In the summer of 1981 I became a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. As a follower of Jesus, one of my primary objectives is to testify to others of His saving love and power in my life. To tell others that the new life I’ve found can be theirs, too. To evangelize. If you’re a disciple of Jesus you know this. Early on in my new life with Jesus I began to notice that when opportunities presented themselves to evangelize, I would be attacked by fear. “‘What will happen if, when I begin to speak about Jesus, God, and the Bible, my friend raises an objection or a question I can’t answer?’ Objections like: ‘How could an all good, all powerful, all knowing God allow evil?’ ‘Hasn’t science done away with God?’ ‘Why should I trust the Bible?’ ‘Aren’t all religions basically the same?’ ‘To say Jesus is the only way is intolerant and arrogant, don’t you think?’ ‘How can you prove Jesus rose from the dead?’”
These (and other) questions caused me to stay silent more than once in my life. Beyond that, truth be told, some of them were questions and doubts I had wrestled with myself. I knew Jesus forgave me; I knew He was real; His transforming presence was real. But how could I help a person get through their questions and doubts to meet Jesus as I had? It’s a valid question. That’s where Christian apologetics comes into play.
I’M SORRY, WHAT IS APOLOGETICS?
A friend of mine heard that I was considering a course of study in Christian apologetics and responded by saying, “Why should we apologize for being Christians?” Many of my colleagues have similar stories. Christian apologetics is not the study of how to apologize for being a Christian. It has been defined as “that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith.1” Apologetics are demonstrated throughout Scripture. The key text for Christian apologetics comes from I Peter 3:15 (NIV) which says:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
The Greek word for “answer” in this text is the word apologia, which is a term meaning “legal defense.” So, a simpler way of understanding Christian apologetics is giving a defense of the Christian faith. It is making a case for Christianity. This branch of theology draws on a variety of other fields including philosophy, comparative religions, science, history, and the arts.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
I’ve already mentioned a couple of places where Christian apologetics is referenced in Scripture. Jude urges his listeners to contend for the faith. Peter commands his listeners to be prepared to give answers. So first of all, Christian apologetics is important because of the biblical mandate. That mandate, of course, is tied to Christ’s commission to evangelize the world (Matthew 28:19).
Another reason for its importance is that apologetics is a tool which becomes useful when engaging with people who have objections to our message. We present the message of salvation through faith in Christ and some will push back or raise doubts or questions. Additionally, studying and using apologetic methods help Christians to have an impact on culture. C.S. Lewis, author of the famed Chronicles of Narnia and an exceptional Christian apologist, said, “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
Finally, Christian apologetics is important because it strengthens the faith of the believer. All of the questions and objections raised by seekers or skeptics are questions which honest Christians themselves have wrestled with in their own experience. As we engage with the big questions of life, we find that the claims of the Gospel are reliable, and the various fields of study we draw from provide good evidence for the faith we profess. This is encouraging!
HOW DO YOU DO APOLOGETICS?
If we look back at the text from I Peter 3:15, we note a number of things. First, the relationship between the defender of the faith and the Lord Jesus: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” The disciple of Jesus must be in continual submission to the authority of the Lord Jesus. It may sound obvious, but any attempt to make a case for Christianity apart from a vibrant, authentic relationship with Christ will be futile. The better our relationship with Christ, the better we are positioned to respond to the challenges raised to the Gospel.
Second, we must be prepared: “Always be prepared to give an answer…” Our preparation is ongoing and is a dimension of our life-long spiritual formation. We never have all the answers, and we should be willing to acknowledge that from the start. Apologetics is not claiming to have all the answers. As we live under the Lordship of Christ, we find that the Holy Spirit will direct us to certain individuals with specific questions or objections. We should start there.
I was once in the process of purchasing a new vehicle for the corps where we were stationed. This process required multiple visits to the car dealership. I began to strike up a friendship with the salesman, Raj, who was a devout Muslim. So devout that he got permission from his employer to bring his prayer rug to work and took time out of his work schedule to say his daily prayers. Our conversations motivated me to research more about Islam so that I could be better prepared when conversing with him. Do you have a coworker who is an atheist? Investigate atheism and the approaches which other Christian apologists have taken to engage with atheists. Maybe a classmate has questions about science and faith. You could start reading and listening to podcasts with respect to that theme—you get the idea. Some may feel a God-given desire to pursue formative study. These are ideas for us as individual Christians.
What about at the corps or institution? Some of the ideas we’ve implemented in our ministry throughout the years include conducting small group book studies based on Christian apologetic themes, conducting an Alpha© course4 at the corps, challenging youth to conduct a worldview interview with someone from a different religion or philosophy, organizing field trips with young people to Christian apologetic events at local universities, and sponsoring lecture series at the corps with invited guests to address specific topics. On page 34 of the YS magazine you will find some resources which may help you get started on some of these.
Every Salvation Army center ought to be a place where our young people (and older folks!) can express their honest doubts and objections to the claims of the Gospel, without being given shallow answers or being told they must simply believe. When the imprisoned John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus expressing his own doubt, Jesus did not reprimand him. He affirmed John the Baptist’s role in the Kingdom and told the disciples to share with John the miracles (evidence) they had seen (Matthew 11:1-11).
THE HEART OF IT ALL
The last dimension of doing apologetics involves our relationship with the seeker or skeptic: “But do this with gentleness and respect.” As Christian apologists, we must always remember that at the end of the day we are not trying to win arguments, we are trying to win people. I may have the very best responses to common objections, but if I communicate that in a way that is demeaning or insulting, I will have failed. Much harm has been done in this way. The Apostle Paul said, “We loved you so much, that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well” (I Thessalonians 2:8, NIV). Effective Christian apologetics takes place within the context of relationships. Even if I’m giving a talk to an unknown audience, I must keep front-and-center the desire to love and persuade through my presentation while maintaining a fidelity to the claims of the Gospel. As Greg Koukl says, “The Gospel is offensive enough, don’t add any more offense to it.”
Remember, all Christ followers are apologists as well. Start making the case today!
CAN YOU DEFEND YOUR FAITH?
“Preach the Word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Here are three challenging questions you may be asked. Which of the two Scripture verses provided would best answer the question?
I’m a good person. Will that get me to Heaven?
A. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way” (Matthew 7:13).
B. “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Why do I need to become a Christian? Don’t all religions lead to God?
A. “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).
B. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23).
I’m not strong enough to fight temptation in my life. How do I do it?
A. “But you belong to God, my dear children. You already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world”(1 John 4:4).
B. “Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?” (Proverbs 6:28)
Answers: B, A, A
1Craig, William Lane. Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. Pg. 15
2e.g. Philippians 1:7&16, Jude 3, Acts 1:3, Acts 17:16-34, Mark 2:1-12, II Peter 1:16
3C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time” in C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965. Pg. 50
4For more information check out: https://alphausa.org/
5Koukl, Greg. “Not All Judgment Is Wrong.” Stand to Reason. Accessed August 30, 2017. https://www.str.org/articles/not-all-judgement-is-wrong#.WacZ7lGQwdU.
—Major Dean L. Satterlee, Curriculum Officer, College for Officer Training