By Chaseton Hahn / 8-minute read.
Christians that I have engaged with have often either never heard of, or have a misunderstanding of the discipline of apologetics. For many, the term even carries a derogatory connotation. What must be shown is that apologetics is a necessary practice that all Christians should have within their evangelistic arsenal. In this article we will look at evangelistic apologetics in a nutshell, based on three biblical principles.
What Is Apologetics And What Is It For?
The word “apologetics” is derived from the Greek apologia, which appears only 8 times in the New Testament (Acts 22:1, 25:26; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:15). Apologia literally means “a reasoned defense or argument.” Apologetics should be understood as a sort of legal verbiage – picture a lawyer giving a defense before a judge in a courtroom. Therefore, to participate in apologetics is to give a rational defense of the Christian worldview.
A mistake that is frequently made is the assumption that apologetics is reserved for debate settings – not so! The purpose of apologetics is not simply winning arguments. Instead, apologetics should be seen as a helpful tool for answering the objections that skeptics may have against Christianity, but with the ultimate intent of leading them to believe the Gospel.
Principles of Evangelistic Apologetics
The Scriptures contains the essential instructions for the Christian to properly exercise his faith in an expression that is consistent with the manner of Christlike behavior (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This is true as well for how one should engage in an apologetic conversation that is compelling and God-honoring.
Answering the skeptic requires the patience and love of Christ along with the confident delivery of the relevant information – the former qualities being sorely forgotten by many of those who participate in apologetics.
Again, the purpose of all this is not to win an argument or crush the opponent – the aim is to point the lost to Christ.
Apologetics with Peter
Peter the Apostle wrote the first epistle that bears his name, for the purpose of encouraging believers who were facing intense persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6). Peter calls Christians to rejoice in their suffering because of the great inheritance of eternal life that awaits them, even in the midst of great trials that are being used to test and refine their faith in Christ (1:4-9). In the third chapter Peter explains the importance of maintaining a holy composure even when reviled for one’s faith (3:9). It is here in chapter three that is contained what many consider the heart-cry of Christian apologetics:
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Let us examine the three important principles of apologetics that Peter reveals.
1. Honor Christ the Lord as holy.
Peter, who is (specifically in the context of suffering) borrowing language from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 29:23), makes clear that at the point of contact with unbelievers, we must maintain the supremacy and holiness of Christ. The foundation of our faith is Christ (Is. 28:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:6; Eph. 2:20), his greatness being worthy of our constant reverence and being the driving force behind our interactions with the world. Our apologetic framework is to be rooted deeply in our theology and knowledge of the person of Christ.
How is this attitude toward Christ attained? By the constant study and meditating upon the Word of God – which cultivates our affections and renews our minds to the ways of Christ (Rom. 12:2). The esteeming of Christ is the motor by which the vehicle of apologetics must intimately conjoined, as will be addressed below.
2. Always be prepared to make a defense.
In our response to the holiness and wonders of Christ, it is from here that the apologist may properly “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you….”
Being prepared to testify about the doctrines of Christ requires that the believer dwell upon the Scriptures, the source of our intimacy with God. The purpose of verse 15 is not so much about preparing intellectually for the interaction, but to be prepared spiritually.
When dealing with those who do not believe (especially those who persecute us), we must allow the beauty of Christ and our attitude toward him to remain central in order to determine our attitude toward one whose demands may be especially scornful of our faith. The hope we have is Christ, the Holy One of God, who humbled himself to become a servant so that our sins may be forgiven through his death and resurrection (Phil. 2:4-11). Capture this image of Christ and allow this to maintain the proper focus of your apologetic. Indeed, this leads to the third point…
3. Be gentle.
Anytime we are presented with the opportunity to share the Gospel with others, it is imperative to preserve a level of respect and gentleness for the one we are communicating with. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
To be gentle with others does not mean to be fragile or weak ourselves. Instead, the act in gentleness is to restrain from harshness in exchange for humility, love, and kindness – even if the person is exhibiting hostility toward us.
Christ, being God, had every opportunity and right to deal severely with us in our disobedient and unregenerate state. Thankfully, God who is rich in mercy, was patient with us in our rebellion and loved us despite our sinfulness and depravity, restoring us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:4-10).
This does not mean we are not to share truth with confidence (and the message of the Gospel much of the time results in aggressive opposition), but we are to share the truth with the disposition of Christ, with a desire to heal with the good news of the Gospel. If we act in accordance with the gentleness of Christ, we can have a good conscience (v. 16), no matter the result of the conversation.
Apologetics (apologia) is the reasoned defense of the Christian worldview. Many of us are presented with many occasions on which we can share the Gospel with others. Unfortunately, apologetics is greatly misunderstood because of its frequent abuse. If you are active on social media, it is not uncommon that you will come across a well-meaning Christian who is discussing his faith with a skeptic. More times than not, I notice, even though the Christian is presenting good argumentation for the truthfulness of Christianity, they do not appear to be offering the arguments with the correct intentions. They are more interested in winning an argument than winning the soul of someone who is lost.
Apologetics is far more than defeating our opponents – it is to be an instrument of evangelism for the sake of the Gospel. We should hold close the words of Peter, remembering we are dealing with real, flesh and blood bearers of the Imago Dei. We should approach apologetics as a means to reach the lost, holding Christ in the highest regard. This will allow us to deliver the truth of the Gospel with gentleness and kindness that God showed us, when we too were lost.
Chaseton Hahn is a public servant and a seminarian at Liberty University, studying to complete an M.Div in Christian Apologetics.