Apologetics in the Local Church

Earlier this week, I listened to a debate in which one person asked the simple question: “Why believe the Bible to be true above any other ancient or religious text?” As someone who appreciates readied and thorough responses to very simple questions, I was very disappointed with what I heard. More or less, the answer was “through faith”. Setting aside the notion (for now) that belief is what constitutes faith (see Salvation by Allegiance Alone – Bates), I was disappointed that a more compelling argument could not be made for why and how we know the Bible to be true.

This question got me thinking about the place of apologetics in the local church. Apologetics is not apologetic in the sense of an apology as we think of it; apologetics is the articulation and reasonable defense of the Faith. The stuff (stuff being a technical term) of apologetics can be found in questions like: How do we know God exists? How do we know right from wrong? Or, for the topic at hand, “how can we know and trust that the Bible is true?” Thinking on the need for good apologetics in the local church, I began to wonder how people in the church where I pastor might answer questions like these. If we really think about it, basic and fundamental questions like these are not only helpful for us to articulate matters of our faith for ourselves, but also help us to answer the call of 1 Peter 3:15, that we might be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you“.

I long to see the people of God always ready to make a defense- and make a good defense, at that! As the Church, we should be thorough in our own knowledge of matters of our faith and practiced in our ability to articulate these things to those who need to hear. This isn’t a new need or certainly not something to assuage the general evangelical fear over cultural changes in the 21st century; there has always been and will always be a need for defending and articulating Truth. We see overwhelming evidence in the Bible that a spirit of watchfulness and examination be cultivated to discern false teaching from the truth (Matthew 24:24, 7:15-20; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Peter 1:12-21, 3:14-18; Titus 1:6-16; 1 John 2:19; 2 John 1:7). Furthermore, the church has practiced this for centuries- some particularly interesting remaining evidence of which is found in church creeds. Irenaeus’ “Rule of Faith” in 177 AD (the early predecessor of the well-known Apostles Creed), for example, was written in response to the anti-Trinitarian heresies of the Marcionites, who claimed that the God of the Old Testament was a lesser God that the God of the New Testament. There are countless examples like these all throughout church history and are examples for us to follow. It has been true historically and is presently true that strong apologetics is invaluable in the local church to identify and combat falsehood and to articulate Truth.

That said, we need strong rhythms and patterns of practicing apologetics in the local church. Here are three ways we can do that:

  1. Preach apologetically
    A sermon on Sunday will be inevitably the primary teaching space for most churches. Pastors can think critically about their text and replace assumptions for belief in certain ideas and doctrines with articulated teaching. If I were to be preaching 2 Timothy 3:16-17, I might not, for instance, want to not assume that everyone is on board with the idea of Scripture being God-breathed. Yet, here, I have an incredible opportunity to give depth to my church’s understanding of biblical inerrancy, biblical inspiration, and even canonicity. I’m not saying we need an ever-expanding time slot for doctrinal sidebars, but I am saying we can take advantage of space to incorporate apologetics into our preaching. This isn’t not expository preaching, so put down your pitchforks. In fact, I would argue that good exposition of God’s Word will train hearers to think biblically, increase biblical literacy, and challenge contrary ideas, misconceptions and beliefs. Preaching apologetically, then, supports our expositional efforts.
  2. Have a space for questions
    My friend, Ben, shared with me that he and his wife belonged to a church where often the pastor would preach a text, close his Bible and then ask if anyone had any questions. It was so simple that I laughed. Creating space for people to ask questions doesn’t have to be that difficult. I’m not arguing that everyone should set aside space on a Sunday morning for people to ask free-flowing questions, but I would encourage every pastor, small-group leader, parent and disciple-maker to think through how we are allowing space for apologetic questions form those in our care. Maybe for you that’s not having a Q&A time at the end of your teaching but instead working to cultivate the kind of environment and personal demeanor where it is understood that questions are welcomed. On his very first Sunday at Veritas, one of our now-members named Steven came up and had a list of questions about Ancient Greek literature based on a point I’d made in my teaching. It was in the weeds and interested probably no one but him and myself, but it was wonderful. He felt a genuine sense of space and approachability to ask questions that helped him understand the text better. We can make this a reality by: identifying apologetic questions in the text, preemptively answering apologetic questions in our preaching, and engaging the minds of our people in a way that prompts further searching.
  3. Program development and training
    Figure out a way you can teach apologetics in a systematic way in the local church. It doesn’t have to be a separate program, nor does it have to be a course on apologetics in general. Simply think through how you can train your people apologetically and incorporate a program for this in places you are already teaching. Maybe you have a Bible study that allots for ample time to address and answer these questions. Maybe you can start by preaching apologetically. Maybe you can introduce discussions on these topics into small groups. Maybe you can resource your people to study these things alone. Whatever you do, recognize the need to train God’s people to defend and articulate the Faith and be thoughtful in training people to do so.

If you’re thinking through these things for the first time, I would highly recommend this resource from Got Questions. It’s a list of apologetics questions and links to their answers and further resources on each.

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