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What is the value of apologetics?

Posted by Chance on April 14, 2009

A question I have been wondering is what is the value of apologetics when it comes to evangelism?  For those unfamiliar with the term, Merriam-Webster defines apologetics as

1 : systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine)
2 : a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity

So, essentially, it is using reason and logic to defend the faith of Christianity.  It deals a lot with questions non-believers may have, such as “why is there suffering” or phrased differently “how can an all-powerful good God allow evil?”.

I think apologetics can be very valuable, but at the same time, I don’t think that every question can be satisfactorily answered.  I’ve been a Christian since my single-digit years, and I still don’t have every question answered.  Also, for those who don’t believe, I don’t think their salvation depends on getting that last question answered.  I can’t see myself debating with an atheist and in response to one of my statements saying “Oh yeah, I never thought of that, now I believe in God!”

I think part of this is that if people are hostile to God, they will not be receptive to any type of this evangelism.  Moreover, they will just dig up another question that needs answering.  At the same time, if someone is receptive to God, they will be so even if they have some unanswered questions.

Tied up with this is the idea that it is not up to us to persuade people into Christianity, that is the drawing of the Holy Spirit.  We have an important part to play, but I think we need to keep in mind that someone’s very salvation does not depend on us saying just the right phrases or words.  That puts too much pressure on us.

I think ultimately when it comes to someone’s relationship with Christ, it is a heart issue, not a head issue. However, I’m not dismissing the importance of apologetics or the issue of the “head” altogether. But ultimately, the Holy Spirit has to draw the person and they have to listen to the “head” stuff.

I think apologetics is very important within the body of Christ.  I had no problems believing in my faith up until college; when I was immersed in the higher education environment I found my faith questioned at every turn.  A book that helped me during this time was Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter.  It’s a great, concise book that I recommend for any Christian.  It lays out some basic apologetics concerning the truth of the Bible and the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection.

Also, I think apologetics can be effective for people genuinely searching for God.  I gave a copy of More Than a Carpenter to someone asking questions about God.  I don’t know if anything ever came from it, but it at least gave him something to consider.  And, let’s face it, there are tons of religions out there.  I think it is important to have something backing up the Christian faith vs. everything else out there.

I try to think of what the Bible says.  I know the Bible itself doesn’t directly focus on apologetics issues.  It doesn’t lay out a clear proof of God’s existence or the truthfulness of its own pages.  It confronts the question of suffering in Job with essentially “you aren’t God, you weren’t here when the world was made, you don’t know what you are talking about!”.  However, stuff is in the Bible for the us to reason through and see.  There is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in the Gospels through Jesus Christ.  Paul points out these fulfillments in his sermons.  Acts 17 says Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said.  So we see one of the poster boys for evangelism using what we could probably categorize as apologetics.

I think apologetics can be a great tool in evangelism, but I think it is important to realize we will not answer every single question out there, and that ultimately the persuasion and drawing is up to God.  Also, I’ve often heard that when people have questions that they want answered, there’s an emotional reason for it as well.  For instance, if someone asks why God allows suffering in the world, they may be asking because they themselves have had a lot of pain in their life.

Also, I think it is important to focus on the core things,  for instance, focusing on Jesus.  The key part of the Bible and salvation is believing that he was crucified and that he rose again.  Understanding that God created us, rather that we evolved by chance, is important, but if we focus on the core issues, those things will take care of themselves.

Lastly, I wonder if there is value in focusing on concrete issues.  For instance, it is easier to convince people of a certain fact, i.e. Christ rising from the dead, or the process with which the canon was formed.  I think the philosophical issues such as the problem of suffering – maybe we can only do so much with that.  It is harder to convince someone that the world is or should be a certain way, but if we talk about historical evidence, maybe that is a better way to go.

These are just my thoughts, I’d be glad to know other people’s.  Is apologetics an essential part of evangelism, is it something needed only for certain people, or just something to have ready just in case?  Should apologetics be focused in any particular direction as I pondered?

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