When Christians refer to apologetics, they are referring to the practice of defending the faith and presenting reasons for what they believe. This is not simply a topic for Christian intellectuals but rather an area that is important for the church’s health and witness.
The church that highlights apologetics usually has a pastor or other leaders who are equipped to defend the faith. These leaders understand the importance of helping others know what they believe and why they believe it. They weave apologetics lessons and illustrations into their sermons and Bible teaching. They can demonstrate with clarity why people should believe the Bible but not the Koran or the Book of Mormon. They are able to present the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and interact intelligently with a host of other apologetic issues, including deficiencies with naturalism and pantheism, the problem of evil and suffering, the fine-tuning argument for the existence of an intelligent designer, and the exclusive nature of the Christian gospel (Jesus is the only way to God).
Beyond this, leaders who value apologetics teach Christians how to defend their faith within their particular spheres of influence. And they make room in the church calendar for apologetics-focused events, like an annual conference.
Thankfully, understanding apologetics is not a prerequisite for salvation. Jesus kindly saves people who don’t have the foggiest idea why they believe the gospel or how to intellectually defend their faith. A child with the smallest notions of faith can be saved without ever considering the cosmological argument for the existence of God. A stressed-out single mom can be covered by the blood of Christ even if she’s never read Mere Christianity.
Even still, the study of apologetics has a way of developing a person’s worldview and making it more holistic. This is no small thing. It provides serious advantages for churches that highlight how to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
More specifically, I want to point out how confidence and compassion tend to develop within churches that place an emphasis on apologetics.
Those who are equipped to give a reason for their faith often grow in confidence in a number of areas. At least three are worth mentioning.
Confidence in the Bible’s Authority
Christians who have not been trained to defend their faith can certainly have confidence in the Bible’s authority—it would be foolish to deny that—but they often can’t articulate detailed, rational reasons why they should have such confidence.
Churches that emphasize apologetics teach the unity and continuity of the biblical narrative, which is amazing considering that the Bible was written by more than forty authors from different backgrounds over a period of fifteen hundred years. They also teach the historical fulfillment of prophecies, archeological evidence in support of Scripture, and how the Bible has been accurately transmitted to our day. When people know these things, it builds confidence that God has, indeed, given us his Word and that it has come to us with divine authority.
If churches don’t teach these things, then the members will have nothing to counter the arguments they hear in the popular media, especially in documentaries and magazine articles that often surface around Christmas or Easter. These presentations most often deny the divine source and authority of Scripture. With some training, the fallacies contained in them are easily seen and exposed, and faith is not so easily shaken.
Again, people without training can know the Bible is from God and authoritative and that attacks against it are invalid; however, they often cannot articulate why they believe this. They believe God and take God at his Word, but they may lack the confidence that comes with supporting evidence for their position.
Confidence in God’s Saving Grace
Additionally, churches that teach their members why they believe what they believe give these members greater confidence in God’s saving grace. Because of increased confidence in the validity and divine authority of the Bible, they have increased confidence in what the Bible says. Therefore, when the Bible says that God redeems guilty sinners who trust in him (i.e., John 3:16; Rom. 3:24), they have great confidence in the promises of God contained in such passages.
Many times in my life when facing seasons of doubt, I went back to review basic apologetic arguments. The inevitable result was internal, growing confidence that God has, indeed, saved me through Christ.
Confidence in God’s Sovereign Reign
Arguments from creation (like the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, and others that demonstrate the existence of an intelligent designer) have a way of making God seem big and powerful to our minds. This is true regardless of how one approaches apologetics (whether from a presuppositional, evidential, or other position).
Furthermore, when these creation-oriented arguments are combined with arguments for the divine authority of Scripture (see the previous point), then a person may really sense the enormity of the Creator of heaven and earth.
God’s reign is not a myth or fairytale. He really is in charge of all things (Ps. 93:1), He really did bring all things into existence (Heb. 2:10), and He really does sustain all things by the power of His Word (Col. 1:17).
In a church that teaches apologetics, the people are encouraged to think about the beginning and cause of the universe. Behind all of the natural causes that man observes, there must be an infinite, eternal uncaused Cause that stands at the beginning of it all. This reality tends to make them feel the awe of being in the presence of that being, whom they know from the Bible as Almighty God.
When the majority of people in a congregation have a sense of the “bigness” of God, then it’s more likely that the worship services in that church will be God-centered and sincere.
When people are properly trained in apologetics, they also tend to be less fearful of people outside the church.
As a sad side note, certain branches of apologetics produce the opposite effect, breeding alarmism and fear instead of confidence. These versions of defending the faith ignore Peter’s words to give reasons for our faith “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). But an apologetic that is consistent with Scripture and that is designed to bring glory to God tends to reduce fear and develop compassion for those outside the church.
The bottom line is this: when Christians are confident in the validity, truthfulness, and authority of their faith, they tend to worry much less about those who attack it. They realize that all attacks on the one true faith will ultimately fail. So rather than attacking back, these Christians can calmly challenge and reach out with pity on those who doubt and deny. They can even bring a cup of cold water to quench the thirst of their enemies (Rom. 12:20). For the confident Christian, it’s not about being intellectually superior, it’s about loving people in the name of Jesus.
Christians who are confident that Jesus can save anybody by his grace tend to be less harsh with sinners and enemies of the faith. For example, instead of viewing Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, atheists, or homosexuals as enemies to be attacked, they are seen as fellow image-bearers of God who are stuck in the pit of sin. Rather than fighting a culture war against them, Christians are more likely to share the gospel with love and gentleness.
It would be great if every church had the leadership and resources to train believers in basic apologetics. However, many churches either can’t or, for various reasons, won’t do this, and I think they are missing something important.
If you’d like to help your church develop an apologetics ministry, here’s an article to get you started as well as two resources that provide important content related to defending and giving reasons for what we believe: