An Apology for Apologetics

by R.C. Sproul

The term apologetics has its origin in the Greek word apologia meaning “a reply.”

Apologetics as a special science was born out of a combination of a divine mandate and the pressing need to respond to false charges leveled against the early church.  God requires that we be prepared to give a “reason for the hope that is within us” (1 Peter 3:15).  In this regard the apologist echoes the work of the apostles who did not ask people to respond to Christ in blind faith. The apostolic testimony to Christ was buttressed both by rational argument and empirical evidence.

The early church apologists, such as Justin Martyr, gave “replies” (usually addressed to the Roman emperor) to clarify and defend the faith against false charges.  It was reported, for example, that the emerging sect of Christians was seditious, irrational, and cannibalistic (meeting in secret to eat somebody’s body and blood). Justin replied by clarifying the Christian position on civil obedience, philosophy, and the Lord’s Supper.

At first the stress on apologetics was defensive.  It replied to objections and misrepresentations used against Christian truth claims.  Later it developed into a more pro-active science in seeking to develop a full-orbed Christian philosophy in which the truth claims of Christianity were set forth in a reasoned intellectual system of thought.

Reformed theology has a firm conviction that only God can convert the sinner.  No amount of rational argument, cogent evidence, or forceful persuasion can change the heart of the unbeliever unless that sinner is first regenerated by God the Holy Spirit.  Armed with this conviction some in the Reformed camp conclude that rational apologetics is either an exercise in futility or positively harmful.

As one thoroughly convinced of Reformed theology, I am in total agreement with the thesis that apologetics alone cannot convert the sinner.  But I do not further conclude that apologetics is therefore unnecessary.

There are several vital tasks left for apologetics to perform…


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