Reasons to Believe

Christian Apologetics, Part 1 (of 4)

The powerful enterprise known as Christian apologetics has embarked into its third millennium. Apologetic endeavors played a critical role in the first two millenniums of Christianity and they remain as important today.

"Apologetics" is a biblical word (apologia, 1 Peter 3:15), but it doesn't mean "to apologize or to say one is sorry." Rather Christian apologetics is the branch of theology that attempts to provide rational justification, or defense, for the central truth-claims of the faith.

Throughout the centuries, Christian apologists have engaged in a fourfold defense of the faith by

  1. providing positive evidence for the faith (such as Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy and bodily resurrection);
  2. answering questions and clarifying the faith (as distinct from Judaism and the ancient mystery religions);
  3. confronting difficult objections (such as the problem of evil and the claim of God's hiddenness); and
  4. critiquing alternative, non-Christian systems of thought (Islam, Eastern religions, and philosophical skepticism).

In order to defend the faith, believers must be informed by a sound biblical theology (drawn from God's written Word). This means having a clear and adequate idea as to what the faith is about. Moreover, apologetics should work hand-in-hand with evangelism, world missions, and discipleship. Christian apologetics is unique in that it simultaneously benefits both the unbeliever (challenging the grounds of unbelief) and the believer (confirming, buttressing, and encouraging faith). Church history holds that reason doesn't cause faith apart from grace, but it does support faith.

During the time of the apostolic church Jesus' disciples utilized thoughtful argumentation to defend the gospel message against doctrinal deviations. Such distortions came from groups like the Docetists (those who denied Jesus Christ's human nature, 1 John 4:1-3) and the Judaizers (those who insisted that keeping the law was a necessary part of salvation, Galatians 1:6-9). The apostles also countered the speculative philosophies of the Greco-Roman era (including the hedonistic Greek Epicureans and the fatalistic Roman Stoics, Acts 17:16-21).

And given Christian theism's robust worldview competitors in the current marketplace of ideas (such as naturalism, postmodernism, Eastern mysticism, Islamic theism, and a revival of paganism), it seems certain that Christian apologetic ventures will remain as vital today as at any time in the past.

For a thorough discussion of the history of Christian apologetics (from ancient to modern to contemporary), see A History of Apologetics by Avery Cardinal Dulles.

For more about the truth of historic Christianity and its vibrant world-and-life view, see my books Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions and A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Subjects: General Apologetics

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.