What is apologetics?
The base Greek root word means “defense” and in this context it is the defense of the Christian faith. Apologetics is not giving an excuse for our faith as in an “I’m sorry for being a Christian” but it is a species of evangelism. It is the intellectual side of evangelism and is distinguished from that which comes from the heart. Apologetics deals with the intellectual difficulties that people may have in coming to conversion.
Why do we do apologetics?
The thrust of apologetics is to move people through the obstructions of evangelism and Christianity and into the “house of salvation”. We are to move the individual unbeliever to the offense of the Cross where the person has to face a choice between attempting to save him or accepting Christ’s salvation. It is the thrust of apologetics to get people to recognize the crossroad that is the Cross and must make a choice as to whether he insists on saving himself or embracing that Christ died for him. It moves past all the other arguments and brings us to this
fork in the road with the necessary decision to believe and receive or utterly reject the crux of the matter of whether to save oneself or be saved by and through another, namely Jesus Christ.
We, utilizing the legitimate defense of the faith against objections, work through those arguments bringing the validity of Christianity and its claims to the individual. It is to be a tool that is in our toolbox of evangelism equipment as an aide to filling in gaps and holes where other tools such as personal testimony, cannot bridge. No believer’s spiritual toolbox should be without this fine, well tested tool and should be skilled in using it. Not everyone is going to come to faith in Christ because of a heartfelt testimony and therefore an intellectual argument must also be supplied to fill in the holes on the road to salvation.
What about the work of the Holy Spirit in apologetics?
The Holy Spirit holds the primary place even within apologetics. The arguments and evidences of the faith are not the basis alone upon which people enter the “house of salvation”. Crucial to the new birth is the grace of God moving upon the spiritually dead person, quickening them and granting them the gift of faith. However, unlike the pietist, we do not believe that God mysteriously moves upon the person without also dealing with them on an intellectual level. Jesus said that eternal life was to “know God” (cf. John 17:3) and that is speaking to the intellect, not just the heart. Apologetics is the presentation of the Gospel in a systematic and organized way which deals with the specific questions of the unbeliever steering them and directing them ever closer to the Cross and the offense of the Cross. Paul tells us in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and in Corinthians that it is through the foolish preaching of the cross that people are saved.
Even if we gave an insurmountable pile of evidence to the veracity of Jesus, His life, His death, the miracles He performed, the Resurrection, which indeed we have, it would be of no effect without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses that evidence; making the Scriptures true to the hearer; opening their ears to hear and to understand, to bring the person to the Cross and recognize their need of a Savior. Though we have such an arsenal, if we were to rely upon our skills of argumentation, our powers of evidence, our three-point sermons on the validity of the resurrection, it would never be enough to convince a person of the truth of the Gospel without the Holy Spirit moving upon the heart and mind of the individual and giving them new life. We are never to rely solely upon apologetics alone to convince a person of their need of the Cross for it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sins and unrighteousness and to work on the very will of the person to come to Christ.
What is the Goal of apologetics?
The goal is to bring the person to the “house of salvation”, a term used by my first apologetics professor, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. He taught us that we are to bring them past all the hurdles the unbeliever with put up, down the narrow path, to the Door of Salvation. It is then up to the Holy Spirit to bring them into the house, the Faith as it were.
The proper way of understanding the “house of salvation” is to understand that it is the ultimate point at which the unbeliever comes to as we deal with their questions with regard to the Christian faith. We have brought them along the road of evidentiary proof, have shared the Law and the Gospel with them along with those proofs and now they stand at the door, which is Christ. It is here that they read the sign, “Believe” and the most pivotal decision is upon them. Either they will open the door by believing, repenting and embracing Christ and the Cross or they turn around and walk away. When they enter they find out they’ve been chosen before the foundation of the world and that they can never be kicked out of it or, as the Armeniast believes, choose to walk out the door thereby forfeiting their salvation. The “house of salvation” is the whole company of those who have been redeemed from the foundation of the world; those for and upon whom, the satisfaction of the atonement is accomplished and applied.
Apologetics done right!
Apologetics, when done properly, should bring people to the offense of the Cross. It should bring them to the understanding that the message of the Gospel is true and that there is a decision to be made. Preaching tells the glorious message bringing home the fact that we have all broken the laws of God and God Himself has propitiated for us and there is grace available to us by the Cross of Christ. Together apologetics and preaching work to ultimately bring the unbeliever to the crossroad (no pun intended) of their life where they will either embrace Christ as Lord and Savior or they will reject Him hoping somehow to save themselves. In its simplest form, preaching is the message of the Law and Gospel while apologetics is the presenting of the many evidences for the validity of that message.
Recently I read a blog where the apologist was complaining that after a debate they were a part of ended, the organizers had a few come up and testify to the validity of the faith and its life changing force. It was called a “bait and switch”. However, we need to think of apologetics as a tool in our evangelism toolbox. It is one way to bring to the forefront the faith, defending the faith as well as proclaiming the faith. If you separate the two then you have not responded to the questions of the unbeliever you are having a discussion with nor are you then presenting the faith, proclaiming the Gospel properly. After all, you can defend a particular view of the origins of the universe but unless you are presenting the Christ through whom all the worlds were made, then you are not doing the actual task of apologetics and therefore, not presenting the life giving Gospel. Instead, you’re just defending a view. Real apologetics is evangelistic because the purpose is to bring them to the House of Salvation.
Our task as believers is not to know every possible hurdle the unbeliever puts in front of us. However, it is to gently lead them down that road and bring that message home. If they have questions you do not have the answer to, be honest and tell them you will get back to them. However, when they walk away, whether or not they have come to true faith, they should understand you have presented to them the Way, the Truth and the Life.