Udo Karsten | 3 March 2020 | 7 min read
I have learned to study deeper, think more clearly, engage better and trust more easily because of being involved in Christian apologetics for almost two decades.
Let me explain.
One of the implications of being involved in apologetics is that it challenges you to study deeper than you might have felt necessary when unconcerned with the questions that plague countless people about the Christian worldview and the Bible in particular.
You are challenged to not merely be satisfied with understanding something yourself, but to help others gain satisfactory understanding as well. It has rightly been said that you have only understood something if you are able to teach it to others so that they understand it too.
This is tested rigorously when you, as a Christian apologist, deal with people’s questions on a regular basis. A difficult question is asked more easily than it is answered. This is because the subject matter is often complex, involving a background of concepts and facts that the questioner is not aware of. The challenge is often not so much to make sure that you understand the subject matter related to the question yourself, but to arrange and explain it in such a way as to make sense to the questioner.
This approach to understanding and study, also applies to a study of the Bible. The Bible is a complex book involving languages and cultures and ideas very different from our own. To merely project your own cultural assumptions onto the Biblical text can therefore be misleading and unhelpful.
Apologetics has helped me to think more carefully about the meaning of the Biblical text; what the author intended against the backdrop of his cultural milieu, and what his immediate audience would have understood. In a word, it has helped me appreciate the Word of God coming from the pens of human authors, all the more.
Thinking More Clearly
Apologetics inevitably teaches you a thing or two about reasoning and thinking well. This is a very important and simply practical matter of credibility.
How often have I listened to someone speak eloquently and confidently, only to realise that the number of logical fallacies and inconsistency of thought renders most of what the person says unreliable. Am I then inclined to listen to him again? Not really.
Thinking well is not only a matter of personal integrity, but also of being a faithful witness to the Gospel whom people can trust. Not that we do not ever make mistakes, but the occasional slip is not the same as a habit of poor reasoning.
It is unfortunate that many Christians are somewhat skeptical about the discipline of philosophy. They often equate philosophy with Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:8 where he speaks out against being taking “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition.”
The truth is that philosophy as a discipline is actually not so much concerned with what one should think (which can indeed be deceptive and rest on mere human tradition), but rather with how one should think. Philosophy can actually be tremendously helpful in acquiring the skills of not only communicating clearly and precisely, but also in being able to evaluate what others say to determine plausibility or truthfulness.
One of the aspects of our love for God is, as we read in Luke 10:27, to love Him, not only with our hearts, strength, and souls, but also with our minds. Apologetics has taught me how to do that better, as an act of worship.
Everybody involved in apologetics is familiar with the instruction in 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Many Christians have been eager to prepare themselves to engage with people on what and why they believe. Unfortunately, they often wield their logic and arguments (scriptural or otherwise) like a sword, beating any resistance into submission for the sake of the Gospel. They might even take their cue from the imagery in 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Ephesians 6:10:17.
The virtues of rigorous thinking are not in dispute here (see my previous point), but it is also true that people are not their arguments, they are… well, people. People want to be heard and understood. They want to be able to voice their concerns and questions. They want to be treated as people who have the right to an opinion (even if it turns out their opinions are wrong).
The point is that approaching people with gentleness and respect (see also Col. 4:5-6) when they ask us about the hope we have, is different from merely trying to prove them wrong because they do not share our views. If people cannot see the hope we confess by the way we treat them and when they perceive us as simply wanting to argue against their positions, they surely will not ask about our hope.
Apologetics is as much about caring about people simply because of who they are, as it is about sharing the reasons for our faith. I have learned that to be effective in doing apologetics for the sake of the Gospel, one cannot neglect the one at the expense of the other.
Trusting More Easily
Lastly, studying apologetics leads to a better understanding of one’s faith and a deeper relationship with God.
To know that there are good reasons to believe that God exists, in addition to knowing this through the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, or to know that we can trust the Bible about a Jesus who really lived, died and rose from the dead, strengthens one’s faith tremendously. It provides the confidence that we do not have to back down intellectually from those who might disagree with us and think we are merely superstitious.
But apologetics does not merely lead to intellectual sanction. It can also strengthen our relationship with, and trust in God. For example, it is precisely because I have thought carefully about who God is and why He would allow evil and suffering in the world (one of the major topics in apologetics), that I am able to put my own suffering, and the possibility of future suffering, in perspective. It has made it easier to trust God when the time of suffering comes, even if it does not necessarily lessen the pain.
I have learned through studying apologetics (and of course Scripture – like the book of Job) to trust that God is in control, even if I, with my limited human understanding, cannot make sense of why I or others experience the trials and tragedies that we do.
Apologetics to the glory of God!
Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.
Geisler, Norman L and Zukeran, Patrick. The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2009.
Guinness, Os. Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Downers Grover: InterVarsity, 2015.
Little, Paul E. Know Why you Believe. Downers Grover: InterVarsity, 2008.
McGrath, Alister. Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2012.
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.