Updated: 9/19/2017 | Photo Cred: (1)
In recent years, there has been a rise in the claim that apologetics is no longer necessary in Christianity. Well, I disagree with that notion and here’s why: apologetics is a quintessential aspect to the life of every Christian. It is the shield, so to speak, that the believer stands behind and gives a defense of the faith from, with, and through. There is a reason that when Paul the Apostle mentions the armor of God (2), he refers to the shield, as a shield of faith. And that is exactly what apologetics is in the tool belt of the believer: a shield. As Professor John Lennox of Oxford University said in a dialogue with Richard Dawkins, “My faith is a faith of evidence.”
In another lecture he quipped that “Faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence.” Put succinctly, the Judeo-Christian faith is on the higher ground right from the get go compared to every other belief system in world history. Apologetics is merely quintessential to the Christian faith because it a) reveals this higher ground and b) shows you how to defend this higher ground from all who look to capture the flag of victorious truth that rests on Calvary hill. Like the author of the book of Hebrews put it, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (3).”
The word apologetics is derived from the combination of the word ‘apologetic’ meaning to give “a formal defense” in Middle French and the suffix ‘ics’ for “nouns that denote a body of facts, knowledge, principles, etc.” (4). But to be more specific, apologetics is the “the branch of Christianity that deals with the defense and establishment of the Christian faith” (5). With all of this in mind, here are 3 reasons why apologetics is necessary for every Christian.
1) Apologetics Is Pre-Evangelism
Have you ever seen a medieval knight charge into battle against an opposing force? Put more bluntly, if an opposing knight is charging towards you with their sword preparing to strike you down, how would you counter their attack? With your sword or with your shield? The obvious answer should be to deflect the sword with the shield and then proceed with your own sword to strike back.
This analogy is the relationship of apologetics and evangelism in a nutshell: apologetics is the shield and evangelism is the sword of Judeo-Christianity. But the problem with those who misuse apologetics is twofold: they either use the sword (evangelism) first or they just use the shield (apologetics) without using the sword (evangelism). Let me explain the problem with both of these tactics.
Let’s start with the first tactic: using the sword first. Now at first glance, going out to preach the gospel seems simple enough. I mean who really needs apologetics, right? Plenty can get done with just a sword! Well, let’s set the spiritual battleground with a simple story.
You’re on a train going to the big game tonight. There are hundreds of people on the train wearing their team’s jersey and excitingly talking about the game. Now you being a believer, overhear a heated conversation between a New Atheist and a devout Hindu who just so happen to be in the same section as you on the train.
The two are discussing the idea of God and whether or not belief in God, or as the Hindu would argue, many gods makes logical sense. In fact, there are about 330 million gods according to the devout Hindu. So you being an active believer, burdened with the work of the ministry, jump politely into the conversation in order to win them to the faith (6).
At first everything seems fine. You’ve prayed beforehand, you’re well versed in the Scriptures, and you’re humbly listening before engaging in the conversation. Hearing what the discussion is about before you present your worldview. Then it happens: your turn to speak. So you being a cheerful giver, give them the gospel, but there’s one problem. Neither see the need for the gospel. Now what do you do?
Well, you stumble a little over your words and begin to reiterate how much God loves them and has this wonderful plan for their life! How much Jesus loves them! Neither seem the least bit interested, laugh at your little love speech about a Middle Eastern man, and continue with their conversation without you.
Now what? You then in a fury, spew Bible verse after Bible verse of how Jesus is God! Yes, this must work! Nothing. Absolute zero attention is paid to your poetic spewing. So you, in utter defeat, walk away embarrassed and mad. What happened? Let me explain.
You see, using the knight analogy, you kept using your sword when you should have been using your shield. As a matter of fact, you were using your sword as both the shield and the sword, causing you to be spiritually exhausted because you had only offense as an option. No time to counter correctly or to pause on an important point like the existence of God, which was the original conversation the two were having in the first place. Remember, the New Atheist doesn’t believe in God and the devout Hindu believes in many gods, so without addressing that topic you have no firm footing in this fight.
