What Is Apologetics?

Later this month I start my studies with the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. I am excited about this and in my enthusiasm I share with my friends what I am doing. From time to time I am met with that blank-yet-friendly look only a Englishman can give, “Yes, I have no real understanding of what you are saying but if you continue I will either comprehend eventually or forget what you said.”

They mutter a comment to the tune of, “Isn’t that what you were doing in Hawaii, or something?” Aside from this small revelation (I spent five years in Hawaii and clearly failed to explain what I was doing) and accompanying mental note (keep explaining, keep explaining) I murmur my assent to the correspondence and then frankly ask, “Do you know what Apologetics is?”

“Erm, no – not really. Can you explain?”

Some would say that Apologetics has an unfortunate name in that it’s easy to falsely assume that it is a discipline that has something to do with some kind of apology. Perhaps it’s apologising for the Crusades, or some other tragedy ascribed to the followers of Jesus?

But no, whilst the root is common the derived meaning is very different. An apology can be one of two things. One, an expression of regret. Two, a defence of one’s actions. The first is the more oft used meaning whilst the latter lies alongside the discipline of Christian Apologetics.

The root word here is apologia. This is a Greek word and it means, “to give a defence.” It is a legal term that would be used to describe the explanation a defendant offers in a court of law.

Peter uses it in the Bible. In 1 Peter 3:15 he urges us to, “Always be prepared to give a defence to those that ask for a reason for the hope that is within you.” Being a Christian produces evidence. People change. Hope replaces hopelessness. Meaning shines through pain and both protects and enhances pleasure. This observable transformation naturally provokes curiosity and inevitably questions follow. It is these questions that Apologetics seeks to address.

Questions such as: Aren’t all religions equal? Hasn’t science disproved religion? Where was God on September 11th 2001? Isn’t the Bible just a collection of myths? Isn’t it arrogant to believe that you have the truth?

All these questions and many, many more are the realm of Apologetics. It is an art of persuasion that uses reason to defend ideas. Ideas frame the conversation but the real interest is always the person. Behind every question is a questioner and the skilful Apologist will rejoice not in successful debate but the clear presentation of Jesus Christ and His truth to the person asking.

After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension His disciples and the growing number of believers lived Apologetics. They gave a defence of the hope that they had come to know, that others would see and also believe. Today, our charge remains the same.

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