So, What Exactly is Christian Apologetics?

A while back I wrote a post about 3 Things Christian Apologetics is Not. Specifically I highlighted that Christian Apologetics is not an apology, winning an argument, or a new idea. However, I chose to save what exactly apologetics is for another post…and this is that post! Apologetics is perhaps a rather ill fitted term in our English language. As mentioned previously, anyone unfamiliar with the term will most likely think that Apologetics has to do with some sort of apology. While Christianity in general probably has a bit of apologizing to do, apologetics deals with an entirely different arena.

The term apologetics is a singular noun derived from the Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία), which means “a verbal defense, speech in defense, or a reasoned statement or argument.” For example, when a defense lawyer goes to court he will present a case for his client’s innocence. In a way, we could substitute the term case for the term apologia. The lawyer will be putting forth an apologia for his client because the lawyer is presenting a defense and reasoned argument as he represents his client.

apologia defn

Understanding the definition of the Greek term of apologia, gives us a clarifying insight into the area of Christian Apologetics. Rather than being an apology for Christianity, Christian Apologetics is a defense or reasoning for the Christian faith. In the New Testament of the Bible, the term apologia is used eight times. Perhaps the most well-known use of the word, and the passage most often associated with Christian Apologetics, is 1 Peter 3:15:

 “15…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…”
     — 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

Contained in these words are a wealth of instruction and direction. The first thing you might notice is that Peter, the author of this verse, is assuming that other people are asking Christians questions– specifically regarding the hope that they, as Christians, have. It is in response to these questions that Christians are instructed to have an apologia or reasoning. However, even before Peter tells us as Christians that we are to always be prepared with a response, he identifies a key element of both the Christian faith and Apologetics. As Christians, we are to honor Christ the Lord as holy; we are to worship Christ as the Lord of our life.

When we hold Christ in a position of primacy in our lives, we live in such a way that draws questions from others. If you read the whole of 1 Peter chapter 3, you will find that this verse falls in a passage where Peter is encouraging Christians who encounter suffering. In verse 8, Peter instructs believers to have sympathy and a humble mind. In verse 9 he tells them not repay evil with evil, but rather to repay evil with blessing. While having sympathy and being humble are things that come may naturally to some people, returning evil with good seems always to be a counter-intuitive idea. If we are hurt mentally, emotionally, or physically, our first instinct, it seems, to hurt back. Hammurabi’s code of ethics was even built on this idea; an eye for eye.

“Detail of the stela inscribed with Hammurabi’s code, showing the king before the god Shamash; bas-relief from Susa, 18th century bce; in the Louvre, Paris.”  – Code of Hammurabi, Encyclopædia Britannica

It is when people act in a way that is unexpected or seemingly against human nature, that others will naturally be curious about their actions. Now, I’m not saying that Christians are the only people who ever act in a way that counter-intuitive. I am saying that when Christians live as the Bible instructs, then their actions will stand in stark contrast with the majority of other people. As Christians, if people aren’t asking us about the hope that we have, we need to take a step back and evaluate whether we are truly living out that hope.

Are we living in a different way?

The story that always comes to mind when I consider this verse from 1 Peter is from the night my husband and I had our second date. On that evening, rain poured from the sky and drenched the drained summer dirt. Flashes of lightning burst in illuminating streaks across the clouds. Our adventure down the train tracks was nixed due to the dangerous combination of electricity and metal. Instead, we picked a slightly safer option and strung a hammock between the trunks of two smaller-sized trees. There we sat, side by side, not at all minding the rain in the warm night. We talked. Quickly the conversation became one of a deep and serious nature. We spoke of our lives, our dreams, and our fears. I remember asking him, “What makes you the most afraid?” There was a silent pause as we both stared out into the rainy field before us. Then he answered.

He told me he used to be afraid of dying. I wondered at his phrasing. If he used to be afraid of dying, did that mean he no longer held that fear? He continued on explaining that Jesus tells us in the Bible that He will always be with us. One day this truth spoke hope into his fear of death. He need not fear because even in death, in those moments when he would become separated from everything and everyone familiar, dear, and loved, he would not be alone. No, Jesus would be with him. He told me that he knew he could trust Jesus because of the way Jesus had already worked in his life.

A less rainy adventure date with my husband.

In that conversation, he showed me what it was to fully trust Jesus. Because he honored Jesus as the Lord of his life, he had hope in the midst of his fear of death, and when I asked about this hope he was fully prepared to share how and why he had it.

Now, the last part of the verse concerns how we are to share our defense and reasoning. Peter instructs us to be gentle and kind. If you read my post on 3 Things Christian Apologetics is Not, you will remember that I said it is not winning an argument. Another thing I could have said is that Apologetics is not staging an attack. Instead it is something that is born out of gentleness and kindness. Apologetics can only be done well when we have a deep respect and care for the other person. If the person we are talking with has a problem, it should not be with our conduct or way of speaking, but rather with the content of the message.

Apologetics then is a kind and gentle explanation of our Christian faith and hope in response to questions from others as we live in a way that places Jesus at the helm of our life.

Share with me: What is your understanding of the term Christian Apologetics? Do you have a story where you have seen the 1 Peter verse in action?
Seriously, call me up, write me a note, send me a message or comment somewhere.
I would love to hear your thoughts.