It hasn’t been until recently that apologetics has emerged into the forefront of Christian education and missions. It’s been found in the writings of C.S. Lewis, proclaimed by the likes of Ravi Zacharias and his team of aspiring apologists, but it’s also been uncovered in the book of Acts. Yet the question in the minds of many Christians today remains, what is apologetics?
At first thought, most people assume apologetics involves apologizing to someone or a group of people. Others however believe it to be the useless art of arguing someone into the Christian faith through the use of intellectual arguments, but the truth is both assumptions are mistaken and proven unbiblical.
Apologetics is the art of defending, commending and translating the faith. It’s commonly derived from 1 Peter 3:15 which states “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (NASB). The apostle Peter uses the Greek word apologia for making a “defense” of why you believe what you believe. Its roots are Biblical, and it’s demonstrated by the apostle Paul in the book of Acts as he travels throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Apologetics isn’t about apologizing to people, in the Greek sense it means to establish a case in legal defence, explaining the reason for your faith when under fire. Recently, this has been necessary given the advancements of Atheism, Agnosticism, Postmodernism, Islam and the new spirituality movement in North America and beyond.
The truth is, everyone gives an apologia, it’s just whether you’re good at it or not that determines how effective you are in witnessing. When someone asks you why you believe in the Christian faith, your response will be an apologia. The concept here shouldn’t be confused with defending God, because as preacher Charles Spurgeon mentioned, there is no use attempting to protect a ferocious lion, he needs no protection. However, we are tasked with defending the reason for our faith, and this deals more with fulfilling the Great Commission than anything else.
Commending the Faith
But apologetics also offers two other avenues of work, that of commending the faith and translating the faith. When you’re trying to share your faith, you often attempt to appeal to the individual’s interest with some key points of the Gospel. Easier said than done, the concept of the afterlife can be found in other religions, the concept of religious worship can also be found in other worldviews. However the concept of God’s grace and mankind’s redemption is what makes Christianity unique. Also consider that no other religion relies so heavily upon a particular person other than Christianity. Islam claims that if it were not Mohammed, Allah could have selected any other person to be his spokesperson, and Buddhism didn’t require Buddha, anyone could have come up with the same teachings. But to remove Jesus Christ from historic Christianity would mean the whole system falls apart – He’s the centerpiece of the Christian faith. These points and more are things that distinguish Christianity from all other religions, but without proper study and understanding we won’t be able to effectively commend the faith to anyone at all.
Translating the Faith
Alas, we are also left with the responsibility of translating the faith. The apostle Paul was a clear example of this when he spoke at the Aeropagus in Athens (Acts 17), he spoke not in a way that would appeal to the Jews (because his audience were not Jews), but rather spoke to the Athenians in terms that only they could understand, philosophically. In a world as diverse as today’s, we are also tasked with the translation of the Christian faith into a language that other cultures and worldviews can understand. However, to translate the faith is not to change the message of the Gospel as many people have done. The content of the Gospel never changes, but the medium of communicating that message does change.
In conclusion, apologetics was never meant to be used in isolation; no one can be argued into the kingdom of God. Apologetics was meant to be a secondary discipline, a tool for effective evangelism, and it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that someone can willingly say,
“yes I would like to repent before the Lord and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour”. Intellect alone is insufficient to effect any lasting change in someone’s life. However, the power of God alone also has its shortfalls – what use is the power of God if you do not know how to use it or what it is even for? But when you have the two working in unison, you have a powerful combination that compensates for both shortfalls. God has given us a mind for a reason – to put it to good use and glorify Him in the process.
Steven R. Martins
Steven R. Martins is the Executive Director of Evangelium & Apologia Ministries (E&AM), specializing in evangelism, apologetics, discipleship, and training & development.