Have you ever heard the expression “preach the gospel to yourself”?
I’m not sure where it originated, but the idea is that the gospel is more than a once-and-done lesson for us. We are forgetful people and we need to hear it again…and again. We aren’t necessarily going to hear the gospel from someone else every day, so the duty lies to us.
Apologetics works the same way.
Usually, we think of apologetics as something we do with other people. It’s a debate, or at least a conversation. It’s a question and answer exchange. So how can you apply apologetics to yourself? What does it mean to practice apologetics for your own growth?
To tackle this question, we must understand what the purpose of apologetics is, and what our motivations are for engaging in it.
The purpose of apologetics
As the oft-quoted 1 Peter 3:15 says, as Christ-followers, we should always be prepared to give an answer for the hope we have. In the context of the chapter, the idea becomes clear: be a living witness for unbelievers, and when they ask you why you live like you do, have answers for them.
Of course, there are other passages that deal with the components of what we consider apologetics, which talk about making arguments and tearing down strongholds. And there’s the word itself, apologia, which simply means “to give a defense.” This leaves a lot of room for how exactly we are to give this defense, and what form it will take.
So to apply this to the topic at hand: Do you ever answer your own questions? Do you ever defend yourself, against yourself, to yourself? (Don’t even try to tell me you’ve never argued with yourself.)
In case this is getting confusing, let’s look at an example.
Say you’re conflicted about which decision to make in a certain situation in your life. You want to watch the latest episode of your favorite TV show, but the kitchen sink is positively overflowing with dishes. Not just any old dishes, either–casserole dishes, encrusted with the remnants of tonight’s dinner. You know that the longer you wait, the harder they’ll be to clean. But you really want to watch that TV show.
You ask yourself, “Do I really need to do those dishes now, or can they wait just 30 minutes? Yeah, I think they can wait. You know what, I’ll let them soak. That’ll be better anyway.”
Then the other part of your brain starts talking. “Come on, that’s a lousy excuse. You’re just looking for a reason to put off the dishes. That’s called laziness, not productivity.”
You protest, “But I’m still going to do them! I just want to watch the TV show first.”
All this goes on in your head. Not a single other human being was around to participate in your little internal battle.
If you can argue with yourself and defend yourself (and defend your reasons) over doing the dishes, you can ask yourself the tough questions apologetics handles. And better yet, you can go after the answers yourself as well. This is not only beneficial for your own knowledge, but is also excellent practice before you go out and talk to another human being.
The motivations for apologetics
Next let’s take a look at our motivations for engaging in apologetics and how we can apply this to our personal growth as well.
The reasons for apologetics are less clearly stated in the commonly cited verses. They’re more implied. My summary: The defense we give others should prompt them to consider God in a different way or bring glory to Him. We are not trying to bring glory to ourselves by seeming like we know everything, and we are not trying to triumph over others in an intellectual sparring match for bragging rights. We are genuinely attempting to answer questions and bring someone one step closer to God.
Based on this description, apologetics can be a catalyst for your own learning and spiritual growth as well. Seeking out the reasons for our faith should grow our relationship with God. And certainly, when done well, our search for evidence can bring us great confidence in our faith, urging us to praise God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us to do all for the glory of God. This includes the mundane things of daily life, but it definitely also applies to how we strive to ask and answer great questions.
So who benefits from apologetics?
We’ve taken a bit of a different perspective on apologetics here. This seems to beg the question: Who is apologetics for? Who benefits from these conversations? Well, it’s definitely not an either/or. It’s an all of the above.
Who benefits from apologetics?
- The person being engaged in this important conversation.
- The person listening in or watching as the conversation takes place.
- The person to whom the encounter is later described.
- And the person who puts forth the defense of the faith.
I think this is pretty clear to us. We know apologetics benefits many people. What I’d like you to consider is that even if you don’t have a conversation partner, or even if you do have a conversation partner but don’t seem to see any “results,” taking the time to study and practice your defense is beneficial to you.
Remember what we said above–everything we do is for God’s glory? This absolutely includes studying to be a worker approved by God, who rightly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This means that even if no one is around to hear your evidences or respond to your arguments, if your own faith is strengthened, the time you spend studying is worth it.
I’ll conclude with a personal example. Given my position as a student at a public university, and specifically a student of evolutionary theory this semester, I have taken this opportunity to put in some research and really establish what I believe and why. When I meet with my science professor and ask further questions, I’m not expecting to change her mind. I’m not going on a crusade to change anyone’s mind but mine. And that’s important for me to know, so that when someone asks me why I’m even bothering because I’m not going to “win,” I can confidently answer: “I’m not trying to ‘defeat’ anyone. I’m doing this for my own growth. I’m doing this because I need to know that my God is trustworthy and my faith is well-founded.”
By all means, apologetics is meant to be shared–share it with anyone and everyone you know! But don’t discount its benefit for your own personal and spiritual growth.