No, I don’t want you to go around saying “sorry” all the time. That is not what I mean. My title is referring to this: ALL Christians should seek to know enough about their faith that when they get asked tough questions about it, or when objections and criticisms of it are raised, they can give some sort of a decent answer.
That is, defending the faith is NOT just the job of a few professionals, a few academics, or a few full-time Christian apologists. It is the job of every believer. But before I explain why, I better back up for those who might still be in the dark here. What exactly is an apologist?
In a general sense, an apologist is anyone who defends something, or offers an argument for something, especially if it is coming under attack, or if it is controversial, etc. It could be an unpopular idea, belief, or cause, which a person who champions it finds the need to defend.
So a person can be an apologist for something evil, such as fascism, or a person can be an apologist for something that is in fact good, but perhaps fallen out of favour, such as defending the right to life of the unborn. An apologist simply defends and gives reasons for something he believes in, and which is often under attack.
Here of course I have in mind Christian apologetics. So this is a defence of the Christian faith. It deals with criticisms, objections, misunderstandings, and direct attacks on the faith. It seeks to give solid reasons as to why Christianity is credible, rational and true.
It deals with attacks against it, barriers to it, and seeks to show why it is a valid, attractive and worthwhile belief system. Again, it has nothing to do with being sorry about something. It goes back to a set of Greek words. The two main ones are these:
apologia = a Greek noun for answer, reply, or defense
apologesthai = a Greek verb meaning to defend, to make a reply, to give an answer for, or to legally defend oneself
The words are used various times in the Greek New Testament. A key passage is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (NIV). Or as the ESV renders it, there is a need for “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”.
The words in bold are the English translations of the Greek word apologian. And often in the book of Acts we read about how Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues about the faith. That is the verb form of the Greek word.
So Peter has made it clear that all believers must be ready to give an answer. Sure, that does not mean we all must be trained apologists with massive libraries, and a thorough understanding to all objections and criticisms of the faith. But it does mean at least having a sound grasp of your own faith, so that you can offer some responses to the critics or accusers.
In her commentary on 1 Peter Karen Jobes says this about the passage in question:
Peter’s exhortation in 3:15 has been used to justify Christian philosophy and apologetics…. While that is a legitimate application of this verse, the apostle Peter did not have in mind the professional or academic field of Christian apologetics…. Rather, Peter is concerned that Christian believers be able humbly and respectfully to defend their hope in Christ to anyone who might ask, even if legal charges are in view for some.
So what am I driving at here? I have a personal reason for urging all Christians to fulfil their obligations given in verses like 1 Peter 3:15. Because I am a bit of an apologist, I get Christians coming to me all the time for help. Often they have just had a family member or friend or associate throw a curly question at them or raise various objections to the faith.
They will get in touch with me therefore and ask for my help. Some of them may think I can provide an instant answer to everything. Some just want to know where to begin to find some information on this. Some have no clue how to answer, and they are hoping I can steer them in the right direction.
As I say, this happens all the time. But let me say two broad things about this: first, it is of course somewhat flattering that so many folks seem to think I might be some sort of “Bible Answer Man” who can bail them out of every challenge and deliver them from every objection.
And when and where possible I certainly do try to help these folks. Time permitting, I will answer the objection or question, or at least point them to resources (books, articles, websites, etc) where they can get some answers. So I do try to help as much as I can, but….!
The simple truth is, as just one person, I cannot fight every Christian’s battles for them. I certainly try to help when I can, but I can only do so much. Again, it may be flattering that so many believers seem to think that I can come to the rescue, but actually I am not an apologetics superman!
But second, and more importantly, my real concern is that Christians need to learn to do a bit of their own homework and be prepared, just as Peter commands us. Far too many believers are either lazy, or may feel totally unqualified. But hey, we can all read a bit more, we can all study a bit more, we can all seek to use the mind God has given us for his glory.
Some folks really are stumped and have no idea where to turn, so that is why they come to me. And as I say, I will try to help when and where possible. But some believers are just intellectual sloths, and they could not be bothered to do what Peter says.
