When it comes to defending the faith, many Christians fail to grasp the true spirit of apologetics. The typical misconception is that defending the faith should be left only to PhD professors, theologians, and pastors. This view is impacting the church at large as it causes many to skip participating in a foundational biblical command to defend the faith. We must understand that there is, in fact, a biblical imperative that all Christians engage with apologetics, not just those with fancy titles or extensive educational backgrounds.
The Greek word "apologia", from which we derive the word apologetics, will be expounded on at a later date, but for now I want to share some insight on the proper view and role of apologetics, distancing us from the heady, academic perception that is all too common. "Apologetics" is a term that encompasses any effort to argue, explain, or make a case for Christian doctrine. In other words, apologetics is the art of defending the faith. As mentioned, we often associate the term with PhD’s, theologians, M.Div.’s and other academically accomplished individuals. For a long time, this was my view. When I heard the term, "apologetics," my brain instantly envisioned a debate between a witty, intellectual believer and a witty, intellectual non-believer (the latter usually representing atheism with some advanced background in the physical sciences). This view isn't wrong, per se, but it is too narrow. Defending the faith is actually for every person who has been born again, regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit.
So why is apologetics for every believer? Shouldn't we just leave it to the pros, the likes of Dr. Frank Turek, Dr. Willian Lane Craig, Dr. James White, or Pastor Jeff Durbin? Just because the men mentioned above operate on an intellectual level far greater than myself, and likely greater than many reading this article, doesn't excuse the every believer from participating. Yes, those men and their ministries have a rich impact on pastors, churches, and other believers at large, and not everyone is called to do exactly what they're doing, however, we need to take seriously the imperative laid out in Peter's first epistle which says:
1 Peter 3:15-17
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason 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 behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Peter calls every believer to be prepared to mount a defense, a defense for "the reason for the hope that is within you." Many people noticed the lives of Christians, the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the early church body, namely, the peace and joy as a result of being made right with the God of the universe. It was weird. It was different. So, to build up the body of believers, Peter called them (the call also applying to us), to speak to the very core of the hope, defending the glorious gospel message of Christ to the unbeliever. To do this, we don't need to go to school for 10 years, read hundreds of books, study physics, study astronomy, go to school some more, and then write a doctoral dissertation; no, we will do this by preaching the gospel and simply giving a defense for the hope that is within us, which is Christ! The ultimate call of apologetics is not to intellectually dismantle every opposing view with the end result being to win an argument.
Voddie Baucham Jr. in his book, “Expository Apologetics” explains this false view.
We view apologetics as a primarily philosophical endeavor to be employed only by those with quick, keen, nimble minds and specialized training. We also believe you have to be a bit of a jerk to be any good at it, since the primary goal, as we [falsely] understand it, is to vanquish our foe and stand triumphantly atop his lifeless intellect with face lifted towards the heavens and chest swollen with pride.
I can’t recall just how many times I felt that sense of victory in a conversation with someone after a spirited debate. Reflecting on those many times agitates my spirit, I'm reminded of my pride that ruled over my spirit, rather than the Lord. I've also experienced conversations where I felt intellectually inadequate, overrun by the wits of my foe. To think down on that experience as if I was solely responsible for "winning an argument" is equally as prideful. This leads to the lack of desire or willingness to engage the unbeliever because of fear of inadequacy. Voddie continues,
As a result, the average Christian not only believes he or she is intellectually inadequate to engage in apologetics but also has an aversion to the attitude associated with the practice. This is both unfortunate and ironic. Unfortunate because many Christians are actually disobeying God’s Word by refusing to engage in apologetics. Ironic, because many Christians who are engaging in apologetics are actually doing it in a way that is inconsistent with the biblical mandate, and as a direct result are actually discouraging their brothers and sisters in the Lord. What's worse is the fact that this these same Christians are raising and discipling their children in an anti-apologetic atmosphere that is actually detrimental to their understanding of the gospel and of the Christian life.
The common view that we need to defeat our foes in every intellectual battle mischaracterizes the call to apologetics all while taking the emphasis off of Christ. If the person inquiring as to the hope of a Christian leaves the conversation not having been pointed toward Christ, we’re not doing our job. After all, how can you give a defense of the hope that is within you and not point someone to Christ? We must do away with the “our intellect verses theirs” mentality.
Concluding this section in Bachaum’s book, he says,
I am convinced that when we understand Peter's teaching on apologetics we will see that (1) his admonition is for every Christian, (2) it has nothing to do with creating an elite, special forces brand of Christian, (3) it is rooted in the context of humility, holiness, and suffering, and (4) it ought to be a natural part of our Christian walk. Moreover we will be far more likely to engage in this life giving practice.
Voddie is encouraging us to see the greater call from Peter, which is to not only give a defense for the hope that is within us but to do it in a way that points people to Christ, which happens when we act in humility and gentleness. The victory of defending the faith is to bring glory to Jesus, the victory is in the gospel. Our being right for being right's sake does nothing other than to bring ourselves into focus. We have no reason to boast in anything but Christ. So, though we may mount a compelling argument using cosmology, physics, or philosophy, all glory belongs to God alone, who is the only one that can convert the heart of man.
Heated debates used to rile me up. The quest to be right was evident in my attitude and conversational demeanor. I humbly acknowledge that my intent was misplaced, that Christ was secondary in those discussions. By the grace of God I press on, aiming at the true spirit of apologetics which is evangelism. I am reminded each time I have a conversation about worldview, religion, faith, and even science with an unbeliever, that I, too, was once dead to sin, my unrighteousness separating me from knowing the Holy God and in desperate need of the gospel.
God is the only one who can turn our heart of stone into flesh, to breath life into our lungs.
...for it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
There is no boasting in our salvation, as it is the power of God that saves (Romans 1:16), so, too, there should no boasting in our intellect, arguments, or ability to present evidence for Christian doctrine.
We ought to approach every conversation prayerfully, that Christ is magnified and glorified in our words, conduct and attitude. The very fact that there are unbelievers who've yet to turn to Christ, who is truth, who is the way, and who is life, is the very reason that apologetics is not only for the wise, educated, and quick-witted, but for every believer who, by faith in Christ, has been justified and rescued from their sin.