The Task of the Christian Apologist
by Gannon Murphy
Apologetics has been defined as “the discipline that deals with a rational defense of the Christian faith.” Since Christianity posits a certain knowledge and understanding of God, it is the task of the Christian apologist to demonstrate the grounds of biblical revelation and to establish why placing one’s faith in Christianity is not only reasonable but also existentially vital.
Christians have a biblical mandate to engage in apologetics. Peter said, “Always be 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; NASB). The word translated here as “make a defense” is the Greek, apologia. The apologist par excellence from biblical times was the apostle Paul himself. The Bible tells us that Paul “reasoned” with unbelievers in order to explain the truths of Christianity to them. Paul used terms and arguments his contemporary audience could understand, and he provided “reasoned” responses to their objections (e.g., Acts 17:17). Paul instructed others to carry on the apologetic task, saying that we must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).
One need not possess great intellectual gifts such as Paul’s to engage in apologetics. Christians rather should make use of the particular gifts God has given them while providing answers “for the hope that is in [them].” The goal of apologetics is not to win arguments for the sake of winning arguments or to engage in some kind of intellectual one-upmanship. It is, instead, to offer to unbelievers — with “gentleness and respect” — that which helps them see the light of Christ more clearly. The apologist is charged with removing obstacles, especially intellectual ones, which hinder a faith commitment to Christ. We must recognize, however, that it is ultimately the work of God through grace alone that results in one’s salvation. Paul asserted this truth: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–62) once wrote that “it is the conduct of God, who disposes all things kindly, to put religion into the mind by reason, and into the heart by grace.” Along with Pascal, it has been the firm conviction of apologists throughout the centuries that arguments do not, in and of themselves, convert; rather, true Christian conversion is rightfully attributed to the work of God in grace.
The question that naturally arises, then, is: If ultimately the gift of salvation is solely dependent on God, why have apologetics? What are the proper goals of the apologist? From a biblical standpoint, it appears there are at least three. We will explore these goals and how they fit in with the soteriological (saving) work of the Holy Spirit…
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