In Apologetics on Mission the Resurgence contributor Justin Holcomb defines the term and gives multiple ways of using the gospel tool.
What Is Apologetics?
The word “apologetics” is from the Greek word apologia, which means “the act of making a defense.” This word is used several times in the New Testament, but its usage in two passages is particularly relevant. In Philippians 1:7 &16, apologia refers to a defense of the gospel, and in 1 Peter 3:15 it refers to a defense of the Christian hope.
Apologetics is “an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms. An apologist is one who is prepared to defend the message against criticism and distortion, and to give evidences of its credibility.
One form of apologetics is to defend the gospel from challenges. Defensive apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith by showing that the objections to the true claims of Christianity cannot and do not stand. Defensive apologetics addresses objections to the concept of God’s Triunity, to the problem of evil, to the Resurrection, to biblical criticism, and so forth.
For example, negative apologetics is used to rebut the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity “is an Error in counting or numbering; which, when stood in, is of all others the most brutal and inexcusable.” Negative apologetics will show that the doctrine of the Trinity is at least possibly true.
Another example is to defend against the charge that the bible contains errors, contradictions, or inconsistencies. To give answers to the challenges that Jesus rose from the dead is also defensive apologetics.
Another form of apologetics is to offer reasons to believe the gospel. Positive apologetics is the use of Christian evidences to demonstrate the viability of the Christian faith. Apologetics intends to “show”, in a positive manner, that the claims of the Christian faith are indeed intellectually defensible and rationally justifiable.
This is the method of making a positive case for the validity and truth of the claims made in Christian Scripture such as the resurrection of Christ, the existence of God, and the historical reliability of the Bible.
Another use of apologetics is critiquing unbelief, which combines both the positive and negative forms. Some streams of apologetics seek to show that unbelief is irrational and that holding to views such as relativism will lead one to undesirable and irrational conclusions.
For example, holding to relativism entails that no universal ethical norm can be present since there is no objective truth to ground morality. This type of apologetics moves from the critique to a positive construction that shows how the Christian faith provides an alternative and logical worldview that best makes sense of the reality in which we live.
Explaining how karma is a cruel and devastating belief is another form of critiquing unbelief. Karma claims that if someone is suffering or in pain, they deserve it and to help them is to go against the cosmic law (dharma) at play.
Another example is that atheism leads to moral chaos. On what basis can an atheist say anything (genocide, sexual assault, child abuse, etc) is bad or wrong? If ethics is based on opinion or consensus, then morality is determined by whoever has the most power. If nature is “red in tooth and claw” and survival of the fittest is true and good, then domination of one animal over another in any form can’t be called bad or wrong in a naturalistic worldview but rather celebrated as the outworking of the principles of the atheist worldview.
Apologetics on Mission
Apologetics is something that you engage in every time you share your beliefs and convictions with your fellow Christians, with your children, and with non-believers. It is not an irrelevant or formal discipline reserved for intellectuals. Apologetics is a tool for mission.