What is apologetics?
Apologetics comes from the Greek word, apologia, which means defense. Building a case for or defending a certain position of thought or belief is called apologetics, and a person who supplies the defense is called an apologist. There are many different types of apologists. Every religion can have its own apologetics. This blog deals explicitly with Christian apologetics.
What is required for apologetics?
Apologetics is a difficult branch of Christian study. It requires a working knowledge of many branches of Christian theology (read “What is Theology”). For example, before a defense for the Christian faith can be given, the apologist would need to know Christian doctrine inside and out in order to know if the objection being raised against Christianity is even against a true teaching found within the Bible. The apologists would then need to be able to correct the misunderstanding in biblical teaching from the scriptures in a way that the objector will understand. Sometimes the misunderstanding comes from not knowing the full context of that passage within its chapter or book or within the Bible as a whole, which would require Biblical Theology. Other times the misunderstanding might arise from a lack of knowing the cultural context, historical context, literary type, or the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, which would require Exegetical Theology to resolve the doctrinal misunderstanding behind the objection.
The Apologist would need to know Historical Theology, which deals with the history of the church and church movements. This might be necessary to know in order to answer objections to the church’s involvement in the Crusades, or objections that there isn’t satisfactory archeological proof to back up the Bible’s claims.
The study of Philosophy from different worldviews would be necessary to understand and relate to the mindset of anyone an apologist might meet. Philosophy is good for the apologist too, because it helps the apologist build reasons for the Christian faith based on reason and logic, so as to be able to make a defense for the existence of God without needing to use the Bible. This is important because if someone doesn’t already value the Bible as the Word of God or agree with its historical reliability then it has no authority or reason to be trustworthy to that person.
Pastoral Theology is also necessary in apologetics. Many people may offer objection after objection and hear answer after answer but never come to faith, not because the answers weren’t satisfactory for their intellectual yearning, but because of another issue in their life: a vice or lifestyle they refuse to give up, growing up in an abusive Christian family, hurtful words from a pastor or church member, or some other personal issue apart from “head knowledge” objections to the Christian faith.
A Christian apologist must also study other religious faiths. It’s important to be able to show that you care enough about a person to take the time to learn and understand what he or she believes without only having the agenda of changing his or her believes to yours. Also, some religions might have similarities in beliefs, teachings, and practices as Christianity, and if so these similarities might be good starting points to create a bridge to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s also good to know what other religions teach so that the prevalent teaching that all religions are at their core the same, or that they all are just different ways to the same end, can be countered by actually showing the specific differences that make them each truly unique.
A good knowledge and following of pop culture is helpful for apologetics. Television shows, movies, music, and art all tend to present a certain worldview or philosophy in life. Evidence of this is the current fad of putting out books with titles such as The Philosophy of South Park, The Philosophy or Star Trek, and The Philosophy of the Simpsons. Being aware of the religious imagery, ideas, and philosophy of the people an apologist interacts with is key to initiating religious conversations in a way that is not as confrontational and in fact natural – it’s simply talking about issues brought up in a movie.
Important to Remember
Apologetics is not purely an academic, “head” practice but it is also very a “heart” practice. Apologetics is very much related to being considerate and polite when presenting the teaching of the Christian faith and always handling the objections to the faith out of love for the objector. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV).
It’s important to remember that apologetics does not save a person’s soul. God saves people, all three persons of the Trinity – the Father through sending his Son and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Jesus in offering himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and the Holy Spirit through creating faith in the hearts of men. Christians should never lose sight of this, so that we remain ever humble and in prayer through all apologetic efforts, trusting that it is the Spirit at work in us to bring others into faith in Christ.
Finally, no Christian is off the hook when it comes to apologetics. “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia – a defense] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).