What Is Apologetics?
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2
Welcome, Young Believer!
Continuing in our theme from the last two posts: Is it Important to Study Church History? and Should I Study Theology? We're going to be moving on to a discussion of Apologetics today. When you first hear this word, it sounds like we're apologizing for something but that's not what it mean to be an apologist at all.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines apologetics as, "a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity." The word originates from both Greek and Latin meaning to speak in defense of or advocate for. Funny enough it also says that this word wasn't used in this way in English until 1733, so it's a pretty young concept compared to many of the other branches of theology that we will eventually study.
The second argument you may hear against the study of apologetics besides the fact it sounds like we're apologizing for something is that our religion is supposed to be based on faith. Apologetics however spends most of its time coming up with factual, well-researched, and well-thought-out answers to skeptics of the faith. Like Thomas, some people need a little or a lot more proof than others. While these naysayers are certainly right that our salvation comes by faith alone, they forget Jesus' reaction to Thomas' doubt.
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29
Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his doubt, instead, he offered him the very proof he claimed that he needed. Then Thomas believed. Faith was absolutely still necessary in Thomas' salvation. Yet Jesus also blesses those who do not see Him and who do not require so much proof in order to believe.
Therefore, should we as Christians study apologetics? Are we displaying a lack of faith because of our interest in the physical proof that is offered to us by scholars in archaeology, history, language, biology, astronomy, and so on? Maybe. However, this branch of theology is also relevant for study to those who are called to reach other people who are struggling with their doubt.
Lots of incredible things happen in the Bible before we get anywhere near Jesus!
The World Wide Flood
The Sun Standing Still or Moving Back
The Parting of the Red Sea
The Toppling Walls of Jericho
The Miraculous Destruction of the Canaanite Nations
The Rise and Fall of Babylon, Persia, and Greece
And those are just the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Then you tell people to trust in a resurrected Savior, it's actually more surprising that so many people can have "blind" faith that this is simply the way things occurred with no proof necessary. I'm one of those people and I still don't understand it, but I also love it every time a new discovery is made that only solidifies further what I believe already to be true.
While apologetics as a word may be a young concept we also find that much if not all of the New Testament is a form of apologetics recording and affirming the truth of Christ's life, who He is, and what He accomplished on our behalf. Think of our study through Matthew, we were able to look into the Old Testament for proof or affirmation of what was happening in nearly every chapter of Matthew's Gospel account and he is certainly not alone in this pattern. Just read Hebrews or Romans, or any other of the epistles and you'll quickly get a picture that the Apostles were constantly making an argument in intellectual and physical proof for the benefit of the churches they were discipling.
That being said, there is obviously a right way and a wrong way to present apologetics. A screaming match or name-calling is not what we're looking for here. You also have to remember it makes us feel good to have a "victory" in an argument but proving ourselves correct with the result of shaming the person we're debating doesn't bring them any closer to Christ... which ultimately should be the goal of every interaction we have with both believers and non-believers.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6
Consequently, from Peter to Paul and beyond as you begin to study the history of the church you will notice that many of the most famous Christians still known of today were those whose theology often focused on a defense of their faith.
Christianity.com provides a great list in their article of three of perhaps the most influential apologists throughout history if you would like to start dipping your toe in the water of this immense subject: Augustine of Hippo, C.S. Lewis, and Lee Strobel. My personal favorite is Lewis but that all began with his works of fiction such as the Chronicles of Narnia in which you might find to have intertwined within the stories meant for children deep theological truths and apologetic arguments to questions people have had since the very beginning of the Church.
If you have more questions about what apologetics are or how you should begin studying this type of theology please place those in the comments. We would also love to hear about the work you're seeing God do in your life! I also highly recommend, as always, that you find a mentor in the faith that will help to walk you through these issues as you grow in your faith. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!