Apologetics: Why Your Church Needs It
by John M. Njoroge
The ambiguity of the word apologetics provides the apologist with a natural icebreaker in public or private conversations on the topic: the apologist does not exist to “apologize” for being a Christian, or indeed for anything else. The assumption behind the pun is that the listeners would have a fair understanding of what apologetics is even if they cannot attach a formal definition to the concept. Unfortunately, this assumption is not always accurate.
During a conversation at a major apologetics event recently held in a large church, an attendee asked me what “apologetics” meant. I explained to her that apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that seeks to address the intellectual obstacles that keep people from taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously. I gave her some examples of questions that are important in the context of apologetics. For example, why does evil exist if the world was created by an all-good, all-powerful God? How do we know Christianity is true in light of the numerous religions that exist in the world? I finished my answer to her by quoting 1 Peter 3:15, which instructs us to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope that is within us.
Her reaction was surprising. “Are you sure the Bible says that?” she asked. I assured her that it does. I explained to her that the word translated “answer” in that verse is the Greek word apologia that means “defense” and from which we get the English word apologetics.
She had been a faithful member of a prominent evangelical church for most of her life, and yet she did not understand the meaning or importance of apologetics in the life of the local church. Sadly, I have seen such scenarios repeat themselves so frequently that I have now come to expect them whenever I go to a new place to speak. Even among those who do understand what apologetics is and why it is important, there are some who suspect that it is reserved for a select minority among the elect—perhaps just for those with a questioning mind, or for an intellectual elite.
Tertullian’s famous question, ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ echoes loudly in the hearts and minds of many a follower of Jesus in our time, with the resounding answer being ‘nothing!’ 1 (Tertullian has been called “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology.” c. 160-225 C.E.)
Points to Consider
‘WORLD-VIEW-LEVEL’ GOSPEL FUNDAMENTAL.
The explosion of knowledge has made it possible for different people to legitimately focus on specific areas at the exclusion of others. This has complicated the process of cooperation among experts in different fields of study, the result being that often the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Thus, for example, it is possible for a local church to function without apologetics.
In what follows, I hope to demonstrate why I believe apologetics is absolutely crucial to both the health and the witness of the church and why it is a serious mistake for followers of Jesus to ignore it. My goal is not to cast blame, but to call upon those who are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to take seriously the application of its truth to all areas of life.
Unless the Gospel is understood at the worldview level, its impact upon those who accept it as well as its ability to change the structures of their societies will always fall short of God’s best for his people. But, as I will argue, the Gospel cannot be understood at the worldview level without apologetics. The first reason why believers cannot ignore the life of the mind is that the Bible itself is opposed to anti-intellectualism…
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