What is apologetics?
Are you prepared to give a reasoned defence?
Nike: “Just Do It”. McDonald’s: “I’m Lovin’ It”. L’Oreal: “Because you’re worth it”. It is impressive how advertising slogans reduce down a complex idea of how a brand wants you to feel and relays that through a pithy catch-phrase stored in our memory-banks. All the more so when it actually influences us to buy the product.
Yet the influence of slogans and brand image is not the only thing we reduce down into catch-phrases. Complex political policies are reduced to a candidates’ election slogan. World events are constrained to headline space. Our thoughts are restricted to 140 characters. And the way we feel about ‘God’ is often summed up by whichever slogan we find to be most appealing.
“God can’t be loving because there is suffering.”
“If you believe god created the world, you have to reject evolution.”
“The Bible is a fictitious book of fairy-tales constructed by religious interest groups.”
Whilst the position someone holds is often contained in these slogans, a fair airing of the argument isn’t. And it can be notoriously difficult to work beyond these stubborn assumptions or red herring slogans.
Apologetics is the defending of a position through the use of reasoned arguments. Simply, a ‘reasoned defence.’ It aims to explain the whole story, to give airtime to the complete picture, to explain fully that which cannot be reduced into slogans.
Apologetics thrives on information and dispels ignorance.
As a result it should come with a health-warning – you will have to think for yourself, you will get the broader picture, need to make up your own-mind, weigh the arguments, and come to your own decision.
We get the word ‘apologetics’ from the ancient Greek legal system, where a defendant would deliver an ‘apologia’ in response to the prosecution. Paul does this in the book of Acts when he ‘defends’ himself before King Agrippa (Acts 26:1,2). But the Bible extends the meaning of the word into the religious context also, as the Christian faith is defended across the known world. Paul describes ‘defending the gospel’ in Philippians 1:7. Yet perhaps most closely aligned with the way we use the phrase today, in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says this:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”1 Peter 3:15
In this setting, apologetics is simply one form of evangelism. Being ready to provide a reasoned defence for the faith which you have.
Why is apologetics important?
Firstly, apologetics is important because God asks us in his word to be ready to explain our faith. R. C. Sproul, quoting the same letter of Peter, writes that "The defence of the faith is not a luxury or intellectual vanity. It is a task appointed by God that you should be able to give a reason for the hope that is in you as you bear witness before the world."
Secondly, from a selfish perspective, apologetics enables me to have a faith that I haven’t simply imbibed through a slogan, that stands up to questioning and that is robust to flourish under trial. Say I was to purchase a pair of shoes – I wouldn’t go on the slogan alone. I’d try the shoes on, compare prices, look at the degree of cushioning and of course consider how the shoe looks. Given the decisions we make about faith are far more important, I want to be well informed about why it is that I hold a faith, and to be able to draw the maximum strength, comfort, guidance and experience from that faith as I can.
Mark 12:28-31 explains that the greatest commandment God gives is to love him with all our “heart, mind, soul and strength.” Apologetics enables me to better love the Lord my God with my mind- and by extension my heart, soul and strength too.
Finally we come to the real purpose of apologetics. The benefit it has in bringing the Good News of Jesus to a world held by misinformation or ignorance. As Christians we believe we have the most important news that needs sharing with the world. We have a commission to share it (Matt 28:19). And anything that distorts that message, misrepresents it, or is ignorant towards it, should be met by a considered explanation of the truth. This is not a removed intellectual exercise, but something which confronts us all as Christians whether ready or not.
Have you ever been in a biology class where Christians are labelled stupid or illogical for believing in a God who cannot be proved by empiricism (observable evidence).
Have you ever been in a Religious Studies class where Christians are called violent and immoral for following a genocidal God? What about when people off-handedly say ‘you cannot trust the Bible’ or ‘religion is a crutch for the weak’? Or closest to home, what about when a friend simply asks you ‘why’ you are a Christian? All of these situations allow us the opportunity to provide an explanation of the greatest news the world has ever had.
So why The Road?
In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens teaching about Jesus, when a group of Greek Philosophers invite him to a place called the Areopagus – Mars’ Hill – to explain more of what it was he was teaching. Paul begins by reasoning from Greek culture and works his way to the resurrection of Jesus. The result is that some mock him, others want to hear more, and some believed in Jesus.
Apologetics is no magic bullet by which everyone is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. But some believed. And doubtless those who already believed were encouraged.
We believe apologetics is important so that some may believe and some may be encouraged; and so that everyone can have the opportunity to be informed. And that’s why we’ve made The Road. The Road is a video-based, apologetic website for young people launching on July 7th. (http://theroad-uk.com)
We wanted to make the Road so that anyone seeking what Christianity had to say about their personal faith questions might have a place to find an answer – and be helped to encounter God. We wanted to make the Road so that Christian young people may have a place where they can hear and gain confidence in the full story of their faith. And we wanted to make the Road so that these two groups could come together, discuss the evidence, and be informed as they make up their own mind.
Are you prepared to give a reasoned defence? Check out Ruth’s article for tips on how to do this with your friends and check out The Road from July 7!