What is Apologetics?
You walk up to the man on the street and tell him that Jesus Christ loves him and died so he could receive forgiveness of his sins. You explain that everyone should obey Jesus because He is the Son of God. The man wants to know how you know this information. You inform him that the Bible, the inspired Word of God, declares it to be true. He wants to know two things: (1) How can you prove that there is a God?; and (2) How can you prove that the Bible is His Word? He is not being belligerent or cantankerous; he simply wants some good evidence that would warrant the total overhaul of his life you are asking him to make.
It is now your responsibility to present solid, rational arguments that prove the things you have affirmed. You must defend the propositions you have presented. You are appointed for the defense of the Gospel (Philippians 1:17, NKJV).
The term “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which means “to defend” or “to make a defense.” Thus, apologetics is a discipline dedicated to the defense of something. There can be as many different types of apologetics as there are beliefs in the world: atheistic apologetics, Hindu apologetics, Buddhist apologetics, Christian apologetics, ad infinitum. However, generally when the discipline is discussed, most people associate it with Christian apologetics. Therefore, for the remainder of this discussion, when I use the term apologetics, I will be referring specifically to Christian apologetics.
What is apologetics? Christian philosopher Dick Sztanyo has suggested: “Apologetics is the proclamation and defense of the gospel of Christ regardless of whenever, wherever, and by whomever it is challenged.” The apostle Peter used apologetics when he appealed to the empty tomb on Pentecost. Paul used apologetics when he quoted the stoic poets to draw attention to God’s existence as he addressed the Athenians. Christ used apologetics when He appealed to a Roman coin to prove that Jews should pay taxes. We can see, then, that the word apologetics carries no hint of “apologizing”—in the sense of being sorry or ashamed. On the contrary, the word houses the exact opposite idea of intelligent vindication by vigorous argument. In fact, Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Apologetics vigorously defends the truth by refuting arguments that exalt themselves above God’s Word.
What tools, then, can apologetics use to “cast down” faulty arguments? Its toolbox is as endlessly deep as it is long. Any discipline—from astronomy to zoology—can be called upon to come to the aid of apologetics. Just as Peter used the physical evidence of the empty tomb, just as Paul used contemporary literature, and jut as Jesus used an inscription on a coin, modern apologists can use archaeology, literature, science, morality, technology, and countless other facets of human life to defend Christianity. A small child can watch ants hard at work and testify to the wisdom of the book of Proverbs. An astrophysicist can contemplate the Second Law of Thermodynamics and maintain that the world will not last forever. An archaeologist can find an ancient inscription about a people known as the Hittites and assert that the Bible has accurate information about this ancient group of people. A professor of literature can read poetry from ages past and ascertain that mankind always has desired to worship a Creator Who is infinitely higher than humanity. From the heights of the mountains to the depths of the oceans, facts surface that provide an ample array of ammunition that can be fired from the cannon of apologetics.
However, the machinery of apologetics can operate only on the fuel of reason, for without reason apologetics has no sure foundation. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines reason as “the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking, especially in orderly, rational ways.” Paul contrasted reason with insanity in Acts 26:24-25: “Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!’ But he said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.’ ” God and His spokesmen always have spoken rational, reasonable truths. God employed reason to convince Isaiah’s listeners of their sin: “ ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ ” (Isaiah 1:18). When Samuel spoke to the Israelites at the coronation of Saul, he said: “Now therefore, stand still, that I may reason with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous acts of the Lord which He did to you and your fathers” (1 Samuel 12:7). From the dawn of time, God presented man with the facts, and then allowed man to use reason to reach correct conclusions. Thus, Romans 1:20 states: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” Reason provides for the removal of all contradictory and fallacious arguments, leaving only those facts that are consistent and correct.
The Christian religion, at its core, is based upon historically verifiable facts. The Bible is not a sourcebook of wise proverbs that somehow stand upon their own merit. Without an establishment of the facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Word of God as we know it—even with all of its sound wisdom and practical guidance—is nothing more than a devotional book full of helpful platitudes that deserves to be placed on the shelf next to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. By using historical facts that are consistent and correct, apologetics makes its defense by appealing to man’s capacity to reason. God never has desired that His human creatures blindly accept unreasonable propositions postulated by perverse persons. He does not want us to be “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:14). On the contrary, He demands that we “test all things; hold fast what is good” (2 Thessalonians 5:21). In the end, however, apologetics can soften only the hearts of those who agree to be honest with themselves and to deal honestly and reasonably with the available evidence. There is much truth in the old adage: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”