Now let’s try a different option, using only the shield. So the same scenario, but you are an apologetics nut. You know every argument, every counter-argument, and every rebuttal. So you boldly go into the discussion without any fear because you know how to defend the faith. And after a little back and forth you finally convince both the New Atheist and the devout Hindu that there is only one God. But now you come across your first hurdle. Why does that matter?
Sure, they now believe in a single God, but where do you go from here? What was the point of proving that there was a God in the first place? So then the conversation quickly dies off and goes back to simple things like the big game tonight. What did you do? How did this happen? You knew everything! Or so you thought. Let’s go back to the knight analogy.
You’re going to war, but you decide to only take your shield and leave your sword behind. Do you see the problem? By only taking the shield, you can only survive the war intact, instead of ending the war intact. You can only deflect opposition without ending opposition. Eventually you’ll be too tired from blocking the opposing knight’s attacks that they will kill you by simply fighting until you are exhausted. Or in the case of the train story, you’ll eventually just go back to simpler things because you knew no way out.
How sad is this? That you can disarm your opponent, but cannot finish them? Yet that is the reality of those who only use apologetics in outreaches or ministry. They deflect the accusations of the mind, without getting to the heart of the issue. And the other tactic of just using the sword to cut to the heart of the issue without addressing the logical issues of the mind is also unuseful. Both are foolish ways to enter the spiritual battleground because a true knight of God is well equipped with a shield and a sword.
Now let’s see what happens when you bring both your shield and sword to the battle. Again, same scenario, but this time you’re prepared in all aspects that matter: spiritually, mentally, etc. First you use the shield, deflecting every fiery arrow with logical and truthful answers. It works and neither the New Atheist nor the devout Hindu has a shield anymore.
Now is the time to strike with the double edged sword. Their mind is ready, but the heart is not. This is the time to finish their seeds of doubt by driving the sword of spiritual truth through them. So you being a faithful steward, drive the point home with the sword of evangelism. The end result? Two new believers in Christ. Well, in this train story at least.
There will be times when people do not come to faith in Jesus. Not because you didn’t do your part in sharing the truth, but they didn’t do their part in accepting the truth. Your job as a believer is to share the truth with others, but how they react to the message is not up to you. That’s up to them and God from that point on. How exactly did this work? Because the tools at your disposal were used properly for what they were designed to do: reach the lost by sharing what has been found in Christ.
Although I use very blunt analogies with knights to describe the relationship between apologetics and evangelism, that does not mean that you should be mean or rude towards whoever you’re reaching out too. Far from it! I am speaking in spiritual terms when I speak of the war terminology and this shouldn’t actually spill over into actual witnessing. Just something to keep in mind to help with witnessing. Understanding that you’re in a spiritual war, not a physical or verbal war with the lost that you’re reaching.
Remember, these are tools that the believer should use together when at an outreach, but they do not always have to use them together. There will be times where simple evangelism will bring someone to the cross or vice versa with apologetics. The reason I argue that they should be used together is because most of the time people have a spiritual wall that is blocking them from a relationship with Jesus. So the walls need to come down before the real evangelism can work.
But the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, so don’t take this as factual, but more as suggested when outreaching to the world. Then again this approach can be seen used by Jesus (7), Paul the Apostle (8), Stephen (9), Peter (10), and so on. Usually this is a combination of apologetics and evangelism, not a simple one-two punch when outreaching. More of a back and forth dynamic when talking to others with civility and respect.
But without love, none of this information matters. You’ll be nothing but sounding brass speaking to the lost, yet not reaching the lost (11). As Ravi Zacharias once said, “Love is the greatest apologetic. It is the essential component in reaching the whole person in a fragmented world.” In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is quoted saying “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (12). “
You have to have a loving heart for the lost in order to be effective for the work of the ministry. It is the single greatest aspect in the life of the Christian. Just as Jesus did, you too have to have a heart for the harvest (13). So to put it sufficiently, apologetics is pre-evangelism and only works when done in love. Come back next time for Part 2 of this series, which delves into my second point: how apologetics saved the church from heresy. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!