Apologetics: Pre-Evangelism or Evangelism?
by Jacob Allee
Professional apologists have disagreed on the matter but it is still a worthy question, “What is the relationship of apologetics to evangelism?” Some have, of course, argued that apologetics has no relationship to evangelism and would rather relegate apologetics to be used only for defending and strengthening the faith of believers. Apologetics in their mind is only defensive and has no offensive value. In this view one must simply preach the gospel and then once people believe they can use apologetics to further strengthen their faith.
Others see apologetics having no place in Christian ministry at all because they see reason and evidence as being counter to the gospel that is to be received and held by faith alone (as if having good reasons to believe nullifies faith). Those in this category are they who see Christian faith as necessarily a blind leap. Theologians and philosophers like Karl Barth and Soren Kierkegaard are representative of this ideology which sees reason and evidence as actually destructive to faith since they interpret faith to mean believing against or without reason.
I would argue against both of these view (while finding the first view more acceptable than the second) because I think they misunderstand or don’t take seriously enough what Scripture itself says as it relates to faith and apologetics. In the first case it is clear that, for instance, Paul uses apologetics in an offensive way (offensive as in proactive rather than rude) in Acts 17 at the Areopagus. Paul reasons with the philosophers at Mars Hill who did not know the God of the Bible and did not accept the Old Testament as authoritative and he engages them with an apologetic argument using things from their own culture. Paul makes use of the idol
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dedicated to “an unknown god” and he even makes use of secular literature that was known to his audience to show that the ideas he was presenting are no completely foreign to them. So without going to a lot more detail at this point, it’s safe to say that apologetics can be used offensively and not merely defensively.
To the group who see faith and reason as polar opposites I would say that they simply need to look again at Scripture and see that the Bible never uses the term faith to indicate a “blind leap.” Paul is said to have reasoned with the Jews (Acts 17:2; 17:17; 18:4 and 18:19) he also reasoned with the gentiles as we just said in Acts 17 at Mars Hill, and in Acts 24:25 he even reasoned with the governor Felix. Likewise Peters sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 is not devoid of reason nor evidence as he appeals to the Jews that they need to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. 1 Peter 3:15 tells believers that they need to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that they have when unbelievers ask them about their faith, in other words, what reasons do you have for what you believe? Faith in Scripture communicates the idea of trust and it is not opposed to reason. In fact one could easily argue that the more reasons you have to trust someone or something, the more faith you have in them.
So clearly apologetics can be used offensively and the Bible doesn’t present it as contrary to faith but, rather, supplementary and useful both for sharing with unbelievers and strengthening the faith of believers. So with those two categories out of the way the question still remains “What is apologetics proper relationship to evangelism?” Historically it has often been seen as pre-evangelism. Many have argued that the purpose of apologetics is to clear away objections and to till the ground making it fertile for seed of the gospel to be planted…
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