Courage for life Blog

What is Apologetics?

April 11, 2023

In July 2016, a double Jeopardy question worth $2,000 stumped all three contestants. Here was the answer:

“It’s not saying you’re sorry, it’s the branch of theology dealing with the defense of established doctrine.”

One contestant said, “What is an apology?” and another said, “What is apologism?” The third contestant didn’t even dare hit her buzzer, even though one of the other contestants leaned over and looked directly at her as if to say, “Come on, you know this!”

The correct question was, “What is apologetics?”

What is apologetics?

According to Jeopardy, apologetics is “the branch of theology dealing with the defense of established doctrine.” However, the definition I most like for apologetics is a reasoned defense for the truth claims of Christianity. Christianity makes a lot of claims about truth. Jesus said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

From a Christian perspective, truth is objective and absolute. It is rooted in the character of God, the ultimate source of all truth. God’s revelation of Himself and His will is the standard of truth for all humanity. God’s revelation of Himself is primarily found in the Bible, the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

However, our human understanding of truth is limited and imperfect because all humans are limited and imperfect. We are subject to sin, which can distort our perceptions of truth and lead us away from God, which is why we need to have a reasoned defense for those truth claims. Not just saying we believe something because it’s “what we are supposed to do” but understanding what we believe and why we believe it. We should seek truth with humility, recognizing our limitations and relying on the authority of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern truth from falsehood.

Is apologetics biblical?

The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning “defense.” The word apologia appears eight times in the New Testament, with three verses specifically using apologia to speak of a reasoned defense of the gospel. Two of these verses are found in Philippians.

Philippians is a letter that Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi. At the beginning of his letter, he extends his gratitude to the believers for their partnership and support of his ministry. He writes,

“So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News” (Philippians 1:7).

Paul then writes about the advancement of the gospel and his current situation. Even though he was in prison, he kept his ministry strong.

“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News” (Philippians 1:12-16).

Defending and confirming the gospel characterized Paul’s ministry. But what did that practically look like? We find an answer in Acts 17:16-33. In this passage, Paul was in Athens, the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world. While waiting for his companions, he was deeply troubled by the many idols he saw throughout the city. Paul went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles. He also spoke daily in the public square to anyone who would listen.

While in Athens, Paul encountered some philosophers who engaged him in debate. When he told them about Jesus and His resurrection, some were skeptical, but others expressed interest. They took him to the high council of the city, where Paul spoke about the one true God, who created the world and everything in it. He urged them to turn away from their idolatry and repent of their sins, and he shared about the coming judgment and the need for salvation.

Some in Athens mocked Paul when he spoke about the resurrection of the dead, but others were intrigued and wanted to hear more. In the end, some became believers, including Dionysius and a woman named Damaris.

This passage is a powerful example of Paul’s mastery of apologetics. He engaged with people from different backgrounds and cultures. He shared with them in terms they could understand and related the message of the gospel to their own experiences and beliefs.

Did you know you can do this same thing today? You can provide a reasoned defense for the truth claims of Christianity to those around you. Here are a few ways how:

Meet people where they are.

Paul didn’t shy away from engaging with the people of Athens, even though their beliefs and customs differed from his own. He went to the synagogue, the public square, and even the high council of the city to share the message of the gospel. We can learn from Paul’s example by being willing to engage with people where they are, whether in a church, a coffee shop, or a community gathering.

Use cultural and intellectual context.

Paul was well-versed in the culture and philosophy of the ancient world, and he used that knowledge to connect with the people. He referenced the Athenians’ altars, statues, poets, and philosophers in his conversations. In the same way, we can use the cultural and intellectual context of our day to communicate the message of the gospel to others.

Be clear and compelling.

Paul didn’t shy away from proclaiming the truth of the gospel, even when it was unpopular or met with skepticism. He spoke with clarity and conviction to persuade his listeners. We should also be clear and compelling when we share, using reasoned defenses and personal stories and relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to share how they can follow God.

Be ready for opposition.

Paul faced opposition and ridicule from some of those in Athens, but he didn’t let that discourage him. Instead, he continued proclaiming the truth, knowing God was with him. When facing opposition, we should be ready for opposition and persecution when we share our faith and trust in God’s strength and guidance.

Trust in the power of God.

Ultimately, Paul’s approach to apologetics in Athens was rooted in his trust in the power of God to transform lives. He knew that it was not his eloquence or persuasive arguments that would convince others but the power of the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. We must also trust in the power of God to work through us and rely on prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit as we share with others.

Apologetics is giving a reasoned defense for the truth claims of Christianity. We can practice apologetics by meeting people where they are and using the cultural and intellectual context around us. We should be clear and compelling when sharing and always ready for opposition. Most importantly, we should trust in the power of God as we seek to share Him with others.

Watch the LIVE REPLAY to hear more about apologetics and how we can give a reasoned defense for the truth claims of Christianity. Join us LIVE every Monday at 3 p.m. ET on @GodGivesCourage Instagram for our Spiritual Growth Series and check back here on Tuesdays for the companion blog post.

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