Apologetics Is Not Saying You’re Sorry

By Sean McDowell Oct. 2, 2017 9:00 a.m. Apologetics

As a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, I (Sean) help prepare students to answer tough questions raised against the Christian faith. One day someone from outside the Biola academic community called our university to ask why we offer classes on apologizing for the faith. She thought apologetics meant teaching students to say they were sorry for their beliefs! While her question was well intentioned, she didn’t grasp the nature of apologetics and its role in the Christian life. Christians certainly should apologize for their faith, but not in the way she had in mind.

Apologize … for What?

The word apologetics does not mean to say you’re sorry. Instead, it refers to the defense of what you believe to be true. This is exactly what my father and I do in the updated and revised Evidence that Demands a Verdict. We lay out the historical evidence for the Bible, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and more.

Theologian Clark Pinnock explains the nature of apologetics in this way:

The term derives from a Greek term, apologia, and was used for a defense that a person like Socrates might make of his views and actions. The apostle Peter tells every Christian to be ready to give a reason (apologia) for this hope that is in him (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics, then, is an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms.[1]

New Testament Examples of Apologetics

The New Testament uses the Greek Word apologia, often translated in English as “defense,” eight times in the New Testament. Consider three examples:

  • Acts 22:1: “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
  • Philippians 1:7: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
  • 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, as always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet you do it with gentleness and respect.”

First Peter 3:15 uses the word defense in a way that denotes the kind of defense one would make to a legal inquiry, asking, “Why are you a Christian?” A believer ought to give an adequate answer to this question. The command to be ready with an answer is directed toward every follower of Jesus—not just pastors, teachers, and leaders.

In other words, every Christian is an apologist. All believers are called to proclaim and defend Christianity. Simply put, although we are not called to say sorry for our beliefs, we are called to "apologize" for them.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org. You can find the original version of this artical here.


[1] Clark Pinnock, “Apologetics,” in New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 36.

Comments

  • Michael Sexton Oct. 2, 2017 at 4:09 PM

    I just received the New Edited version of "Evidence that demands a verdict"...wow, a very big book which will take me quite a while to get used to, I kinda wish now how much science and history are involved with providing answers to skeptics could be, but winning souls is worth the time and cost.

  • Mark Oct. 4, 2017 at 12:31 PM

    >> “Why are you a Christian?” A believer ought to give an adequate answer to this question. The command to be ready with an answer is directed toward every follower of Jesus—not just pastors, teachers, and leaders. ... In other words, every Christian is an apologist.

    I think the what Paul was referring to is what most would now call the deliverances of a catechism. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism. I suppose that's what the authors thought they were doing. Training people to be apologists in the Pauline sense.

    We're all apologists in the sense that Paul is speaking, but we're not all apologists in the modern sense. I don't think we do ourselves any favors by language that implies there's no division of labor. There clearly is and must be. Someone who calls him or herself an apologist in the modern sense ought to have a certain temperament, qualities, and abilities that others of lesser abilities can point to for support. Some will go on to provide that for others, yet those will be statistically very few. There is such a wide range of skills and abilities and time and opportunity that I don't see how it could be otherwise.

    Every era has different needs, and we're in no way tied to past ways of giving defenses for what we believe. I think there's great room for defenses for anything and everything now. We're not limited to catechisms of the past, but IMHO we should look to what lessons we can glean from from what they sought to do and how.

  • Mark Oct. 4, 2017 at 12:49 PM

    I shouldn't have used the phrase "Pauline sense" above because there are multiple of those, as now.

    Paul was an apologist in an advanced sense. I think he was an apologist in the modern sense. But I don't think he's saying that others should be able to do what he does. To be apologists in the same sense that he was. That would be crazy talk since he was far, far more educated than the average person and trained in the art of deploying this knowledge by means of (gasp!) disputation that few of his hearers would have had.

    So I think in Paul we see lesser and more advanced types of apologetics distinguished, each appropriate for a given level. This indicates a division of labor and I think we're wise to consider this when we use the word 'apologist' or 'apologetics'.

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