Those who come to Christ all come differently, but receive the same salvation, and the same call to action. Love the Lord your God, love thy neighbor, go and tell the world. Throughout the New Testament, more guidance is given on how to succeed at these ordinances, clearing up misconceptions, giving wisdom and encouragement.
One of these further clarifications and explanations comes in 1 Peter, where the Apostle Peter charges believers, “but 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” (1 Peter 3:15). This challenge to be prepared to make a defense is, simply put, being able to explain your faith and answer questions.
Those who have refined this ability to make a defense practice apologetics. To be engaged in apologetics, the individual must be making a reasoned argument about religious doctrine. This argument can be scientific, philosophical, and moral.
How Did the Study of Apologetics Get Started?
The exercise of apologetics began early in the Christian faith. The first known example of Christian apologetics is actually in the Bible. In Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit falls upon the church at Pentecost, Peter gives a sermon to the Jewish audience in Jerusalem for Holy Days at that time. After explaining how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, Peter declares, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
This sermon was an act of apologetics. Also in the Book of Acts, Paul gives a famous argument in Acts 17 at the Areopagus. In the speech, Paul points to the altar to the unknown god, using the belief system of the Greek civilization to show them how Jesus Christ fills the gap in their faith, and is the better way. Paul explains to the gentiles, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24).
The arguments made by Peter address a Jewish audience, and Paul a Greek, but they both serve the same function.
After the age of the apostles, the second century apologists were defending Christianity as a new faith against political oppression. Justin Martyr was a key figure in this movement. He wrote two texts called Apologies, addressed to the emperor, and written in Rome. This phase of apologetics was defined, in part, regionally. They sought to justify Christian’s rights, and cease political attempts to get rid of them. They also challenged the classical world-view of the Greco-Roman based cultures.
It culminated in Augustine of Hippo, one of the most famous defenders of the Christian faith, even today. After his conversion to Christianity, Augustine wrote texts that sought to answer some of the questions being born out of the rapidly expanding faith including essays on Answers to Skeptics and Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil.
Many movements in apologetics through the centuries came as a response to different movements arising from within and around the faith. For example during the Middle Ages, political conflicts in Jerusalem - which led to the Crusades - also led to works like The Epistle of ʿAbdallāh ibn Ismāʿīl al-Hāshimī to ʿAbd al-Masīḥ ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī in which he invites him to convert to Islam and the letter of al-Kindī to al-Hāshimī in which he refutes him and invites him to convert to Christianity, which illustrated the way Muslims and Christians could dialogue about their beliefs.
The Reformation brought about apologetics from both the Reformers and the established Catholic Church. Martin Luther and John Calvin defended their reformation while thinkers like Thomas More and Robert Bellarmine articulately argued for the Roman church. The history, and strength, of apologetics was built on the response to the culture within the church, as much as responding to outsiders’ questions and skeptical inquiries.
Are There Different Types of Apologetics?
Because challenges to - and questions about - the Christian faith can come from different people with different backgrounds and different preconceived notions about Christianity, there are different answers and arguments that arise in response. Certain individuals have mastered different styles of argument and different arguments.
One type of apologetics is Biblical and historical apologetics. This style seeks to validate the reliability of the Bible, its canon, and the claims therein through textual and historical evidence. This style looks at archaeological sites, the age and authenticity of primary documents, and sometimes examines apparent contradictions in the Bible to provide clarity as well as evidence for the Bible's historical accuracy.
Within this larger category, apologists examine:
- Jesus’ miracles
- Jesus fulfilling Old Testament Prophecies
- Historical evidence for contested events in the Old Testament
- The reliability of first-hand accounts of the life of Christ
Another broad set of categories for apologetics include moral arguments and philosophical arguments. Moral arguments look at the ethical reasons for why God exists. They examine the question as to whether or not man is inherently good or evil, and how the Bible is the answer to moral dilemmas. Philosophical arguments look at the larger questions of whether or not God exists, and if He does, what kind of God is He.
Philosophical apologetics can be:
Cosmological - The existence of the universe suggests God exists
Teleological - The world around us appears to be designed with purpose.
