The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, which translated means “to give a defense.” It’s the word used in the text 1 Peter 3:15, a verse that has become increasingly correlated with this expression of ministry when the Apostle Peter wrote:
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
1 Peter 3:15
Although Peter is writing this letter to the saints of the Church, specifically to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1:1), we today have often blurred the lines in making apologetics more of a vocational profession and less of an imperative responsibility for every believer. Simply put, being prepared to “give a defense” is not the responsibility of a select few, but the necessity of each person who calls Jesus Lord.
In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul gives a list of ministerial offices that are purposed for building up the body of believers, and “apologist” is not included. In Romans 12, Paul describes different measures of grace given to those who follow Christ, and once again, “apologist” is left off the list. From the earliest days of the 1st century Church, Jesus’ followers have been encouraged to know what they believe and why they believe it.
We have been given a great commandment and a great commission – to love God and to make disciples – both tasks that will require of us a deeper and more mature understanding of our beliefs and those truths that drive our faith.
Apologetics can come off as a daunting, or for some, debilitating word. It’s no secret that men and women, living in the spirit of the flesh, have often abused the call to “give a defense” by graceless and guilt-laden accusations masquerading as convictions. But at its core, apologetics and the defense of the Christian faith is not something that should drum up fear, anger, or apathy.
Apologetics should help remind us that Christianity is not a blind leap of faith; it’s the most rational, logical, and beneficial worldview that someone could hold.
Faith in Jesus provides deep, rich, and satisfying answers to life’s hardest questions. Many of the tensions we get hung up on within Christianity are terrifyingly worse if the resulting conclusion is the absence of a great and holy God who loves His people even though they didn’t deserve it.
Because apologetics is not something that can be avoided, you have a few ways of moving forward. You can neglect the call to be ready or you can prepare. If you follow Jesus and worship His name above all other names, I pray you choose the latter. The world is desperately looking for men and women who can provide a logical, well-thought-out reason, not for the pride and condemnation they hold, but for the hope that can only be found through the resurrection of the Son of God.
If you’d like to refresh how you approach apologetics, here are six things to be mindful of as you begin your journey.
#1 – Apologetics is for everyone.
We’ve already covered this in part, but the bottom line is that you are an apologist. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself with that reality before, but not only do you have beliefs, it’s common for you to defend what you believe. You have faith in something, whether it’s as small and practical as a faith that the chair you’re sitting in will hold you or the light switch you flip will be followed by an illumination of the room. Or maybe it’s faith in something bigger—that you’ll wake up tomorrow morning from your sleep, that you’ll likely reach your 50th birthday, or that the pieces of your car will all hold together as you barrel down the interstate at 75 miles per hour.
Every person has and expresses faith, and as such, we spend a large amount of our time on planet Earth either consciously or subconsciously affirming and defending our beliefs.
If this is true, it’s not your job to convince someone to have faith, they already have faith! It’s our job instead to show people what to put their faith in. As you approach this topic, remember that apologetics is for everyone which means it is for you!
#2 – Apologetics is a call to see people.
As marketing and media outlets have become more of a staple of everyday life, it’s become easier to reduce the preparation of apologetics to the answering of a few crucial questions. You’ve probably heard them or asked them yourself.
“If God is good, why does he allow evil to exist?”
“How did everything come from nothing?”
“How do we know what is right and what is wrong?”
While it’s encouraged and even important to step into questions like these and to study the biblical, historical, and orthodoxical approaches and answers, if we stop on the surface and let the questions just remain as questions, we’ll miss the point of apologetics.
Questions come from people and people have stories. Maybe the question of how a good God interacts with evil is coming from someone who recently lost a family member to a difficult medical situation. Or the question of morality and right or wrong is coming from someone facing a hard decision that seems to have no clear path forward.
An approach to apologetics rooted in answering questions will always fall short of an approach to apologetics that is rooted in seeing and loving people. It is true that loving people well often requires answering questions, but in this context, the answers are the fruit and not the root of a healthy approach to apologetics.
#3 – You aren’t meant to go at Apologetics alone.
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived on planet Earth, wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Eccl. 1:9). Have you ever wondered how that works? Clearly, before the middle of the 20th century, the internet wasn’t a thing. And before 2008, the general public had never held an iPhone in their hands. There are new things all the time, so what did Solomon mean?
He wasn’t necessarily talking about the material things of life, but about the innate, central elements and aspects of life on earth. Think about it – everything that is under the sun has been under the sun since the beginning. Said another way, nothing has been spontaneously created out of thin air. We might not have had an iPhone before, but the raw components that make up the iPhone and the components of all the machines that went into building that device have always been on planet earth.
Similarly, we might be experiencing unique combinations of emotions and societal circumstances, but the underlying characteristics of who we are – our desire to be known, our fears, our hopes, and our imaginations – those things aren’t new.
