The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics
The "Proof Texts" Typically (Mis)Used by the Modern Evangelistic Apologist
The bulk of the review of how various authors use the following texts will be done mainly in Part 13. Here, I’ll introduce the “proof texts” with my own summary of the “typical” use of the passages by the evangelistic apologist.
[I will give the full context of their statements in Part 13, along with the (all-too-often contradicting) Scripture they cite with their characteristic arrogance.]
The key term is the Greek noun ἀπολογία [G627, apologia: defense]; Peters uses it in the phrase
“always being ready to make a defense (ἀπολογία)”
Likewise, the verb ἀπολογέομαι [G626, apologeomai: to make a defense; to defend oneself]. In the NT, the noun occurs eight times and the verb occurs ten times. [Noun: Act 22.1; 25.16; 1 Cor 9.3; 2 Cor 7.11; Phi 1.7; 1.16; 2 Tim 4.16; 1 Pet 3.15. Verb: Luk 12.11; 21.14; Act 19.33; 24.10; 25.8; 26.1-2,24; Rom 2.15; 1 Cor 12.19.]
From this phrase, the evangelistic apologist presumes very broad support for defending (to the mind of the lost) all elements related to the Bible:
- its authority,
- its trustworthiness,
- its manuscripts and development,
- its believability,
- the rationality and maturity of accepting it as the Word of God, science, archaeology, history, philosophy, etc.
This verse—practically speaking— is presented as the carte blanche for all things apologetic.
The brutal truth is that the information presentation and methodology espoused from this broad disposition typically distills to this:
It is a lot of information presented about the Bible.
It is not the presentation of the message of the Bible, the gospel.
There is a vast difference between these two, with the result that the lost can, and mostly likely will, be misled into believing “another gospel.”
To be clear: there are times when and venues where all these (and more) can and should be discussed in depth with those who oppose the Bible.
[I think here of the great work of James White and ICR, the Institute for Creation Research.]
But, as I read the pages of the NT and examine the activities of the first disciples, especially the Apostle Paul, I am faced with the inarguable reality that they viewed the presentation of the gospel as the single priority of their lives:
1 Cor 15.3
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received …
[See my chapter, Preach the Gospel! for much more detail.]
Those first disciples knew no other discipline; their lives demonstrated that nothing had a greater priority than to fulfill the Lord’s commission in Matthew 28. The preaching of the gospel was its implementation.
So, the question before us is this: does 1 Pet 3.15 actually give license to the type of “extra-biblical” activity (my summary term) I mentioned above?
The answer is NO! This is definitely not what Peter had in mind.
I believe that this (like pretty much any other misuse of the Scripture) will be corrected by looking at the context of the verse and what the text actually said (by divine inspiration, no less!), rather than what modern Christians prefer was said or—worse yet—distorting it to say something it does not say in order to suit their own purposes and narrative.
[As a matter of observation, even a subtle change in the words of a divine truth may result in a meaning opposite of what was actually said in the text. Case in point: the numerous Bible distortions of the Watchtower over the last 100+ years!]
Well, one common theme that began in chapter 2 is submission:
1 Pet 2.13
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution …
1 Pet 2.18
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect …
1 Pet 3.1
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands …
1 Pet 3.5
… the holy women … being submissive to their own husbands …
As Peter continues in chapter 3 with a summary:
1 Pet 3.8-9
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
This is nothing less than humble submission, described in terms related to the results of that submission, rather than merely the fact of its mention. He continues the same theme in verses 10 through 12 by admonishing Christians to abstain from evil, to seek peace and righteousness. The life of the Christian is to be expressed in every way with humility and sympathy.
He then asks a provocative question:
1 Pet 3.13
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?
Of course, Peter argues from the ideal state in which good behavior is rewarded by, at least, not being harassed by those in authority. He knows, however, that this is frequently not the case. (He had his own run-ins with the religious authority of his day in Acts 5, including a night in the local jail. He also had full knowledge of how brutally the Christians of his day were being treated.)
Therefore, he asks—and answers—the question “But what happens if you (the Christian) actually are intimidated, harassed or persecuted?”
Well, first, the command is “do not fear”. And, second, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart.” It is at this point we are ready for verse 15.
1 Pet 3.14-17
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
Let’s look at that “do not fear” again.
