When I first became active in apologetics — the art of commending and defending the Christian faith — I quickly realized that in the minds of most urban pastors this type of ministry was an unnecessary pursuit. To many of my peers, apologetics seemed far too detached and abstract from the church work they were doing on a daily basis. Although I disagreed with their assessment, I did see some genuine concern in their critique. I eventually came to understand that the heart of the problem lies in the fact that, in our day, apologetics has unfortunately been stripped from its broader biblical purpose, which is evangelism.
In a way these leaders were right; if apologetics is disconnected from evangelism it is nothing but a waste of time. In order for apologetics to have any virtue or spiritual value, it must be intentionally and eternally tied to evangelism. Apart from evangelism, apologetics is aimless and potentially dangerous because it lacks the heart of the gospel, which is to bring people to Christ! Apologetics for purely academic purposes should be avoided at all cost.
That may be a bold statement, but it is my contention that Jesus did not call us to be “great debaters.” Rather, his desire is that we would be fishers of men (Matt. 4:19). As a matter of fact, Scripture strongly advises against pointless arguments, which bear no salvific fruit. Notice the apostle Paul’s admonishment to Titus, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). Paul, arguably the most impressive apologist the church has ever produced, clearly did not intend for his disciples to engage in discussions that were an end unto themselves with no view toward the cross. Norman L. Geisler was right when he said that apologetics should be the act of “opening the door, clearing the rubble, and getting rid of the hurdles so that people can come to Christ.” Evangelism gives apologetics meaning and direction.
Ultimately, the goal of all of our conversations with others about the current events shaping our world is to show the viability and attractiveness of the Christian worldview. Before a Christian becomes an effective apologist, he or she must first become a passionate evangelist. It is in the act of sharing our faith that we come face to face with the hard questions men and women are struggling with in their attempts to understand the gospel. The person who is not actively witnessing never encounters the objections, roadblocks and fallacies that exist within the minds of non- Christians and that make apologetics real and relevant. Far too many of our churches have become hideouts instead of training centers designed to equip Christians so that they can face the world. Apathy is defeated and believers are inspired whenever they live on the front lines for their faith.
This was most certainly the case for my congregation. Prior to the summer of 2007, very few members of Evangel Ministries would have identified themselves as apologists. Most didn’t even know the term. But something happened that July that changed everything. The leaders and I launched a community-wide evangelism campaign called “Dare to Share.” Our aim was to mobilize as many individuals within our faith family as possible to proactively engage the community by going door to door and standing at popular gathering spots throughout our neighborhood to offer prayer and free Bibles. The results were amazing, both numerically and in our own spiritual growth. Hundreds were trained in how to share their faith, many for the first time. That summer, we witnessed to over 2,000 people who lived on the blocks surrounding our church. Many of the members came back with excitement; even more came back with questions.
I will never forget the inadequacy that I felt during those days. It became very clear, very quickly that they had far more questions than I had answers. But in spite of my shortcomings, I was thrilled to see the men and women of our church more interested in obtaining answers from Scripture to the questions of our community than they had ever been before. I was committed to feeding and fueling this hunger to go deeper. No matter how many hours of study it would require, I was determined to create an environment within our church where people could get equipped with biblical responses to the objections non-Christians in our city had to the gospel.
Quite unintentionally, I had stumbled upon the fact that the Great Commission is what gives apologetics its mission. Apologetics will never lose its relevance as long as it is always connected to the act of answering the questions that the people we are evangelizing are asking of our faith. Most believers would agree that the No. 1 reason why Christians don’t actively share their faith with others is because of the fear of being asked a question that they cannot answer. Apologetics, along with biblical and theological training, alleviates much of this concern.
Christopher W. Brooks (M.A. ’10), a graduate of Biola’s master’s program in Christian apologetics, is senior pastor of Evangel Ministries in Detroit and campus dean of Moody Theological Seminary in Plymouth, Mich. This article is an adapted excerpt from his book, Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City (Kregel, 2014).