Christian Apologetics is the activity of providing a rational basis for belief in the Christian faith. When we seek to demonstrate that God exists, or that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened, or that the Bible is historically reliable, we are doing the work of Christian apologetics.
Is Christian Apologetics a good thing for Christians to be doing?
Many have shied away from apologetics, concerned that the use of persuasive reason trivializes faith, or that it gets in the way of God’s work, or something else along those lines. These concerns deserve attention because they can have a level of truth to them, especially if we don’t recognize the limitations of what apologetics is able to do for evangelism and for our own spiritual wellness. Because of this, I have another post where I engage with these objections and I encourage my readers to check it out, especially if you have never spent time considering the weightiness of their concerns. For now, my focus is to provide a Biblical basis for Christian apologetics. To this we now turn.
Apologetics is not apologizing.
The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which refers to a speech of defense, typically for one’s own self. The word appears eight times in the New Testament. Sometimes it is used generally (Acts 22:1, 25:16; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11, 2 Tim. 4:16), and other times it is explicitly connected to a defense of the Gospel which we proclaim (Phil. 1:7, 16; 1 Pe. 3:15). Most notably would be the word’s usage in 1 Peter 3:15, when Peter says “Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” In context, it is the means by which we honor Christ as Lord in the midst of holy suffering, and it is done through gentleness and respect for others to see (cf. 1 Pe. 3:13-18). Today, in a world where Christianity is viewed as intolerant and offensive, people are going to wonder why we continue to hold onto our faith. Are we ready to give an apologia when they ask?
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul seeks to clarify his mission with these words: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedience to Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4-5). Evidently, the act of demolishing arguments against the knowledge of God, done rightly, is a holy endeavor of divine power. But what does this look like?
Apologetics in Acts
The book of Acts gives us a closer look at apologetics in action within the early church. Acts 17:2-4 says, “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.” Again, in verse 17: “So [Paul] reasoned in the Synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” The Bible even mentions the value of public debate for the Gospel! In Acts 18:27-28, the evangelist by the name of Apollos “was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.” Within these verses, we see the work of apologetics having evangelistic impact as well as beneficial value for those who already believe. It is no wonder that Peter encourages Christians to always be prepared to give an apologia.
Was Jesus into this stuff?
Jesus was willing to help people believe, and occasionally used persuasive techniques to build his case as Messiah. For instance, Jesus used logical rigor against the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45, showing how their own views lead toward absurdity. It was an argument that He initiated. In John 5, Jesus appealed to the testimony of John the Baptizer (5:33-35), his own testimony expressed in miracle-working (5:36), the testimony of the Father (5:37-38), and the testimony of the Scriptures (5:39-40), appealing to all of this “so that you may be saved” (5:34). We see the resurrected Jesus helping all of his disciples—not just Thomas—to believe (Jn. 20:19-20), inviting them to see the holes in his hands and feet, to touch his body, and observe him eating physical food (Lk. 24:37-43). Jesus was privy to the fact that his own resurrection carried enormous persuasive power to confirm his identity as God (Jn. 20:27-28). Further, As theologian D. A. Carson argues, Jesus’ response to “doubting” Thomas was probably not a rebuke as some translations erroneously suggest, but a confirmation followed by a beatitude (See Carson’s treatment of John 20:26 in the Pillar New Testament Commentary).
In Matthew 13:21, Jesus is explaining the parable of the sower, saying that the seed which fell on rocky ground is the Word of God which people received with Joy. Yet because they had no root, persecution came and they withered away. The text isn’t clear, but I suspect that this “root” has something to do with a confident knowledge of God, and I believe that apologetics can help get us there. May we never forget this important piece as we seek to proclaim the whole counsel of God.