Does Apologetics Convert People?

by Clint Roberts

For some Christians, the word “apologetics” is just another piece of seminary jargon. It’s one of those words their pastor uses to prove his degree is from a legitimate theological institution. After all, it has the same word ending as “homiletics” and “hermeneutics.” Words ending in “tics” are clearly very important, but they are for the “religious specialists”, not “lay” persons.

We all have to guard against large or obscure words becoming obstacles to our education. Every word means something (unless it is just gibberish). “Homiletics” is basically sermonizing (giving “homilies”). “Hermeneutics” is simply interpreting things (like ancient texts) to find their true meaning.

How a word sounds may evoke a particular feeling, but that’s irrelevant. The word “medieval” has a dark, ominous sound because we hear the word “evil” in it. But the word “evil” isn’t really in it. It only sounds like it is. “Medieval” only means “middle.”

Apologist sounds, at first, like a term of weakness.

Similarly, “apologist” sounds, at first, to the average English speaker, like a term of weakness, like someone who goes around saying, “I’m sorry” for his or her views. That’s because our common use of the word “apology” has a different meaning than it did when ancient Greeks used it.

What is Apologetics?

The classical definition of the word “apology” is simply “a verbal defense.” It certainly wasn’t used to describe those fake public apologies made by famous people today. It’s high time we redeem the word “apology.” We need fewer spineless apologies and more robust apologists. In other words, stop saying you’re sorry for holding your beliefs and instead defend them.

We need fewer spineless apologies and more robust apologists.

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When, in the 4th Century B.C., Plato penned the famous Apology of Socrates, suffice to say, it did not feature his mentor saying “I’m terribly sorry for challenging the status quo with my pointed philosophical questions aimed at self-proclaimed intellectual leaders in Athens, so now can you find it in your hearts to forgive me for corrupting the youth by teaching them how to think critically?”  No sir.

The Apology was Socrates’ characteristically brilliant defense of himself before the Athenian court that had sentenced him to death. Similarly today, an “apologist” for the big oil companies, defends those companies’ rights, privileges and practices.

“Christian Apologetics” is the practice of defending Christianity.

Thus, “Christian Apologetics” is the practice of defending Christianity, either by defending it against the specific accusations of critics or defending the truth of its central claims.

Does Apologetics Convert People?

If we ask the question, “How many people became Christians because they heard a good defense of something like the existence of God, the historicity of the Gospels, or the archeological verifications of biblical narratives?” the answer is probably “very few”.

But the question, “Does apologetics convert anyone?” is a poor question to begin with. This is why I imagine the ghosts of Puritans past cringing when they hear us ask it. They would remind us in stern, puritanical tones that the only theologically correct way to speak of this is that God alone converts people. However, we may inquire as to what means God uses…

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