What is the Value of Apologetics?

by Travis Dickinson

There are, on my view, a variety of values that can be had by practicing what we call Apologetics. Let’s first say what Apologetics is as a discipline. In its most general sense, apologetics is a preparatory discipline where one readies oneself to commend and defend the truth of Christianity. What immediately comes to mind for many of us are the overly cerebral arguments one may offer in defense of the faith. These are the ones that, for many, cause immediate eye glazing to occur. They may include formal arguments for God’s existence; historical evidence for the resurrection; addressing challenges, such as the so-called problem of evil; alleged contradictions in Scripture; and alleged moral issues in Scripture as well as a whole host of other academic topics. These are indeed in the corpus of Apologetics topics. However, on my view, commending and defending the faith may at times be much less cerebral.

In fact, when I share my testimony of how Jesus profoundly impacted my life, I see this as a powerful apologetic of my faith, especially to those who walked with me through that journey. My story won’t make it into the professional journals, but it nonetheless is powerful evidence (at least for me and those that know me) that Christianity is true. I would hope that we would all grow in our reasons for our faith that should probably include the more cerebral and challenging material along with growing in our biblical and theological literacy. But the point is that the more cerebral stuff is not necessary to have a very reasonable faith, or so I would argue.

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Why, then, is being prepared to commend and defend the faith valuable? I’ll here outline three primary values and a final bonus.

Weighing into culture debates

First, Apologetics is valuable for weighing into the at large culture debates. This is the most public that Apologetics gets. This effort often requires academic degrees and is fought through journal articles, books, public debates and other academic forums. This is a crucially important task, but it is also one that is performed by the smallest number. Now I hope that the number of folks who are equipped to do this work continues to grow, and I am very excited for my part in training the next generation of Apologists. So I don’t want to minimize this task, since again I see it as crucially important, but I would recognize that many folks will only get to support these efforts by buying the books and attending the conferences rather than writing the books and doing the teaching.

Winning the lost

Second, Apologetics is valuable for winning the lost. I think Apologetics is extremely valuable as it relates to evangelism. However, I am the first to admit that Apologetics has some significant limits in this regard. There are many people who are closed off and hardhearted to the gospel to the degree that no amount of cogent reasoning will solve. That said, a strong and thoughtful defense can sometimes stick with a person, make them lay awake thinking about it, and can sometimes free up a small space of doubt that perhaps the Lord would use. This, it seems to me, happens, and I think we ought to be faithful to address these folks with love and firmness, having respect without matching the vitriol. But I’m much more concerned about those who are genuinely searching or at least have a few questions that have always bothered them and kept them from opening their hearts and minds in a fuller way to the truths of the gospel…

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