I was researching opinions on the difference between apologetics and evangelism when I came across a website that explained it like this:
Apologetics usually requires some level of intellectual sophistication.[i]
While I certainly believe intelligence and Christianity are complimentary,[ii] the idea that apologetics is for the intellectual is problematic when looking at 1 Pet 3:15: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you”. If apologetics is something all Christians should be prepared for then maybe ‘apologetics’ isn’t the only way.
Apologetics is Complicated
The first time I approached a church about teaching apologetics, I received an all too common response from the pastor: “We teach the Bible, we don’t need that.” As I listened to his sermon, I couldn’t help but see the irony in his appeals to missionary work. He said, “They will know you by your fruits”, a clear message from Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. So the pastor wanted his congregation to go out and win hearts and minds for Christ… without providing any reasons!? Apologetics is clearly a piece of the endeavor but putting the term ‘apologetics’ on the mission appears to complicate the ask.
Most of us are already prepared to give a reason by simply sharing our testimony. Labeling it ‘apologetics’ only complicates evangelism.
Apologetics Is Confusing
As a new follower of Jesus, I was all-in. I switched majors in college and jumped into Theology classes. My first apologetics class was an elective. Back then I had never heard the term before (and neither had anyone within my circle of influence). As I shared my progress with friends and family, they would always ask me: What is apologetics; is that like saying you’re sorry you’re a Christian? At the time, I responded, “I think it comes from the root word we use for ‘apostle.’ It’s not apologizing but training or teaching.” Boy was I wrong. Apologetics *is* apologizing. Apologizing, it turns out, was the word I got wrong.
Apologetics plays on a term that has taken on a different meaning in culture and is confusing to those not in apologist circles.
Apologetics Is Not Gentle
The second half of 1 Peter 3:15 says that defending Christianity should be done with gentleness and respect. If apologetics is so gentle and respectful, why is it so confrontational? Why does #apologetics on Twitter attract #atheist responses? Could it be that we (apologists) have turned Christianity into an US VS THEM culture? I think this approach is anti-Jesus. In the Gospels, the only time we see Jesus being overtly aggressive is with the religious leaders who are supposed to know Him.
The writer of Hebrews says it like this:
Therefore, let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity (Heb 6:1)
Jesus called us to evangelism, to share the Gospel through personal experience and love. By definition, that process will always include apologetics. Changing our approach doesn’t change the equipment available. But, I think there is a better way. I think we’d be better off if we were Christians first—Christians who focused on the person behind the argument, rather than the argument itself.
It may be time to stop ‘doing’ apologetics and start ‘being’ apologists.