So when it comes to Apologetics, we can look back to the people who have come before us and who have asked a lot of the same questions we’re asking today. You can be sure that any question or doubt you may have towards Christianity or that you may hear from someone else has almost certainly been asked, debated, and in many ways answered before. So don’t go on the journey alone.
#4 – As you approach Apologetics, it’s okay to acknowledge the complexity.
If there were 100%, clear-cut answers for every one of life’s hardest questions, we wouldn’t need faith. Christianity would be overwhelmingly obvious, so much so that the only rational response to such absurd assurance would be to ubiquitously obey.
However, dozens of Scriptures point to the necessity of faith and its importance in the pursuit of following Christ. Romans 8:24-25 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” The writer of the book of Hebrews recorded, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We won’t always get the full picture right now, and that can be difficult. It’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to take a short step back and just recognize that God is good and life can still be hard. Both can co-exist. Approaching apologetics in a God-honoring way doesn’t mean eliminating all complexity. Rather, when the complexity comes or when a topic seems too daunting to understand, we allow that tension to turn us towards God and not away from Him.
There are things in life that our human minds will not be able to comprehend. But if God is who He says He is (all-knowing and all-understanding) He is our best hope for gaining any semblance of clarity within the complexity.
#5 – Apologetics, done correctly, will be costly (from a worldly standpoint).
Sean Covey once said, “saying yes to one thing means saying no to another.” It sounds simple, but as you parse this out, you’ll begin to notice a healthy approach Apologetics means making decisions about what you believe and standing behind those choices.
Many people want to be firm in what they believe, but they don’t always count the cost of what that firmness demands. Saying yes requires that you also say “no.” If you believe that Jesus is the only way to true life, then you are effectively saying “no” to money being the way, “no” to reputation being the way, “no” to your friends, family, spouse, workplace, and a thousand other avenues that could fight to be the way towards true life.
A good approach to Apologetics will cost you your ignorance. It will cost you your comfort. It could cost you your perceived status or worldly affection. People may call you close-minded. They may disassociate with you, or even in more extreme circumstances, persecute you.
You’re likely thinking – “That’s great. So why would I ever approach Apologetics?” Because no matter what it might cost you on this Earth, what you gain from a deeper and more intimate theology is abundantly more valuable in eternity than what you lose here. That’s what Paul means in Romans 8:18-19 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Even Jesus himself said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33)
There is a reason why the most infamous verse geared towards Apologetics (remember 1 Peter 3:15?) is right in the middle of a section of Scripture that starts with “suffering for righteousness’ sake” and ends with a call to steward God’s grace. If we are to approach Apologetics well, we’ll need to be ready to suffer graciously.
#6 – Apologetics should always begin with humility and continue with grace.
No matter what, Apologetics should begin with humility. Later in 1 Peter, we read in chapter 5 these words:
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:5-7
Humility is the starting point for increased intimacy with Christ. Humility is the mechanism that unlocks abundant grace to flow freely in our lives. Humility is the precursor to exaltation, the antidote to God’s opposition, and the funnel by which we pour our concerns, doubts, and fears onto the shoulders of Christ. Through humility, we understand that the God of the universe cares for us. He cares for you.
But just as starting with humility is important to your journey into apologetics, so too is the next step: continuing with grace. A popular verse tossed out by aspiring Apologists is John 1:14 which culminates by saying that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” That text is often used to justify sharing a conviction respectably, and certainly, Christ did this to perfection. However, there’s more to these words than we often realize.
Being full of grace doesn’t just mean being well-intentioned. It means being fully surrendered and dead to yourself. If you are full of grace, you are not able to have any sliver of self-interest, self-promotion, or self-protection. You are emptied of your pursuits and filled by the one thing that is sufficient for your every need: the truth of God’s grace. This is the reality we see of Jesus as detailed in Philippians 2. This is why Paul after pleading with God in 2 Corinthians 12 hears the beautiful words, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Approaching Apologetics is not about you. It’s not about your knowledge, your pride, or your ability to convince someone to trust in God. That’s the work of the Spirit. Apologetics is not about getting you closer to heaven, it’s about getting heaven closer to you. It’s about seeing more of who God is and what makes Him so uniquely special, wonderful, mighty, and beautiful.
It’s about emptying yourself and taking on more of Christ, of being crucified with Him, buried in a baptism like His, that you may one day be so fully and freely resurrected to a perfected and eternal life of joy.
Start with humility and continue with grace.
Now that we’ve covered the 6 ways to approach Apologetics, you’re ready to begin. You’ve already started. Each step you take from here on is an opportunity to lean more towards God and the Son that He chose not to spare, but to give up for you and me.
Towards the end of Romans in Chapter 15, Paul, knowing he is winding down this letter to the Church in Rome writes these words,
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A few verses later he concludes this train of thought by writing,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
That’s the prayer for you as you step into this journey. Endurance. Encouragement. Harmony together with Christ results in one voice glorifying God. All wrapped in an abundance of hope, rooted in joy and peace.
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