Christian Apologetics: Part 1- What Is It? Does 'apologetics' mean saying you're sorry?
Updated: Sep 30, 2021
When people first hear the term “Christian apologetics,” they often assume it must have something to do with apologizing for one’s faith. That’s what I thought the first time I heard it. It seems only natural, given that the word apologetics does sound a lot like the word apologize. In fact, the etymologies of both words (apologetics and apologize) are related to the word apology; but, the meaning of apology has evolved over time.
The original meaning of the word apology was a ‘well-reasoned defense’ of one’s conduct or opinions. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the English definition and usage of the word apology shifted from meaning ‘self-justification’ to ‘regret for wrongdoing.’
The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which carries the original meaning of ‘well-reasoned defense.’ This is why, in the New Testament, the Greek word apologia is translated as defense (or answer, depending on which Bible translation you read). Here are some examples from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible [emphasis added]:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [apologia] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15)
Brothers and fathers, hear the defense [apologia] that I now make before you. (Acts 22:1)
The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense [apologia] of the gospel. (Phil 1:16)
“Christian apologetics” is defending the Christian faith through reason, logic and evidence. It is answering objections and challenges to Christianity with rational argumentation (but without being argumentative!—more on this in Part 3). It is not apologizing for your faith!
The first Christian apologists can be found in the pages of the New Testament. Paul and Barnabas, Peter, Jude, and even Jesus either used or spoke of the need for apologetics. Throughout centuries of church history, there have been Christians who have defended the truth of Christianity: St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, J.P. Moreland, and Norman Geisler are just some of the more notable Christian apologists.
Christians aren’t the only people who use apologetics to defend their views. Because apologetics is basically a reasoned defense of one’s position or beliefs, any argument could be considered an apologetic. Any group who defends their beliefs verbally or in writing are using the apologetics of their field; therefore, there are Atheist apologetics, Hindu apologetics, Mormon apologetics, Darwinian apologetics, and so on.
Every Christian is expected to be an apologist, regardless of whether they ever write a book or post a blog. We are to “always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). We are to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).
If the concept of using apologetics—reason and evidence—to defend the Christian faith is new to you, you may be wondering Why? Isn’t having faith enough? Isn’t reason the opposite of faith? These are good questions that deserve good answers.
In Part 2 of this series, I will explain why apologetics is needed, not only as part of evangelism, but also in the context of the church.