by Lee Anderson, Jr. —
The Scriptures command Christians to be actively engaged in the work of evangelism, sharing the truth of the Gospel with nonbelievers. In saying farewell to His followers before His ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ commanded them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).* Naturally, the initial objective in producing disciples for Christ is to bring them to the point of conversion through evangelism, testifying to the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection (cf. Luke 24:46–49).
Elsewhere in the New Testament, Christians have set before them the task of apologetics, that is, the requirement of giving a reasoned defense of what they believe. Taken from the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), apologetics may be described as the “defense,” or “vindication,” of the faith. In Luke’s writings, the word is used to describe situations in which Christians are arrested and put on trial because of their faith, and where they are required to give a defense against the charge that their proclamation of the Gospel is unlawful (Luke 12:11; 21:14; Acts 22:1; 24:10; 25:8, 16; 26:2, 24). The Apostle Paul uses the same word with respect to the defense of his apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9), and his defense before civil magistrates (2 Timothy 4:16). He also uses the word to speak about the reasoned defense of the Gospel (Philippians 1:7, 16).**
The word carries this same sense in 1 Peter 3:15, where Peter states, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”*** So too Jude instructs his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). In short, Christians are tasked with both the proclamation and defense of the Gospel.
The practical application of these biblical passages suggests there will be times in which the task of witnessing to the truth of the Gospel will go hand-in-hand with the reasoned defense of the Gospel’s content, especially in situations where a Christian has the opportunity for lengthy discussion with an inquirer. Apologetics then becomes an asset to the believer, with the purpose of providing a logical case for why the Gospel of Christ should be seriously entertained.
It is worth noting that Christian apologists have adopted many different approaches to how the Gospel should be defended. However, virtually all apologists, regardless of their approach, have recognized the usefulness of apologetic argumentation within the broader mission of proclaiming the Gospel to nonbelievers. Robert L. Reymond explains this point well, observing that,
Just as gospel content will be incorporated in any properly conceived apologetic methodology, so also the Christian apologist will self-consciously regard his efforts as simply part of responsible evangelism.Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge: An Introductory Study in Christian Apologetic Methodology (1976; repr., San Jose, CA: Pacific Institute for Religious Studies, 1998), 5.
That said, it is still important to understand how,or in what way,the work of apologetics and evangelism connect, both theologically and practically. This short series will aim to provide some introductory thoughts on this question, contending that apologetics—although having a function that extends beyond evangelism—is a vitally important tool for evangelism. In the next entry in this series, we will look at some similarities and some differences in the purposes and roles of both evangelism and apologetics, highlighting the areas of overlap. Later in this series, we will look at practical aspects of how the apologetic defense of the faith might assist in the proclamation of the Gospel.
*All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
**See Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, 2nd ed. (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006), 1–2. It is noteworthy that the “academic” dimension of defending Christianity was not formalized until much later in the history of the church, but it remains unavoidable that the biblical text itself endorses the reasoned defense of the Christian faith.
***For the sake of clarification, Peter’s directive to defend the Gospel in “reverence” (Greek φόβου, “fear”) most probably concerns not a respect for one’s inquirers (as important though that is), but a genuine fear of God, as can be demonstrated from the near context wherein Peter instructs his readers not to fear men (1 Peter 3:14) but rather to fear God (1 Peter 1:17; 2:17). In so instructing, Peter draws upon the prominent Old Testament motif of the “fear of the Lord” as the basis for the defense of God’s Gospel truth. This appears, similarly, to be Paul’s contention in 2 Corinthians 5:11, where he states, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men . . .” In light of these passages, there can be little doubt that the correct approach to Christian apologetics—regardless of considerations of method—is one that is grounded in an authentic, reverential fear of the Lord.