What is apologetics, and how can it help the average Christian? Let’s work through that question today.
Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the truth of the Christian faith. The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which referred to a legal defense in court. It is used in this way by Luke in describing Paul’s defense before both the Roman Procurator Festus [Ac 25:8], and King Agrippa [Ac 26:1]. Paul himself uses the term when he asks the angry mob wanting to kill him to “hear my defense which I now offer to you” [Ac 22:1]. Festus used apologia to refer to the Roman custom of allowing the accused to defend himself against his accusers [Ac 25:16]. So, it is readily seen that this word has a legal sense of presenting compelling reasoning and/or evidence to persuade others (whether a judge or a mob). Then Peter used that same term in his first letter to the church when he told Christians to always be “ready to make a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” [1Pe 3:15]. This is the verse that led to the adoption of the term apologetics for this discipline of the faith.
But, that’s for preachers and seminary professors and professional speakers, right? It’s not something the average Christian needs to worry about, is it? Oh, but it is!Let’s look at how apologetics is a part of the Christian life.
- Apologetics is part of your witness. You have to know what you believe if you want to share it with others, but you also have to know why you believe if you want to be able to answer their questions. While some may be blessed with the gift (and responsibility) of specific spiritual gifts, and some may be called to specific roles in the church, being ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you is a general duty that every Christian is expected to be able to perform.
- Apologetics is part of both loving God “with all your mind” [Mk 12:30] and “watching your life and doctrine closely” [1Ti 4:16]. These are really two sides of the same coin: the first is filling oneself with true knowledge, while the second is protecting oneself from false knowledge. God does not ask us to check our mind at the door, but rather to use it to love Him. How do we do that? By studying what He has revealed to us in His word, contemplating it, and actively pursuing knowledge of Him. Objections often mischaracterize what Christians believe, and answering those objections has forced me to actively pursue that positive knowledge of God. But apologetics also helps protect us by discerning false doctrine, whether in the church, or sitting on some Christian bookstore shelves. That’s part of why Paul tells us to “examine everything and hold fast to that which is good” [1Th 5:21], and why Luke commended the Bereans for examining the Scriptures to check that what Paul was preaching was true [Ac 17:11].
- Apologetics is a part of daily life. The questions that apologetics seeks to answer are questions that come up all around us. At a recent talk, some of the attendees mentioned objections or “alternative interpretations” raised when visiting family. Personally, I’ve heard objections in conversations with colleagues at work in the past. These aren’t simply abstract ivory tower questions for academics to ponder, but questions that arise in daily life for many of us as we interact with friends or family, or even deal with our own doubts.
Does it make any difference? Is it worth it?
- Apologetics helps establish common ground between adversaries. If two people both recognize the same authority (such as the Bible), it’s easy to both agree on something because of that common ground. But where there is no common ground, there is a need to reason together & establish agreement piece by piece. Where Christianity is viewed by some as irrational or superstitious, the Bible is not even given a chance to be heard. Apologetics helps demonstrate the reasonableness of belief in God, thus putting Christianity back on the table as a viable worldview option.
- Apologetics clears a path to the cross. While it’s true that you can’t argue people into the kingdom of God, you also can’t love someone into the kingdom either . But you can remove barriers to belief, both by demonstrating deeds of love and by speaking the “truth in love” [Eph 4:15]. Sometimes, people put a lot of roadblocks across the path that leads to God, and then think they could never go down that road. While they still must choose to follow Christ, at least the path can be cleared for them.
- Apologetics is often “pre-evangelism”. Sometimes we plant seeds to be watered by others later [1Co 3:5-9]. Other times we only till the hard soil of a stubborn friend’s heart for years on end, with seemingly nothing to show for a lifetime of loving investment. Yet this may be to make it receptive to gospel seeds that will be cast down by someone else in God’s good time. Greg Koukl likens many of his conversations with people in airports and restaurants to putting a “stone in their shoe” – asking questions about their views that will bug them and make them think about the shortcomings of their own position, arousing their own curiosity so that they are receptive to the gospel later .
- Apologetics deepens your own trust in God. In working through your reasons to believe, and tackling objections to Christianity head-on, apologetics helps the Christian combat the doubts that are constantly thrown against them in today’s skeptical culture by confirming the sufficiency of our reasons to believe.
- Apologetics is an inoculation against a virus. False religions, Christian cults, atheism, skepticism, relativism, indifference, and other views or attitudes can infect people like a virus. How do we prevent that? Before traveling to Africa several years ago, I had to get inoculated against several diseases such as typhoid and yellow fever, so that my body wouldn’t be susceptible if exposed to them during my visit. Those controlled exposures protected me far better than living in a completely sheltered, unexposed manner ever could. My body could develop antibodies against the pathogens because of that previous exposure. God is more than able to stand against the false options out there, so there is no need to isolate oneself from those false views. Rather, learn why they’re false so that you won’t fall prey to them when suddenly confronted by old, long-answered objections that are simply new to you.
- Apologetics helps us worship God. We are called to worship God “in spirit and in truth” [Jn 4:24], and when we work through the tough questions to confirm the truth and understand it more clearly, our reverence for God is increased. Words of praise become more meaningful as we work through the implications of those words.
Is apologetics useful to the average Christian? Absolutely! But don’t think of it in isolation, as something only useful at certain times or by certain people. Rather, it is a tool to be integrated into each aspect of the Christian walk, from public evangelism to private worship.
 Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), p. 36.
 ibid. p. 38.