As I mentioned above, the typical evangelistic apologist uses 1 Pet 3.15 as his/her basis for proceeding with a presentation of extra-biblical reasoning and information to the lost (many times as a practical replacement for the gospel). But the command in verse 15 “to be ready” follows the admonition in verse 14 “do not fear”: the context clearly establishes that the “[be] ready to make a defense” was to follow the intimidation and persecution of those who had some capacity or opportunity to make trouble for the Christian.
My point is this: the command in verse 15 is reactive, not proactive.
It is a response to the trials forced upon the believer by the lost, not the initiation of the presentation of the "gospel" à la apologetics to the lost. In this series, essentially every evangelistic apologist I reviewed for this series (and there were many!) interprets this verse as a proactive tool to (perhaps someday) get around to evangelism and the gospel. In their treatment of this verse, the apologist completely ignores the context and sets up a facade of support for their preaching of “another gospel”.
This is wrong and must stop.
Now, back to some details of our text.
Sanctify is an aorist active imperative—a command without an implicit reference to time. [In basic Greek grammars, it is sometimes termed the "undefined imperative".] Though wordy, I suggest that we can understand this command as
“at any and all times, let your constant disposition be to sanctify Christ …”.
The next phrase in Greek is quite interesting (followed here by a close-to-literal rendering in English):
ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος
“ready always a defense-to-all-asking you the rationale concerning the in-you hope”
Asking is a present active participle; it implies that those who are doing the persecuting are having a difficult time psychologically reconciling the submissive, humble, non-confrontational attitude of their victims. That is, they must keep asking “How can you keep doing this? What is this hope that continues to bear you up under our intimidations and trials?”
It is at precisely at this point that many modern evangelistic apologists “miss the forest for the trees”: the persecutors, the mockers, the intimidators, those who force evil on the people of God are most assuredly not asking
- Why do you trust the Bible?
- How can you believe in a book written thousands of years ago by a bunch of disconnected authors?
- How can you trust that the manuscripts were copied reliably?
- How can you reconcile the “errors and contradictions” of the Bible?
- How can you possibly defend a belief system that is obsolete?
- What about history and archaeology?
- What about my culture? Isn’t the Bible obsolete by now?
- What about all those crazy things the Bible teaches?
- ad nauseum …
No! Their question is “What is this ‘in-you’ hope?’”
Evangelist! Do you not see this? The life that is to be lived in the constant view of the lost, whether they are our persecutors or our family members, neighbors or co-workers, is a humble, sympathetic one that tacitly encourages this question:
“Who/what are you and why do you have the type of hope that I see?!?!”
At that moment, they care nothing about manuscripts or history or archaeology or believability or any of a number of other extraneous questions. At that moment, they are asking you for a witness of the gospel! And, then, do you throw away that opportunity by discussing anything and everything but the gospel? μὴ γένοιτο (“May it never be!” Rom 4.3)
Have you considered, evangelistic apologist, that perhaps— just perhaps—there is something in your witness that simply doesn’t prompt the question (“What is the hope …”), seeking rather to “defend” the Bible than to actually present the gospel in all its beauty and power?
Very few people (lost or otherwise) actually want to any spend time to talk with someone they probably would/could consider an opinionated, intellectual bully.
[Yes, I know that you encounter argumentative types from time to time. Knowing whether you should push back at those times and continue the discussion or simply walk away requires much wisdom. And, as the Apostle Paul did in Athens, walking away is definitely an option.]
But, my question to you is this, based on your premise that you have carefully and deliberately “prepared” yourself in apologetic facts, figures, and canned questions/responses in order to be “ready to defend”:
Are you spoiling for a fight, or are you simply and humbly watching for an opportunity to present the Word of God in the gospel, in the midst of a trial that severely tests your patience and character?
To borrow a relatively modern idiomatic expression,
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” (attributed to Abraham Maslow).
Do you, practically speaking, view the opportunity for witness as a "nail" needing the "hammer" of apologetics?
Remember what the Lord said to His disciples before He sent them out:
Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. (cf., Act 13.51)
If your witness is rejected you have the Lord’s command to simply move on and present it somewhere else!
It was a long time ago that I heard the statement “Why should some people receive the gospel twice before everyone has had the opportunity to hear it once?” In view of the Lord’s words just quoted, that statement is biblically defensible.
[I know that sometimes, especially in the weeks-/months-/years-long witness to a friend or a family member that the sewing and germination of the seed can take time. I speak above regarding the general principles the Lord has put in place for evangelism; if He is pleased to cause an extended, patient witness to bear fruit, then that is what He has enabled and we should embrace it. On the other hand, the Lord Himself prepared His disciples for the evangelistic activity in Mat 10 for the fact that sometimes/oftentimes their witness would be rejected; in those cases they simply should find someone else to grace with the gospel.]
