Written by: Jacob Ferretti
For anyone who has spent any amount of time exploring Christianity, you have probably come across the term “apologetics.” But I think that the vast majority of church folk only hear the term when their pastor gives a passing reference to it in an occasional sermon, or when they walk through a Christian bookstore and wander to the rear wall near the restrooms, finding a section labeled “Apologetics” (often nestled between “Christian Living” and “Spanish Bibles”). Or, for our really hardcore/hipster Christian friends, you keep seeing the word pop up when you read your New Testament in Greek.
The term “apologetics” comes from the Greek word “apologia” and essentially translates to mean: “a verbal defense.” 1 In most modern cases, when someone talks about apologetics, they are probably referring to a field of study that is used to provide intellectual reasons for one’s beliefs. In most uses, the word is usually reserved for religious belief, but anyone explaining why they feel the way they do, whether it be about politics, favorite sports teams, etc., is doing apologetics for that belief. But to the greater population, the term is not a well-known one; if someone is explaining what they believe, they’ll usually say exactly that.
For Christians, we hold to this old Greek word because of our old Jewish friend: the Apostle Peter, and his advice: “to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 2 This means that we must be able to give a reasonable and intellectually valid response when someone asks us about our Christian belief. Because let’s face it: a lot of things that Christianity claims seem pretty incredible – maybe even ridiculous or downright silly.
In the Bible, it talks about people casting out demons, talking animals, plagues of darkness and frogs, staffs turning into snakes, and many other outlandish claims. To the uninitiated, the Bible may read more like the script of a Monty Python skit rather than the Word of God.
Aside from the supernatural claims, Christianity has a lot to say about politics and culture. The Bible very strongly condemns a great number of societal norms that our culture now not only accepts but also celebrates. Many people who read this book would think that, if God even exists, He is opposed to what many of us consider civil liberties or human rights.
Perhaps the greatest of these controversial topics is the current gay pride movement. I believe that the church’s handling of this issue is one of the biggest contributing factors to Christianity’s declining popularity and influence. The majority of churches and evangelicals who disagree with issues like same-sex marriage are considered bigoted and regressive. The gay pride movement has done a fantastic job winning the younger generation’s support, and they did this largely by raising questions that many Christians were not prepared to answer.*
I believe that the majority of the church knows what they believe, but they don’t fully understand why they believe it. Even Christians that take their faith seriously are often the product of cultural Christianity. Many sincere Christians who truly believe in the truth of the gospels may have arrived at that conclusion simply because it is the faith that they were raised in. Now I certainly believe in the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, that is to say that God has made Himself known to these Christians. But I believe that in order to truly be a light to the world, especially the western world, the church needs to return to its academic roots in the spirits of Christian thinkers like Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. If Christianity wants to be taken seriously as a worldview, the church needs to provide intellectually responsible reasons for why it’s worth believing.
Until recent years, the church had largely abandoned its intellectual roots and stood idly by while competing worldviews like secular humanism and transcendentalism strengthened their grip on western culture. Because of the works of apologists such as Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and many, many others, Christianity is undergoing a renaissance of Christian academics that will shape the future of the western church.
Apologetics training is not as difficult a task as some may think. You don’t need to pursue a degree in theology or apologetics to be able to answer some of the most common objections and help to develop the intellectual side of your spiritual growth. Simply being aware of some of the resources that are available in Christian apologetics and being able to reference someone else to these resources could greatly help.
Train yourself in these resources, even to just a rudimentary level. Read a book regarding Christian apologetics. Learn about a few arguments for the existence of God. Take an hour or two out of a weekend afternoon and listen to a podcast or watch a debate online.
The body of intellectually-responsible Christian apologetics is rapidly growing. Websites dedicated as databases for the Christian worldview are being created every day. Publishers are ravenous for new books discussing Christian theology on the popular level. Debates between Christian and non-Christian speakers and scholars are being viewed by millions of people on sites like YouTube. The interest for the topic of Christian apologetics is undeniable, and it seems that the church is slowly but surely realizing its need to return to its academic roots.
It is every Christian’s duty to take advantage of this growing body of resources. Christ Himself said that the most important commandment of all is to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind.” 3 The church is getting better at loving God with our hearts and our souls, but if we do not equally honor our Creator God with our minds then we are ultimately ignoring His design and purpose for us.
Every Christian is capable of doing it. The person who says that they are not smart enough to study apologetics is saying that they are immune from God’s greatest commandment. As philosopher William Lane Craig says, ““This kind of false humility is a mask for intellectual laziness… And it parades as a virtue – ‘I’m just not very smart’ – but in fact it’s really an excuse.” 4 If we take Christ’s commands seriously, then learning the intellectual depth of Christianity is every believer’s obligation, and it is one that every believer is capable of fulfilling.
* The issue of same-sex marriage and homosexuality is an extremely sensitive topic and deserves to be spoken of with the utmost love and respect that we share for our brothers and sisters who identify as homosexual. We will publish an article that deals specifically with our stance on this issue next month and will provide a link here when available.
1. Matt Slick, “An Introduction to Apologetics,” carm.org.
2. 1 Peter 3:15, English Standard Version.
3. Mark 12:30, English Standard Version.
4. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith Podcast, “Are Apologetics Sparking Revival?, October 16, 2011.