Why Study Apologetics?
By Dillon Burroughs
As a writer and teacher of apologetics, the field of study that provides evidence for Christian beliefs, some have asked why I believe apologetics is important. There are many reasons that could be listed. However, the following five are those that I believe are most important:
First, we are called to love the Lord with "all our mind" (The Great Commandment). Jesus responded to the religious leaderís question about the Greatest Commandment with the words, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). How can we love the Lord with "all our mind" without considered the reasons why we believe?
Second, we are called to be able to give an answer for the hope within us. 1 Peter 3:15-16 teaches, "But in your hearts revere 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 behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." This passage involves three parts: 1) Live with Christ as Lord, 2) Be prepared to answer, and 3) Answer with gentleness and respect. All three are important, but it is essential to understand that to give an answer we must know an answer. Our personal testimony can serve as a powerful response, but so can other information about the existence of God, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and the evidence for the accuracy of Scripture.
Third, we are called to honor God in all we do. This includes our knowledge of His truth. 1 Corinthians 10:31 notes, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." This "whatever you do" also applies to how we study our faith and communicate it to others. Why wouldnít we want to know all we can about the evidence for our faith and how to share it?
Fourth, we need to know right teaching so we can avoid and correct false or unhealthy teaching. Titus 1:9 instructs that a church leader "must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." It is not wrong to stand against unhealthy spiritual teachings. A Christian leader needs to know what the Bible teaches on important issues both to grow personally and to be able to spot times when the Bibleís teachings are being used inappropriately. Ideally, those who do so will "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).
Fifth, we should desire to be able to reason with people with differing beliefs to help them understand the gospel of Christ. In Acts 17, the apostle Paul was grieved at the many false gods the people of Athens followed. He used these other religious views as a discussion point to direct his audience to the true God and the good news of the risen Jesus. Not all of his audience believed, but some did, revealing that this approach to providing evidence for our faith is effective in reaching some of those who may not be reached in other ways.
Apologetics offers us the opportunity to better understand our own faith and creative and compelling ways to communicate it to others. Rather than downplaying the important and strategic roles of apologetics, Christians can pursue the evidence for the Christian faith as an effective means to bring the truth of Christ to many who need to know our Lord.
Apologetics in the Local Church
Apologetics, or answers to questions regarding the Christian faith, is important both in evangelism as well as spiritual growth for believers (Matthew 22:37; 1 Peter 3:15-16; Jude 3). However, few churches incorporate apologetics well as part of their ongoing discipleship efforts. To help, below are a few ideas that have been used by others or are suggested for your current and future church leadership opportunities.
- Focus an existing Bible study on an apologetics-related book: The Case for Christ is a common book with companion study in this category, but many others exist. I also highly recommend I Donít Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek along with the related resources at impactapologetics.com.
- Host an event: Invite an apologetics speaker or even simulcast an apologetics event to highlight the importance of knowing the reasons for our faith. Make the first one a good experience and seek to build on this event as (at least) an annual outreach and training time.
- Preach or teach a series: Ideally, your pastor cares about providing answers to the questions both Christians and non-Christians have about Christianity. If so, a series on "Tough Questions" or something similar is a great way to get the whole congregation focused on the reasons that support our beliefs. Outreach.com has a whole series called "God Questions" that has helpful resources to do this.
- Start an apologetics ministry: Not every church can or should do this, but if possible, empower a volunteer gifted in apologetics to coordinate the churchís apologetics activities. This person or team of people can help coordinate the above ideas and make sure this important area is not neglected.
- Apply apologetics in service and missions: For example, a friend of mine takes his youth group to Salt Lake City each year to share their faith with Mormons and learn about differences between Christianity and Mormon teachings. After teaching on the biblical evidence supporting the pro-life position, another church took part in an outreach at a local pregnancy care center. The idea is not only to learn about the evidence for our faith but also to use it to help in some way in serving and reaching others.
Is Apologetics for Believers or Unbelievers?
Christian Apologetics is the field of study that provides evidence to support the beliefs of the Christian faith. But is apologetics primarily to evangelize unbelievers or to help believers grow in their faith? The best answer is "all of the above."
Believers are called to love the Lord with all their mind as part of the Greatest Commandment. To do so includes growing in the beliefs and teachings of Scripture, including the evidence that supports these teachings. For example, we are to learn what the Bible teaches about the resurrection of Jesus, but we can also study the historical evidence that supports this belief to help increase our understanding of the Bibleís teachings.
Unbelievers also need the support of apologetics to assist in their discovery of the information that leads to faith in Jesus Christ. Only God can change a personís heart, but apologetics can provide the assistance that God uses to lead a person to faith in Christ. For example, former atheist Lee Strobel studied the evidence regarding Jesus for nearly two years before deciding that the information supported the biblical account. He then placed his faith in Jesus for salvation and has been used to help many others through his bestselling book The Case for Christ and other resources.
Tim Keller also notes in his book Reason for God that believers and unbelievers have many of the same questions regarding spiritual issues. The evidence for one God, the creation of the universe, the purpose for our lives, ethics regarding how we are to live, our need for forgiveness, and desire for an afterlife all cross the boundaries of both Christians and non-Christians.
1 Peter 3:15-16 is one of the primary biblical passages used to support the need for apologetics. It reads, "But in your hearts revere 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 behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." As these verses describe, the context is for a believer asked to share reasons for their faith with unbelievers.
As a result, Christianity has historically focused its use of apologetics on reaching those who have yet to come to faith in Christ. However, apologetics has also been of great value to many who have sought evidence to encourage and support their faith. We donít need to choose apologetics for believers or unbelievers, but rather use the evidence that supports our faith in both evangelism and spiritual growth in a wide variety of contexts.
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