What Is Christian Apologetics, and Why Does It Matter?

Note from Randy: Sean McDowell is an Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, as well as the author, co-author, or editor of over twenty books. He also hosts a great podcast that tackles questions about God, morality, and contemporary culture.

I’ve been on Sean’s podcast with him (see here and here), and in the process, we’ve become friends. We are likeminded about the importance of helping younger people—and also older ones—go deep in their understanding of the Christian faith and learn how to defend it against the forces opposing it. (Sadly, that now includes most colleges and universities, including some which profess to be Christian.)

I’m delighted that Sean will be speaking at my home church for an apologetics conference, May 3-4! My prayer is that God will use him in powerful, eternity-impacting ways. Sean’s sessions will cover the questions, "What is truth?" "Is the Bible reliable?" "What about Jesus?" "Why does this matter for my life?" (If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, or can come here, you can learn more and register for the Reasons to Believe Conference, hosted by Good Shepherd Community Church.)

The following article from Sean gives a brief explanation of what Christian apologetics is, and why it’s so important. In a world where ideas are so often grounded in quicksand and are contrary to sound doctrine, may God’s people be firmly based in God’s Word, and able to give a solid defense of our faith!

Christian Apologetics Is Not Saying You’re Sorry

As a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, I help prepare students to answer tough questions raised against the Christian faith. One day someone from outside the Biola academic community called our university to ask why we offer classes on apologizing for the faith. She thought apologetics meant teaching students to say they were sorry for their beliefs! While her question was well intentioned, she didn’t grasp the nature of apologetics and its role in the Christian life. Christians certainly should apologize for their faith, but not in the way she had in mind.

Apologize…for What?

The word apologetics does not mean to say you’re sorry. Instead, it refers to the defense of what you believe to be true. This is exactly what my father and I do in the updated and revised Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We lay out the historical evidence for the Bible, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and more.

Theologian Clark Pinnock explains the nature of apologetics in this way:

The term derives from a Greek term, apologia, and was used for a defense that a person like Socrates might make of his views and actions. The apostle Peter tells every Christian to be ready to give a reason (apologia) for this hope that is in him (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics, then, is an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms.  (Clark Pinnock, “Apologetics,” in New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J.I. Packer)

New Testament Examples of Apologetics

The New Testament uses the Greek Word apologia, often translated in English as “defense,” eight times in the New Testament. Consider three examples:

  • Acts 22:1: “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
  • Philippians 1:7: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
  • 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, as always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet you do it with gentleness and respect.”

First Peter 3:15 uses the word defense in a way that denotes the kind of defense one would make to a legal inquiry, asking, “Why are you a Christian?” A believer ought to give an adequate answer to this question. The command to be ready with an answer is directed toward every follower of Jesus—not just pastors, teachers, and leaders.

In other words, every Christian is an apologist. All believers are called to proclaim and defend Christianity. Simply put, although we are not called to say sorry for our beliefs, we are called to “apologize” for them.

This article originally appeared on Sean’s blog, and is used with permission.

Photo: Unsplash

Sean McDowell is a professor of apologetics at Biola University, an internationally recognized speaker, and the author, co-author, or editor of over twenty books.