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Apologetics: Simple Definition, Simple Application

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Wesley Wildmon Vice-President Outreach MORE

Apologetics is not a past-tense action verb used when you back your car into someone in the Kroger parking lot. When I first heard the term apologetics, I asked myself why someone would spend so much time apologizing for what they believe. I have exposed my first ignorance to the meaning of the term “apologetics,” but I’m willing to bet many are not familiar with it either.

To get the best word picture of apologetics, we must also consider its historical usage. “The word ‘apologetics’ derives from the Greek word apologia, which was originally used as a speech of defense. In ancient Athens, it referred to a defense made in the courtroom as part of the normal judicial procedure. After the accusation, the defendant was allowed to refute the charges with a defense (apologia).”

In an article from The Apologetics Study Bible, titled "What is Apologetics," Kenneth D. Boa says,

“The word apologia is found seven times in the New Testament (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Cor. 9:3; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:15). In the original Greek language, apologia had a definite legal connotation. It was a technical term in ancient Greek law. When apologia is used in the New Testament, it describes a public defense of the gospel, as illustrated in Acts 22:1. In fact, sometimes this defense was carried out in a court of law" (Acts 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16).

While I was still trying to gain an understanding of what apologetics really meant, our church invited apologist and former pastor Dr. Ray Pritchard to speak. For 26 years, he pastored churches in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago. He currently serves as the president of Keep Believing Ministries. At our church, he began a four-week series defining and applying apologetics. Slowly and simply, he said, “Apologetics means to give a clear answer.” There was my confirmation that it does not mean to apologize. The biblical idea comes from 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. 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.”

We must consider the possibility of how apologetics is likely given an unfair implication. Dr. Pritchard said, “When people hear the term apologetics they often think of Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, or Alex McFarland. They say to themselves, ‘I don’t want to do that, writing 400-page books and speaking at Harvard University.’ If that’s how they understand or, better yet, define apologetics, then I totally understand and share their sentiments. Rather than quiver over words, we must listen to the command in 1 Peter 3:15. Though we aren’t all commanded to make a profession of apologetics, it is supposed to be a regular practice in our lives."

It is interesting that the original meaning of a term can be changed over time. Many of us would hear this term and think it too complex to undertake. Listening to professional apologists debate professional atheists the arguments can become extraordinarily complex and overwhelming. But the act of supplying an answer is simple, especially when we consider the opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit in our every word and deed. Dr. Pritchard said, “We all are faced with questions and we all must respond with an answer.” This is a simple but authentic response. Every one of us will face honest questions and being prepared to give a clear answer is apologetics.

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