Occasionally people say something about apologetics and it gets me excited. Yay! Someone else sees this great need and wants to DO something done about it. It’s nice to know some other people see what you see, and share your passion for it. Other times people say something about apologetics and it gets me . . . not excited. There are some misconceptions about apologetics that can make the whole field look foolish, misguided, or even dangerous. Here are some of the main misunderstandings with apologetics.
Misunderstanding #1: Apologetics is all about arguing
Apologetics deals in defending the faith, and while that can include logical argumentation it does not necessarily include “fighting” (i.e., not rational argumentation but informal bickering and mean-spirited kind of “arguing”). Some apologists gravitate towards the field because they have an unhealthy interest in disputes. But fortunately, when apologists do their job right they are peacemakers more than troublemakers. They have a conviction about truth and do what they can to help people better see the truth. Anytime someone’s “apologetics” is getting mean-spirited, hostile, and angry they are probably obstructing the very Gospel they are supposed to manifest. Where apologists have come off as overly controversial, petty, and pugnacious, that is to their shame. Apologists who sacrifice love for truth are leaving out half of the Gospel. We are to speak the truth in love. The Gospel is neither truthless love nor loveless truth. It is truth and love.
Misunderstanding #2: Apologetics is a particular field of study
This is only true in a sense. I myself studied apologetics (as a field) and went to seminary to learn how to do apologetics. Apologetics can be a field of study, but here’s the trick. Apologetics is not just a subject of study, as if you can learn your arguments for God’s existence and suddenly you are an apologist. Apologetics is far deeper and wider than that. For one thing, Apologetics is skill-training. It’s a craft. It might be a helpful label for a particular subset of theology, philosophy, science, or various “fields of learning.” But it’s not just that. One can learn all of that stuff and still not be an apologist since apologists don’t just know how to defend the faith, they do defend the faith. That makes apologetics both an art and a science, it is a skill and a field of knowledge. Put another way, apologetics is not some separate ministry for argumentative Christians it is how you do your various ministries. If you are a music leader at church, you operate as an apologists when you are selecting songs and speaking prayers that help prepare people to face various objections and challenges to their faith. You can be preparing them with good theology, and powerful metaphors, in a beautiful form that persuasively habituates their hearts in harmony with the truth of Christ. It takes practice to learn to enjoy what God enjoys, to love what he loves and hate what he hates. And good music can help you do that. Also, an apologetics-minded music minister can eschew emotion-baiting in favor of emotionally relevant and intellectually astute music so people learn to worship (through music) with their whole selves and not just with their feelings. Also, you are filtering through your song selection with an awareness of how some audience members might misunderstand loose phrases or poor theology in the songs. If “apologetics” is not truly separated from music ministry, neither should it be roped off from other ministry domains like preaching, discipleship, teaching, evangelism, missions, etc.
Misunderstanding #3: Apologetics Is all intellectual
If you’ve met a self-proclaimed “apologist” chances are he or she was somewhat intellectual and might even have an air of superiority about them. Not that they are superior, but there’s no mistaking an intellectually arrogant person. And to make matters worse, apologists often berate the church for not nurturing the mind, or cultivating the intellect, or disciplining believers, etc. etc. Apologetics can be geared toward intellectuals. There’s nothing wrong with that since Christ died to save sinful intellectuals just like everyone else. And the truth of Christ should be relevant to the spiritual state of collegians and professors just like everyone else. But apologetics is not strictly intellectual. As such, the “intellectual” label is only partly wrong. Apologists have no reason to be proud, they are just as likely to lose their cell phone and car keys as anyone else. They mispell things. Any many of them aren’t particularly intellectual at all. And for those that are intellectual, they are rarely as intelligent as they think they are.Admitting that fact, it should be remembered that the Christian faith merits defense on many different fronts besides academic and scholarly battle fields. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the functional foundation for apologetics is not the university, or churches, or private Christian schools, etc. It is based in the home. Our ability to understand, believe, be transformed by, and be persuaded by the truth of Christ is first established in our family of origin. Healthy homes raise the bar for our ability to believe, we have far greater ability to conceive of a trustworthy Father-figure, the reality of (immaterial) love, objective (moral) natural laws, the sacrificial offering of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and so on, if we’ve seen these sorts of things modeled by loving loyal parents. I’m not dismissing the sophisticated intellectual realms of apologetics, but rather remembering that the bulk of apologetics abides in the mundane matters, where non-professionals can contribute. Just by doing our own respective job of loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, we can be empowering our family and friends to see how plausible, how persuasive, and how powerful Christ’s truth really is. These sorts of “non-intellectual” things can even shape our ability to understand, our ability to think straight, and our very ability to conceive of how tough answers from a Christian worldview can still be the best response to the hard questions that life asks of us.
Misunderstanding #4 Apologetics is All About Evangelism
As noted above, apologetics is a disposition. That means its not restricted to collegiate evangelism, or witnessing to atheists, or coverting muslims.It’s great when that happens. But apologetics is just as important for when believers are shepherding other believers. That means apologetics is not just for evangelism, it’s for discipleship, it’s for worship, it’s for service. It’s for any sort of ministry where people need an “answer” for the faith. People may believe in Jesus and love God, but their theology is crumbling over some misconception, or they are emotionally falling apart because they need to see what some of these “answers” look like in practical service and physical hand to hand ministry. Every human being struggles with doubt, fear, and insecurity at some point in their life. Apologetics can dignify that vulnerability, meeting people at their point of need, and there begin to build in people the courage of conviction, the hope for answers, and understanding where confusion reigned. When believers are not confident that Christianity can answer tough questions, They tend to fear and avoid those kinds of questions. Insecurity creeps in. Faith becomes fragile and irrational. It’s like people frolicking in the kiddie pool, unfit and fearful of diving into the deepest depths of the faith. The apologetic depths are forbidden to them so they forever miss out on any pearls that may be found down there. Christians who are confident about their faith are liberated in their faith. Preachers can train up the congregation with good apologetics. Music ministers can lead congregations to worship God in spirit and in truth. And teachers can cultivate wholistic maturity be edifying the head along with the heart and hands.
Misunderstanding #5 Apologetics is For Professionals
As a professional apologist myself, I make a living teaching apologetics. Most apologists aren’t like me. Thank God! The world would be a dry and boring place if all apologists were like me. The need for apologetics in the world is to big to be left to a handful of egghead professionals. It’s great to have a high level understanding of sophisticated attacks on the Christian faith. But most attacks on Christianity are “on the ground floor.” at a level where normal believers can understand. When congregants are willing to hold their ground, listen to a question or challenge posed against Christianity, and then say, “I’m not sure how to answer that. But I’ll look it up.” That’s apologetics. You’ve dignified the question, and so dignified the questioner. You have embraced an opportunity to learn. You’ve gained a conversational access point with that person and begun earning trust. And you might even find some good answers that you can bring back to the person. Apologetics, like a lot of relational ministry, is pretty much just intentional conversations. You can use lay-level apologetics by being conversational and trying to dignify the whole person, intellect and all, when they are confused or questioning.