The Nature of Apologetics

By Dr. Richard Land

Recently I read an article titled “Apologetics: Preaching to the Choir” by a former evangelical, Neil Carter. Neil begins his article with the claim that “Apologetics isn’t for the lost; it’s for the already saved.” He goes on to state,

“The only people who are ever impressed with the arguments therein are people who are already ‘within the fold’. . . . On the other hand, I know of three people in a single town who deconverted reading Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ.” – Neil Carter

Neil goes on to criticize apologists Greg Koukl’s and Tim Keller’s arguments for the Christian faith.

Is Neil correct? Are apologetics only effective in keeping people in the pews? No, and yes.

I hope the following summary helps people understand the nature of apologetics and why it is not merely for the edification of the saved, nor is it merely for evangelism and missions. While Neil’s article’s initial premise is fallacious, it would be insensitive to engage Neil’s claims solely on the basis of logic, without considering the challenges of his own personal experience with the church. In summary, Neil’s claims about apologetics are indefensible for the following reasons: (1) The Great Commission, as lived out by the earliest Christians, does not afford us the option of using apologetics with Christians alone. (2) Not all apologetics are the same; there are various methods—Classical, Evidential, and Presuppositional. Some are more effective with believers, and others are more effective with non-believers. (3) His claim is refuted by the verifiable testimony of believers such as Lee Strobel and Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, who became a believer in Christ after reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. (4) While there are methods that favor those “within the fold” versus those outside the flock, the Classical method is a means to serve the believer and unbeliever by providing evidence for the faith that can convince the skeptic and assure the disciple.  As Southern Evangelical Seminary’s co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler said,

“One should heed the Socratic dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living by insisting that the unexamined faith is not worth believing” (Geisler, Twelve Points that Show Christianity is True, Loc. 110).

Apologetics and the Great Commission

By itself the Great Commission does not explicitly state that one is to use apologetics in evangelism. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Imagine for a moment that this was where the New Testament writings concluded. Christians and non-Christians alike would be left with a significant amount of speculation as to the role apologetics plays in evangelism. Thankfully, we were not left with an abrupt end to the story of the Christian church and its expansion. For example, the Apostle Paul, in Acts 17:16-34, not only reasoned in the synagogues, but also in the marketplace. Furthermore, Paul is also found preaching to the “Men of Athens” and quotes from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena” (Acts 17:28). Paul is not talking to believers only, but to “all people” who God “commands . . . to repent” (Acts 17:30). Now former Christians may not accept the Bible as true, but they at least have to accept that Christians believe it to be true, and thus a proper understanding of apologetics is intended not only for the disciple but also for the believer. I would argue that the Apostle Paul is showing us by example that apologetics is a necessary tool for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Additionally, according to the text…

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