Apologetics Is Not Saying You’re Sorry

As a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, I (Sean) help prepare students to answer tough questions raised against the Christian faith. One day someone from outside the Biola academic community called our university to ask why we offer classes on apologizing for the faith. She thought apologetics meant teaching students to say they were sorry for their beliefs! While her question was well intentioned, she didn’t grasp the nature of apologetics and its role in the Christian life. Christians certainly should apologize for their faith, but not in the way she had in mind.

Apologize…for What?

The word apologetics does not mean to say you’re sorry. Instead, it refers to the defense of what you believe to be true. This is exactly what my father and I do in the updated and revised Evidence that Demands a Verdict. We lay out the historical evidence for the Bible, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and more.

Theologian Clark Pinnock explains the nature of apologetics in this way:

The term derives from a Greek term, apologia, and was used for a defense that a person like Socrates might make of his views and actions. The apostle Peter tells every Christian to be ready to give a reason (apologia) for this hope that is in him (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics, then, is an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms.[1]

New Testament Examples of Apologetics

The New Testament uses the Greek Word apologia, often translated in English as “defense,” eight times in the New Testament. Consider three examples:

  • Acts 22:1: “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
  • Philippians 1:7: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
  • 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, as always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet you do it with gentleness and respect.”

First Peter 3:15 uses the word defense in a way that denotes the kind of defense one would make to a legal inquiry, asking, “Why are you a Christian?” A believer ought to give an adequate answer to this question. The command to be ready with an answer is directed toward every follower of Jesus—not just pastors, teachers, and leaders.

In other words, every Christian is an apologist. All believers are called to proclaim and defend Christianity. Simply put, although we are not called to say sorry for our beliefs, we are called to “apologize” for them.

Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a biblical worldview. Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps him have exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors and parents alike. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times. Sean is the author, co-author or editor of over 18 books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015); A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016); The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour, 2016); Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014); Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow; and Understanding Intelligent Design, with William A. Dembski. Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the general editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. In April 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano. Sean played college basketball at Biola and was captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

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