Defending the Gospel
Have you ever asked yourself if apologetics is important? In a broad sense, apologetics is a discipline that involves the defense of any philosophical position. Christians engage in apologetics when attempting to defend any aspect of core Christian beliefs. Douglas Groothius defines Christian apologetics as “the rational defense of the Christian worldview as objectively true, rationally compelling and existentially or subjectively engaging.” As long as people exist who dispute or doubt the truth claims of the Bible, there will be a need to engage in apologetics.
Biblical Basis for Apologetics
The Apostle Peter presents the need for apologetics, but also the spirit for apologetics in the realm of Christianity when he writes: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15). The need for apologetics is seen in the statement to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you;” while the spirit for apologetics is “with meekness and fear.” As James Beilby observes, “The attitude with which you engage questions can itself either be a powerful apologetic for Christianity or a powerful deterrent.” All Christians should equip themselves with the tools and the humility needed to successfully defend the core beliefs of the Christian faith.
To Whom and Why?
The question then is “with whom do we engage in apologetics and why?”. The “why” depends on the “whom.” Regarding the audience of apologetics, one can divide Christian apologetics into the categories of internal and external. Beilby distinguishes between internal and external apologetics by stating that internal apologetics are “apologetic conversations with other Christians,” whereas external apologetics involve “engaging in an apologetic conversation with skeptics or agnostics, those outside of or external to Christianity.”
The purpose of engaging in internal apologetics should be to strengthen based on truth, not to divide based on preference. When Paul and Barnabas were making the return trip to the church in Antioch from their first missionary journey, Luke states that they engaged in “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith.” Although the gospel writer does not specifically use the Greek term apologia in this instance, the concept of defending the truth of Christianity by strengthening the disciples of Christ is the essence of internal apologetics.
On the other hand, when the audience of apologetics is non-Christian, the ultimate goal is to remove obstacles to rationality and lead the skeptic toward a conversion to Christ. That does not mean that the apologist will always be involved in a purely evangelistic conversation. Groothius observes that, “apologetics can be used to remove or diminish intellectual obstacles that hinder people from embracing Christ as Lord; thus it serves as pre-evangelism.”
A Biblical example of external apologetics is found in Acts 17:16-34, where the Apostle Paul engaged with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers to communicate and defend the Christian worldview. Whether or not conversion takes place, the Christian apologist should present logical and coherent arguments that support the truth claims of the Bible in order to help move the conversation forward. Beilby sums it up by saying that “apologetic success is best understood as faithfulness to Jesus Christ,” whether the end goal is to strengthen believers or to convince skeptics.
Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. Wordsearch Bible.
Groothius, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. Wordsearch Bible.
Matt Goins is a missionary church-planter living in El Progreso, Honduras with his wife and three sons. He administrates a multi-faceted ministry centered around the local church, but with strategic partnerships for childrens ministry and medical outreach as well. His passion is teaching in the local Bible institute training future laborers for Christ.