Theology 101 – Apologetics & Theology [Part One] – How do they relate?

by Daniel Rodger

We have so far examined the nature of Christian theology. We’ve argued that each of us is, in fact, a theologian, and we’ve suggested a few reasons why theological study is valuable. We’ve explored the various sources involved in theological reflection, as well as the different disciplines and traditions of Christian theology. Since this is a blog dedicated to defending the Christian faith, I would like us to use the next two posts to explore the relationship between apologetics and theology.

I will assume that you’re already familiar with what constitutes ‘apologetics’. [1] As a subject of study, apologetics is a theological discipline of the kind described in the last post. As a discipline of theology, apologetics is still concerned with God-speech but its specific purpose is to demonstrate the plausibility of theological claims. [2] Indeed, many of the greatest theologians in Christian history have behaved apologetically, and some of them have explicitly included an appraisal of apologetics within their systems of theology. [3] The danger here is that we take these precedents and assume the connection between theology and apologetics to be straightforward. Whilst we may be confident that they are related, we should not be naïve with regards the nature of their relationship. It is my suggestion that the study of Christian theology is of great importance to the practice of apologetics, and that the former should be a high priority for those engaged in the latter. I propose nine reasons to this end.

(1) You cannot successfully defend that which you do not know. In an earlier post, we spoke in this way to hint at the utility of theological study for apologetics. If you have an interest in apologetics then, by definition, you have an interest in defending the Christian faith. The Christian faith possesses intellectual content: doctrinal tenets, historical claims, philosophical consequences, etc.

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This intellectual content is the object of theological study. In order to defend the Christian faith you must defend its intellectual content; in order to defend its intellectual content, you must be familiar with said content; in order to be familiar with said content, you must undertake theological study. Again: you cannot successfully defend that which you do not know.

(2) Theological study keeps you on target. Having a greater awareness of what Christian theology entails enables you to identify caricature and misrepresentation. Last year my wife and I were invited to be in the audience for the BBC’s Big Questions. The episode being filmed was to be a one-hour special, dedicated to the question of the existence of God. Before we were led into the studio, I started talking to a gentleman who identified himself as an atheist. Our discussion was cordial throughout. At one point in the conversation he suggested that the Christian faith posited a strict dualism between body and spirit, with the latter being given an almost exclusive emphasis. (If I remember right, he was making this point to discredit the idea of Jesus’ physical resurrection.) I quickly noted that this was, in fact, a caricature – not only of the scriptural data, but also of the patristic data. I referenced Irenaeus’ Against Heresies V.XIV.3 to show that from the early to mid second century, there was a clear sense of the importance of flesh in Christ’s act of redemption. The man graciously accepted that the caricature was incorrect and dropped his line of argument. This is one example of how theological study, and an awareness of key theological texts, can help de-construct inaccuracy. It prevents the apologist from veering off target by tolerating claims not grounded in sound theological study…


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