Question: "What is an apologist?"
Answer: Apologists are people involved in apologetics, a branch of theology concerned with the defense of the faith. An apologist hones his ability to defend the Christian faith by presenting proofs from the Bible, logic, and other empirical and intellectual sources. First Peter 3:15 could well be considered an apologist’s theme verse: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The apostle Paul was a skilled apologist. In Thessalonica, he “went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2–3, emphasis added). Soon after that, Paul was in Athens speaking at the Areopagus with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22–24). He also defended the gospel before kings, pressing them for a response (Acts 26:26–28).
Apologists must be quite knowledgeable of the Scriptures and Christian doctrines. Some respected Christian apologists are Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, and Daniel B. Wallace.
In a sense, all Christians should be apologists. Every believer should be able to give a well-reasoned presentation of the faith (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:25). This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be an expert in apologetics, but believers should know the what, why, and how in sharing their beliefs with those who ask. And we should know the Bible well enough to defend our faith against attacks from unbelievers.
More than ever, the Christian community is being challenged and opposed by society. And sadly, we’re also finding the foundations of church doctrine being attacked from within. Some within the church pervert the Scriptures “to suit their own desires, [gathering] around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3; cf. Revelation 2:20).
Studies conducted by the Barna Group and USA Today found that nearly 75 percent of Christian young people leave the church after high school. Some of the main reasons for this falling away have to do with intellectual skepticism, attacks upon their faith by godless professors, and relentless peer pressure to enjoy “the things of the world”(1 John 2:15–16). Training in apologetics may help curb some of this spiritual attrition.
At the core of Christian apologetics is the “hope” we have within us (1 Peter 3:15), and Jesus is the cause of that hope (see Titus 2:13). Jesus gives us the promise that “whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32; cf. 2 Timothy 1:8).
Though the defense of our faith should be confident and unyielding, we are to engage in apologetics “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:24). We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
It’s not enough for an apologist to have a knowledge of Scripture; he must love people, too. The goal of apologetics is not to win arguments but to lead people to a knowledge of the truth that will set them free (John 8:32). “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25–26).