Getting a grip on apologetics: definitions and clarity

by Johnathan Pritchett

While it may appear to many who surf the Internet for popular evangelical websites and blogs that apologetical material is everywhere, graduate programs for it are popping up at seminaries, and more and more evangelical apologists are making the rounds at conferences, it remains the case that apologetics is relatively unknown in the majority of Southern Baptist churches. Where it is known, there seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding what apologetics is and isn’t, and it even receives its share of criticism from the scholars and pastors within the SBC who are unfamiliar with the apologetical enterprise, but sadly, speak as if they know all about it.

A former pastor of mine told me when I first began studying apologetics that, while the discipline is primarily a function for the church in defense of the faith, a big task for the modern apologist, especially in Southern Baptist circles, is to be an apologist to the church, defending and contending for the faith to our congregations. While this may seem odd to hear for some, I think it is largely correct. There is much misinformation and misunderstanding in Southern Baptist circles on what apologetics is, isn’t, and how it operates. That, combined with a slipping grasp of knowledge in even the most fundamental doctrines happening in our pews, the urgency is heightened now more than ever. The intent here is to provide an overview of Christian apologetics, and then in part 2, debunk some common myths about apologetics.

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First, some definitions: Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia. This word means, “defense.” It is a word found in Scripture. 1 Peter 3:15 states, “… but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense (Gk. apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (HCSB). It is important to note that this is an imperative given to the church. Apologetics isn’t simply an academic discipline to study in seminary and then make a career of it somehow. Rather, it is a function of the church, for the church, and it is for everyone who confesses Jesus is Lord. It is also important to note that this biblical instruction of giving a defense of the hope within us as believers is linked to the honoring the Messiah as Lord in our hearts. Hence, the outcome of setting the Messiah as Lord in our hearts is our readiness to give the defense. Our Lord Jesus commanded us to love God with our minds (Luke 10:27), and that is part of the greatest commandment in Scripture. Thus, when discussing apologetics, it is important from the outset to understand apologetics, and do so with a view to Scripture.

Apologetics comes in a variety of flavors, all of which are found in Scripture.

First, we have doctrinal apologetics. The book of Galatians is an excellent example of this. In this epistle, Paul defends the true Gospel of Christ against the Judaizers. Paul presents his defense of the Gospel in the context of those who would bring the people of Galatia under the yoke of Old Testament law to add to what Christ has accomplished. Here we find a breathtaking defense of the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Defending biblical doctrines prepares us to combat false teaching and false teachers in the Church…

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