by Brian Auten
What is Apologetics?
The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which is found seventeen times in the New Testament. It can be translated as “a defense,” and is a judicial term implying a reasoned argument, vindication, or defense. In its original use, the term apologia referred to a legal defense given in response to an accusation. In modern usage, the term apologetics takes on a larger scope of meaning. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig presents a concise definition of apologetics in its contemporary form:
Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith. […] apologetics specifically serves to show to unbelievers the truth of the Christian faith, to confirm that faith to believers, and to reveal and explore the connections between Christian doctrine and other truths.1
Apologetics at its core simply makes a case for the truthfulness of Christianity. As theologian Gordon R. Lewis states: “Apologetics…examines Christianity’s most basic presuppositions. It considers why we should start with Christian presuppositions rather than others.”2 Apologetics answers the question, “Why should I believe that Christianity is true?” Although the answers to this question are manifold, the goal is to convince and persuade the questioner of the truthfulness of Christianity. Apologetics provides reasons to believe, both in defending the Gospel and in proclaiming it.
The purpose of this paper is to present the Biblical mandate for apologetics, refute some common objections to apologetics, and to contend that apologetics is just as relevant today as it was in the formation of the early Christian Church.
Three Basic Functions of Apologetics
First, apologetics is used in a proactive way to prove the truth of Christianity and to persuade unbelievers to believe. This may involve arguments from history, philosophy, science, culture, logic, and testimony, among others. The purpose is simply to build a reasonable case to persuade the unbeliever. Removing intellectual stumbling blocks is a key element. “Apologetic argument may not create belief, but it creates the atmosphere in which belief can come to life.”3 Second, apologetics is used defensively when criticism or attack comes against the Gospel. Inevitably, Christianity will be attacked. However, apologetics defends the faith by providing a rational and reasonable basis for belief and contending for the truth. Defensive apologetics can guard the Church from false doctrine by refuting error and exposing false teaching. The Church has the opportunity to gain a more robust faith when the Gospel is strongly defended against opposition. Martin Luther noted that when the Gospel is attacked, it has an opportunity to gain strength:
If the devil were wise enough and would stand by in silence and let the gospel be preached, he would suffer less harm. For when there is no battle for the gospel it rusts and it finds no cause and no occasion to show its vigor and power. Therefore, nothing better can befall the gospel than that the world should fight it with force and
cunning.4 Third, apologetics strengthens the faith of believers. Just as there are attacks upon the Gospel itself, there are times when the faith of individual believers is tested and tried. This may come from voices of doubt, worldly influences, personal crises, or any number of other sources. However, apologetics can play a key role in anchoring the faith of a Christian when faced with times of doubt. This anchoring also allows for the Christian to be a bolder witness to the world, as he is prepared for all kinds of common objections he may face from unbelievers.