Ontological - The fact that man has a concept of God suggests there is an actual God.
Moral - Morality is objective, therefore there is a moral God.
Transcendental - Mankind thinks, therefore God is.
Presuppositional - Basic beliefs of humanity require God to exist
The other large type of apologetics is scientific apologetics. This type usually addresses the scientific questions the Bible presents. Is the Creation story accurate? Is there scientific evidence of a global flood? Are there any scientific questions the Bible answers? Some of these questions are currently, actively being researched by Christian scientists. Another line of argument is highlighting the problems of evolution, Darwinism, and the inherent assumptions in the scientific and academic communities that God has no place in science.
While there are some smaller sub-categories of apologetic reasoning, these are the largest, and most commonly utilized, types.
Who Were Some Famous Apologists?
After 2,000 years of Christianity and apologists, some of them came to the forefront, and became cornerstones of Christian doctrine. These individuals wrote books and essays and gave articulate speeches which cohesively articulated the Christian faith.
Some of these individuals include:
Augustine of Hippo: St. Augustine was a Roman citizen who lived in northern Africa from 354AD - 430AD. After experimenting with other philosophies and ways of life, Augustine gave his life to Christ, and wrote some of the foundational texts of the faith. His best-known works include De doctrina christiana and The City of God.
C.S. Lewis: Lewis was a prolific British writer who converted to Christianity after years of atheism. While not all of his works fall under the field of apologetics, several did. Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain are important works from Lewis.
Ravi Zacharias: Born in India and saved at age seventeen, Ravi Zacharias has become one of the world’s most prolific speakers on apologetics. Zacharias is known for his philosophical, yet gentle, approach. Founding his own ministry organization and having the long-running radio program, Let My People Think are just a few of his efforts. Some of his best-known apologetics works include Can Man Live Without God? and Jesus Among Other Gods.
Lee Stroebel: A former journalist and atheist, Stroebel came to Christ by investigating the veracity of the resurrection. He wrote an autobiography about his journey to salvation, and incorporated the evidence that convinced him to surrender his life to Christ. Now a minister, he writes books that make apologetics accessible to a broader audience including The Case for Christ and The Case for a Creator.
Can Anyone Study Apologetics?
While not everybody may become a full-time professional apologist, it is easier than ever to become well-versed in apologetics. There are many books, resources, and even whole Sunday School curriculum that outline the basics of apologetics in different fields. Some of them teach the basics of academic arguments. Others outline the history and the evidence for the Christian faith and addresses counter-claims.
If scientific or historical apologetics is more interesting, there are also magazines and newsletters which provide the newest pieces of evidence, research, and information that can bolster your knowledge. In the information age, more Christians can be well-armed with the right knowledge combined with their faith to make a sound defense of that faith to those with doubts and questions.
Why Study Apologetics?
People have various reasons for studying apologetics. For many, they wish to explain their faith better. Some find themselves in professional situations where they need to be able to give academic arguments for why or how they can believe what they believe and still pursue their chosen field. Many seek to become better witnesses to others, and want to be able to answer questions better.
These are all good reasons to learn apologetics. It is important to always be ready to give a defense of faith. It is good for strengthening your own faith as well, and using it as a tool for the church to become better evangelists can make a difference in your community. Being empowered, whether in professional ministry or not, can lead to more people feeling confident to share the Gospel and witness to others.
Learning apologetics does not mean that anyone can have all the answers to every question. There are many questions that can be asked, but it is not for man to have all the answers. Faith steps in where man cannot have answers. God challenged Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). Because man was not there when God made everything, we cannot know His mind and will not be able to know all things.
Apologetics are a great way of strengthening one’s own knowledge and faith, while being able to explain the Bible better to those with questions or a skeptical nature. Becoming more adept at them is a great Bible study and evangelical tool. Start with some research into the kind of apologetics that interests you, and learn more about God and His creation
Brown, Devin. A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2013.
Chadwick, Henry. Augustine of Hippo: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Dulles, Avery. A History of Apologetics. San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2018.
Sproul, R.C.. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2003.
Stroebel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.