2 Tim 2.15
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed …
The context of this text is very interesting:
2 Tim 2.8-16
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement:
For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness
This is a beautiful summary of the election of grace, the activity of the gospel in the witness of a faithful witness (even in adversity), the death and resurrection of the Lord Christ, a solemn reminder to remain faithful to the (faithful) Lord, and the command to handle properly the word of truth!
Is there any part of this amazing chapter of Scripture that says:
“Be sure to learn all about the facts and figures of history, archaeology, Bible manuscript history, etc. in order to best serve the lost?”
No! I know that someone reading this now will object and say “But we should learn history, …, etc.” My response is: whatever else you learn, ensure that you first learn, know, respect, and revere as of the highest priority the gospel of grace when speaking to the lost. The Lord saves the lost by His word and not by your “essentially-gospelless” reasonings (if you’ll allow me to coin a term). Yes, of course, learn all you can, but don’t forsake a thorough knowledge and love of the gospel of grace “as of first importance”. (1 Cor 15.3-5)
The noun ἀπολογία is found twice in this chapter (vv 7 and 16). The context of the gospel is very clear:
… in the defense and confirmation of the gospel …
Phi 1.16, 18
… knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; … Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed ...
The problem that Paul identified in this context was that there were “preachers” who preached gospel
“from envy and strife … out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment …”.
This pretentious activity needed to be challenged and the proper preaching of the gospel strongly defended. But, there is nothing in this context that suggests the ἀπολογία (defense) was evangelistic in nature—that is, something to be used when seeking to share the gospel with the lost. There is everything in the context that this was a reactive—a defensive—activity designed to curtail those who abused the preaching of the gospel.
This text is sometimes mentioned as a justification for apologetics; that is, Paul actively fought against anything that was contrary to the true knowledge of God. (And, at first read it sounds very general in its application.)
While not mentioned as frequently as 1 Pet 3.15, I’ve noticed that when the evangelistic apologist appeals to this text, that he/she mentions only the first half of the verse. Moreover, I’ve never seen the local and enclosing context of the verse discussed in those articles.
2 Cor 10.1-6
Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
So, what is the context?
Well, we all know that the Corinthian church had several, serious problems (here are just a few of them):
- they were divided as a consequence of breaking into cliques around (then) well-known Christian leaders;
- they were fleshly (carnal, σαρκικός);
- they allowed sin within the assembly to remain unchallenged;
- they allowed the temple of God (themselves) to be polluted;
- they were careless and somewhat indifferent to the significance of celebration of the Lord’s Table;
and so on. In many ways, they were an immature and careless group of believers that needed a great deal of pastoral care, discipline, self-examination and correction.
By the time that the Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the assembly there had made some much-needed corrections (the man mentioned 1 Cor 5 is one example), but they were still plagued by sin. (Paul also mentions being “bound to unbelievers” in 2 Cor 6.14-18, then follows with yet another command to “cleanse [oneself]” in 2 Cor 7.1.)
Following our text, Paul implies (v8) that his authority in Corinth was being challenged by someone unnamed who tended to “commend [himself]” (v18). He continues in chapter 11 with the charge that the Corinthians willingly allowed some to preach another gospel, but a “gospel” which was contrary to that which Paul had already preached there. (He also reminded them that he brought the gospel to Corinth before anyone else.)
Finally, by 2 Cor 11.13, Paul is ready to make the full charge that those troubling the Corinthians (somewhat effectively, as is evidenced) are nothing less than false apostles that had infested the local assembly with their error:
2 Cor 11.12-13
But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
The remainder of chapter 11 and the bulk of chapter 12 reflect the great trials Paul had endured for the sake of the gospel generally and the Corinthians specifically. The end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13 make it clear that Paul planned another visit (the third one) to handle some unfinished and much-needed business:
2 Cor 12.20-21—13.1
For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.
This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone, since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
Therefore, the context of 2 Cor 10.5 is the fact that Paul begins to present his reasons for dealing with the clear danger of false prophets (note the plural!) in the assembly at Corinth through whose collective influence it had become even more careless and infested with sin and disobedience and was, as a result, in grave, spiritual danger!
