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Apologetics is the task of presenting a well-reasoned, intellectual defense of the truth claims of the Christian faith. In the early church, persecuted Christians defended the faith against paganism, polytheism, and political threats. In the medieval church, rational approaches to systematic theology guided a logical defense of the Christian faith against the attacks of false religions. During the Protestant Reformation, theologians defended the truth of the gospel against attacks both from within Christendom, as well as the truth of the Christian faith in the face of false religions. During the Enlightenment, Christian theologians defended the reasonableness of Christianity against the attacks of the rationalists and the deists who cast aspersion on supernaturalism, as well as against skeptics. In the modern era, Christian apologists refuted the attacks of German higher criticism, liberalism, and Marxism. In postmodern culture, theologians have had to defend the truth claims of the Christian faith against existential philosophy, Neoorthodox theology, the mysticism of neo-Gnosticism, moral relativism, and other world religions, as well as against secularism and new atheism. Christian apologetics in the postmodern era confronts institutionalized antisupernaturalism.


The biblical mandate to defend the Christian faith comes from 1 Peter 3:15–16, where the Apostle Peter writes, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia (i.e., defense) that Peter uses in verse 15. Christians are called by God to give the watching world a well-reasoned defense of their faith, in humility and with a good conscience. Additionally, Acts 17:16–34 gives us a record of the Apostle Paul’s defense of the Christian faith in his confrontation of the philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens.

Apologetics has a threefold aim: first, it provides an answer to the critics of the Christian faith; second, it tears down the idols of our culture; and, third, it builds up the church in the truth of the faith. Depending on the context, an apologist may have one of these aims more in mind than the others. However, the apologist aims at all three to varying extents.

In an attempt to structure reality independent of biblical revelation, Greek philosophers divided their conclusions into metaphysical and epistemological categories. Metaphysics is the study of being. Epistemology is the study of knowledge. The task of Christian apologetics is to defend the Christian faith against faulty metaphysical and epistemological attacks on the truth.

Though Christian apologists have disagreed on the precise role of natural theology in apologetics, they agree that it plays an essential part of the task of apologetics. Natural theology is based on general revelation. Natural theology is the classification of what God has revealed of Himself by means of general revelation. In general revelation, God reveals Himself to all people—through the medium of nature, and by His own imprint in their souls. General revelation leaves all men without excuse before God. It cannot bring men to a saving knowledge of God in Christ.

In addition to general revelation, Christian apologetics relies on special revelation. Special revelation is the supernatural revelation of God in Scripture. Special revelation is the revelation of God through His prophetic Word to His people. Scripture is the authoritative, inerrant, and infallible revelation of the triune God. Special revelation is necessary to communicate the way of salvation to sinners. Additionally, it is the final authoritative and absolute standard of ethics.

The relationship between faith and reason has also long been a focus in apologetics. In his Tractate on John 7:14–18, Augustine of Hippo made the famous declaration “Credo ut intelligam” (I believe in order to understand). In his Proslogion, Anselm of Canterbury considered the other side of the relationship between faith and reason. He wrote, “Intellego ut credam” (I think in order to believe). Considered in their respective contexts, both statements capture important truths about the relationship between reason and faith.

Apologetics supports the three necessary elements of saving faithnotitia (knowledge), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust). Saving faith involves all three of these elements. By presenting the facts of the Christian faith to the minds of unbelievers, the apologist seeks to reason with them. In reasoning with the unbeliever, the apologist is seeking to bring him to the point of assenting to the truths of the Christian faith. However, until a person comes to trust in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit, he does not have saving faith.

In philosophical apologetics, arguments have been put forward for the existence of God. Philosophical-theologians have appealed to the law of causality, the law of noncontradiction, the teleological argument, the ontological argument, and the cosmological argument. Still others employ moral, transcendental, and presuppositional arguments. Each of these approaches attempts to posit convincing arguments regarding the way that we convince unbelievers of the being and existence of God.

Apologetics will reflect a person’s worldview. As James Anderson has explained, “A person’s worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the ‘big questions’ of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we’re here, where (if anywhere) we’re headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now.” Apologetics seeks to defend the Christian answers to these questions and to show why the answers of other worldviews are inadequate.

Among the most well-known Christian apologists throughout the history of Christianity are Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, B.B. Warfield, Abraham Kuyper, and C.S. Lewis.


The work that we do in apologetics may not be understood in all of the details by all the Christians who hear it. But if we can answer these questions and show the credibility of Christianity, the folks in the church will not be devastated by the voices of skepticism that surround them.

R.C. Sproul

The Most Valuable Aim in Apologetics

Tabletalk magazine

A person’s worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the ‘big questions’ of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we’re here, where (if anywhere) we’re headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now. Few people think through these issues in any depth, and fewer still have firm answers to such questions, but a person’s worldview will at least incline him toward certain kinds of answers and away from others.

James N. Anderson

On Worldviews

Tabletalk magazine

The Greek word apologia means literally ‘to speak to.’ Over time, it came to mean ‘to make a defense.’ When Athens accused Socrates of being harmful to society, Socrates had to offer his defense. He titled it Apologia. He stood before the ‘men of Athens,’ offering his reasoned defense. The New Testament uses the word seventeen times. Many instances concern court cases, such as the time Paul appeared before the Jewish Council in Acts 22 and before Festus in Acts 25. Paul also speaks of his imprisonment in Rome as an apologia of the gospel (Phil. 1:716).

Stephen J. Nichols

An Apology for Apologetics

Tabletalk magazine