Apologetics in Service of the Gospel
by Travis Dickinson
It is sometimes said that apologetics is a waste of time because no one comes to Christ through apologetics. You can’t, after all, argue someone into the Kingdom.
Now, it may come as a bit of a shock, but I (being a professor of apologetics) actually agree that no one comes to Christ through apologetics. No one is won to Christ on the basis of apologetics since that’s simply not the basis upon which one is won to Christ. One comes to Christ on the basis of the Gospel and the Gospel alone.
But does that mean apologetics is a waste of time?
Well no, definitely not. Let’s tease out some of the confusions here. But first it may be helpful to define Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is the discipline of commending and defending the truth claims of Christianity without making assumptions an unbeliever cannot make (e.g., we do not merely cite Scripture in giving the defense).
The first confusion here is thinking of apologetics as merely one way to do evangelism (perhaps for the nerdy few!). I’d like to suggest that apologetics is not merely evangelism to the more cerebral among us. In fact, it is best to understand apologetics as importantly related to evangelism, but a substantively different pursuit.
This is perhaps easiest to see given the different (but, again, related) aims of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics aims to provide intellectual reasons for assenting to the claims of the Gospel and removing any intellectual roadblocks to faith. Evangelism aims to bring people to faith in Christ as the Holy Spirit works through the sharing of the Gospel.
How are apologetics and evangelism related, then? When it comes to outreach, apologetics is not, in my view, necessary for evangelism, but it is often incredibly helpful. Apologetics is often characterized as pre-evangelism. Sometimes, hearing a straightforward Gospel message is all some people need. Other times, people must journey a long road in order to arrive at a place where they surrender to Christ in faith. On this road, there are often questions of an apologetic nature, some of which can be quite pressing. These questions often act as a kind of intellectual roadblock for faith. And, for many, these questions require a thoughtful answer…
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