There is more corroborating evidence that this is the proper understanding: look again at that last phrase:
2 Cor 10.6
and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
Consider what this means carefully in light of what Paul wrote in the first epistle (regarding the immoral man):
1 Cor 5.11-12
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?
The man in the immoral relationship was to be dealt with jointly by the Apostle and the assembly because he professed to be a part of that assembly. But did you notice what Paul mentions as he reminds them of their responsibility of dealing with sin within the assembly? “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?” Paul knew that his responsibility was to Christians within the assembly. It was not his responsibility to judge those outside the assembly; that responsibility is the Lord’s alone: “But those who are outside, God judges.”
Now, apply this same principle to 2 Cor 10.1-6: when Paul write that “we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”, he said the same thing! The disobedience to be punished were those false prophets within the assembly. This is not a general statement of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” in the world at large. It is a specific statement of the responsibility of the true apologist to ensure that the assembly does not become infected with false teachings by false teachers who have arrayed themselves against God.
[Again, there are venues where such general apologetics can and should be presented. However, as I’ve just shown, this is not the context of 2 Cor 10; those who (sincerely or otherwise) try to use it as defense of apologetics before the lost are using it out of context (the primary "modus operandi" of the evangelistic apologist).
I anticipate one other objection here: “Can’t we assume that the false teachers are actually lost? So, therefore, is this not actually support of a general apologetic before the lost?” Yes, I agree that it would be a reasonably defensible position to maintain that the false prophets in Corinth were actually lost. However, that fact is essentially irrelevant here; what is relevant is that they presented themselves as Bible teachers and that their activity was within the assembly and tacitly conducted to sway the assembly to their pernicious logic.
Paul made it very clear: once the Corinthians became fully obedient to what they had been taught by Paul (and other faithful men who labored in Corinth), the false teachers would be punished. And that not because they were lost, but because they were part of the assembly. I’ll have more to say about that detail here.]
There is one last avenue that we may take before we are forced (biblically) to conclude that the modern evangelistic apologist has no support from the Bible.
The approach I’ll take will be to attempt to synthesize the discipline of apologetics from the use of the Greek noun ἀπολογία and its companion verb, ἀπολογέομαι. The former occurs a mere eight times in the NT; the latter a bit more at ten occurrences. Since there are so few texts, it’s worth the time and space to review them all, along with an assessment regarding whether they apply to so-called evangelistic apologetics.
ἀπολογία, noun [G627, apologia: defense]
“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.”
I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.
My defense to those who examine me is this:
For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.
For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.
the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;
At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
Of the eight times the noun is used,
- four of them are used in a context in which Paul is defending himself (legally) against his accusers;
- one of the uses shows the vindication (NASB translation) as it applied to the Corinthians in their actions to remove sinful activity from their midst;
- the two uses in Philippians speak directly (in context) of the defense of the gospel against those who preach it “in envy and strife”;
- which leaves only 1 Pet 3.15, which I showed above that it does not support the modern definition of evangelistic apologetics.
Therefore, so far, the modern definition of evangelistic apologetics has no biblical support from the noun.
Let’s next check the use of the verb form.
ἀπολογέομαι, verb [G626, apologeomai: to make a defense; to defend oneself]
When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say;
So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves;
Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly.
When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded:
“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense,"
while Paul said in his own defense, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”
Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today;
While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.”
in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.
Of the ten times the verb is used,
- seven of them are used in a context in which a person (usually Paul) is defending himself (usually in a legal setting) against accusers;
- one of the uses of the verb is to describe the action of the conscience;
- the two uses by the Lord Christ in Luke specifically command to not plan ahead, to not rehearse, to not prepare a defense before those who will attempt to persecute the Christians of a future age; in its context, it is a perfect match to 1 Pet 3.15.
So, just as the noun does offer any support for the modern definition of evangelistic apologetics, neither does the verb.
Where does that leave us? There is nothing else to check, no other Scriptures to reference and no examples of this type of evangelism in the NT. We are therefore forced to conclude that evangelistic apologetics, as it is taught and practiced today, has no biblical support. The modern evangelistic apologist is preaching "another gospel" and is to be accursed. It is nothing less than a blight on modern culture and implicity deceives and misleads the lost, who remain lost after coming under its destructive influence.
From these texts and the inspired record of what the early Apostles and disciples actually did in the spread of the gospel we can develop a biblical definition of apologetics; we'll see that it is much different from that which the modern evangelistic apologist would prefer we accept.