Back to the Basics: Apologetics

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Apologetics ShieldContrary to a popular opinion apologetics has nothing to do with saying, “I am sorry.” In other words apologetics is not concerned with apologizing, at least not in the manner folks from a Western cultural background might think. If apologetics is not about apologizing, then the next logical question is, “What exactly is apologetics?”

The English term apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia which can be translated as ‘defense’ or ‘vindication.’ In the time period contemporary to the writing of the New Testament an apologia was a formally presented courtroom style defense of something, whether it be an idea or an action.1 Moving forward to the twenty-first century the following definitions have been presented by men for whom apologetics, as it applies to Christianity, is a serious course of study:

“[Apologetics is] a path of intellectual investigation and argument, the ancient and ongoing discipline of defending and advocating Christian theism.”2

 

“[Apologetics simply defined is] the attempt to defend a particular belief or system of beliefs against objections. Christian apologetics is the task of defending and commending the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a Christlike, context-sensitive and audience specific manner.”3

Given the foregoing definitions two additional questions relating to the subject of Defenseapologetics generally come to mind: 1) Why should anyone, but specifically Christians engage in this activity? 2) Towards whom is this activity directed?

In undertaking the task of addressing the question of Christian engagement in this task the biblical basis for the activity must be presented, if it exists. If there is no biblical basis for the practice then like many other things within the Christian life it can be attributed to preference and therefore undertaken or ignored with little or no consequence. However, if one considers the nineteen uses of the noun or verb form of apologia in the New Testament it would seem that this is not an issue to be relegated to preference but to principle.4 As a matter of fact, 1 Peter 3:15-16 is likely the most well-known occurrence of this term and is significant because not only does Peter provide a clear reference to practicing apologetics, but he actually commands that it be done.5 Furthermore, the Bible provides examples of this activity in the life of Jesus our Lord (see for example Matthew 22 and Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees).6 Therefore, it must be concluded that what Scripture commands and Christ models should not be considered negotiable in the lives of Christians (for more on this see this post from PS23 contributor Brett Smith).

Everyone1Having answered the question concerning the ‘why’ of engaging in apologetics, attention will now be turned to the ‘who’ of apologetics. In other words, with whom should the Christian engage in this activity, since it is to be undertaken. Like so many questions in the life, this one has a two pronged answer as apologetics has both an internal and external focus. Internally, apologetics is a practice engaged in by Christians toward Christians for the purpose of strengthening the faith of one, the other, or both.7 Externally, apologetics is engaged in between a Christian and a person who self-identifies as a skeptic, an agnostic, or an atheist.8 Upon further consideration of these two aspects of apologetics it can be rightfully concluded that everyone is a potential member of the audience of apologetic engagement.

 

 

  1. Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 24.
  2. Ibid., 20.
  3. James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 11, 31.
  4. Ibid., 12.
  5. Ibid., 13.
  6. Groothuis, 31-33.
  7. Beilby, 27.
  8. Ibid., 27-28
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