What Is Apologetics? A Guide For The Total Beginner
What is apologetics? Why do we need to apologize for being Christian? Arguing isn’t biblical! If you’ve thought any of these questions, this is for you.
What is apologetics?
I found apologetics pretty early on in my new Christian life. I consider myself a fairly intelligent, well-read person and I had never even heard the word. So when a woman in a women’s online Bible study group I was in casually mentioned it I was curious and looked it up.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered an entire academic discipline devoted to studying the reasonableness of the claims of Christianity. This appealed to me as a former Mormon because I never want to rely on feelings or what a person tells me to believe ever again.
God gave us a brain, He expects us to use it. H never told us to check our brains at the church door.
Apologetics is the secret sauce to having an unshakeable faith
Recently another Ex-Mormon woman messaged me via Facebook, telling me she feels lost and uncertain. She doesn’t know what to believe anymore. What is real? How much of what she believes is Mormonism, and how much is historical/biblical Christianity?
If you have ever felt the same (whether Mormon or not), or feel shaky and uncertain of how to answer questions about your faith by your unbelieving family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers – then this article is for you.
The usual questions women ask are:
- What is apologetics?
- Why do we need to apologize for being Christians?
- Is apologetics biblical?
- Is apologetics that thing where we argue with non-believers?
- That’s that thing for pastors and experts, right?
So, I am going to make you a promise. If you read this article through to the end, you will not only know the answers to these questions but you will also know how to start.
Become a doer and not just a hearer, and you will have an unshakeable faith. You will stop avoiding the difficult conversations about Christianity, and live a more adventurous life because you will find yourself in conversations with people you never thought in a million years would happen.#Apologetics is the secret sauce to an unshakeable faith #reasonablefaith #ExMo Click To Tweet
What is apologetics
Apologetics is an intellectual discipline commonly used in religion, philosophy, and law. In practical application, it is the use of reasoned arguments (verbal or written) justifying a theory.
We can apply apologetics to just about anything. When your kids want to stay up past their bedtime, what is the first thing they usually do?
They give you reasoned arguments about why you should let them: It’s not a school night, they were extra well-behaved that day, blah … blah…blah.
What are they doing, besides annoying you? They are giving you an apologia to convince you to agree with them. Then, we have to decide if their arguments are persuasive enough to agree with them. Word to the wise – your kids are trying to trap you.
Anytime we are attempting to convince another person to our way of thinking, we’re doing apologetics. It’s normal human behavior.
What apologetics is becomes more clear when we look at the word itself, breaking it down into parts.
Apologetics literally defined
We have a general idea of what apologetics is. Let’s break it down.
The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia. And the Greek word apologia comes from combining 2 other Greek words, apo and logos.
Apo means from
Logos means intelligent reasoning
Apologetics literally means to answer from intelligent reasoning. It is a legal term of the ancient world, used in legal defenses. Lawyers in our legal system still use apologia today in opening and closing arguments in courtrooms.
Are you an apologist?
If you’re an environmentalist, you are an apologist for the environment. Passionate about certain political views? You’re an apologist for that. A Christian apologist is someone who gives answers to the truth claims of Christianity from intelligent reasoning.
Some people describe Christian apologetics as a branch of Christian theology. Technically this is not correct since theology is the study of God (or gods). Apologetics is not the study of God, it’s a method of communicating Christian beliefs.
If you’re a Christian and you have ever been in a conversation where you were trying to convince the other person of the reality of the existence of God, the deity of Jesus or the reliability of the Bible – surprise!
You’re an apologist.
Next up: is apologetics biblical?
Faith and Reason Go Together Like Bacon and Chocolate
Most Christians don’t want to do anything “unscriptural”. When I was a new Christian I also wondered if apologetics was biblical. I educated myself and was relieved to discover that logic and faith go together like bacon and chocolate.
Which is a delicious combination, by the way.Logic and faith go together like bacon and chocolate #apologetics #reasonablefaith Click To Tweet
Doesn’t it stand to reason that if God gave us a rational mind that He expects us to use it? We need to stop separating logic from faith and put the minds God gave us in service to Him.
Is apologetics biblical: 4 pieces of evidence for apologetics from Scripture
1. God extends an invitation to reason with Him
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. Isaiah 1:18 (NASB)
Israel has divided into 2 nations – the North and South Kingdoms. Both have fallen into idolatry (again!) while still making offerings to the Lord. This is illogical and He has had enough. Speaking through Isaiah, God extends an invitation to come reason with Him – and promises Israel redemption and blessings if they do.
If God did not expect us to reason with others, why does He extend us an invitation to reason with Him?
2. The Greatest Commandment
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Matthew 22:37 (CSB)
We all know the Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly attempting to trap Jesus with logic problems to trick Him into contradicting Scripture. On this particular day, Jesus had just refuted other tests by the Sadducees so a lawyer with the Pharisees decided to have a go and asked Him what the greatest command was.
He responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
The Hebrew word lebab is translated into the English word heart is and is in the Old Testament 252 times. It means the inner person, the mind, the will, intelligence. It is not a reference to our literal heart that pumps the blood in our bodies or our emotions, but to our reasoning.
God expects us to use our minds. In The Greatest Command, the word “mind” is translated from the Greek word dianoia. It means to reason thoroughly, from both sides of your mind. Today we call that critical reasoning.
Scripture mentions the human heart in total over 800 times. It never refers to the literal human heart that pumps the blood. It is always used figuratively to represent our mind, the center of our being, the place where our innermost-self dwells.
3. The Apologetics Commission
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 1 Peter 3:15 (NASB)
Remember our definition of apologetics? The word “defense” in this verse comes from the Greek apologian – to give a logical, well-reasoned answer.
We are to prepare ourselves to give logical, well-reasoned answers at any moment. Are you ready?
4. The Apologetics of Jesus
If you are still not convinced, here are a few examples of Jesus using apologetics.
Jesus used different types of apologetics to communicate His message to an unbelieving world. He used the testimony of witnesses, performed miracles and told stories.
One of the best examples is the use of reason to refute the Pharisees’ claim that Jesus used the power of the devil to cast out demons.
Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” (Matthew 12: 22-28 NASB)
How did Jesus do it?
And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? “If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. Matthew 22:25-27 (NASB)
Jesus used a logical argument known as reductio ad absurdum (that’s Latin for “reduction to the absurd”). This is an argument that demonstrates if a primary premise is true but leads to a contradiction that is absurd, then logic dictates that the original premise is false.
In other words – the assertion that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan is so absurd that it logically contradicts itself and is false.
God invites us into a life of reason with Him. He commands us to love Him with our minds, give answers to others from logic and reason and Jesus showed us how to do it.
Who Should Do Apologetics?
We’ve established that apologetics is the communication skill of answering truth claims made opposing Christianity with logic and reason, that God invites us into a life of reason with Him, and commands us to give logical answers to others.
The next question is: who should do apologetics?
I’m often asked if apologetics is that thing for pastors, scholars and other experts to do. This could not be further from the truth. Let me show you why.
As we have discussed, the explicit command to apologetics is in 1 Peter 3:15:
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (NASB)
There are a few interesting things to note here. First, this is one of those 800 times that the heart means the mind. We are not told to sanctify Jesus as Lord in our literal heart. The intention here is to sanctify Him as Lord in our innermost self, our will, the place of our intention. That is our mind.
What does it mean to sanctify Him as Lord? The Greek word is hagiazó and it means “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate”**
We must first dedicate our minds to the knowledge that Christ is Lord. Then we must perpetually and unceasingly prepare ourselves in advance to take every opportunity and challenge to give answers from logic and reason for our faith.
But how do we know this command is for all Christians?
If we look back to the beginning of chapter 3, we see Peter is very specific in who he is addressing at different points in his letter.
He begins speaking to wives about their conduct in verses 1-6. Then, in verse 7 he addresses husbands with a direction about how to treat their wives, and why.
In verse 8, he says “to sum up, all of you” and proceeds to issue commands about how Christians are to conduct themselves in the face of persecution, all the way through to the end of the chapter. Our apologetics commission is in that part of Peter’s letter.
Not only is there nothing to show Peter was addressing only leaders of the ecclesiastical body, but we have direct evidence he was speaking to the entire ecclesiastical body.
It is a commission to all who call themselves Christians.
Apologetics Is Not A Theological Cage Match
What is apologetics? Is it that thing where you argue with non-believers? But arguing is not biblical!
Have you ever watched a mixed martial arts cage fight? These people fight in literal cages, and they are no-holds-barred. Almost anything goes in the name of winning.
Sometimes Christians have the same view of apologetics. We have all seen (or taken part in) an argument that devolved into a verbal cage match. They are difficult to watch and more difficult to recover from if you’re the one doing it.
While it is true that arguing can devolve into contention, we have clear instructions on how to give answers from reason.
In our apologetics commission verse we learn:
- Dedicate our minds to Christ as Lord
- Constantly prepare ourselves for the opportunities and challenges of answering objections
- Give answers from reason for why we believe what we believe
- Do it with gentleness and reverence
This command to give answers with gentleness and reverence does not suggest we approach these conversations with reservation, but with a strength and power that is under control. If we claim to have the truth, then we should be confident and in control during our faith conversations.
The Greek word phobos when translated literally means fear, terror, alarm and is sometimes used positively relative to God (as in being in reverent awe and wonder) and sometimes it used in the negative, meaning to literally be in terror and alarm.
This does not mean we should be scared of having faith conversations and run away from them. We know that can’t be true because God commands us to have them.
It must mean we are to approach these conversations from a position of preparedness and control, with respect and awe for the magnitude of the mission we are embarking on.
As Gregory Koukl in Tactics states: A good rule of thumb to follow is if someone gets angry, you have lost. Contend without being contentious.
