APOLOGETICS: A FLEETING FAD OR A PERMANENT PROPERTY OF CHRISTIAN FAITH?
The following significant statements are taken from an issue of the Gospel Advocate, many decades old (September 13, 1973). The statements were penned by the late Thomas B. Warren. He wrote: “The basic thrust of New Testament preaching is apologetic in its nature. . . . It is a grievous error to conclude that the study of ‘Christian Evidences’ [apologetics] is one extraneous to the study of the Bible. The two go hand-in-hand.”
Apologetics and preaching—apologetics and Bible study—go “hand-in-hand.” These keen observations are from one who perhaps understood apologetics as well as any man living at the time in which he was writing. In conjunction with that understanding, he applied its application to his life in remarkable fashion. His words cited above imply how crucial apologetics is to the fundamentals of Christianity. There is a sense in which there is nothing more basic to Christian faith than (1) Bible Study and (2) preaching. The information upon which true Christian faith rests is learned through a study of the sacred Scriptures, and that message is propagated through preaching (cf. Acts 17:1-3, 11-12; Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 1:21, et al.). As Warren implied in the above statements, a proper understanding of these fundamentals is essentially connected to apologetics.
In recent years it seems to some that there has been an increased interest in apologetics. For example, Baucham in his book Expository Apologetics says, “[W]e are in the midst of a surge in the popularity and practice of apologetics” (24). Whether this conclusion be true or not, what is true is the fact that many (even among those professing Christianity) do not understand the New Testament meaning of apologetics and its essential connection to the Christian faith and the Christian life. Recently someone shared with me that a church leader whom he knew said something to the effect that he (the church leader) would be glad when this apologetics stuff goes away. How tragic that any Christian (even more, that a leader in the church) would express such obvious misunderstanding of something so crucial to Christian faith and the Christian life as the meaning and essentiality of apologetics.
One of the more obvious texts in the New Testament where the essentiality of apologetics is seen is 1 Peter 3:8-15. It is a classic text on both the meaning and application of apologetics. The overriding contextual flow of the passage involves the Christian’s disposition. Peter was not writing to a select class or a specialized group of academics in the church but to “all” (1 Peter 3:8, ESV). This “all” entails all who had “purified [their] souls in . . . obedience to the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). In other words, they had obeyed the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17).
A deeper retreat into the context of 1 Peter 3:8ff links it to those who had been sanctified by the Spirit, having been washed by the blood of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2). In involves those who had been called by the gospel (cf. 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Peter herein set forth the disposition that should characterize every Christian. The Christian is to be disposed to such properties of character as sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, a humble mind, etc. (f. 1 Peter 3:8ff). Furthermore Peter describes the Christian disposition as one that should be “zealous for what is good” (1 Peter 3:13), and “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake . . . [h]ave no fear . . . nor be troubled” (1 Peter 3:14).
In this context Peter proceeds to provide an essential property of Christian faith and life that he contrasts with becoming intimidated as one faces the opponents of the Christian faith. This essential, permanent property is set forth in the following: “. . . [B]ut in your hearts honor Christ as 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 Peter 3:15, ESV).
J. H. Jowett, one of the favorite writers of the esteemed B. C. Goodpasture to whom Thomas B. Warren dedicated his great book, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?, described the phrase “sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” (ASV) as the “creative center of the passage.” Jowett elaborates:
If Christ be sanctified in the heart as Lord . . . what will be the striking characteristic of the life? . . . [T]he apostle’s answer begins with an enumeration of the softer graces: “compassionate, tender-hearted, humble-minded.” . . . [P]erhaps I ought to have called them the riper fruit. . . . (The Epistles of Peter 69)
With this “creative center” (Christ as Lord in one’s heart) and the characteristics of life that are the result of one’s conversion and ongoing transformation (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-3:14), Peter says the Christian is to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks . . . for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The word defense (NKJ, NASV, ESV) or answer (KJV, ASV, NIV) is from apologia. This word from which apologetics is derived was used for “the defense in a court of law . . . [also] an informed explanation or defense of one’s position” (Rogers and Rogers 575). Robertson says it does not mean “to apologize” but is a “defense of the inward hope . . . an intelligent grasp of the hope and skill in presenting it” (Word Pictures, vol. 6, 114).
This is apologetics. As Warren observed many years ago, apologetics is intrinsic to Bible study, and it is the basic thrust of New Testament preaching. Apologetics is no fleeting fad. It is a permanent property of the Christian faith and the Christian life.
Charles C. Pugh III
Baucham, Voddie, Jr. Expository Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015.
Jowett, J. H. The Epistles of Peter. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 6. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1933. 6 vols.
Warren, Thomas B. "Let's Recognize and Prepare to Meet this Great Challenge." Gospel Advocate. 114. 37 (13 Sept 1973): 582, 589-90