Apologetics. What a strange word. What a strange topic to study, right? Well, yes to the first, no to the second. Apologetics — the discipline of learning and sharing reasons for confidence in Jesus Christ — has been at the heart of biblical Christianity from the beginning. Jesus did it. Paul did. The writer to the Hebrews used apologetics. John did, too, in his Gospel and his first letter. We don’t seem to see it practiced much in 21st century Western Christianity, though. Why is that?
But I’m only a couple paragraphs into this workbook, and already I’m getting ahead of myself. I mentioned what a strange word “apologetics” is, and it really does deserve an explanation. It’s from the Greek word apologia in 1 Peter 3:15, which tells us to be ready to give an answer (apologia) to those who ask us for the reason for the hope within us. It’s also sometimes translated “defense,” as in the case someone presents in court to establish their cause is right.
Almost all “apologists” — people who devote serious vocational or avocational energy to apologetics — wish there were another word for it. J. Warner Wallace like to call it Christian case-making. He’s a former detective, so that’s familiar language in his world. And it’s also a better word for it in almost every way, except it’s less often used. So I’ll stick with the familiar/unfamiliar one, the older one, apologetics, for this course.
As I said, though, it’s seldom preached, and not very often taught in Christian churches — although there are signs that this is changing. More on that later. It’s unfortunate that it’s had so little attention lately. I attribute that to several reasons.
Head vs. Heart?
Apologetics has a reputation for heady, intellectual argument that leaves the heart out in the cold. It certainly can be that way, but just because a discipline can be misused doesn’t mean it can’t be properly used.
A Strange Specialty?
It seems like a strange specialty hobby. One apologist friend of mine says it’s the province of “apologetics weenies,” which says something further about the kind of people who tend to be interested in it. Granted, it tends to draw more intellectually-oriented people, ones who are less people-oriented and more inclined toward ideas. This is just another face of the gifts of the Spirit in action, though. Every gift, from evangelism to administration to service ministries, tends to go with certain personalities. This is by God’s intent. Now, not every person needs to become an “apologetics weenie,” any more than every Christian should devote great hours to preaching or to practicing mercy. God intends us to major in our best gifts. But he doesn’t intend us to ignore the others. Who would say, “I need never give anything to the church because giving isn’t ‘my gift’”?
It’s a Challenge
Apologetics is difficult. It requires study. Learning. Homework. Some of us find that hard to get motivated for. But I’ve got a secret: Some of us find it hard to get motivated for giving, mercy, and helps. These ministries can be very demanding. But to some extent we’re all called to invest real energy in them. And because apologetics is a command (1 Peter 3:15), we’re all called to know at least something about it — at least enough to answer basic questions.
There’s So Much There
Apologetics can seem endless. There’s too much to learn, too much to know, too much to study. Who has time for all that? Speaking as an apologist myself, all I can say is I hear you. I have a “guilt shelf” of books I know I should read but will probably never have time for. But that’s okay. We don’t need to know it all. I’d say it’s perfectly fine to settle for a basic level of knowledge whereby you can say, “I know there’s an answer to that question, and I know where to go look for it and find it.”
“You can’t argue people into the kingdom.” True. You can’t even love people into the kingdom. It takes the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit to regenerate a non-believer. But the command still stands. And apologetics has other purposes anyway, including gentle persuasion, displaying the reasonableness of Christianity, helping people know they can bring their brains along with them into the faith, and keeping Christians — or Christians’ kids — from falling prey to lies that say Christianity is “irrational” or “there’s no evidence for the faith.”
“ Apologetics has no place in our post-modern, post-Christian world.” We’ve moved past logically established objective truth and into pluralism and relativism. There is no one truth anyway, is there? How could there be, given all the differing opinions, and all the world’s religions? Isn’t it arrogant even to try to claim we’ve got something like the one truth that’s more true than the rest? The answer to that question will fill the rest of this first session.