In Defense of Apologetics

“If not you, who?”

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 [1]. 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 [2].
  • 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.


[1] Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), p. 36.
[2] ibid. p. 38.

“Just Needs Some TLC”

“Great starter home for the motivated DIYer! Just needs a little TLC.” – Author’s personal photo.

You’ve seen the ads. You know when a realtor says a house needs a little “Tender Loving Care”, or that it’s a “good fit for the motivated Do-It-Yourselfer”, that it’s pretty bad. My wife’s comment is sometimes “That’s not a fixer-upper, that’s a tearer-downer!” Sometimes home sellers are a bit overly-optimistic.

There is a similar optimism when it comes to the condition of the human soul. People like to think that they are “pretty good”, all things considered. They may have made some mistakes over the years, but overall, the good outweighs the bad. If they even need religion at all, it’s just to give them some structure, some goals, maybe some accountability to finally break some bad habits. Just some minor repairs – you know, a little paint, maybe some new roof shingles, update the light fixtures, nothing serious – and we’ll be ready for whatever lies beyond the grave. But until we understand the extent of our need, we’ll never appreciate the value of the gift extended to us. That’s why learning of God’s amazing love is only half the story. If we think we’re pretty good already, or that God grades on a curve – we’ll be OK as long we’re better than so-and-so – then we might mistakenly think “Why wouldn’t God love me? I’m a pretty nice guy!”

Understand this, we are not a house in need of a little DIY – a little TLC, a little fixing-up. We are dead in our sins, completely helpless [Eph 2:1]. Like a house situated over a growing sinkhole, being devoured by termites, with a  Category 5 hurricane approaching, we are doomed. No amount of cosmetic enhancement is going to save that house, and in fact, the house’s appearance may only mask the real dangers. Being “more good than bad” won’t help. It’s like going to paint a room white and finding that some black paint has been spilt in the bucket of white paint. It’s many times more white than black, but it doesn’t matter; it’s tainted and isn’t getting used if you want pure white walls. And absolute, pure perfection is the only measure acceptable before God, our perfect judge who does not grade on a curve. Every human on Earth is in that condition and will die like that unless God draws them to Himself and awakens them to new life [Jn 6:44, Eph 2:4-5]. But it gets worse. Just like a judge would be unjust to let criminals go unpunished, there is a punishment awaiting every person who fails that standard of perfection. That punishment is eternal separation from God, from whom all good things derive [Jam 1:17]. People have sometimes been offended by the idea of God condemning people to “eternal conscious torment” in Hell, but what else could separation from God be? Christians do not carry on about the dangers of Hell to scare people into becoming Christians, but rather as loving friends concerned for the tragic end we see our unbelieving friends heading for. Could we call ourselves real friends if we didn’t try to warn others of impending disaster?

The prognosis seems very grim indeed. And yet, while God is perfectly just to not let any imperfect human into His presence, and to allow each and every person to suffer the torment that separation from Him would necessarily be, He does not desire that any should perish [Ezk 33:11]. But our best efforts are helpless to prevent the inevitable end that must result given an imperfect person standing before a perfect judge. That is the very, very bad news. But God, in a one-sided display of love and mercy, brought us very, very good news, in the form of a substitute who would take our place and bear the wrath of punishment rightly due each of us. But how? Wouldn’t any substitute be tainted like we are, doomed to score sub-perfect? Such is God’s love for us, that He sent His Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity, to be miraculously conceived and born in human flesh, truly God and truly man, to live a perfect life and offer Himself as the only possible acceptable sacrifice that could satisfy the perfect justice of God the Father, conquering death and proving the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice by rising from the dead, allowing those who accept Him, who were once enemies of God,  to be reconciled to God, adopted, transformed, and given a sure hope of eternal life.

It seems to be good to be true (when we understand the natural state of our decrepitude and hopelessness) that God would step in to effect such a miraculous rescue. Sadly, not all will accept rescue. But that’s our only chance, for we aren’t just a simple “fixer-upper”.