From Paraklesis, a resource of Baptist Bible Seminary (Spring, 2013). Used by permission.
Apologetics is derived from the Greek noun apologia and verb apologeomai, which appear 18 times in the New Testament. In each instance, the terms emphasize the sense of defending or vindicating oneself and/or truth claims.
The New Testament authors repeatedly affirm the critical importance of defending or justifying the truthfulness of the Christian truth claims. For example, Paul commends the Philippian church for supporting him in the defense of the gospel (Phil 1:7, 16). Later, Paul defended himself against unjust allegations (1 Cor 9:3) and he defended his apostleship (2 Cor 12:19).
Toward the end of his ministry he wrote that at his first defense no one supported him though the Lord stood with him (2 Tim 4:16). When Paul appeared before the Roman authorities of Felix (Acts 24), Festus (Acts 25), and Agrippa (Acts 26), he presented a defense of himself and the Christian faith. Scripture writers repeatedly appealed to historical facts and logical arguments in presenting, explaining, and defending the truthfulness and veracity of the gospel.
However, this defense (or apologia) provided only justification for the truthfulness of the gospel which then was appropriated by faith. The gospel message was never reduced to a mere mental assent to facts.
Importantly, all believers are called to sanctify Christ as Lord “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” (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter clearly instructs all believers to give an account (a reasoned and rational explanation) for their confidence in Christ. Notably, the recipients of Peter’s letter were suffering immense persecution (1 Pet. 1:1, 4:1-5), and yet they were to have a supreme confidence in Christ and be able to provide a reasoned explanation for their hope even to their tormentors.
As the church expanded and grew, the concept of apologia later became associated with a more formal and philosophical refutation of false teaching such as polytheism, Gnosticism, and other heresies. Many of these writers in the second and third century were referred to as apologists since they used the word apology in their writing (e.g., Justin Martyr’s First Apology). Apologetics as a theological discipline did not appear until the latter 1700s, and then was later refined into sub-categories such as philosophical apologetics, historical apologetics, etc.
Biblical Apologetics at Baptist Bible Seminary focuses on both Christ’s supremacy in one’s life and in providing a reasoned, rational defense of the hope within. Consequently, biblical Apologetics entails both the theoretical as well as ministerial elements to include:
- Knowing and defending what the Scriptures teach with an awareness of the interpretative, hermeneutical, theological, and philosophical challenges and trends.
- Constructing effective apologetic leadership strategies for implementation within local churches and other ministry settings as well as formulating biblically correct and culturally sensitive evangelistic methods designed to utilize apologetics.
These elements include knowing and showing how a truth claim relates to the Christian faith and presenting a rational, logical, reasoned defense of that truth claim within a ministering context. It entails a balance of positive, offensive strategies as well as defensive, more negative critiques and evaluations of non-Christian truth claims.
In the earlier fundamentalist-liberal controversies, the renowned Princeton theologian, J. Gresham Machen cautioned conservatives of his day that “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel [because Christianity is portrayed as nothing] more than a harmless delusion” (J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture” in the Princeton Theological Review 11 , 7).
Ministry leaders must not retreat to anti-intellectualism, sheer pragmatism or philosophical intellectualism. Rather, ministry leaders are called to practice and equip the church to understand, practice, and defend the historical, scriptural truthfulness of Christianity within a context of relevant ministry.
(Image courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University)