The Importance of Apologetics in Evangelism

Apologetics, which is intellectually stimulating as well as hard work, is critical to engaging our culture. It is a fallacious juxtaposition to ask should we seek to engage people with only the simple gospel, apologetics, or a loving life because it is not either/or but all of the above working in concert. Truly loving people must include telling them the truth about Christianity in a clear and convincing way. The truth is that everyone engages in apologetics because, generally speaking, once a Christian moves from sharing what they believe—their faith—to why they believe, they have ventured into the arena of apologetics.[1] Therefore the question is not whether we use apologetics, but more specifically how well we employ apologetics. I do not believe that people are won to Christ through reason any more than they are won by a kind deed or a godly life, but answering nagging questions that undermine the veracity and viability of Christianity are important in the process of witnessing and developing strong, mature Christians.

At the age of 81, atheistic British philosopher Antony Flew became a theist. This was due to some compelling evidences of a creator that he faced as well as exchanges with theists like Dr. Gary Habermas. First, Flew described himself as an atheist, then was “considering becoming a theist,” then “he had become a theist while still rejecting the concept of special revelation.” Subsequently, he said he was open to even that.

Habermas ask him, “Tony, you recently told me that you have come to believe in the existence of God. Would you comment on that?” to which Flew answered, “Well, I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that.”[2] (italics added)

Flew makes it clear in his book There Is A God that he did not change his mind from atheism to theism based on an experience but rather he says, “In short, my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith.”[3] He further states that this was not really a paradigmatic shift for him because it was simply, as he says, “a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature.”[4] He makes it clear that he followed the Socratic insistence that “we must follow the argument wherever it leads.”[5] In other words, his migration from atheism to theism was one of following the evidence rather than a personal encounter with the divine.

Concerning Christianity he said in his book, “If you’re wanting omnipotence to set up a religion, it seems to me that this is the one to beat!”[6] Just based upon evidence, he believed that Christianity is really the only religion that makes sense. Although at the time he wrote his book, There is a God, he had not become a Christian or claimed to have had a spiritual experience, he wrote, “Some claim to have made contact with this Mind. I have not—yet. But who knows what could happen next? Someday I might hear a Voice that says, ‘Can you hear me now?’”[7]

Anthony Flew died April 8, 2010. I had prayed on several occasions that he would receive Christ as his Savior before he died. I pray that he did. I would love to see him in heaven. Regardless, the value of apologetics in his life should not be missed nor minimized.

Now if apologetics can be a tool in changing the mind of one who many said was the foremost philosophical atheist in the world, surely it must have everyday value. Training believers to engage a very intellectually complex and hostile environment from a biblical worldview requires training, and some of that training is intellectually challenging. Mark Coppenger notes, “Apologetics is an important handmaiden of evangelism. It can strip away smugness, loosen up hardened soil, embarrass treasured criticisms, and sow disarray in a pagan worldview. Of course, the critic will seldom admit on the spot that you’ve scored points, but his private reflections may be a different story.”[8]

Evangelicals’ emphasis on piety and the personal walk with Christ is a wonderful truth and reality, but we must not by that emphasis denigrate the intellect. Apologetics, its content, training, and clarity are essential to engage large segments of our culture with the gospel. Coppenger is correct in noting one of the benefits of apologetics is that “it cultivates dialogical prowess for the public square.”[9]



[1]
This is not meant to be a formal or working definition of apologetics, but simply to emphasize the inescapableness of needing to know apologetics. It has been said that every believer is an apologist; the question is whether they are a good or bad apologist.
[2] “Atheist Becomes Theist” http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/. Exclusive Interview with Former Atheist Antony Flew by Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D., Professor of Comparative Religion, Biola University, Editor, “Philosophia Christi.”
[3] Antony Flew, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: Harper One, 2007), 93.
[4] Flew, There Is A God, 89.
[5] Flew, There Is A God, 89.
[6] Flew, There Is A God, 157.
[7] Flew, There Is A God, 158.
[8] Mark Coppenger , “FIRST-PERSON: Why the church needs apologetics” Baptist Press News article, 12/27/05, http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=22359.
[9] Coppenger, “Why the church needs apologetics.”