The Divine Mandate for… Apologetics?
Categories: Instructional, Missions
There is little controversy when the declaration arises that all Christians have been commanded by Jesus to spread the Gospel through local and global missions. The mandate arises from several passages, but Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:7-8 are easily the two most cited. I would assume that today, most Bible-believing, conservative churches and church members have developed some sort of “missional” mindset, in which reaching the lost with the Gospel plays an important part in their lives to some degree. The term we use for this is “evangelism” (from the Greek euangelizo, which means “to preach or proclaim”).
This plays out globally with training and supporting people to go around the world and share the Gospel with others contextually. Locally, this most often plays out in two ways. Many times we go into our communities and meet a physical and/or material need while bringing the Gospel message. At other times we bring the surrounding community into our churches for events, whether it be hosting concerts, speakers, or youth events, with the Gospel being (hopefully) being shared.
These are all excellent outreaches, and I pray all of them thrive and multiply through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder, however, if our churches have given thought to apologetics being closely tied to evangelism, even being a form of evangelism. Is it possible that, just as much as there is a divine mandate for evangelism, there is a divine mandate for apologetics? Now, you may or may not have heard of apologetics before, so before we can answer that question, we’ve got to cover the basics. What is this thing called apologetics?
Apologetics, despite appearances to the contrary, is not about apologizing or saying you’re sorry. I’m not advocating offering apologies; I’m advocating offering an apology. Apologetics is about defending the faith. It comes from the Greek word “apologia,” which means “a defense or reason.” The key text for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15-16, which says,
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [“apologia”] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (ESV)
Let’s briefly break down Peter’s command for Christians to always be prepared to make a defense.
Always be prepared. This is similar to Paul’s command to Timothy: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (1 Timothy 4:2; italics added). Essentially, Peter and Paul are commanding constant care to be taken in presenting the message of Jesus, the Gospel, whether it’s convenient or not.
To make a defense. While we have recorded stories and commands to preach the Gospel, half of Acts is devoted to speeches, and the majority of those consist of the disciples making a defense in response to questions or, more often, accusations (Acts 2:13-36; 4:7-20; 7:1-53; 17:19-33; 21:40-22:21; 24:10-21; 26:1-29; see also 9:22; 18:27-28). In Paul’s final courtroom scene in Acts 26:1-29, we see that the term Luke uses for Paul’s speech is—you guessed it—apologia, in verses 1, 2, and 24.
It seems, therefore, that the divine mandate to make disciples in Matthew 28:19, and the declaration that Jesus’s followers would be His witnesses to the whole world in Acts 1:8 is even more broad than evangelizing—at least, as most Christians would think of evangelism. In fact, going back to a suggestion I made earlier, could it be that apologetics is itself a way that we do evangelism? Perhaps so.
Apologetics has been an important aspect of Christianity even from its beginning. With the rise of secular humanism and moral therapeutic deism, along with the rise of Islam and New Age spirituality, it’s as important as ever that we not only understand the message of the Gospel we proclaim and have been saved by, but also that we understand what makes the Gospel, Jesus, and the whole of Christianity unique. That’s the task of apologetics; that is how closely it is connected with evangelism. It teaches us the reason for our hope in the Gospel of the one true King, Jesus Christ.