Many years ago, while I was in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University, my wife and I attended a family gathering. A relative heard I was in grad school and asked me, “What are you getting your degree in?”
I said, “Um… Apologetics.”
She replied with a chuckle, “I’m SO sorry!”
“It’s not really that bad,” I said, looking kind of confused.
Today, I still get odd responses at family gatherings when this comes up. But even Christians who come to my live apologetics workshops at area churches ask me, “Why does it sound like apologizing?” I get it. Our discipline has a weird name.
In this post, I’ll explain what Christian apologetics is, two general kinds of apologetics and what I like to call “the three essential elements of everyday apologetics.” So what is Christian apologetics?
What is Apologetics?
An “apologetic” just means a defense. Peter commanded Christians to be ready with answers when people ask about the faith. In 1 Peter 3:15, the word translated as “answer” (in the NIV) is the Greek word, apologia. And that’s why the word apologetics kind of sounds like apologizing. But it’s actually more like what a lawyer does when he or she presents an opening statement or argues a case.
As I like to say, obeying this command just means you’ve got reasons for what you believe and you’re ready to talk with anyone who’s got questions. It doesn’t mean getting all flustered or defensive. It doesn’t mean being a jerk or getting into fights. It means speaking the truth in love as we represent our Lord in everyday life.
For Christians, apologetics helps confirm that the faith is true. But the Holy Spirit also uses it to help unbelievers discover that Christianity is true.
William Lane Craig defined it this way in one of my favorite books, Reasonable Faith:
“Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith.”
Positive and Negative Apologetics
Think about it like soccer. You’ve got your forwards and you’ve got your defenders.
Forwards can help you remember something called “positive apologetics.” This is where we build a positive case for Christianity by giving someone good reasons to believe God exists, Jesus rose from the dead, etc…
Defenders can help you remember the flip side: “Negative apologetics.” This is where we respond to challenges—where we deal with objections to belief in God and refute arguments against the truth of Christianity. Just like in soccer, these positions can work together.
Norman Geisler put it like this in To Everyone An Answer:
“Apologetics is simply to defend the faith, and thereby destroy arguments and every proud obstacle against the knowledge of God. It is opening the door, clearing the rubble, and getting rid of the hurdles so that people can come to Christ.”
Three Essential Elements
I like to say that there are three essential elements of everyday apologetics:
- Understanding the answers to tough questions about Christianity
- Giving good answers to those who ask tough questions about Christianity
- Being a wise ambassador of Jesus
Part of this last point is being a good listener. But it also includes making our answers memorable. That’s one reason I’m a big fan of using stories, objects and illustrations to explain the faith. It helps makes ideas that have to do with apologeitcs easier to understand and easier to remember. Being a wise ambassador–speaking the truth in love–is part of loving God and loving others.
So a quick way to understand apologetics is “defending the faith.” Whether you’re building a positive case for the Christian faith or defending against common objections, keep in mind “the three essential elements of everyday apologetics.” Listen. Share. Love.