Why Christians Must Be Apologists — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

When we think of a Christian apologist, several images might spring to mind. An accomplished debater, a storied theologian, a university professor, a philosopher, or a public speaker with rapid-fire responses. The common denominator between these different portrayals is simple: someone who is not just your typical Christian. That is one of the most common misconceptions about Christian apologetics.

While apologetics has become a specialized discipline, it is not something best left to the experts. It should be part of every Christian’s faith. The reason is simple: the apostle Peter says that believers must be willing and able to defend what they believe. He says, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Here Peter is addressing Christians in general. Every Christian must be able to explain to others why we became a follower of Christ.

Apologetics begins with understanding the gospel message but must also involve action. Christians are called to share that message with others (Matt. 28:19). This requires a willingness to share our faith with others and persuade them to obey the gospel. We see this in the ministry of the apostle Paul (Acts 17:1; 2 Cor. 5:11). If we are going to do likewise, we must present the gospel in a way that (1) invites the interest of others and (2) answers their questions about the Bible.

Be Prepared.  For many Christians, apologetics sounds like apologizing for their faith. This is a gross misunderstanding. In the ancient usage of the word “apology” (Greek apologia), it meant to “make a defense.” It was often understood in the sense of legal defense, which we find in the works of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. One of the most famous examples is in Plato’s Apology, where Socrates defended himself in court against charges of corruption and impiety. Believers must defend our faith with the same rigor as lawyers preparing to argue a court case.

Peter states that believers are to be prepared (Greek hetoimos) to make their defense. This term indicates readiness or preparedness and is often used in the context of weddings or meals. A significant amount of planning and preparation must precede such an event—it would be foolish to wait until the last minute to plan a wedding ceremony or prepare dinner for a guest. Everything should be ready before the attendees’ arrival. The same is true for Christians sharing their faith with others.

Unfortunately, many believers set the bar far too low. They might say things like, “I just believe,” “I was raised in the church,” “I feel it in my heart,” or “My faith changed my life.” These are not objective statements but subjective confessions. Individuals in other religions say the same things. Why should someone want to become a Christian based on another person’s feelings?

Be Ready.  Some people wonder whether they are up to the task of defending their faith, especially if attacked by a critic or militant unbeliever. Thankfully, critics tend to ask questions from a relatively limited number of areas. They typically concern things like the nature and existence of God, creation, the historicity of Jesus, the veracity of the Bible, and the problems of evil and suffering. These are important areas for Christians anyway, especially if we try to evangelize, teach other Christians, and train our children. Knowing the answers to these questions will give us more confidence and help us share our faith more effectively. We should want solid answers for ourselves that we can then put to good use when talking to others about Christ.

Some Christians take little time to learn how to articulate those truths and persuade others. If believers are going to live in the world as salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16)—in other words, in a way that is noticeable and attracts the attention of others—then we must be ready when someone else asks about our faith. We must anticipate questions before they arise.

What happens if someone stumps us with an unexpected question? It might not happen, but it could. There is no shame in admitting that a question is tough or that we may not have a quick response. We should tell the person that we will do a little work and then get back to them. Their questions deserve answers.

Be Thoughtful.  Christians often put inadequate time into thinking through their faith. The typical believer has been persuaded that the Bible’s claims are valid, but too many stop there. The world will press every advantage, which is why Paul warns about the spiritual dangers Christians may face. He says that “philosophy and empty deceit” will try to take Christians captive (Col. 2:8) and that spiritual troublemakers will try to distort the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-7). These teachings may even have the veneer of wisdom (Col. 2:23), meaning that it is that much more important that Christians take precautions to avoid being duped by falsehoods.

On a final note, Peter reminds us that we should prepare to defend our faith, but we should do so in a gentle, respectful, and winsome way. One of the saddest stereotypes of Christian apologists is that they are rude and disrespectful. Peter highlights the importance of being courteous when responding to others. It would be an indescribable shame if someone rejected the gospel because of an ill-mannered believer.

Every Christian should be ready to answer any questions they might be asked about what we believe. If we are living out a conspicuous faith, those questions will come. Only a few Christians may aspire to become trained experts or specialists, but everyone should be an apologist.

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