What is Apologetics?
Webster defines apologetics as a “systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine).” This is in direct contrast with what many assume is the relationship between apologetics and the modern connotation of asking for forgiveness from the word apology. The word finds its root in the Greek ‘apologia,’ meaning literally to give an answer back. As it is written in 1 Peter 3:15, ‘but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.’ Peter’s admonition allows for two essential deductions: First, that the believer will certainly encounter questions regarding his faith, and second, that his faith is not blind, but grounded in defendable reason. In context, the above verse is preceded by these reassuring words: ‘But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.’
Though Peter has words of encouragement for those who do engage in apologetic discourse, is it really necessary to have an answer? Does God really need man to defend Him? It may be easier to answer the second question first: God certainly does not need man to defend him. God will be God in all His glory despite what men do. However, man was commissioned quite specifically by Christ, as it is written in the Gospel according to Matthew 28:18-20, ‘And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”’ Jesus begins by qualifying the Great Commission with His claim to divine authority. Knowing that the task is great and arduous, Jesus reminds His disciples of His authority first, so that they many know the importance and necessity of obedience to His command. But the key here is that in evangelism, which is defined by Webster as “the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ,” a ready defense is implicit. When confronted with the concept that they need Jesus, many will reply, ‘why?’ This is where apologetics comes in. It need not be overly complex or inflated by university degrees, but compassionately directed at its core toward the cries of the heart of man, resolute in the trust of God, and grounded in His Word, all of which we are capable by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Apologetics is really a comprehensive (or general) term that should be within the lexicon of most evangelical Christians. It is general in that it describes the activity of defending the Christian faith, though it can be within very specific topical areas. This being understood, it is crucial that the apologist be aware of the specific position of the questioner. For instance, if one is questioned on the authority of the Bible, it must be determined on what grounds the questioner dismisses the Biblical authority. If it is an issue of historical authenticity, then one would begin his defense by discussing the Bible within that frame of reference. If, however, the questioner is concerned with submitting to the authority of a God whom they misunderstand to be unjust in His actions, then one must begin by discussing the loving character of God, and the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ. To put it simply, apologetics is an aid to evangelism, and therefore must be concerned with people. We must address the individual concerns of those who do question the Christian faith by focusing our discussion on their needs, not just a ‘textbook’ answer. Our answers must be motivated first by compassion, rather than a desire to simply win a debate, and they must find their coherence through the discernment and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.