Why apologetics is not necessary to evangelism

I came to faith by Christian apologetics. Sort of. It was not so much that I was so convinced that the arguments were good that I became a Christian. It was more like that the concepts within apologetics were so interesting that I continued investigating it. That brought me out of a state of apathy and into faith. In that sense, apologetics was extremely useful to me, and it can be useful to a lot of other people. But I never stayed up late worrying about nagging doubts, and I do not know anybody else who has either. Apologetics was only useful to me, personally, in my transition from apathy to faith. But the more I think about how much I have used apologetics, the more I realize that apologetics is not necessary to evangelism, or really anything.

I think apologetics can be an interesting hobby, but it is neither commanded by Scripture nor necessary for normal Christians to know and understand, even in today’s secular climate. Most people who lose their faith did not lose it become they became atheists. They lost it because they became apathetic. Atheism really is not that prevalent. While in 2012 Pew Forum did report that 16% of the population is unaffiliated with any religion, they also said that the majority of that 16% would be people who simply do not associate with organized religion. Those people can range from theists to atheists. Atheism represents a small fragment of the population. Honestly, you should brush up on Wiccan apologetics because you are more likely to encounter a witch than an atheist. The more prevalent issue is apathy, and I do not know that we have an argument to deal with apathy.

The only occasion for responding to atheist arguments is if we actively go out and seek atheist arguments on the internet. If you encounter an atheist in the real world, it would be good to have answers ready. But realistically, those encounters will be few and far between, unless you are actually going on to atheist forums on the internet and actively looking for debates. But at that point, you are not really going to convince anybody. There is probably not going to be anybody watching an online debate about atheism who is not already entrenched in a position. This is going to be a short post, there are just a couple of key points that I would like to touch on

Peter does not talk about apologetics.

I understand that the word apologetics is derived from the Greek word ἀπολογίαν. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (ἀπολογίαν) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I think this is a misused verse, on level with how often we hear Philippians 4:13 misused. Peter is not talking about apologetics and he did not have anything like the Kalam Cosmological argument in mind[1].

Something to keep in mind is that Peter actually expected his audience (first century Christians who were in Diaspora) to actually receive his letter and follow the advice that he received. It creates an odd image to think that first century Christians would be outlining the Kalam Cosmological argument . He is telling his audience to prepare to give a defense of the hope that they have. The hope that Peter is speaking of is an eschatological hoping, for that which is “imperishable, undefiled and unfading.” [2] The question that he is anticipating is not, “Why do you believe in God?” but rather, “Why do you have hope?” and the answer to that question is “Because Christ rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.” Would a first-century Christian say that they have evidence that Christ had risen? Probably not, because they had no access to William Lane Craig (for whom I have tremendous respect). They had word-of-mouth, oral tradition, and the Scripture. They had no evidence.

That should bring us to the general theme of this portion of Peter’s letter. He is speaking to those Christians in the Diaspora and who have suffered unjustly.[3] It is in this context that the notion of making a defense emerges. He is offering commentary about how to evangelize those who treat us badly. His advice is that we should give a defense of the hope we have. In other words, we are to preach the gospel even to those who unjustly persecute us.

Some commentators go further, writing, “Our word in defense of the hope that we have, our apologia, must be nothing other than the rationality (logos) that takes flesh in the life, crucifixion, resurrection and Parousia of the cosmic sovereign, Jesus Christ.”[4]

Apologetics is okay to do

I do not think it is wrong to do apologetics. It is just simply not necessary. It can be a useful tool for starting a conversation because it sounds more interesting than asking someone if they know that God has a wonderful plan for her life. But it is just not an essential tool and it is not commanded by Scripture. Atheism is simply not prevalent enough for it to be the centerpiece of Christian ministry.

You might be able to think of a time when somebody in the Bible did something like apologetics. That is okay, we can talk about Paul in Athens or Elijah calling down fire. When Jesus preached the gospel, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” When he debated the Pharisees, he responded to them with Scripture, and if they did not listen, he shook the dust from his boots. Jesus managed to get by without ever mentioning atheism.

I also understand the argument that Jesus was in a different culture. He never mentioned atheism because he never encountered it. We could speculate about what Jesus might say if he did, but that does not seem fruitful. I am willing to say this: if I were in a society where everybody around me was an atheist, I would think apologetics was necessary to evangelism. But most people are not atheists. Most people are just apathetic.

Invest in biblical studies instead

Develop an interest in philosophy or theology. I do not think that having a corollary interest in philosophy as a result of your interest in apologetics is really an interest in philosophy. You are asking not what you can do for philosophy but what philosophy can do for you. Learn philosophy for its own sake if you are interested in studying that. Better yet, learn biblical studies.

It would be better to have somebody who can explain the trinity to a new Christian than somebody who can outline the Kalam Cosmological argument. It would be better to have somebody who can read Greek than somebody who is fluent in the tenses of time. Of course, people have secular careers and interests, so if your interests are in fact in the tenses of time, then so be it. But if my interest is in ministry and evangelism, then focusing on apologetics seems unnecessary when my time could be devoted elsewhere.

End Notes
[1] Barnard, Justin D. 2014. Petrine apologetics: Hope, imagination, and forms of life. Review & Expositor 111 (3): 274-80.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Donelson, Lewis R.. 1997. I and II Peter and Jude (2010). Louisville: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Accessed August 31, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, 102
[4] Harink, Douglas. 2009. 1 and 2 Peter. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press. Accessed August 31, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, 144

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