Apologetics, Christian Apologetics, should be just that- Christian. Like I’ve said in my other posts on the subject, apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia and is most readily associated with “the defense of the faith”. But the biblical depiction is much more than mere defense.
The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15, exhorts us to always be ready to give an apologian (defense) to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us, and we are to do so by first and foremost honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts, and we are to give this defense with respect and gentleness. So obviously apologetics is concerned with defending the Christian faith in a Christian manner. But the apologist isn’t finished after they’ve given a defense, we’re also called to go on offense.
The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, reminds us that we are to wage war with unbelieving thought, though our wars are not to be fought with physical weapons but with spiritual weapons- with the power of God- the only power that can destroy strongholds. We are to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”. We are to go after vain philosophies, empty deceit, and plausible arguments that are meant to cast doubt on God and His Word. In fact, we are to attack every thought that’s contrary to Christ and bring all our thoughts into submission to his Lordship.
Likewise, Jude, although he passionately wanted to write to his audience about their common salvation, felt that they needed to be exhorted to “contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints”. According to Jude, Christians are to ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι (epagōnizesthai), to contend earnestly for the faith- to wrestle- to fight- to claw- to scratch- to pit oneself against unbelief! The Christian Apologist is to defend the faith against attacks from and to go on the offensive against unbelief, with gentleness and respect, of course. Seen from these two perspectives we get a more full understanding of apologetics, but we’re not quite complete yet.
The Christian Apologist is to defend the faith, to contend for the faith, but they’re also called to commend the faith. For this third perspective on apologetics, we look again to the Apostle Paul, who tells us that we who know the Lord are to persuade others (2 Cor. 5:11). The Christian Apologist who upholds the faith against attack, and battles for the faith against competitors, should strive to convince every sort of unbelief as well.
Google defines the word “persuade” as “cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument”. The Apologist who defends and contends, should never miss the main goal of apologetics- to commend! It’s ok to want to persuade unbelievers that the gospel is truth- in fact, that ought to be our goal in every apologetic encounter! Sometimes we will be more focused on defense, at other times we’ll be more focused on offense, but in defending and contending we are always trying to win people to Christ. Paul became all things to all people so that he might win some to Christ, he became a debater and a defender, but his intention was always to be a persuader, a commander.
One of the greatest Christian Apologists of the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer, helps us flesh out this third perspective, commending, more fully,
“..Christian apologetics should never be restricted to guarding against attack. We have a responsibility to communicate the gospel to our generation.
Christian apologetics is not like living in a castle with the drawbridge up and occasionally tossing a stone over the walls. It is not to be based on a citadel mentality- sitting inside and saying, “You cannot reach me here.” If the Christian adopts this attitude, either in theory or in practice, his contacts with those who have accepted twentieth-century thought will stop. Apologetics should not be merely an academic subject, a new kind of scholasticism. It should be thought out and practiced in the rough and tumble of living contact with the present generation. Thus, the Christian should not be interested only in presenting a nicely balanced system on its own, like some Greek metaphysical system, but rather in something, which has constant contact with reality- the reality of the questions being asked by his own and the next generation.
no one can become a Christian unless he understands what Christianity is saying. Many pastors, missionaries and Christian teachers seem to be helpless as they try to speak to the educated people and the mass of people about them. They do not seem to face the fact that it is our task to speak to our generation; the past has gone, the future is not yet here. So the positive side of apologetics is the communication of the gospel to the present generation in terms that they can understand.
The purpose of “apologetics” is not just to win an argument of a discussion, but that the people with whom we are in contact may become Christians and then live under the Lordship of Christ in the whole spectrum of life.” (The God Who Is There, in the Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 1, pg. 152-53).
The Christian Apologist is chiefly concerned with defending the gospel, contending with anti-gospels, and commending the true gospel. The goal is the gospel.