What is Christian apologetics?

Theology, from the Greek words Theos (God) and logos (study) was a term first used by the Stoics in the third century B.C. to describe a reasoned analysis of the deity. St. Augustine defined Christian theology as "reasoning or discourse about the divinity." Christian theology is based upon reason, enlightened by faith, to bring about a deeper understanding of scriptural revelation and doctrine. It is considered by some to be a science and may combine logic, philosophy, mysticism, and even speculation in order to expound dogmatic truths. Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology dealing with the defense and proof of Christianity.

Apologetics began around the second century A.D. by Christian writers to the educated Roman public in defense that Christianity was morally and philosophically superior to paganism. St. Augustine's City of God was written in the early fifth century in response to accusations that disaster had befallen Rome due to its abondonment of pagan gods. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote Against the Heathen in the thirteenth century in defense against the Aristotelian logic of Arabian philosophers, which promoted materialistic pantheism. Beginning in the sixteenth century, after Christianity had been a dominant relegion in Europe during the Middle Ages, apologetics became a defense against rival Christian interpretations. In the eighteenth century, apologetics was used in defense against scientific rationalism. Modern Christian apologetics challenges contemporary science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.

Christians do not have to be apologetic of their faith, however, they should be able to give testimony of their faith when asked (1 Peter 3:15), speak without honoring themselves (John 7:16-18, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6), communicate simply and sincerely (2 Corinthians 1:12-13), be gracious in their response to unbelievers (Colossians 4:5-6), and not be ashamed of the gospel (Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26, Romans 1:16, 2 Timothy 1:8, 2:15). Christ has assured those who are called to witness before the authorities not to worry about what to say beforehand, but that he will give you "words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict" (Luke 21:12-19), "for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matthew 10:18-19, Mark 13:9-11).

        "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

A major problem with apologetics is that it is aimed primarily at non-believers, those who do "not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God" (Romans 1:28-32). To begin with, the word of God is an offense even to his own people (Jeremiah 6:10) and Jesus himself is an offense to his own followers (John 6:60-66). If Jesus was an offense to those who disbelieved (Matthew 13:53-58, Mark 6:1-6), then believers will already be hated before they have a chance to share the word (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, John 15:18-25, 17:14). The fact remains that the word of God is hidden to those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Although we know what it is to fear the Lord and therefore try to persuade men (2 Corinthians 5:11), sometimes it's not by persuasive words, but by a demonstration of God's power that people will believe (Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:9, John 10:37-38, 14:11, Acts 2:22, Romans 15:18-19, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Hebrews 2:4). Even so, Jesus only reveals himself to those whom he chooses (Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22, John 17:6) and it's only by the power of the Spirit that men can begin to understand the things of God (John 14:26, 15:26, Romans 8:5-8, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, 12:7-11, 2 Corinthians 3:14-18, Ephesians 1:17). Remember, it's the job of the believer to plant the seed -- it's God who makes them grow (1 Corinthians 3:7).

        "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' [Isaiah 29:14] Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18-24)


Definitions and historical references adapted from Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1968, volume 2, pg 350, and volume 22, pg 269.