What Does the Bible Teach Us About Apologetics?
The Bible is not silent on the topic of apologetics. The word “apologetics” is from the Greek word “apologia” and it means to give a defense for a doctrine or closely held belief. This word, both in its noun form and its verb forms is used 17 times throughout the New Testament. Paul uses it repeatedly throughout his writings (1 Cor 9:3; 2 Cor 12:19; 2 Cor 7:11; Rom 2:15; 2 Tim 4:16; Philippians 1:7,16). Peter also uses this term when he admonishes believers that they should “always be ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
Throughout the New Testament, we read the accounts of men who were engaged in apologetics, defending their faith. For instance, Peter (Acts 2) uses a fantastic apologetic speech demonstrating to all who would hear that Jesus was the Christ, which led to the conversion of 3,000 people. Luke opens his letter with a defense of the truth, pointing to the first-hand, eyewitness accounts of the events that he is relaying to Theophilus. Luke also records (Acts 17:3) how Paul spoke to the Jews in Thessalonica “explaining and giving evidence” of Christ. Furthermore, Luke gives the reader an account of the speech Paul made to the Athenian Jews wherein he was “reasoning with them” in the synagogue (17:17). Paul continues with his apologetic messages in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians. Both John and Peter make use of apologetics to defend their views. This is in no way an exhaustive look at the practice of apologetics in the New Testament, as there are many more references to the apologetic nature of the ministry of the apostles. As they were faced with the scrutiny and persecution from both religious leaders and governmental officials, they offered apologetic responses.
What Scripture does clearly define for us as believers is the manner in which we are to conduct ourselves when we engage in apologetics. As mentioned already, Peter admonishes believers to “always be ready” to defend their faith, and to do so with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). The opposite of “gentleness and reverence” would be “abrasiveness and condescension.” To approach someone who holds a different viewpoint with “abrasiveness and condescension” would only make matters worse. Regardless of the truth you bring, they won’t listen because of your demeanor. John 13:35 makes it clear that Christians are known by their love, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the church.
In fact, love is the motivating factor that compels the believer to reach out to the lost in the first place. Without genuine love for souls and compassion for the lost, there would be no evangelism. True Christians are known by the love they demonstrate.
Paul encouraged Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Obviously there is a lot in this charge that needs to be unpacked. First, the one who is defending the faith must be diligent. He should be a person marked by faithfulness and consistency, and must demonstrate diligence in his study of the faith. By doing so, he will be able to present himself approved to God as a workman. Surely, the Lord knows who is prepared and studied, and who meets His approval as His messenger. The one who is diligent, prepared and approved will not be ashamed. He will have no fear, but rather confidence in the handling of the word. He will be known as one who accurately handles the word of truth. This is the commission given to Timothy by Paul as he was embarking on his ministry to the church at Ephesus. We, as believers, should take these principles into careful consideration, knowing that many of the same issues that Timothy faced in his ministry will also be encountered today. And, as such, it is wise for us to embrace these principles in our own presentations of Biblical apologetics.
Paul also instructed Timothy to avoid “foolish and ignorant speculations” (2 Tim 2:23-26). The best alternative for foolishness is preparedness. The opposite of ignorant is informed. Speculations? The defender of the faith should never have to speculate. Rather, with great certainty, he proclaims the truth. Paul continues, “…knowing that these produce quarrels.” It is not becoming of a believer to be quarrelsome, but rather to be “kind, able to teach, patient when wronged, gently correcting those who are in opposition.” And what is the goal? That God “may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Why? Paul continues, “that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” This instruction from Paul captures the essence of how and why believers should engage in apologetics.
As Titus was beginning his ministry at Crete, Paul admonished him in much the same fashion. He encouraged Titus to remind those in his flock to “be subject to the rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, and ready for every good deed, maligning no one, uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1-2).
The four functions of apologetics are to prove, defend, refute and persuade concerning the truth. We must diligently prepare ourselves, armed with a bold message, yet deliver it with much grace, gentleness and compassion for the lost. This is the approach that the Lord can best use to soften the hardened hearts of rebellious unbelievers so that they might come to the knowledge of the truth.
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