Christian apologetic materials have become more and more accessible through various podcasts, and platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. This is a blessing for the Church because these materials can be used to strengthen a believer’s faith and give her confidence to share the gospel with her neighbor or colleague. While specific apologetic materials are common, overarching definitions are less so. In this short article I will introduce a common description of apologetics and offer a good reason for dedicating some time to studying it.
Many Christians know the work of William Lane Craig. He is a philosopher and theologian who is known for his public defense of the Christian faith through debate style interactions with unbelievers. As a scholar he has published on a number of topics, and his Christian apologetics textbook, Reasonable Faith, has become the standard in academics. In the book, Craig explains that apologetics is a theorical discipline, conducted to defend the great truths of the Christian faith.
On this definition, Christian apologetics is a scholarly task meant to answer critics. For example, when Charles Darwin proposed his theory of natural selection, some scientists thought that Darwinism had replaced the need for a personal Creator. Such claims drew the attention of Christians who crafted a defense (ἀπολογια/apologia), and for good reason.
Claims such as the idea that natural selection has replaced the need for a creator will often catch people’s attention because they deal with the ultimate questions of human existence, including, how did we get here? And for what purpose? While many Christians might simply dismiss such claims, lay unbelievers can easily be persuaded because they might lack both a relational experience of a loving God, and an understanding of the coherence of Christianity.
Of course, lacking a relational experience with God does not imply that God does not offer His love to unbelievers, indeed, He certainly does. The apostle Paul preaches that God is not far from any one of us, and wishes only that we might seek after Him (Acts 17). And it is not as though He leaves us without evidence. Paul writes that God has made himself known through creation (Romans 1), and Jesus himself says that God sends his Holy Spirit to convict the world (John 16). We even find a beautiful passage in Timothy, where God explicitly states that He desires for all humankind to be saved (1 Timothy 2).
Still, there is something unique about the human heart, and its susceptibility to wickedness. David writes that humans are born sinful (Psalm 51), and theologians such as Augustine suggest that this sin can be explained by the abuse of human free will. God not only created us to be in a relationship with Him, He also created us free, and this implies that God’s love can be rejected. All of this means that the unbeliever not only has an opportunity to know God, but that God also desires to know her. The problem is that the strength of sin gets in the way.
As believers we experience the joy of the Holy Spirit in our lives, or recognize God’s providential hand in our affairs, or have been moved in our spirit by the truths of Scripture, and these experiences can develop a deep bond between us and our Creator. For many Christians, no scientific discovery or philosophic insight could cause them to reject these experiences. But for unbelievers, there might be no personal connection with God at all, and no place for their intellect, or their hearts to rest.
And that is why Christian apologists have been stepping in for about two thousand years. Sometimes we think apologetics is a modern phenomenon, but Christians have been challenging conceptual issues lobbed against the truth of our faith since the start (Dulles, AHistory of Apologetics, 1971). Men like Justin Martyr (d. 165), Clement (d. 215), and his student Origen (d. 253), and others such as Augustine (d. 430), Anselm (d. 1109) and Aquinas (d. 1274), not only defended the gospel against heresies, but they also winsomely presented it as a coherent worldview which explains reality.
These figures did not come at Christianity as skeptical observers, but as people of faith, who desired to answer their contemporary critics, and in so doing, offer Christianity as a beautifully coherent way of explaining life’s ultimate questions. They did this conceptual work, not primarily as an academic adventure (although it can be one), or for the sake of winning an argument (even while silencing many), but because they understood the grace of God that is revealed through the cross of Jesus Christ, and desired to share that grace with others.
And that same grace extends to us, because while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, and God sends prophets, and pastors, and elders and teachers to tell us this unspeakably good news, even in the face of our sin, and intellectual doubts. In turn, he commands us to extend that same grace to our neighbors, and colleagues, and friends, so that they too might share in the goodness of God’s grace.
And this is why Christians do well to become familiar with Christian apologetics. It can not only strengthen the believer’s faith when she learns just how robust Christianity is from an intellectual perspective, but it also gives her the confidence and resources to share the grace of Christianity with others. While it may only be the calling of a very few to defend the faith from a conceptual level, all of us can participate on a practical level, by becoming better equipped to present the gospel. In this way, believers can extend grace to their neighbor, and help bring more and more people from the darkness, and into God’s bountiful fold.
Jeff Morris has a graduate diploma in theology from Tyndale University, and will graduate with his Masters of Theological Studies by the end of the Summer.