by Graham Veale
Despite a recent surge in popularity, “apologetics” remains relatively low on the local churches list of priorities. It is not difficult to see why. Music, counselling and evangelism seem to be the natural outcomes of a vibrant faith; yet the very term “apologetics” seems academic and abstruse. The Christian faith is not an abstract set of concepts to be believed but a life to be embraced, a life that includes all of the person – head, heart and hands, reason, emotion and will. The Christian idea of salvation involves a transformative relationship with the creator of the universe. It is not merely about one’s beliefs, because even the devil can affirm important theological truths.
Yet every person has a mind that God claims for himself. Our ideas and beliefs must be converted along with our emotions and will. “Apologetics” may be an unfortunate term because it has the whiff of academia and intellectualism about it. Yet, to steal a phrase from Chesterton, it is as practical as potatoes. Apologetics can be done well or poorly, faithfully or thoughtlessly, but every Christian will inevitably engage in it. Thankfully, three recent books not only demonstrate that every Christian is called to apologetics – each shows how that call should be answered.
In Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It James K. Beilby points out that apologetics is, at root, simply “commending and defending” the faith, an unavoidable part of Christian living. Just as theology flows naturally from worship and confession, apologetics is the natural outcome of evangelism. At some point in every evangelistic encounter, the unbeliever will soon ask “why should I believe that any of this is
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true?” At this point, the Christian moves from proclaiming the Gospel to persuading the unbeliever; from evangelism to apologetics. The Christian will have to state some reason for the hope that is within him; so his answer had better be good.
Beilby is also keenly aware of the limits of rational argument. We might convince a person that the Christian faith is true and that it the decision to have faith in Christ is of momentous importance. However, saving faith only occurs when a person acts, committing herself to Christ. Even when someone is fully aware of the rational course of action, selfishness and pride can motivate a profoundly irrational decision. Yet, if a person cannot be argued into faith, they cannot be “preached” or “witnessed” into the Kingdom either. Apologetics is no less advantaged than any other aspect of evangelism.
Anti-apologists have made much of 1 Corinthians 2v4-5, where Paul says that “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power”. But Paul was not critiquing apologetics in this passage; his target was the Corinthians’ love of rhetoric. As Beilby points out…