Apologetics has been broadly defined as the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life. This definition pairs well with the practical admonition given by the apostle Peter to "always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics, then, boils down to knowing what we believe, why we believe it, and being able to communicate what we believe and why in an effective, winsome manner to those who question our faith.
Since our belief is based on Scripture, there is a limited number of things we have to defend. Moreover, each of those things has been articulated clearly by the biblical authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the most powerful tool we can use is the Word of God itself. Using Scripture as a model of and basis for apologetic engagement is an approach I call "expository apologetics."
The Need for Apologetics
Apologetics has waxed and waned in terms of its popularity among Christians in America. At times, there has been more emphasis on mercy ministry, social outreach, or church growth. At other times, evangelism and apologetics have taken center stage. Currently, we are in the midst of a surge in the popularity and practice of apologetics. More and more, Christians are beginning to recognize the need. Apologetics is necessary today because of issues such as biblical illiteracy, postmodern and post-Christian thinking, and open opposition to biblical truth.
One foundational reason why we need apologetics is the basic biblical illiteracy we find in both the culture at large and in the church. People simply do not know what the Bible says. As a result, some of the most basic tenets of Christianity, ones that once would have been known and assumed to be true by most Americans in the past, are today considered obscure and suspect.
Almost no one knows the Ten Commandments anymore, let alone believes that they are relevant. And catechesis is a foreign concept even to the most committed Christians. As a result, our culture is no longer filled with people who grew up steeped in these basic ideas. Today, not even those who attended church as children have heard foundational biblical truths. Consequently, we cannot assume anything. We must be prepared to defend the most basic claims and ideas of our faith. And we must be prepared to do so from the Bible.
The belief that truth is relative directly opposes the concept of apologetics. I learned this the hard way when I was a student at Oxford University. I was finishing one doctoral program in the United States while simultaneously starting another doctoral program in the United Kingdom. My first week at Oxford, I was introduced to my primary instructor. When he learned that I was an American working on an apologetics-oriented dissertation back in the United States, he immediately set out to chart a course for me that included reading and writing on the subjects of inclusivism and pluralism. It was a very trying time.
I came face-to-face with postmodernism in its most powerful form. Here I was in the second-oldest and arguably most-respected university on earth, and everywhere I turned, truth was being denied, ambiguity affirmed, and certainty vilified. I had to learn very quickly how to hold my own and defend my faith among academic elites. I also learned that academic elites were just making slightly more sophisticated attempts at the same arguments with which I was familiar.
In the end, I learned to use the power of the Word to shape my arguments and force others to acknowledge their lack of authoritative support for the positions they held. Pressing this antithesis did not always result in the acknowledgement of the authority of Scripture. However, it often resulted in the acknowledgement that the debate was between man's word and God's Word.
Open Opposition to Biblical Truth
Another issue giving rise to the resurgence of apologetics is the open opposition to biblical truth prevalent in Western society. Gone are the days when the truths of the Bible were assumed and men held accountable to them. Today, Christianity is seen as a threat to freedom, or even a pathological condition. Schools accept the "theory" of evolution, but view the idea of creation as a dangerous myth. Judges see the biblical view of sodomy as hate speech. In fact, various state departments of child protective services have at times listed regular church attendance as one of the hallmarks of abusive parenting.
In this landscape, Christians must have a ready answer for those who believe that we are not just wrong—we are evil. Expository apologetics can be a powerful tool in the midst of such opposition. I am not proposing that apologetics will necessarily shut the mouths of our detractors. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. However, we can most certainly expose their hypocrisy and point them to the truth using the powerful, active, two-edged sword of God's sword at our disposal.