In Greco-Roman mythology, there was a legend of a serpentine water monster who was called Hydra of Lerna. Hydra was a three headed monster who had poisonous breath and who carried a deadly scent. Akin to the the three headed monster arising out of the sea to terrorize, kill, and destroy, many of us experience what feels like a giant waging war upon our intellect and soul causing confusion, fear and dismay. The questions that climb the highest in us are: what do we believe, why do we believe it? And maybe most of all, what are we here for?
What Is Apologetics?
The most simple and comprehensive way to define apologetics is by referring to it as the defense of the Christian faith. The term apologetics comes from a Greek word that is used seventeen different times in the New Testament through the word apologia (noun) or apologeomai (verb), which translates to “a reasoned statement or argument” and also “to give a full account of”. 1 Peter 3:15 beseeches believers to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” Defining apologetics in a brief and haste fashion doesn’t give us the entire spectrum of apologetics, but it provides a sterling starting point in beginning to understand how instrumental it can be as we begin to live as missional Christians.
Why Do We Need Apologetics?
Many people would tell you that everyone is entitled to their own truth, or that there are many paths to God, a lamp with various types of shades. Is that a falsehood or a statement of rightness? We know by the words of Jesus that truth is exclusive (John 14:6) and we know so by Scripture alone. Apologetics helps us in the following ways:
1. It exposes what is true and what is not
Christ came to give us truth, understanding, and eternal life (1 John 5:20). Truth must be objective and not based on relevancy. Jesus always delivered what was true despite the world’s opposition to God’s standards and it’s always changing theological views. Even against the religious leaders of His day, Jesus was correcting them and pointing them back to biblical maxims. The Pharisees were using one area of Scripture to advocate for a legalistic view of the Sabbath, where Jesus uncovered the whole truth about the necessity of mercy on the Lord’s Day (Matt 12:1-37). Jesus spoke the entire truth of the Bible with the Bible.
Paul also exposes the truth about the natural state of man apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling man. It is commonly said that people don’t become Christians because they don’t have enough evidence to believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God, or because there is too much evil that exists in the world. The New Testament turns that argument upside down in the very words of 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” People don’t come to saving faith because they don’t have enough reasons to believe. They are blind to faith because they only have eyes for sin. It is only by God’s initiative that people are able to come alive to Christ (John 6:44).
2. We can use it as a tool to share the Gospel
Through the apologetic method we are sharing the Gospel by defending it’s God-breathed fiber by addressing the mind and the heart. In defending a gospel-centered approach to apologetics, Tim Keller says, “There is a way of telling the gospel that makes people say, “I don’t believe it’s true, but I wish it were.” You have to get to the beauty of it, and then go back to the reasons for it.” Beauty and intellect don’t have be put into two different boxes. When you are sharing the Gospel, we are always doing so apologetically.
3. Defending the Christian faith makes us better theologians
Just as all Christians are ministers of God’s Word in whatever context they find themselves in, so are they to be good exegetes (dissectors) of the Bible. Pastors and seminary professors aren’t the only people who need to be well versed in theological debate. You probably know and have talked to someone who has wrongly used Scripture to make it say something it doesn’t, or made a false claim about it. If you have found yourself tackling those issues, you were actively being a theologian and an apologist.
Theology for the City
Theological debate is not and should not be absent from mission, but you don’t have to be a seasoned scholar to engage in deep truths with the people you are surrounded by. John Bunyan, a famous Puritan pastor, was a tinker who was not formally trained in theological study, but was one of the greatest writers and preachers to ever live. The Pilgrim’s Progress, the sixth most read book in the world was written by Bunyan, a normal, everyday craftsman who loved his God and non-believing people. Apologetics and ministry is truly for everyone.
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