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What is Christian Apologetics?

“Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, and defending the faith against objections.”

The word “apologetics” is derived from the Greek word “apologia”, originally used as a speech of defense. Apologia appears 17 times in noun or verb form in the New Testament and can be translated “defense” or “vindication” in each case. The idea of offering a reasoned defense of the faith is evident in Philippians 1:7, 16, and especially 1 Peter 3:15-16. The New Testament does not outline any specific theory for apologetics.

The reasons to place faith in Jesus Christ

What are the reasons anyone would, or why should anyone become a Christian? Why should anyone place their faith in Jesus Christ – a man who lived over two thousand years ago? There have certainly been various and sundry answers to this question throughout the history of Christianity.

Christian apologetics is both the science and art of answering this question by using reasons and evidence. The word apologetics first appears in the New Testament in 1 Peter 3:15-16 where the Apostle Peter addressed early Christians in Asia Minor, who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Christ.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason (logos) for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. ”Within this passage, apologetics is well outlined. We can summarize Christian apologetics in two parts. Firstly objective reasons and evidence that Christianity is true (it corresponds to reality). and secondly the communication of that truth to the world.

The objective evidence that Christianity is true

The earliest Christian believers were Jews, and so ironically the earliest Christian apologists were Jews. As they shared their new faith in Christ to their Jewish families and friends they appealed primarily to the Old Testament and to Jesus’ bodily resurrection as the primary reasons for belief in Christ.

Today Christian apologists must contend with such philosophies and ideologies as naturalism, atheism, pantheism, and post-Modernism. We form an outline for a classical apologetic approach in defending Christianity.

Truth exists (We can know objective reality)

God exists (classical arguments for God’s existence)

Cosmological Argument (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1485)

Teleological Argument (William Paley, Natural Theology 1802)

Moral Argument (C S Lewis, Mere Christianity 1952)

Miracles are possible (the universe is not a closed system)

The New Testament is historically reliable (manuscript evidence and archaeology)

Jesus has risen from the dead (hence, Jesus is God). We must communicate the truths in an understandable way

The communication that Christianity is true (and should be believed)

The Apostle Paul was also Jewish. He appealed primarily to his fellow Jews to believe in Christ, but he also appealed to non-Jewish Gentiles (Romans and Greeks) as well. When he visited Athens he reasoned with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill, the centre of ancient Greek philosophy (Acts 17:16-34). While there, Paul quoted Greek philosophers such as Epimenides. In doing so Paul was contextualizing the Gospel so that it could be understood by his listeners. This is the second critical part of Christian apologetics – effective communication to a particular audience.

In 1 Corinthians 9:20-23, Paul writes “….To the Jews, I become like a Jew in order to win Jews. To those under the law, I became as one under the law (though not myself being under the law) that I might win those under the law. Those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means, I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

To the next generation

In order to believe in the Gospel, it must first be clearly communicated and understood. Each new generation of Christians must communicate and defend the Christian message in the milieu or social and cultural context in which it finds itself. The culture will change over time but the core Christian message never changes. Christian apologetics seeks to build bridges to unbelievers by presenting reasons and evidence that Christianity is true, rational and worthy of belief. The late-twentieth-century Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer saw Christian apologetics as “pre-evangelism” – a way to prepare the mind and heart for the Christian message (the Gospel). Oxford theologian Alister McGrath summarises the connection of apologetics with evangelism the best:

“...Christian apologetics represents the serious and sustained engagement with ‘ultimate questions’ raised by culture, people group, or individual aiming to show how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers to such questions. Where is God in the suffering of the world? Is faith in God reasonable? Apologetics clears the ground for evangelism, just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. Evangelism issues a personal invitation: ‘You are invited to the feast! Please come!’ Apologetics lays the ground for this invitation; evangelism extends it. Both are an essential part of the mission of the church.”

In the name of Christ

As 1 Peter 3:15-16 reminds us, that we must present our apologetic prayerfully, having set Christ apart as Lord. Also, we must present our reasons for belief with gentleness and respect. we must offer our defense of the Christian faith under Christ’s Lordship, in humble dependence upon His Spirit, and in the context of love and respect.

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