Book Review: Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It

by Chad Gross

When I first laid eyes on this book I was excited to read it. Being a novice in Christian apologetics, I was expecting it to lay a foundation which would help keep my focus and effectiveness as a Christian apologist sound. And it did not disappoint.

Chapter One:  What is Christian Apologetics?
In this chapter, Beilby adeptly covers the following six areas:

1. A Basic Definition.  The very first sentence of the book defines apologetics. From there, Beilby shifts to Christian apologetics by providing passages where the noun form of apologia appears in the New Testament. These passages reveal that “Christian apologetics involves an action (defending), a focus of the action (the Christian faith itself), a goal (upholding Christianity as true), and a context (the circumstances in which apologetics occurs)” (p. 13).

2. Making a Defense. The two different aspects of apologetics (responsive and proactive) and where we see them carried out in the New Testament are discussed in this section. From the examples in scripture, Beilby provides a succinct picture of the activities that take place in apologetics with the phrase “defending and commending the faith” (p. 14).

3. Defending the Christian Faith.  What is meant by the term Christian and what about the term Christian does apologetics defend? These questions are examined in this section resulting in the key idea:  “The proper domain of apologetics is the defense of dogmas [defined as core Christian claims], not doctrines [defined as attempts to explain, apply and flesh out dogmas]” (p. 20). Brackets mine.

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4. The Goals and Limitations of Apologetics.  Beilby explains that the goal of apologetics is as follows:
“…to offer sound reasons to believe the Christian faith, reasons that (1) accurately represent the gospel of Jesus Christ, (2) are presented in a Christ-like manner, (3) address our interlocutor’s questions and current spiritual disposition, and (4) help the interlocutor move from a position of basic mistrust (of God, Christianity, etc.) to a position of basic trust-a position that will allow the person to eventually commit his or her life to Jesus Christ” (p. 24).

Three limits of apologetics are also determined. First, apologetics cannot and should not provide a revision of the fundamental ideas and concepts of Christianity. Second, apologetics cannot compel belief in Jesus Christ. Finally, apologetics cannot create commitment to Christ.

5. The Apologetic Audience and Context.  The potential audiences (person or persons to whom one is speaking to) and contexts (the environments in which one’s apologetic conversations occur) are examined in this section. The definition of Christian apologetics is provided at the end of this examination as “the task of defending and commending the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a Christlike, context-sensitive and audience-specific manner” (p. 31).

6. Apologetics and Related Disciplines.  This section ends the chapter with a discussion of Christian apologetics and its relationship with the disciplines (in ascending order of importance) of meta-apologetics, philosophy of religion, evangelism, and theology.
A highlight for this reader, is a quote from James Sire found in the notes of the chapter:  “The success of any apologetic argument is not whether it wins converts but whether it is faithful to Jesus…

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