Introduction to Apologetics

What is Apologetics?

Apologetics is the science (and art) of presenting reasonable defenses for the truth of Christianity. Or put another way, it is using reason, evidence, and testimony to explain the Christian faith. The word apologetics is derived from 1 Peter 3:15: "Always be ready to give a reason/defense [apologia] to every man for the hope that is in you."

Many Christians hold to the notion that Christianity is strictly a matter of blind faith. In this view, Christians have a power to believe that is graciously granted by the Holy Spirit as a result of the words of Scripture. Indeed, for many believers, this is sufficient. It is argued that only the Holy Spirit can change a person's heart, so logic or evidence is superfluous. Thus, one simply needs to have "the faith of a child."

However, it would be a gross error to place God the Holy Spirit in a box. While it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of faith, He works through many avenues to bring people to faith. Many people come to faith by way of a critical examination of the truth claims of the Bible.

The Bible strongly encourages individuals to "test" all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), to ask for wisdom (James 1:5), and to use our minds (Matthew 22:37, etc.). Apologetics can involve many disciplines to corroborate or validate the claims of the Bible. These disciplines would include, but are not limited to science, history, and philosophy. It is this reasoned approach that can bolster one's faith and reach doubters when it comes to key questions such as "Does God exist?", "Is the Bible trustworthy?", and "Is Jesus Christ who He claimed to be?"

We reject as unbiblical all ideas that attempt to limit Christianity to blind faith. Such ideas include "fideism" (the idea that reason and faith are completely incompatible) or "presuppositionalism" (the idea that faith itself is the only basis for rational thought). While there will always be a step of faith for the Christian, the Christian faith is the only religion that is evidential in history. God's revelation is not just contained in the pages of Scripture (special revelation), but is evident through other disciplines including science (general revelation) as well.

The Biblical Case for Apologetics

"But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [apologia] to anyone who asks you for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)

In addition to the above passage in 1 Peter, the Bible commands us elsewhere to apologetics:

  • "He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:9)
  • "I urge you to contend for the faith." (Jude 3)
  • "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 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 obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
  • "Whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me." (Philippians 1:7)

Apologetics was a common practice that accompanied the proclamation of the Gospel in the New Testament:

  • Jesus used testimony and evidences (miracles and fulfilled prophecy) to confirm His identity (Matthew 4:23, 11:5; Luke 24:25-27;  John 5:31-36; John 10:37-38; John 14:11; John 20:30-31).
  • Paul routinely reasoned from the perspective of the audience (Acts 9:22, 14:15-17, 17:2-4, 17:16-32, 19:8, 26:25-29, 28:23-24; Romans 1:18-2:16; 1 Corinthians 9:20-23).
  • Paul includes a strong apologetic with his clearest explanation, that is definition, of the gospel in the New Testament—1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
  • Luke insists that the truth of his account was verified by "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3)
  • A model apologetic for Jews is Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In verse 22 he appeals to Jesus' miracles. In verses 14-36 he appeals to fulfilled prophecy. In verse 32 he appeals to the testimony of witnesses of Christ's resurrection. By means of these arguments the apostles sought to show the Jews that Christianity is true.

Inference: If you are preaching, evangelizing, witnessing, or sharing the gospel without ever using apologetics, you are not doing so biblically. 

Faith vs. Reason

  • Thanks to sin, human wisdom has become entangled with pride. As a result, "not many who are wise" are among the believers in the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21), which demands humility. Men "suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18-32) and are "blinded" to justify their unrighteousness. (Ephesians 4:17-18; Romans 3:10-11; 2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • Faith is equally available to all. Unlike knowledge of, say, quantum physics or classical Chinese, faith requires no special intellectual gifts. "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes." (Matthew 11:25)
  • The Bible itself repeatedly exhorts readers to use proof and sound reasoning. (Isaiah 1:18, 41:21; Acts 1:3; 17:3, 17, 17:11, 18:26, 26:25; Romans 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; James 3:17; 1 Peter 3:15; 1 John 4:1)
  • When Paul condemned human "wisdom" and "philosophy," or Luther condemned "reason," it is not the gift of reasoning and knowledge that is being condemned, but only its abuse, as twisted by pride and sin. (Isaiah 29:13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-21, 1:27-29, 2:1-5, 2:13-14, 3:18-20; Colossians 2:8, 23;  1 Timothy 6:20; James 3:15-17)
  • Jesus instructed us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)
  • Luther's famous Diet of Worms proclamation in 1521: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything. Here I stand, I can do nothing else!"

See The Christian View of the Intellect

Role of the Holy Spirit

We know that the Holy Spirit is actively engaged in regenerating a person and bringing him to faith. In fact, without the role of the Holy Spirit nobody would be saved. See Christian Cram Course. But this does not mean that we should not use apologetics. As put by William Lane Craig in his book Reasonable Faith, "When one presents reasons for his faith, one is not working apart from or against the Holy Spirit." Indeed, it is unscriptural to refuse to reason with an unbeliever.

While there may be times when it is inappropriate to use apologetics in our witnessing, it is correct to say that the Holy Spirit often uses our apologetic arguments to bring people to faith. Are you prepared to give a convincing reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15)? Can you clearly tell others not only what you believe, but also why you believe it?

We recommend that Christians study and memorize answers to the two dozen or so basic question of skeptics: Tough Questions.