Again, I am not talking about amassing a 6,500-volume library, and I am not talking about getting several academic degrees in theology, philosophy and apologetics. But I am talking about doing some basic homework in these areas. And if you say, “But I do not even know where to go for this,” well, I am glad you asked.
Let me offer just a few of many resources that you can put to good use. As to books, there are many hundreds of great titles to choose from in apologetics. I list some of the better ones here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/02/13/the-christian-apologetics-arsenal-a-select-bibliography/
And I offer some more titles here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/07/13/fifteen-helpful-new-books-on-apologetics/
While many topics arise in apologetics, such as the problem of evil, questions of origins, and other religions, many deal with Scripture and its reliability. Just today for example I had a concerned Christian say she was challenged on the genealogies in the Gospels, with a critic saying they are full of contradictions.
Good books dealing with the reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture will deal with those sorts of objections. And there are plenty to choose from here. Let me just mention four such titles by one New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg (in order of their appearance):
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. IVP, 1987.
The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. Apollos, 2001.
Can We Still Believe the Bible? Brazos Press, 2014.
The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. B&H, 2016.
If you can only get one, buy his latest volume. It is very helpful indeed. And since so many critics of the Bible will claim it is filled with mistakes and contradictions, etc., there are a number of good books that deal with hundreds of these supposed discrepancies and errors. See these seven books for example:
Archer, Gleason, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan, 1982.
De Haan, M. R., 508 Answers to Bible Questions. Zondervan, 1952.
Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask. Baker, 1992.
Haley, John, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Baker, 1874, 1977.
Kaiser, Walter, et. al., Hard Sayings of the Bible. IVP, 1996.
Rhodes, Ron, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages. Harvest House, 2008.
Richards, Larry, 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered. Revell, 1993.
And there are many good apologetics websites which deal with all sorts of questions, objections and issues. One is the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: https://carm.org/
They list further websites to go to: https://carm.org/recommended-websites
Quest Ministries lists five top sites: http://www.questpa.org/148/
This site lists 23 key sites: http://shatteredparadigm.blogspot.com/2008/06/23-of-very-best-christian-apologetics.html
Other helpful sites include:
Stand to Reason – https://www.str.org/
James White’s Alpha and Omega Ministries – https://www.aomin.org/
Norman Geisler’s site – http://normangeisler.com/
There is just so much available – be it books or websites or whatever – that Christians really are without excuse. There is no shortage of really helpful information out there, dealing with every single objection and criticism that has ever been raised against the Christian faith.
Again, I am not asking you all to be scholars or full-time apologists. But I am exhorting you to perhaps be a bit less lazy and overly reliant on others, and fulfil your duties as given by Peter. As times get more and more dark in the West, we will need more and more Christians to stand up and be counted here.
The days of solely relying on others to bail you out when you get stuck or when someone poses a toughie to you are now over. Yes, for sure, I will still be available to help whenever I can, so if you need to, please get in touch with me – or others. But you also have an obligation to do some of your own reading and your own study.
This is invaluable for two reasons: it not only prepares you to answer some of the questions and objections thrown at you by critics or even friends, but it also greatly strengthens your own faith. So please, start reading. If you don’t like to read, there are plenty of audio books out there, and plenty of videos on line that you can make use of.
Let me conclude with three useful quotes on all this:
“If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up – from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill.” Chuck Colson
“Here is the sum of the matter: We must earnestly endeavor to know the truth of the biblical worldview and to make it known with integrity to as many people as possible with the best arguments available. To know God in Christ means that we desire to make Christian truth available to others in the most compelling form possible. To be created in God’s rational, moral and relational image means that our entire being should be aimed at the glorification of God in Christian witness. A significant part of that witness is Christian apologetics.” Douglas Groothuis
“The apologetic task is difficult, complex, and never-ending. Yet it is the mandate of God to us. The responsibility is ours; its success is God’s.” R.C. Sproul
Always be ready!