As Christians, what do we make of Corinthians when it says love rejoices in the truth? How do we see the truth as a necessary component of how we love others in our communication/relationships?
The word ‘apologetics’ comes from the Greek word ‘apologia’ as used in 1 Peter 3:15. It translates to ‘answer’, but of the kind that would typically be given as a legal defence.[2,3,4] But does this mean Christians are called to engage others with intellectual legalism? Under what context does scripture command Christians to give an apologia?
To speak or not to speak
1 Peter 3:15 uses this word to describe the natural course of action in the face of persecution or inquisition. Wherever one was being questioned about their radical Christian living, they were to be ready to present an apologia for their hope. Unfortunately, there are always some who use “Christian apologetics” as what seems to be a modern-day means of ‘Bible bashing’. I hear time and time again from older generations how “all that stuff doesn’t work”, “it’s been tried”, “it’s failed to bring people to Christ”, “it’s unloving” or “not God’s way”. I have always loved discussing God with others, despite not knowing what apologetics was until 5 years ago. Apologetics hasn’t made my conversations more antagonistic, it has only equipped me with the ability to answer questions better when in conversations. However, I can see why intellectual muscle-heads would be inclined to blanket their argumentative sparring under “Christian apologetics”.
I thoroughly dislike the idea of ‘winning arguments’, but growing up I developed an insatiable yearning for fairness, leading me to sometimes behave argumentatively. This often manifested when I felt others were behaving in an uncharitable or unreasonable way, not for the purpose of winning arguments but to fairly assess the truth. As a result, my dad once challenged me saying I corner him into either choosing to agree with my view or professing stupidity to hold to his. He felt there was no grace in this kind of communication. The word grace made me think of God, realising that God never relates to us in the way I would often treat my dad. God usually allows us to make leaps in our reasoning, knowing it is a byproduct of our own heart/desires. The world is permeated with God gracing those he loves with the freedom to deceive themselves without forcefully exposing their true motives.[5,6] In seeing how God lovingly shows grace to each of us, I saw what it was my dad was asking of me. From then on, I’ve tried to get it right, trying to see people as the ends-in-themselves and to see truth as the means.
Apologetics is not itself argumentativeness, defensiveness or legalism. People may use what they learn in apologetics for those purposes, but this does not make apologetics those things. Apologetics in Christianity is an expression of kindness to provide insight to those who ask. Anything apart from this ought be of the form of lovingly sharing your faith and having life conversations about God. Apologetics study gives us the confidence to have these conversations knowing that if someone wants to know more, we can lovingly respond with the insight and understanding to help them take their next steps towards Jesus. The scriptures say that Love encompasses all the law, so as Christians, we ought to never respond to questions with legalism, never respond to questions with defensiveness and never respond to questions argumentatively. As Christians, we ought only ever respond to questions with love, grace and understanding, which is the foundation for all Christian apologetics.
1- 1 Corinthians 13:6
2 – http://biblehub.com/greek/627.htm
3 – https://thinkingmatters.org.nz/what-is-apologetics/
4 – https://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2010/02/introducing-apologetics/
5 – Psalm 81:12-13, Romans 1:24-25,
6 – Luke 16:30-31
7 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/endinitself.shtml
8 – Matthew 22:36-40
9 – 1 Corinthians 13:1-2
10 – 1 Peter 3:15-16, Matthew 5:44, Proverbs 10:12, 1 John 4:8