The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics
Developing a Biblical Definition of Apologetics
Prior chapters have implied a working definition of biblical apologetics, in contrast to the working definition developed and applied by the modern evangelistic apologist (which typically misuses and ignores the Bible).
Once that body of biblical evidence is properly acknowledged—and obeyed—the definition of what the Bible would term “apologetics” becomes self-evident—and very neatly, too.
As we’ll see, the context and purpose of that activity is not evangelism; it is something far different.
So, let’s begin by returning to the classic canonical text:
1 Pet 3.15
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 …
As I mentioned in this chapter, the ἀπολογία (defense) is NOT cannot be used to support all manner of extra-biblical evidence that somehow convinces the lost that it is now rational, reasonable and “safe” to trust Christ. Rather, it is a reactive command, the instruction of how the Christian should behave and respond when experiencing trials, intimidation and persecution from the lost. The Holy Spirit’s command through Peter was not evangelism; it was about maintaining grace and humble submission in difficult circumstances.
[Always remember, the lost are actually spiritually dead and unable to receive the things of the Spirit; Eph 2.1,5; Col 2.13 and 1 Cor 2.14.
Another very important point is that repentance, in the context of the apologetic presentation, is rarely mentioned.]
As the Lord expressed it similarly:
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 [ἀπολογέομαι], or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves [ἀπολογέομαι]; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.
Whatever else it may encompass, a definition of ἀπολογία (defense) in the context of 1 Pet 3 and this pair of references in Luke must include an active disposition to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit for the opportunities that He gives—a leading that is not planned or rehearsed.
But, this is only a small part of the definition. Let’s continue…
The evangelistic apologist typically emphasizes being well-studied in “extra-biblical information”, citing (among others) these texts as support:
2 Tim 2.15
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
2 Tim 2.14-16
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
However, a simple review of the context of both texts says otherwise.
In what, exactly, are we to be “well-prepared” and “diligent”? The “word of truth”! Therefore, our "work-in-progress" definition of ἀπολογία (defense) must include a thorough knowledge of and experience in the Word of God.
Whatever else you might learn along the path of Christian maturity, the Word of God is preeminent. Everything else is truly optional.
Continuing, the experiences and issues that the Apostle Paul faced while working with the Philippians is interesting and actually sets the stage for the next portion of our developing definition.
… 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 in the Philippi of Paul’s day was that there were so-called preachers who preached the gospel “from envy and strife … out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment …”. These careless and small-minded preachers actually sought to harm Paul and his work as they effectively shredded their own witness by their shameful behavior! This activity needed to be challenged and the proper, humble preaching of the gospel restored: this is what the Apostle did and sought to do.
The context here—and this is of vital importance—is that this apologetic activity was taking place within the Christian community. So, the next part of our definition is that true apologetics takes place within the Christian community at large in order to identify, challenge, and rebut activities that are fundamentally detrimental to the gospel and dangerous to Christians. There is nothing in the context here that suggests the ἀπολογία (defense) was evangelistic in nature, something to be used when seeking to share the gospel with the lost.
I’ve just established that the ἀπολογία (defense) took place in a Christian—not secular—venue. There also is biblical evidence that apologetic activity occurs both in the Christian community in general and within the local assembly in particular, as we observe next.
The Apostle Paul faced an even greater threat at Corinth, as chapters 10 through the end of the Second Epistle records.
A text cited by several evangelistic apologists is this:
2 Cor 10.5-6
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.
As I showed in a prior chapter, the evangelistic apologist uses these verses completely out of context, a display of stunning arrogance.
[Note that usually only verse 5 is quoted; no comment is made regarding verse 6 which continues the string of present participles that began in verse 3.]
Basically, the evangelistic apologist attempts to use verse 5 as carte blanche for the use of any and all extra-biblical elements and, sometimes, a very aggressive posture toward the lost—and this in the name of evangelism!
[So much for the “gentleness and reverence” commanded in 1 Pet 3!]
Paul faced several aggressive, false apostles at Corinth (2 Cor 11.12-13) who would wreak havoc in that assembly. No wonder Paul stated that he worked at “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up …”. But, you’ll search in vain to find Paul stating this as an evangelistic tool or method in all of chapters 10 through 13.
As our definition process continues, we can add that the venue is not merely the Christian community at large, it is also that the true ἀπολογία (defense) is within the venue of the local assembly. Those Christians who have a thorough and mature biblical knowledge are to defend the relatively immature Christians within the assembly from the devilish assault of those who would in any manner distort the Word of Truth.
Also here I ended with a review of every occurrence of the noun (ἀπολογία) and verb (ἀπολογέομαι). The majority of the time both are used in a very narrow context, namely that of the defense of a person (usually Paul himself) in a legal context. Two of the verb forms are used in the passages in Luke 12 and Luke 21 in a context in which the Lord specifies to not rehearse what a Christian who is brought before authorities thinks he/she will say. I conclude here with the same assertion: the use of both the noun and verb forms simply don’t support the broad-brush use of the evangelistic apologist.
An essentially identical emphasis is found in the list of the requirements of elders. Note that the elder must
[hold] fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
What is the venue of this activity? It is within the assembly, not among the lost generally! This is consistent with the principle for discipline within the assembly that Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, stated here:
1 Cor 5.11-13
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? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
Paul understood that it is the Lord’s responsibility to judge the lost; it is the assembly’s responsibility to ensure order and discipline within itself, with the oversight of the elder. The fact that all the examples in the NT of the “defense” of the faith occur within the local assembly or Christian community is consistent with this principle.
The Biblical Definition of Apologetics
In summary, I have shown from the Bible the proper definition of apologetics, and the “where, when and why” of the activity of apologetics, namely:
- Apologetics takes place within the assembly
- when the people of God are under attack
- from both explicit and implicit distortions of the Word of God or
- the contemptible manner in which the gospel is being preached;
- the defense is for the benefit of (mostly young and immature) Christians who are at risk of being persuaded and mislead by anti-biblical teachings, etc.
- The "defense" is not for or to the lost!
I challenge any evangelistic apologist to add any in-context NT reference that shows the use of the typical definition of "apologetics" with the lost in the comments below. But, I'm very confident that that can't and won't happen.