Think Well

Why Apologetics Isn’t Dead

October 12, 2018

“It’s interesting a church of your size would do an apologetics conference.”

Said one of the speakers at our Apologetics Conference. It is unusual.

A few weeks back I received an email from a concerned gentleman. He wrote, “Obscure Christian academicians oddly enjoy the word Apologetics. But that does not mean that it should be used as the name for mass conferences.”

There might be a better name for our annual Thrive Apologetics Conference, I’ll give him that. “Apologetics” is a weird word. It’s almost impossible to use it without fending off bad jokes about apologizing for your faith.

But in my experience, “obscure Christian academicians,” use this word for a different reason. They use it because that’s the word that describes what Christians have always done.

Like “theology” and “sanctification” and “grace,” there’s a vocabulary to our faith. Sure, we can change the words. But on the other hand, how cool that we are continuing the conversation?

From Tertullian in the second century to Aquinas in the thirteen century, to C.S. Lewis in the twentieth century, to Josh McDowell in the 70s, to Mark Clark today, this is what Christians do.

Maybe it’s my philosophy background. Every philosophy starts with someone inventing their own words and spending the next 300 pages defining them. I’ve never been one to care what we call it.

I care that we do it.

I have a degree in something most people consider dead. I think they’re wrong. Here’s the common objections and my apologetic in response.

Apologetics answers questions people aren’t asking.

There’s a 1000 things I could say about this but here’s three simple thoughts:

  1. There’s all sorts of preachers preaching bad sermons. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t preach. There’s all sorts of apologists going about apologetics in the wrong way. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It means we should do better.
  2. If this were entirely true, people wouldn’t come up to me after I speak on apologetics and say things like “is there anywhere I could hear more stuff like this? We never talk about this stuff in my church.”
  3. We can’t simply answer the questions people are asking, we need to be thinking ahead and anticipating the possible objections to the Christian faith. If not, we are ever at the mercy of the moment and never prepared. This is the exact opposite of what 1 Peter 3:15 encourages: “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.”

Apologetics leads to arguments, we should focus on loving people instead.

Again, some people do bad apologetics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do apologetics. There’s a couple reasons apologetics could lead to an argument. First, this happens when we care more about winning than witnessing. If that’s true, this is a discipleship problem, not an apologetics problem. Jesus doesn’t need a defense lawyer, we don’t need to “win the war” on Christianity. We know the end of the story, he’s already won. We’re told our conversation should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). Reverse that and it’s understandable why people don’t like apologetics. But if you’ve ever seen apologetics done correctly–always gracious, seasoned with salt–you know how effective it is in winning people to Christ, not just winning an argument.

The second reason apologetics can lead to an argument is that we are speaking from fear–we lack confidence in what we’re saying, so we say it louder. We say it with more “umph.” We share it on Facebook more frequently. We need to back up and think through things before we go out and share them with people. In other words, we need to do apologetics.

I have a hard time when people say we don’t need to do apologetics, we just need to love people. As though taking people’s questions seriously, offering thoughtful responses, and guiding them to an accurate view of God and the world was not loving. Apologetics is a great way to love people.

Apologetics robs the simplicity of the gospel.

The gospel is simple. God is not. The world is not. Injustice is not. Our body, soul, and spirit are not. Yes, we should have a childlike faith, but have you never noticed how many questions children ask?

We should always keep the cross and resurrection of Jesus the center of our faith. Good apologetics doesn’t obscure the cross, it tears down every obstacle standing in people’s way of encountering it (2 Corinthians 10:5).

There are so many better things we could focus on.

I don’t have three points for this. Just a story. I spoke on apologetics at Hume Lake a couple weekends ago. My theme was how to have conversations about faith when people are hostile towards Christianity.

Afterward, this beautiful early 20-something gal came up to me, face ashen. She told me she was a professional dancer in L.A. and was really struggling with how to speak about her faith because it felt like people hated her for it. She said one of her friends found out she was a Christian and asked her, “so do you think I’m going to Hell?” She had no idea how to answer and felt like she had done a bad job with it.

Fast forward to my next weekend. It’s 8 am and I’m in a room that holds 250. 400 people are packed into it, awkward standing room only. They came to hear Mark Clark on “The Problem of Hell.” What if she had been there? What if she’d gotten her hands on his book and thought through this question and knew how to give a compassionate, thoughtful, Jesus directing answer when asked?

I gave her some thoughts then encouraged her. It was so clear to me that she needed the Church to do a better job with apologetics.

It was clear to me again as 1100 people gathered at 8 am to learn about science, supposed contradictions in Scripture and the moral argument. We need to do more and better apologetics.

That’s my apologetic for apologetics.

If you want to dive into apologetics, here are the three resources I’d recommend you start with:


Photo by Fred Pixlab on Unsplash

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