Christians have long acknowledged the need to “defend the faith” from mischaracterizations, misunderstandings, alternative worldviews, and bad ideas. “Defending the faith” is the basic task of Christian apologetics, and the tradition goes all the way back to the Apostle Paul.
Apologetics usually seeks to answer challenging questions about the faith like: “Does God exist?” “Did Jesus actually rise from the dead?” and, “If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there evil and suffering?” Exploring the answers to these and other questions is an important task for Christians to strengthen their own faith, and it often helps when sharing the Gospel with others.
However, in an article from Christianity Today, “What Are Christian Apologetics, and How Do They Relate to the Gospel Anyways?”, Jerry Root argues that there is one apologetic that often gets forgotten—God’s love.
Root first gives us a brief, but very helpful, rundown of the methods and history of apologetics. The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek apologia, which basically means “to give a defense in a court of law.” The tradition goes back to the Apostle Paul and other early church leaders, Root argues. Paul pointed to fulfilled prophecies, historical evidence, and eyewitness testimony “to validate his message that Christ’s sacrifice is the means whereby God forgives sin, reconciles lost humanity to himself, and provides the hope of eternal life.”
There are many different methods of apologetics. One method attempts to show how various evidences demonstrate the truth of Christianity. For example, “the Resurrection, Old Testament prophecies, the archeological data, the evidence for miracles, [and] the dramatic nature of changed lives.” Another method begins with what we see in the observable world, arguing that, “The idea that works best for explaining these various phenomena is faith in God.”
However, in our zeal to defend the faith, Root wants to make sure that we do not forget the most powerful of all apologetics—the truth that “God loves us. Christ died for our sins. And he is willing to enter into our lives and bring order out of the chaos we make of things.”
Root posits that everyone “longs to be loved unconditionally,” and yet, we can’t seem to find that perfect love in this life. We know we don’t love others like we should, and even those closest to us cannot love us as completely as we want them to. Yet the longing remains. This is where the Gospel is so powerful. According to Root, the Gospel “comes as a solution to the very nature of the heart’s deepest desire. God loves us unconditionally.”
As Root points out, not only does God love us unconditionally, but he also is ready and willing to forgive us of our own failure to love others the way we expect them to love us. He’s ready to make new the mess that we have made of things by our failure to love as we ought. Unconditional love, forgiveness, and restoration—this is the hope of the Gospel and the greatest apologetic of all.
Furthermore, it is helpful to remember that people are not argued into Christianity. The goal of apologetics is not to win arguments, rather it is to remove barriers that people have to putting their trust in Jesus. We want to present a reasonable case for Christianity that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying; but ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of conversion in the heart of a person.
Apologetics is about love for the person with whom you are sharing. We love because God first loved us, as 1 John 4:19 says. In this sense then, the Gospel is not only our greatest apologetic message. It is the motive behind apologetics. It is the reason we must “always be prepared to “give an answer . . . for the hope” that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). Let us never forget the Gospel itself in our defense of the faith.