What makes a good apologist?
I’ve discovered from my discussions about apologetics with Christian women that they want to start apologetics, but don’t know where to start and still have a few questions.
- What makes a good apologist?
- Does this mean we all need to go to seminary and earn a degree in theology?
- Do we need to become biblical scholars?
The answer is no, but there are a few characteristics of a good apologist.
A good apologist is a good communicator
Everyone thinks they have great communication skills. But what is communication, really? Great communication is much more than being an eloquent speaker. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Be a good listener
No one likes talking to people who only care about putting in their two cents. Take the time to listen to the other person. This affirms you are interested in them as a person, and they will be more open to hearing what you have to say.
Practice active listening. Active listening means to pay close attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing what the other person is saying to make sure you understand.
2. Nonverbal Communication
Our body language, eye contact, hand gestures, and tone all communicate our message. Relaxed body language conveys to the other person we are interested in them and confident in what we are communicating. Eye contact also conveys we are interested in what they have to say.
3. Clarity and Concision
Good communication is using just enough words to convey our message. Don’t talk too much (you’ll come across as arrogant and pompous, causing your listener to disengage) and don’t say so little that you leave your listener confused as to the point of the conversation.
A good apologist is a student at heart
A good apologist is actually a student at heart. You must want to learn and never stop. I always tell my son (and myself!) “always be learning”.
To think that we have learned it all and know it all is prideful and arrogant. A good apologist is always learning and has enough humility to know they will never learn everything.
We must not only have the heart of a student to learn the information we need to communicate our message, but we must want to learn what our listener thinks and what they believe.
Which leads me to my next point.
A good apologist is interested in other people
Think of the conversations you have had where the person you were talking with was interested only in their views and not yours. Annoying, isn’t it? I know I disengage and tune the other person out.
Too often in apologetics Christians can be so eager to refute an argument that we don’t take the time to actually listen to the other person, and ask questions.
Be interested in their thoughts and opinions! Ask them what they are. Why do they think the way they do? Why do they believe what they believe? What life experiences have they had? How did they arrive at their conclusions?
They may not show you the same respect in return, and that’s ok. Do you want to force them into a conversation or have an engaged dialogue?
We can accomplish so much more when we are interested in them as people, and not view them as projects.
How Do I Start Doing Apologetics?
We have covered a lot of ground today. Thanks for sticking around and reading through to the end! Lastly, we will talk about how to start apologetics.
When I began my apologetics journey, it was truly a journey of discovery for me. I had never heard of apologetics and did not even know it was possible to have a reasonable basis for my faith. It was a relief for me to discover this, and I hope it is for you too.
I began by searching the internet, but I’d like to give you something more. A strategic, systematic approach that will benefit you far more than winging it.
1. Start with what you know
What do you believe is true? Do you even know what you believe? A great place to start is the core essentials of Christianity – the bare essentials that any person who can legitimately claim they are a Christian must believe. Where do we get these core essentials? From the Bible.
2. Why do you believe it?
Too many Christians answer the question,” Why do you believe Christianity is true?” with “Because the bible says so!”. Why should we even believe the Bible? Do we have good reason to believe it is the word of God to us?
Investigate why you believe God is real, He created the universe, Jesus is God incarnate and the Bible is the authoritative word of God.
3. Learn how to be a good communicator
Read books and take classes to develop your communication skills. Having faith conversations with non-believers and mis-believers is daunting, but it helps when you have confidence in what you believe, why you believe it and your ability to communicate our message to others.
4. Be systematic
As I mentioned, when I discovered apologetics I did not have a system nor anyone to guide me in my studies. To give you a bit more guidance, I’ve put together a reading plan for the beginning apologist.
It doesn’t matter if you are new or a cradle Christian, we all need a systematic plan to fill in gaps in our knowledge and grow our confidence in our ability to effectively communicate our message of freedom in Christ.
Apologetics is the academic discipline and communication skill of answering truth claims using logic and reason. All Christians are called to be apologists for the truth claims of Christianity and to do so with gentleness and respect. To be a good apologist means to develop excellent communication skills and to follow a systematic plan for learning to not only what we believe, but why we believe it to be true. Apologetics will help Christian women to have an unshakeable faith and live the adventurous life we are called to live.
Want to learn more?
I recommend two books that will help you learn more about apologetics. These will cover what apologetics is, how it will help you live a deeper, more adventurous faith and the role apologetics should play in the life of the Christian woman.
I don’t know of any other book published to date that focuses exclusively on providing an apologia for why Christian women need to do apologetics.
This book specifically challenges women (and women’s ministry leaders and pastors!) to take a look at their current study opportunities and evaluate if we are truly equipping Christian women to be able to defend the faith.
We know that faith means “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV). Love Your God with All Your Mind explains the importance of using your mind not only to win others to Christ but also to experience personal spiritual growth. Author J. P. Moreland challenges you to use logic and reason to further God’s kingdom through evangelism, apologetics, worship, and vocation.