Why is apologetics important?
Not only is apologetics important, it’s necessary. In my second year at university, I had an English prof I’ll never forget. On one particular day in this class we were discussing the historical context of a book we were reading, and suddenly he started harshly criticizing Christian missionaries. To that point in my young life I’d never heard an adult bash Christianity outright before. He had issues with religion in general, but he especially had it in for Christians. I was a deer in the headlights. Part of me was mad that he was harping so heavily, but what bothered me more was that I wasn’t sure if I should say anything, or if I should- what I would even say! Having grown up in a Christian home and lived in a Bible belt town for most of my life, my beliefs were fairly insulated. I’d been taught a lot about and from the Bible, and I trusted it, but never had anyone challenge it. Now I found myself in just such a position- with a university professor no less, someone who I naturally held in high intellectual distinction. Nothing prepared me to defend Christianity against that. I didn’t necessarily think that what he said was true, but I didn’t have a rebuttal either.
Such is the experience that many North American young adult Christians are having once they leave high school and enter the world. The result so far has been this demographic leaving the church in droves. Many go to post-secondary institutions without knowing how to defend their beliefs. It’s one thing to have a peer challenge you on it, it’s another altogether to have a professor ridicule it. It can be confusing at best, disillusioning at worst, and for many it’s meant the end of those beliefs. The good news is that if they have doubts, they don’t need to check their intellect at the door when they go to church or sit down to read their Bibles. The bad news is that many don’t know that yet.
Still feeling apathetic? Maybe the university setting doesn’t apply to your situation. Let’s move to the marketplace then. If someone said to you, “Christians are always trying to force their views on everyone else”, would you know how to respond? What if someone asks you, “Don’t all religions lead to God?” How about a the statement, “I don’t believe in God because it’s not rational. There’s no proof.” Or how about this tough question: “Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow suffering in the world?” These are some serious questions, and they’re ones that get asked a lot. Do you know how to answer any of them? Some people simply deem Christianity as just another religion while others don’t believe it at all. Still others like the New Atheists even go so far as to claim that Christianity causes only harm to the world and should be eradicated. How would you as a Christian respond when facing such harsh criticism? Again there’s good news. Apologetics training helps you navigate discussions on even the big, hard questions.
What about when you’re spending time with non-Christian friends at dinner and these questions come up? Maybe that’s happened already. How has the discussion gone? Do you feel like you’ve been able to confidently defend Christianity? Maybe you didn’t have an answer so you didn’t say anything. Maybe you tried to give an answer but the words came out wrong. Or maybe it went okay for a while but then grew emotional, even heated, and everyone walked away discouraged and upset? Discussing worldviews can seem daunting. What apologetics seeks to do though is facilitate edifying those discussions rather than just having an argument that winds up escalating (again, “…with gentleness and respect…”), or dying before it’s even gotten a chance to address the question . There are apologetic books on how to navigate conversations about Christian doctrine. They can provide helpful tools to bring to these discussions despite the difficult topics, and to help represent Christianity strongly and accurately.
One last point…
This is too critical not to include. A key goal of apologetics is not to convert non-Christians to Christianity, but rather to get BOTH of these groups of people to think critically. Never before has humanity seen an age like the present one where so much information can be accessed so easily. The disadvantage to that is of course the amount of misinformation there is mixed in with it. Add to this the advent of social media to truncate and over-simplify this information, creating a sea of one-liners and memorable catch-all statements that we constantly expose ourselves to. It becomes very easy to grow lazy in our thinking about what’s really being said. More importantly, we tend to not filter out what’s true. Of course there are other causes. But while we’re being spoon-fed so much information, how much of it do we allow to influence us without thinking about the premises and conclusions we’re agreeing to? It influences our own worldview. Consequently, we regularly say things we don’t actually mean. If the mind is our circulatory system, critical thought is our immune system. By challenging you to think critically, apologetics wholly and truly teaches how to love the Lord your God with all your mind.
Apologetics is immensely valuable for Christians. We can give good, thoughtful, reasoned, even evidence-based arguments for what we believe. In today’s world the attitudes toward Christianity range from indifference to hostility. However, as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Do we believe this as Christians? We should according to the Bible. So rather than shrugging it off or spurning it, Christians should educate themselves on what apologetics really is and take the study seriously. This practice is both biblical and necessary. We as Christians ought to be prepared to have a response to what we believe and why. Studying apologetics helps greatly to equip us with the necessary information to do this with- to think critically about the mountains of information available, to sift out what’s true and what’s not, and to then engage with others in addressing the most difficult questions about life. If you’re a Christian and this topic doesn’t excite you, I encourage you to very carefully evaluate or re-evaluate your reasons why. For everyone else, let’s take a lesson from the apostles. Let’s take up the mantle to defend the Christian worldview. Let’s share the knowledge we can glean and do so with gentleness and respect. In doing so we will be encouraged in our faith, gain confidence in defending Christian beliefs against criticism, and put into practice loving our God with our minds. In doing so we will encourage and challenge those around us as well. To the glory of God.