies.
The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which means to speak in defense of an opinion, position, or action. It concerned defenses made in judicial proceedings in ancient Athens (Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005, 1).
The Trial of Socrates
The classic example of such an apologia was Socrates’ defense against the charge of preaching strange gods, a defense retold by his most famous pupil, Plato, in a dialogue called “the Apology”.
Where did Apologetics come from?
How did the term “apologetics” become associated with Christianity?
The word, in both the noun (Gr. apologia) and the verb form (Gr. apologeomai), occurs in the New Testament of the Bible seventeen times and can be translated “defense” or “vindication” in each case (Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005, 1). But not all occurrences refer specifically to the defense of Christianity specifically. While the word has the same meaning, it is used in different circumstances.
In his epistles, the Apostle Paul used apologia in many contexts (e.g., Romans 2:15; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 12:19; Philippians 1:7; 2 Timothy 4:16). But his ministry included defending the gospel, and he also said “I am appointed for the defense (apologian) of the gospel in Philippians 1:16 (Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005, 2).
And, in the often cited Scripture from 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter instructs believers to always be prepared “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” This is, perhaps, the most quoted verse from the Bible in relation to Apologetics.
This is, perhaps, the most quoted verse from the Bible in relation to Apologetics:
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (Gr. apologian) 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
The New Testament of the Bible does not use the words apologia and apologeomai in the same technical sense that the word apologetics is used today, but the clear idea of believers offering a defense of the faith is evident in Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:16, and most notably 1 Peter 3:15(Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005, 2).
In the second century, a group of Christian writers who defended the Christian faith became known as Apologists, defenders of the faith, owed to their compositions. Justin Martyr (First Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, Second Apology) and Tertullian (Apologeticum) are notable among these Christian thinkers (Jaggar, William L. 2018, 228, 251).
“Apologetics” was not used to specify this theological discipline until 1794, and there has been debate about the place of Apologetics in Christian thought ever since (Bahnsen, Greg L. 1976, 191). And this debate continues to this day.
An Apologist is someone who presents an apology or makes a practice of defending the faith.
What is the function of Apologetics? *
There are different methods, or apologetic approaches, but what is the goal, function, or big picture for the Apologist? In other words, what is she trying to accomplish? Well, there are four functions, or goals for the Apologist:
- Vindication or proof– the Apologist uses philosophical arguments and scientific and historical evidence as proof that shows that Christianity is reasonable
- Defense– the Apologist clarifies misunderstandings and misrepresentations, answers objections, criticisms, and questions, and seeks to clear away intellectual obstacles to belief to show that Christianity is credible, or not unreasonable
Defense– This function is the closest to the New Testament and early Christian use of the word apologia.
- Refutation (the offensive)- the Apologist focuses on the arguments non-Christians give to support their own belief systems, showing that non-Christian thinking is unreasonable
- Persuasion- the Apologist focuses on bringing non-Christians to the point of commitment to the Christian faith, more commonly known as evangelism or witnessing
*The four functions, or goals, explained in this section are from Chapter 1: Defining Apologetics (Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005, 4-7).
Persuasion– This function is about bringin non-Christians to faith in Christianity. This is essentially Evangelism or Witnessing.
Great Christian Apologists throughout the history of the church have used all four functions in their practice of the discipline.
The ultimate goal of the Apologist is not merely to persuade non-Christians to accept claims and evidences about Jesus Christ and Christianity, but to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005, 4-7). This personal aspect, through the witness of the Holy Spirit, is the necessary encounter present in every conversion to faith in Christ.
Do you know that God loves you?
Bahnsen, Greg L. 1976. “Socrates of Christ: The Reformation of Christian Apologetics,” in Foundations of Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective, ed. Gary North, Vallecito: Ross House.
Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005. Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Cowan, Steven B. 2000. Five Views on Apologetics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Jaggar, William L. 2018. The Resurrected Jesus Christ and Historical Followers, Volume One: From Christ through the Renaissance (A.D. 1517), Meadville: Christian Faith Publishing.