Christian apologetics (Greek: ἀπολογία, “verbal defence, speech in defence”) is a field of Christian theology that aims to present historical, reasoned, and evidential bases for Christianity, defending it against objections.
What is an apologist?
Many Christians have never heard of apologetics. Christian apologetics is an ancient art
form that defends the Bible, the doctrines of Christianity and the validity of Christ using
verbal debate. An apologist is not someone who uses Biblical knowledge to beat people down or who tries to win an argument – it is not about arguing – it is about empowering others. Being an apologist is not based upon how much education you have and you do not have to be a Bible scholar.
Apologetics is about standing in the domain that you have been given and using it to
minister to others from that position. It does not matter what occupation you possess or if you are a student. The campus can be just as much of a ministry field as the workplace.
Being an apologist is having the ability to relate to your audience and to convey what the
Holy Spirit is wanting to say in a manner that others will respond to. It is coupling wisdom with understanding and intellectual intelligence with emotional intelligence.
Ravi Zacharias is a wonderful example of modern day apologetics. He is an excellent
reference to use.
What does apologetics mean?
The term “apologetics” derives from the Ancient Greek word apologia meaning “verbal
defence, speech in defence”). It aims to present historical, reasoned, and evidential basis for Christianity and defends it against objections and objectors.
How did Paul engage his audience?
Paul engaged 2 types of people during his time: the Jews and the Greeks. Throughout the book of Acts, Paul engaged not only the people but also the minds of his day. Paul never forgot the mind and the intellect of man. The mind was never neglected but instead treated as an integral element of his debates. Today, the church has been rendered irrelevant to many because we are neither engaging nor appealing to the mind.
When we are speaking to a spiritually dead people, we can not speak spiritually to those
who are not alive. We must speak in natural terms that they understand and use their reason to engage them.
How did Paul engage the Jews?
Paul used his upbringing as a Jew, his background as “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts23:6) to relate to the Jews and to Jewish culture. Paul used his background as a Pharisee to provoke the minds of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees and to challenge their beliefs. Paul, who is credited with authoring the book of Hebrews, says in Hebrews 1:1-2 NASB
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
As a Jew, Paul spoke from the Torah relaying the stories of their ancestors and how God
moved mightily through their father Abraham. He also reminded them of the promise of a Messiah through David their beloved king. He pulled Christ out of the Old Testament and was able to show them Jesus and how He fulfilled the voice of the prophets.
He presented the Gospel from the perspective of the Torah – from the perspective of
Judaism – to the very people who killed Christ and orchestrated His crucifixion.
Acts 18:28 “ […] he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the
Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
Paul saw a harvest of Messianic Jews in Israel who would receive the Gospel. The harvest in Israel included the leader of the synagogue and all of his household (Acts 18:8). He never mocked or ridiculed the Jewish people for their blindness but rather spoke to them
through their blindness. He saw the man behind the veiled face.
How did Paul engage the Greeks?
Paul drew from his cultural understanding as a Roman citizen to relate to the gentile people. Paul understood that they were a ripe and open harvest for the Gospel. He also understood that they were a lost people seeking after many gods who could not satisfy them. In their search for the One True God, Paul complimented them on their fervor. He said to them in
Acts 17:22-28 NASB
[…] “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For
while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”
When Paul addressed the men of Athens, he used his intellect to appeal to an intellectual
people. He shared the knowledge of God to a people who sought for knowledge. To the philosopher he showed God as a thinker and to the artisan he showed God as an artist.
Paul understood that his audience had a love for the natural world and spoke to that interest. Paul never put the intellectual down or criticized them. Instead, he praised them in the areas that they did well. He saw the yearning for a God that they did not know or understand and spoke to them in a way that they understood. Rather than putting them down, he recognized that the people were using the sciences to try to find God. It was the only way they knew to reach the divine. He saw past the idolatry and saw a people whose hearts were searching for God.
Who are we supposed to engage today?
Today, the Jews represent the religious who deny the power of God. The Greeks represent
the scholarly secular minds of our society who try to use science to disprove God or who
have placed science as their god. These are the two main groups that we are going to engage with and may face resistance from. We can use Paul as an example of how to engage these people.
How do we engage the religious?
Many Christians, who have been set free from religion and from a religious mindset, do not want to revisit it. However, we need to be able to speak from our past experiences and use it to reach others. Just as Paul drew from his past as a religious leader in order to reach the Jews, we should also draw from our past religious mindsets to minister to others who know God but have not been fully introduced to His love. We are dealing with a generation who knows God as God but not as Father. Just as Paul had to revisit his past when dealing with the Pharisees and Sadducees, there may be times where we as believers will have to face those religious figures that we once knew and minister to them from our new found freedom.
How do we engage the secular?
Many Christians are afraid to engage the scholarly and the scientific minds of our day
because they do not think that they have a valid argument for the Bible. We have been taught and in turn have believed that science and Christianity are contradictory to each.
The reality is that God created science not the other way around. God and science are not
two opposing forces. Science is the study of the manifestation of God’s spoken word.
Many believe that faith is for the simple minded and for those who reject scientific evidence. As believers, we should not be afraid to educate ourselves in the sciences. We should not shy away from science in fear that it may disprove God’s existence. In order to dispel the theories which seek to disprove God, we must understand what they
believe and why. Just as Paul educated himself in the way of the gentile scholars and their culture, we should also educate ourselves in the tactics and cultural climate of those who try to dispel the Gospel. We must understand what they believe in order to speak to what they know. Just as Paul recognized the men of Athen’s identification of the unknown God, we must recognize the wrong mindsets that are used to try to disprove the existence of God.