What in the world is “Apologetics”?

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[I know I promised to finish our brief look at “truth” and “faith” by covering “What is Faith?” – but in working on a post for “apologetics” it became clear that covering that topic first might help.  So, here is “What in the world is apologetics”?  I will follow that very shortly with “What is Faith”?]

In the 1960’s there was a very popular book (and movie) about a love story, perhaps not surprising called Love Story.  Its marketing or “tag line” was “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  Unfortunately, when many try to introduce the topic of “apologetics” or “Christian apologetics,” some think it’s about being sorry for (or apologizing for) your faith.  Rather, the word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word – “apologia” – which means “to give answer or a defense,” such as in a court of law.  It comes with it the idea of persuasion and the use of argument and evidence in making such a defense or in giving such an answer.  In college philosophy class I recall reading (or I was supposed to read) Plato’s Apology, which was not something he gave his wife after forgetting an anniversary – but the Apology was Plato’s version of the speech that Socrates gave defending himself of charges that he was corrupting the youth.

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Just as Socrates made a defense, so too are Christians called to defend their faith, the basis for this is found in 1 Peter 3:15, which provides:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (ESV)

Christian apologetics, then, is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith and to defend the faith against objections to its truthfulness.

Two, final observations.  First, 1 Peter 3:15 tells us we “are to be prepared” to give an answer – to explain our faith.  Second, but importantly, we are to make that defense with “gentleness and respect.”  Sometimes “apologetics” is thought too much or too often as argumentation in the confrontational sense.  That would be misguided.  Here we are called to explain and defend and persuade, but not to do so with threats or meanness or impatience.

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A few years ago on a mission trip to Guatemala, I provided devotionals one night in the form of a brief talk on “apologetics.”  My very good friend later that evening said – “I’ve never heard of “apologetics.”  I promised in an earlier post that “apologetics” might be a bit of an Oxford word, but what conveys is straight forward.  And I hope now you see that as such.  (“Now that’s a horse of a different color.”)

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FOOTNOTES:  For those that like to get to the source, here’s the Greek word translated as “apologia” – ἀπολογία.  (I hope that clarifies matters as well for you as it did for me.)

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