We’ve been blessed in the 21st century to have accomplished Christian apologists like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler and others defend the Christian faith against skeptics. In doing so, they’ve won many people to Christ and personally edified others like myself.
Looking at the history of Christian apologetics, I always thought it odd that no one ever undertook any in-depth research to publish a book on how God’s top evangelist outside of Christ Himself – the Apostle Paul – used apologetics to evangelize people.
So, I wrote one.
There have been many works written on the different types of Christian apologetics systems along with books like the one written by Geisler (one of my seminary professors), on the apologetics of Jesus. But a master’s thesis by Bruce Little focused only on Acts, a short work by William Dennison, and some general books and brief articles on Paul’s apologetics have been all that’s existed until now.
And just what is Paul’s apologetic approach? Let me give you the skinny on what I found.
Paul’s apologetics in a nutshell
It jumped out at me from a hotel Gideons Bible.
I was on one of my many business trips and was doing a quick morning Bible read before the day got started. I flipped to 1 Thessalonians and got started.
In chapter 1, Paul speaks to the church there and makes a statement about the Gospel that he brought to them during his missionary visit: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:5).
That verse struck a nerve with me and brought to my mind something similar the Apostle said to the Corinthians: “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: … by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God” (2 Cor. 6:1-4, 6-7).
When we examine Paul’s statements, we find the Apostle partitions his apologetics approach and gospel he delivered at Thessalonica and elsewhere into three components.
First, he says the gospel did not come to them “in word only”. This statement indicates the obvious, which is that Paul’s gospel contained an evangelistic message, however, he adds the word “only” to show that it contained more than just preaching.
Paul then moves on to a multi-faceted description of his second element: “but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”.
At first blush, it’s tempting to split this fragment up into three parts from the nouns that are present: “power”, “the Holy Spirit”, and “full conviction”. But, it’s important to note that the grammatical construction of the verse has both “power” and “conviction” referring to the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Spirit is the One who is active in the apologist and performs His convicting and convincing task of evangelism through the message in the hearts of His listeners.
The third and final component that Paul adds in 1 Thess. 1:5 is: “just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake”. This shift adds an important human element to the Apostle’s apologetics.
The Thessalonians had first hand personal knowledge of Paul and his fellow missionaries, knew the character of Paul and his companions well, and had a positive impression of them, which obviously played an instrumental part in their conversion to Christianity. Paul plainly walked his talk with the Thessalonians with his human gospel life being lived “for your sake”, meaning it was done as part of Paul’s overall approach of winning the lost to Christ.
So, in a nutshell, when Paul refers to his apologetics method and “our gospel”, he refers to an evangelistic message, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and a transformed life that existentially represented what he was preaching.
I call Paul’s approach, three witness apologetics.
There’s obviously much more depth to Paul’s apologetics that you’ll find in my new book, which uncovers how Paul went about his work, what his message focused on, and how his methods can be applied to the top challenges facing Christianity today.
If you want to deepen your own faith, get a crystal-clear understanding of why Christianity is true, confidently engage non-Christians using the approach of Paul, and easily overcome the distractions, emotional obstacles, and bad philosophies that keep people from Jesus, then I believe you’ll find my book, A Confident Faith: Winning People to Christ with the Apologetics of the Apostle Paul, helpful.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.