Apologetics: Clearing Some Misconceptions
Apologetics sounds like Greek to me!
Some consider the word apologetics as a high sounding elusive term, too difficult for the common man to understand. It is true that a study of apologetics proper involves complex theories and philosophical concepts. Anybody who has taken a seminar on apologetics will readily agree with me. However, the term is not really elusive as it appears. The term apologetics is etymologically derived from the classical Greek word apologia. In the Greek legal system two key technical terms were employed: the prosecution delivered the kategoria and the defendant replied with an apologia. To deliver an apologia meant making a formal reply or rebutting the charges levelled by the prosecution. In the context of world religions, the word now refers to a field of study which aims at presenting a systematic and logical defence of one’s religious faith against its detractors and unbelievers, backed up by evidence of its credibility. Almost all major world religions today engage apologetics. Christian apologetics, simply put, is concerned with the defence and rational explanation of Christian beliefs.
Apologetics is one of the Latest Buzzwords among Evangelical Christians
Many tend to think that apologetics is one of the latest evangelical obsessions or fads. It is true that there are more books on apologetics in the Christian book store today than the previous generations. Likewise, today we see the emergence of several ministries who focus exclusively on Christian apologetics. Nevertheless, apologetics is not a new kid on the block. A look at Church history reveals that apologetics has been a major aspect of Christendom from the beginning. We see the apostles defending Christianity in public places and in the presence of rulers during the New Testament times (Acts 2: 14-40, 17:2, 17:17, 18:4, 19:8, 22:1, 26:2). Similarly, in the post apostolic Roman era when the Christian faith faced popular accusations and sophisticated pagan attacks, we see the emergence of several apologetic writings. For instance, as early as 130 A.D., a Christian by name Quadratus wrote Apologia addressed to Emperor Hadrian. Justin Martyr, Aristides, Tatian, Athenagorus, Theophilus and Tertullian were some of the leading apologists of the early Christian era. St. Augustine’s City of God was in fact an apologetic work defending Christianity against pagan allegations that it was responsible for the fall of Rome. Likewise, at various times in history, Christian beliefs and practices have come under the attack of both heretics (insiders) and religious antagonists (outsiders). Orthodox Christianity has valiantly defended its tenets thanks to the dedicated apologists in every generation. C. S. Lewis, Emil Brunner, Charles Hodge, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, Paul Little, Norman Geisler, Ravi Zacharias, etc are some modern-day names in Christian apologetics.
Apologetics is for the Brainy Chaps. Not for me!
Thanks to the dominant urban association of some of the existing apologetic ministries, a few have come to perceive apologetics as something suited only for the hi-fi English speaking urban crowd. In addition, the intellectual rhetoric displayed by some on pulpits (open forums) has led the common man to believe that apologetics is for the brilliant ones. This is not true. Anybody who can think, reason-out and communicate his or her thoughts about one’s faith can be an apologist. One doesn’t need a high level of IQ or oratory skills to involve in apologetics. I once saw a rural Tamil evangelist trying to explain Trinity to his congregation with a leaf (three-pronged) available in the country side. Though his analogy might look naïve to an urban mind or inaccurate to a trained theologian, I was impressed by his attempt to explain the truth. Likewise, once I saw a Christian teenager trying to explain ‘life after death’ to a fellow passenger during a train journey. His arguments were definitely not convincing to the hearers but he was making a bold attempt to defend his faith. To me, the rural evangelist and the teenager are practising apologists. (Do not mistake me. I do believe that to be a full-time Christian apologist one needs a certain level of intellectual prowess and rhetoric skills.) Here in India, most of us live and work amidst people of diverse religions. Hence, whenever we make an attempt to explain the truths of the gospel to people of other faiths, it inevitably requires some apologetic skills. Time and again we will be called to give an answer or reason for ‘why we believe what we believe’ and ‘why we do what we do.’ This is what Apostle Peter meant in I Pet.3:15.
Apologetics makes people Offensive or Big-headed
Recently I was watching a video footage of a religious debate between some Christian and Islamic scholars. When the debate reached its peak, sure enough there were plenty of fireworks! Both the parties lost their modesty and were verbally slaying each other. Yes, it is true that some of the open forums or live debates can make Christian apologetics look like an arrogant or big-headed activity. I think the problem is not with apologetics perse rather it has to do with the temperament of some apologists. Have we not come across apologists who are inoffensive and not overbearing? Of course we have. Apologetics is definitely not a tool to slay down opponents in a verbal battle or score some brownie points. Defending Christianity must be done in a Christian way (I Pet.3:16). Whether Christian apologetics is aimed at atheists or agnostics in defence of religion and the concept of God; or directed at non-Christian religions in defence of Christian beliefs; or meant toward exposing heretical teachings in defence of Biblical doctrine, whichever may be the case, our attitude and approach must demonstrate Christ likeness. Let us not forget the biblical exhortation in I Cor.8:1, “Knowledge puff up but love builds up others.” Our desire must be to help others in their search for truth and build them up.
Apologetics is a Magic Tool for Evangelism
A few years back I attended an apologetics seminar in Bhopal. I very well remember the kind of excitement I had soon after it. I thought I had eventually found out something that is going to revolutionize my evangelism and yield greater fruits. I thought I now had the ammunition to penetrate people’s minds and answer all the critics. I was wrong. And the exuberance was short lived. Undeniably, the seminar had enhanced my understanding of my own faith and other religions. It also equipped me with some fantastic evangelistic skills. No second thoughts about it. However, what I didn’t realize at that time was the limitations of apologetics. Now I know that apologetics is not a magic tool. Let me note down two points. First, we cannot answer all the questions raised by critics of Christianity. Let’s humbly accept this fact. There will always be unanswerable questions about life and faith. Second, we cannot convince anyone merely by intellectual arguments. Intellectual barrier is not the only barrier that keeps people away from knowing the truth. One of Ravi Zach’s humorous stories illustrates this beautifully. A fellow woke up one morning and said to his wife, “I believe I’m dead.” Initially she thought it was strange sense of humour but the man continued to say the same thing for many days, “You know I really think I’m dead.” Finally his wife and his children decided he needed some help. So they sent him along to a team of doctors and psychologists all of whom were trying to help him without success. Till one doctor latched on to this idea, to try to establish for him that only living people bleed. He was trying to deny that at first. They brought all things of evidence, overhead projects, charts, and all the data on hand. Only living people bleed, only living people bleed. Finally this man said, “Alright I guess I’m going to have to admit to you that only living people bleed.” As soon as he said that one of the doctors took a pin and plunged it into his veins and the blood came spurting out. The man looked at it and said “Great scott, I guess dead people bleed too!” Undoubtedly, apologetics is a good aid in evangelism but it has its limitations. Only the Spirit of God can use the methods we use (including apologetics) to bring a person to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
By Sam K John