The Gift or Calling of an Apologist?

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS

volume 16, number 18, May 4, 2017

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” -1 Peter 3:15

The Gift or Calling of an Apologist?

When one ponders the landscape of the modern day Reformed or Evangelical Church we get the impression that apologetics is a calling or spiritual gift given by the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the church. I don’t see it anywhere in Scripture. As you probably know, the term apologetics is derived from the transliteration of the Greek word apologia (defense),[1] used in the text noted above. The context of this command, “to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (please note “to make a defense” is not a verb or infinitival form), is a series of general commands Peter is giving to the believers from Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Bithynia, and Asia who are in exile because of persecution. They were to keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit. They were to turn away from evil and do good, to seek peace and pursue it (these commands are originally from Psalm 34). Peter asks who is there to harm them if they prove to be zealous for what is good. He goes on to say, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” He then gives the content of verse 15 and the word order and grammar is very emphatic. I give it to you literally – Lord but the Christ sanctify (Aorist tense-point action, do it now, not tomorrow or next week, but now when you suffer and are tempted to be intimidated) in your hearts, ready always for a defense to everyone asking you an account concerning the hope in you, yet with gentleness and fear (the Greek word used here is from where our word phobia comes, perhaps better translated reverence). The emphasis in the verse is on sanctifying (set aside as special) Christ as Lord in our hearts. From this command flows the need to make a defense, like in a court of law, in the midst of persecution, when someone asks you, as a believer, for the reason why you hope in Christ. Please observe that the word apologia is always used in the New Testament in a defensive posture, never an offensive one. Paul is being attacked so he makes his defense before the Sanhedrin and Festus. Peter is telling the persecuted church to explain what they believe when asked by someone for the reason they hope in Christ. This is not how modern day Christian leaders and theologians are using the word apologia. They are trying to go on the offensive with a defensive weapon, like a modern day policeman with a bullet proof vest. Great defensive weapon. No use at all on the offensive. A soldier in combat wears a helmet to protect his brain from shrapnel and bullets filling the air with death and destruction. A helmet, however, has no use offensively. It will not kill or injure the enemy.

Paul gives us the offices of the New Testament church in Ephesians 4-apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Acts 6 adds the office of deacon). Since we have the canon of Scripture in the Old and New Testaments, there are no longer offices of Apostle or Prophet since these were revelatory offices. Note there is nothing about a gift or office of apologist. 

Why am I laboring this point? Because I see evidence of many using the discipline of apologetics as a subterfuge. They are using a valid, defensive tool (giving a well reasoned explanation for why they believe in Christ) in hopes of “priming the pump” so that people will be ready to believe the gospel. You will note that the only offensive weapon in the armor of God in Ephesians 6 is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The girdle, breastplate, shoes, shield, and helmet are all defensive, to protect one from the attacking enemy.  

There is no indication whatsoever that apologia is a tool used of God to convert anyone. The sword of the Spirit, wielding the message of Christ crucified, is the means by which God saves people. The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). The Greek word keruso[2] (to herald or proclaim truth, like a town-crier giving the king’s message to the people without equivocation) which is often translated preaching; and the word euangolizomai[3](evangelize) are two words commonly used in the New Testament to describe the work of the apostles and followers of Jesus. 

I understand what the “apologist” is trying to do. He believes he can use reason, logic, evidences, philosophical argument, and natural law to soften the hard ground of the unbelieving sinner. These, however, are not the God prescribed means of softening anyone’s heart.[4] What does God say? “. . . the Lord opened her (Lydia) heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul,” (Acts 16:14). “Then He (Jesus) opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” (Luke 24:45). “. . . the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true,” (1 John 5:20). “. . . and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:4,5).  

So, why then are people championing apologetics if this has no power to open anyone’s heart to the message of grace? Well, consider this. Which sounds more respectable, “I am an evangelist,” or “I am an apologist.” Evangelist evokes the image of unsophisticated, perhaps under educated Christian workers, who mean well but really don’t know how to engage the postmodern secularist. It seems that an evangelist is an embarrassment to a lot of people. While, on the other hand, an apologist evokes the image of one who is well schooled in philosophy or science, one who is really well versed in the intellectual issues of the day. An apologist garners a bit of respect, while an evangelist often garners disdain. 

Yet Paul rejoiced in his calling as an evangelist. He said that he was a spectacle to the world (the Greek word is theatre), that he was a fool (the Greek word is moron) for Christ’s sake, that he had become the scum of the world, the dregs of all things (1 Corinthians 4:9-13). 

He also said that the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power (1 Corinthians 4:20). He told the Thessalonians that his gospel did not come in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5). 

So, as you navigate the turbulent waters of our secular world, as you seek to engage people in the good news of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, why would you go into battle with only a defensive tool? Go on the offensive. Use the only weapon you have, the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. This weapon of warfare brings the destruction of fortresses and tears down every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). You do not need a degree in philosophy to engage the skeptic. Know the word, use the word in the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Spirit to convict and convert. 

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1. The word apologia, used seven times in the Greek New Testament, means a reasoned defense. It was used in ancient times as the term for making a legal defense in a court of law. This is how Luke uses it in Acts 22:1 in Paul’s defense before the Jews and in Acts 25:16 in his defense before Festus. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 9:3 to defend or explain his apostleship and in Philippians 1:7 he speaks of his imprisonment and defense and confirmation of the gospel. In 2 Timothy 4:16 he uses it, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me.”

2. Keruso, In Mark 1:45, Mark tells us that the leper, healed by Jesus, went out and began to proclaim it freely. In Mark 5:20, Mark says that the demon possessed man who was healed by Jesus, went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him.

3. Euangolizomai, literally to evangelize, to preach the gospel with the aim of converting sinners. Luke uses the word in Acts 8:4, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”

4. I will concede that presuppositional apologetics can be used in an offensive manner but I would also argue that presuppositional apologetics (knocking the props out from underneath a skeptic by showing him that he has no authority for his belief system, seeking to convince him of truth from God in His word, seems more like evangelizing and preaching that apologetics. 

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