Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means to give a reasonable defense. The historical use of the word apologia was specifically used in reference to a court of law. The most popular example from classical Greek is the Apology of Socrates, written by Plato, which gives the account of Socrates’ trial and defense before the Athenians. Later, the term apologia was used in a much broader sense.
Several variations of the word apologia are found in the New Testament, and much of the New Testament is apologetic in nature. However, Christian apologetics as a discipline and as a distinct genre of theological literature had its beginnings in the second century. The church (under heavy persecution) struggled to convince Rome that it wasn’t a threat to the Empire. The church also found itself having to defend its beliefs when challenged by heretical teachers and/or pagan critics.
As the church grew, many highly trained and educated people became Christians. These trained and skilled thinkers brought on a new era of Christianity. They became known as the apologists, defending the Christian faith against its critics and persecutors. The Apology of Aristides, written around 127 A.D. (mentioned by Eusebius, Jerome, and other writers), was reputed to be the inspiration for the great apologist Justin Martyr. Tatian, Athenagoras, and Theophilus were also early church apologists. The apologists were highly successful and played a major role (for better or worse) in the acceptability of Christianity within the Roman Empire. During this period, apologia lost its formal legal connotation and became connected with a written or spoken defense of the Christian faith.
Today, there are still skeptics who doubt the existence of God, critics who call into question the trustworthiness of the Bible, and false teachers who promote false doctrines. The discipline of Christian apologetics is still essential. However, apologetics is not just the task of the trained Christian philosopher; the Scripture calls every Christian to engage in apologetics. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [apologian] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” Peter expects all Christians to be able to give a reasonable defense of their faith. Christians should know what they believe and why they believe it, and be ready at a moment’s notice to defend their faith against critics and skeptics. However, the second part of Peter’s admonition is just as important: “but do this with gentleness and respect…” A Christian who defends his/her faith should never become arrogant, rude, angry, or disrespectful. Winning a debate accomplishes little if, by one’s attitude, one turns a person even further away from the Christian faith.
Along with gaining a thorough understanding of the Bible, I would highly recommend the writings of C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaffer. Both authors have tremendously impacted Christian thought, specifically in the area of Christian apologetics.
Dr. Billy Elkins is the pastor of Trinity Church of Chickasha, OK. He is a graduate of Chickasha High School, has a B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, FT. Worth, TX, and a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Philosophy from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He and his wife Crystal have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and one Granddaughter. Billy enjoys time with his family, gardening, and reading alongside his dog, Luther.