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Apologetics and Christ’s Commission

by: Ian Murray

There is a sad reality within some Christian circles: there are many Christians who believe that apologetics is not important. Why is this? Mainly this is because of misconceptions of what apologetics is and a lack of recognition of the importance of apologetics in the Gospel message. Regarding misconceptions, for those who are new to the ‘world of apologetics’ it would be good to begin defining terns. What is apologetics? Dr. Richard L. Pratt writes:

“The term “apologetics” is often misunderstood… The word “apologetics” is … derived from the Greek APOLOGY… When Paul stood before the mob in Jerusalem, he said, “hear my defense (apology) which I now offered to you.” (Acts 22:1)” [i]

So apologetics is the defense of the rationale or a position held by the person including theological positions such as Christianity or Islam. However for many Christians, one’s rationale for their personal Christianity has been demoted to at least a mere past-time activity. For many Christians when the word ‘apologetics’ is reduced to issues like: ‘The proofs for the existence of God’ or ‘the problem of evil’. This is what often comes to mind and as a result many Christians believe since this is what apologetics is, apologetics should best left for books, conferences and coffee houses; but not in mainstream Christianity – evangelical ministries & the Sunday morning pulpit.

However the irony of the anti-apologetic position is the person who adheres to this view is forced to be an apologist by defending their reasons for their position. This clearly makes the anti-apologetic position a self-refuting position as the proponent of this view is forced to use the very thing they are against; they depend on the idea that they need to provide arguments, and preferably good ones, to defend their view that offering a defense for your view is not necessary.

Ignoring the self-refuting position for a moment, one has to ask though: Why would a Christian believe defending their view is not important, or at least not very important? The following are 4 examples of ‘anti-apologetic’ apologetical arguments:

“You can’t intellectualize someone into heaven.”
(Or) “You can’t argue with someone into heaven.”
“All we as Christians are to do is to ‘show & tell’ the love of Jesus.”
(Or) “We are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus – make disciples, not intellectuals.”

As true as these claims are, does this mean that apologetics has no serious application in the life of a Christian? No! So how do apologetics come into play with the Christian’s Good-News message? Apologetics is the main theme of 1 Peter and provides a good case study.

For a quick summary of the first three chapters, Peter acknowledges the suffering that his readers are going through for the sake of the Gospel (cf. 1st Peter 1:6) After aiding them in ways to put their suffering into perspective (cf. 1st Peter 1:7, 11) he encourages them to take action and ‘prepare their minds’. (cf. 1st Peter 1:13 [NIV 1984]) Peter seems to highlight the real necessity of preparing one’s mind. He instructs his readers to live as representatives of Christ, (cf. 1st Peter 1:14-25, 2, 3:1-14) and then gives them a good protocol as to how be active in their lives as followers of Christ.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” – 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV 1984)

The first commandment Peter gives is not to ‘be prepared’, but rather to ‘first’ set up Christ as LORD in our hearts. We are to refer to Christ and follow his lead; Jesus makes it clear that this is why he gave us the Holy Spirit. (cf. Acts 1:8) And then always be prepared for anyone who comes asking for reasons for the hope that we have in Christ. Then properly represent Christ by responding with meekness. However there is a point to be highlighted. In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter commands his readers to ‘prepare’; for what are they to prepare for? To be able to, on a moment’s notice, to give answers for any question that comes there way and to provide their answers in a way that is worthy of being a messenger of the Gospel. (cf. 1 Peter 1:15b,c, Phil 1:27)

To illustrate this point, let us say that the Canadian ambassador being asked by another country to explain the rationale for making same-sex marriage permissible nationwide and not leaving it up to each province to regulate marriage. What kind of representative would the Canadian ambassador be if they responded with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘our reasoning is unimportant’, etc. or responded with rudeness? Obviously this would make a poor ambassador. In the same way then for a Christian to say ‘I don’t know why I believe’ or ‘my reasons are not important’, or to give an answer but do so rudely would make them a poor Christian ambassador. They should not be surprised if their credibility as a Christian takes a hit, or Christianity as a whole, in the eyes of the inquirer. As Christians and as Christ’s ambassadors, we should take this seriously because it is our job is to be Christ’s public face. (cf. 2nd Corinthians 5:20) In sum tarnishing their reputation in the eyes of a skeptic is tarnishing Christ’s reputation in those same eyes.

So the Christian is to be Christ’s face in society; however the anti-apologetic arguments above do ring true. It is true that one is not saved by the truthful answers that surround issues like the problem of evil. People are saved by the grace of God, (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9) not via being intellectual. In fact, the only reason why someone does understand anything of God is because of God’s grace and not because of our mental capacity. As Paul makes it clear over and over, the Gospel message is of first importance. (cf. 1st Corinthians 15:3-4) It is the Gospel that saves. (cf. 1st Corinthians 15:2) Shouldn’t we just let God convince those hearts with the truth on issues like problem of evil or homosexuality and have us just concentrate on Christ’s commission to us, namely delivering the salvation message? Furthermore, it could be logically argued that if someone’s thinking regarding subjects like homosexuality is fasle, that their thinking needs to be regenerated and purified by God and not men. We don’t need to focus on non-salvation issues, so just present the Gospel. If God leads them to repentance, then all the rest of the issues will follow necessarily.

God does speak to all hearts regarding these philosophical and political issues, however God uses people as the medium to accomplish this task.

God is the Gospel. (cf. Romans 1:17) The tenets of the Gospel pave way for these issues to arise as these issues are the philosophical fibers of the Gospel message. Defending the philosophical issues of the problem of evil and proofs for the existence of God are facets that are necessary for the Gospel to make sense.

So how does apologetics fit with the Gospel? ANSWER: The Gospel makes proclamations, such as God exists (proofs for the existence of God; this discusses a myriad of subject matters such as ‘Creationism’ and ‘Philosophical’ evidences for God’s existence.), all people are sinners (thus introducing the ‘problem of evil’), Jesus is God, (this opens the door to discussions on the relationship between Christianity and competing worldviews.), etc. Merely understanding these proclamations will not save someone from the consequence of their sinful nature, however these academic facets are some of the mediums that Christ uses to pave the way to bring a person to repentance. So it is true that the Christian should not discuss these apologetic issues at the expense of the Gospel message but rather be prepared to discuss them when presenting the Gospel.

[i] Richard L. Pratt, Every Thought Captive: A study manual for the defense of Christian truth. (Atlanta Georgia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), 2.