What is Apologetics?

By Joshua Cypert

For most of us growing up with siblings, we can think back to our fair share of scuffles. I’m two years older than my sister and it’s safe to say that we got into it from time to time. I remember from a young age my parents would stress to me the importance of reconciliation. After wronging my sister, my father would give me the right hand of Christian fellowship and then tell me to apologize to her. I would usually respond with something like, “Well I may have been wrong to call her names but it was only because she called me one first,” or “I’m sorry for what I did, but she was asking for it by pestering me all morning. I had to stick up for myself. It was only a matter of time before I blew up at her. I’m only human.”

My responses would vary, but you get the picture. I wasn’t apologizing the way my parents wanted me to. In fact, I hadn’t grasped what it meant to truly be sorry. Truly being sorry is to feel sorrowful for the misfortune you have caused someone and then respond in repentance by seeking to make right your wrongs by changing your actions so you will not grieve that relationship again.

It is safe to say that I did not grasp this concept when I was younger, and to be honest, I’m not very good with it today. There is still a part of me that wants to revert to the same logic that I used when I was young. I want to make a defense for myself and why I acted the way that I did. But what I didn’t realize back then and what many people don’t realize now, is that my excuses for wronging my sister were actually a form of apologizing.

Now hear me out: I am not saying that it was right for me to make those excuses as to why I wronged my sister. What I am saying is that I did wrong her and I should have said I was sorry and sought to make things right. The fact is that I was partaking in what is known as apologetics (however bad my arguments were back then). The illustration may be corny, but I share it that we may get a better grasp of what apologetics really is.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, both were a form of apologetics. There was a lack of communication between my parents and I. I wanted to apologize by defending my actions of harming my sister. My parents wanted me to apologize by saying I was sorry. Similarly, I feel like there is a lack of communication regarding definition within the church today when it comes to the term “apologetics.” When the average lay person hears the pastor or theologian say “Christian apologetics,” most people tend to think of expressing sorrow or regret for the Christian faith. When in reality, the pastor or theologian is referring to making a defense for the Christian faith in light of accusations against it.

The word apologize today has two meanings. The common definition is what we saw earlier: to express regret and sorrow for the wrongdoing and harm you have caused someone and to seek to make amends. The second, and less common definition, comes from the Greek term apologia, which means to make a defense. Perhaps you have heard of the speech Socrates gave before his death entitled Apology. Socrates had been sentenced to drink poison for corrupting the youth and not believing in the Greek gods of his day. A simple reading of The Apology will show that Socrates was in no way expressing remorse for not believing in the gods of his day or “corrupting” the youth for that matter. Rather, the gadfly boldly stood trial and defended his love for wisdom and did not back down. As a result, he was forced to drink hemlock and, though given the chance to escape, he willingly accepted death.

It is this second meaning of the word apology when one refers to the study of apologetics. Therefore, apologetics is to make a defense for something when that something is being attacked. Like a defense attorney defends individuals accused of a crime, Christian apologetics defends Christianity against arguments brought against it.

The word apologia is used in Scripture eight times, the most popular being in 1 Peter 3:15. It reads:

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.

Paul defines his purpose as being “put here for the defense [apologia] of the gospel” in his letter to the Philippians (1:16). And though the word may only be used eight times, the concept of apologetics is all throughout the Bible. Jude tells believers “to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes himself as “destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). On multiple occasions, Paul instructs Timothy to “guard the deposit” entrusted to him (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14). Likewise, Paul writes to Titus charging him to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

We can conclude, then, that apologetics is not just something for the experts and scholarly Christians. Rather, it is something that the Bible both expects and instructs all believers to do. Christians are called to apologize unashamedly for their faith. The world has placed our God on trial and has accused him of wrongdoing. The difference is that God is perfect and can do no wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4; Job 34:12). He doesn’t need us to defend him, but gives us the privilege of boldly claiming his name and standing up for his cause. It is our job not to express regret for what the Lord has done, but to handle his word of truth rightly and present ourselves unashamed before him (2 Timothy 2:15).

Joshua Cypert (Arkansas Native) is a student at Boyce College.


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