Apologetics for strugglers

Why honesty about our struggles should play a healthy part in our apologetic debates

by John Coleby

Apologetics is the use of arguments to defend the reasonableness of Christian faith or Christian teaching, often to those who don’t believe. But what if it’s more than that?

When I first got really interested in apologetics, I heard a lecture from a Christian apologist who had a string of successful debates behind him. I expected to hear about tools to employ, new arguments to use and the one-liner that would knock any questioner off their feet. I’m still looking for the last one, but there was plenty of the other two, as expected.

What I didn’t expect to hear was reflection on this apologist’s time as a hospital chaplain, of comforting grieving relatives and reflecting on hope in that context.

Back then, I would have separated this presentation into two distinct aspects: apologetics is part of our witness, having the right answers and performing well in debate, and then pastoral care is what we do in the church. But ten years on, I see these more and more as two wings on a plane. Our own real struggles with doubt and suffering, holding on to our hope in Christ, are themselves part of our witness.

When we hear the word ‘apologetics’ we go immediately to 1 Peter 3:15: “in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence [apologia] to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.” The apologia was the speech in court for the defence, and often these words make us think of the courtroom or debating chamber.

But for the Christians Peter was addressing, the Christian life was not a debating chamber. It was a battlefield…

Apologetics for strugglers