Apologetics–What is it and why do we do it?

By Kelly Zens

Douglas Groothuis defines apologetics as, “the rational defense of the Christian worldview as objectively true, rationally compelling and existentially or subjectively engaging.”[1]   Apologetics is part of the Christian’s role in being Christ’s ambassador. Christians represent Jesus to the world. That role necessarily includes rationally defending Christianity against critics, respectfully responding to specific accusations, demonstrating and arguing for the truth of Christian claims and doing all of this with grace.   James Beilby sums up apologetics by stating it is the action of “defending and commending” the truthfulness of the essentials of the Christian faith.[2] It is important that apologetics deals with the essentials of the historic Christian faith rather than every doctrinal dispute among different Christian denominations.   While doctrinal discussions are important, they are not apologetics.

Christians engage in apologetics because our faith is the most precious thing that we have, and we believe that it adds immensely to the quality of our life. We want everyone we know and even complete strangers to be able to experience this life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. In addition, we are concerned with the eternal destiny of the unbeliever’s soul. No one wants even the biggest jerk to end up in hell.   Accepting Jesus gift of salvation through his atoning sacrifice is the only way for a person to obtain freedom from their sin (in this life) and eternal salvation (in the next one).

Additionally, Scripture commands us to engage in apologetics (I Peter 3:15-16). Jesus set an example of evangelistic outreach using apologetic argument throughout the gospels. Christian Apologetics mentions Jesus silencing the Sadducees in Matthew 22:33-34. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 has a very apologetic flavor as well. As in the previous passage, he answers Nicodemus’ questions by giving him truth that changes his preconceptions. Paul also engages in apologetics as part of his evangelistic outreach (Acts 17). So having a direct command plus the examples of Jesus and Paul is sufficient reason to engage in apologetics.

The goals of an apologetic discourse are to remove barriers to belief and challenge assumptions that deny the truth of the Christian worldview. That is why is it such an important part of evangelism. Groothuis calls it “pre-evangelism.”[3] Addressing doubts or misunderstanding and providing clarity for believers is called internal apologetics. This is a very important function often seen in small groups or youth groups.   Responding to challenges brought by unbelievers can remove intellectual barriers and misunderstandings they have that are keeping them from faith in Jesus. This is external apologetics. Both believers and unbelievers can be the audience for apologetics. Both groups benefit from it. Acts 18:27-28 (NIV), where Apollos takes on the Jews, shows how Christians are encouraged by public external apologetics. “On arriving, he was a great help to those who by faith had believed.   For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”   Apologetics provides believers with an important tool to both strengthen the faith of fellow believers and challenge unbelief in the unsaved and thereby hopefully bring them one step closer to a saving faith in Jesus.

[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), loc. 153, Kindle.

[2] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academics, 2011), 14,19, & 21.

[3]  Groothuis,  loc. 199, Kindle.


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