Christian apologetics has become rather a booming market. And almost like a separate entity of sorts, with a life and boundaries of its own. Thus the shelves of our homes and bookstores, and the storage space of our devices, are increasing stocked with resources specifically labelled ‘apologetics’. Generating this literature and training is a steady rise of experts in apologetics—both broadly and within niche areas.
There are potential dangers when it comes to the shape of some apologetics.
Thank God for much evidence of his grace and work! For instance, I’ve benefited immensely from resources aimed at reaching people of other religions. But while we have much to give thanks for—and I really am grateful—there is also significant potential and actual dangers to keep in mind when it comes to the shape and direction of some apologetics.
The Proper Context Of Christian Apologetics
In this series of articles I’ll highlight three major dangers I have in mind. But I’ll situate each of them under a linked main point: placing Christian apologetics in their proper Christian context. Within this broader point, the three articles will focus on:
- The location of healthy Christian apologetics, as part of discipleship through the news of Jesus.
- The content of prayerful Christian apologetics, taking us to Jesus from the Scriptures.
- The tone of godly Christian apologetics, ‘with gentleness and respect’.
In each I also mention what I see as the take aways for how we consider and faithfully use Christian apologetics under the work of our Triune God. So let’s begin with the location of Christian apologetics and what I mean by that.
Apologetics Is Part Of Discipleship
God uses the news of Jesus from the scriptures to both save and mature us. It’s hard to oversell the importance of the Jesus-news. As this message is spoken by us and others, God’s Spirit powerfully and persistently moves people from spiritual death to life, and from spiritual immaturity to maturity. In other words, the proclaimed news of Jesus is used by God to both save and mature us.
And note here: the one message does both things! It’s a significant mistake to think we need the gospel to become Christians, but afterwards we move on to something else. Instead, as we start is how we continue.
God uses the good news of Jesus in the scriptures to both save and mature us.
Paul puts it like this: “So then, just as you have received Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:6-7, CSB both here and for all other references).
“Jesus as Lord” is an excellent summary of both Jesus’ identity and so, the content of God’s good news (Romans 1:4). Paul says, just as you received Jesus as Lord—that’s the news you first heard—continue and grow up in that. Or more specifically, him. And with all the Spirit inspired scriptures being about Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44), the Father has given us ample room to grow and mature while we wait for him to return.
The practical implications for Christian ministry and life are simple. Namely, those in Christ want the news of Jesus from the scriptures to be central to both how we expect people to become Christians (evangelism), and also in how fellow saints will grow up (edification).
Apologetics As A Subcategory
The implications for Christian apologetics are just as simple. Namely, if apologetics is to stand in the life-giving flow of God’s work through the message of his Son, it must always fit under the broader category of Christian discipleship. In other words: if apologetics is to be Christian, it should be a subset of both making (evangelism) and maturing (edification) disciples of Jesus.
If apologetics is to be Christian, it should be a subset of both making and maturing disciples.
That point in focus enables clearer sight of the dual effects of sound Christian apologetics.
1. Apologetics As Evangelism
Here’s perhaps the sharpest edge of Christian apologetics in Christian context, namely that God uses them as a means of defending and promoting the good news of Jesus before pagans.
Consider the well known 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defence [from apologia, where we get the term apologetics] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”.
Peter urges ‘apologetics’ that will both defend and promote the good news of Jesus.
In the context of potentially suffering for being Christian, what does Peter exhort these saints to? They are to set apart Jesus as Lord—again tying into both Jesus’ identity, and the content of God’s good news. And with this sitting in their hearts, they are to be ready to ‘do apologetics’ for anyone who asks a reason for the hope they have. A hope so grounded in Jesus that it can even provide comfort and strength and life in the face of suffering (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Peter urges ‘apologetics’ that will both defend and promote the good news of Jesus towards unbelievers. So, we should rightly judge apologetics as part of how God reaches non-Christians.
2. Apologetics Builds Up The Saints
Secondly, apologetics forms part of how God builds up the saints. Have you noticed this? Not only can apologetics be built into reaching non-Christians, but it also often builds up the saints.
For instance in terms of equipping, where we are given the tools and thinking of how to defend the fact that Jesus is Lord to non-Christians. This in turn matures and grows us. In other words, equipping others invests deeply in the maturity of Christians. We grow as we are trained to reach out to others—including through apologetics.
We grow in maturity as we reach out to others.
But also, as we defend our hope in Christ, haven’t you found this to tremendously benefit other Christians also listening? Perhaps we are reminded of the firmness of the foundation in Jesus or that God is trustworthy. Or that the Scriptures are consistent and coherent. Or that Christianity takes place within the space of genuine history and archaeology.
In these examples and more, as apologetics functions under discipleship work, God often uses it to build up the saints.
Healthy Christian Apologetics
This article appeals against considering apologetics as its ‘own thing’, or even a third wheel to evangelism or edification. Instead, I’m promoting apologetics as part of the broader category of Christian discipleship under God. Negatively this might help us reign in apologetics from galloping too swiftly in some other direction. But positively we can polish up the usefulness of apologetics as a discipleship tool.
We can polish up the usefulness of apologetics as a discipleship tool.
But, also linked, we might take care to not outsource all apologetics to certain experts. Don’t get me wrong, we need specialists, especially to equip us! But we must remember that all Christian ministry, including apologetics, is for all disciples of Christ! After all, I highly doubt that Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15 were only aimed at those packing PhDs.