What is Christian Apologetics?

Apologetics is Like Soccer

I’m Still Not Sorry

Many years ago, while I was in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University, my wife and I attended a family gathering in Northern California.

While we were there, one of my wife’s aunts heard I was in grad school and she asked me, “What are you getting your degree in?”

I said, “Apologetics.”

She replied with a chuckle, “I’m SO sorry!”

“It’s not really that bad,” I said, looking kind of confused.

In 2003, I did earn my M.A. in Christian Apologetics—and I’m still not sorry about that! But today, I still get a few odd responses at family gatherings when this comes up. Even in my ministry, Christians who come to my live apologetics workshops at area churches ask me, “Why does it sound like apologizing?”

I get it. This entire discipline has a totally weird name.

Sometimes, it’s good to revisit the basics. In this post, I’ll explain what Christian apologetics is, two general kinds of apologetics and what I like to call “the three essential elements of everyday apologetics.” So what is Christian apologetics anyway?

What is Apologetics?

An “apologetic” just means a defense. Peter commanded Christians to be ready with answers when people ask about the faith. In 1 Peter 3:15, the word translated as “answer” (in the NIV) is the Greek word, apologia. And that’s why the word apologetics kind of sounds like apologizing.

But it’s actually more like what a lawyer does when he or she presents an opening statement or argues a case. As I like to say, obeying this command just means you’ve got reasons for what you believe and you’re ready to talk with anyone who’s got questions.

It doesn’t mean getting all flustered or defensive.

It doesn’t mean being a jerk or getting into fights.

It means speaking the truth in love as we represent our Lord in everyday life.

Does Apologetics Really Help Anyone?

Interestingly, Apologetics can help both believers and unbelievers, too. For Christians, apologetics can help us confirm that the faith is true. But the Holy Spirit can also use apologetics to help unbelievers discover that Christianity is true.

William Lane Craig defined it this way in one of my favorite books, Reasonable Faith:

“Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith.”

Two Kinds of Apologetics

Think about it like soccer. You’ve got your forwards and you’ve got your defenders. Forwards can help you remember something called “positive apologetics.” This is where we build a positive case for Christianity by giving someone good reasons to believe God exists, Jesus rose from the dead, etc…

Defenders can help you remember the flip side: “Negative apologetics.” This is where we respond to challenges—where we deal with objections to belief in God and refute arguments against the truth of Christianity. Just like in soccer, these positions can work together.

Norman Geisler put it like this in To Everyone An Answer:

“Apologetics is simply to defend the faith, and thereby destroy arguments and every proud obstacle against the knowledge of God. It is opening the door, clearing the rubble, and getting rid of the hurdles so that people can come to Christ.”

The Three Essential Elements

I like to say that there are three essential elements of everyday apologetics:

  1. Understanding the answers to tough questions about Christianity
  2. Giving good answers to those who ask tough questions about Christianity
  3. Being a wise ambassador of Jesus Part of this last point is being a good listener.

But it also includes making our answers memorable. That’s one reason I’m a big fan of using stories, objects and illustrations to explain the faith. It helps make ideas that have to do with apologeitcs easier to understand and easier to remember. Being a wise ambassador–speaking the truth in love–is part of loving God and loving others.

So a quick way to understand apologetics is “defending the faith.” Whether your building a positive case for the Christian faith or defending against common objections, keep in mind “the three essential elements of everyday apologetics.” Listen. Share. Love.

This article is adapted from What Is Apologetics? Copyright © 2012 by Mikel Del Rosario. All Rights Reserved.

mikel@apologetics.com

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