The Benefits of Studying Apologetics
There are three primary benefits of studying apologetics: studying apologetics helps us to influence culture, bring non-Christians to Christ, and strengthen our own faith. Together these benefits constitute three additional reasons for studying apologetics, in addition to the biblical support for doing so. Let us consider these benefits in turn.
1. Studying and practicing apologetics will help us to positively influence culture so that it is more open to the gospel.
The gospel is never heard in isolation, but always against the backdrop of the culture in which one was born and raised. In his article Christianity and Culture the great Princeton theologian, J. Gresham Machen says this with regard to ideas and culture:
God usually exerts [his regenerative] power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.
People in cultures where Christianity is still seen as intellectually respectable will be open to the gospel in a way that people in cultures closed off to Christianity will not.
To see this, consider an analogy. Suppose someone approached you on the street and tried to persuade you to become a follower of the Greek god Apollo. You probably would not take that person or their offer very seriously. But if something like that happened in ancient Greece, where paganism was a much more respected worldview, that would be something for a person to take seriously. For an example closer to home, consider the current cultural state of Europe. Over the last few centuries, Europe has become increasingly more secularized, and Christianity is being seen more and more as a thing of the past, not something that should be believed in by us modern, thinking people. As a result, the spreading of the gospel there has been staggered. If things continue as they are, then it could be that one day the thought of becoming a follower of Jesus is taken just as seriously as the thought of becoming a follower of Apollo.
But if Christianity is taken seriously in the discourse of society, then our culture has a good chance of remaining open to it as a respectable thing to believe. One significant way that a culture can be so open to Christianity is if there is serious discussion of it in the media, the government, and the university. If it is taken seriously there, then it is more likely to be taken seriously by society as a whole. But if people in these settings are closed off to Christianity, then it is no surprise that this mindset will spread to everyone else. Thus, it is especially important for Christians in these settings to be trained in apologetics. At the same time, this is important for other Christians as well, as all sorts of public discourse impacts society to some extent.
So it is clear that a significant benefit of apologetics is that it helps shape the intellectual climate of our culture so that Christianity is seen as a viable option for people to seriously consider.
2. Studying and practicing apologetics will help us in our efforts to bring non-Christians to Christ.
As we can see throughout the book of Acts, apologetics is one avenue by which God draws people to himself. Some may be skeptical that this is the case. Some might think that no one comes to Christ through arguments; rather, they come to Christ because God changes their heart when someone simply tells them about the gospel.
But this skepticism is not warranted. It is right that apologetics is not the source of the changing of someone’s heart that allows her to follow Christ. God does this through the work of the Holy Spirit. But apologetics can still be the means by which God brings it about. The same goes for any gospel presentation, such as a sermon or discussions with a close Christian friend. None of these things in themselves actually change a person’s heart, but God uses them to do so, and apologetics can be one of those means.
As Acts 17:2-4 shows, some people do come to Christ through a rational presentation of the gospel. Likewise today, Lee Strobel has remarked that he has lost count of the number of people who have contacted him saying that they received Christ through reading his books The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. Furthermore, popular apologetics speakers like Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, and William Lane Craig lead people to Christ all the time through their speaking on college campuses.
Nevertheless, even if only a minority of people come to Christ through apologetics, that minority is still worth striving for, because every person is significant to God. Moreover, it is often this group of people who tend to have the most influence on society. For example, this group includes many of the professors, engineers, doctors, and lawyers of society. Think of the profound influence that C. S. Lewis has had on the world. This was just one man’s conversion which was brought about in part through apologetics, and yet he has affected the lives of millions and led many to Christ through his writing and speaking. Apologetics is thus clearly a valuable means for bringing people to Christ.
3. Studying and practicing apologetics will help strengthen our own faith.
Knowing why we believe as well as what we believe will solidify the foundation of our faith and empower us as we follow Christ. It can also help us in times of doubt and struggle. This is because apologetics adds substance to our faith that remains firm even when our emotions might cause us to waver. Christians today are under intellectual assault from the progressing thought of modern culture, but those who are well studied in apologetics will be confident that they will either know the answer or be able to find the answer to any objection raised against their faith, giving them a greater confidence as they follow Christ in a world that largely rejects him.
So it is through apologetics that an otherwise blind faith gives way to a reasonable faith. And a reasonable faith will then grant us a deeper understanding and appreciation for Christian truths about God and the world, and allow us to see how these fit together to make up a multi-faceted Christian worldview on which we can fully depend.
In addition to helping us in times of doubt, apologetics can also strengthen our faith by helping us in the area of spiritual transformation. To see this point, consider Romans 12:1-2. Here Paul follows up 11 chapters of theology with his primary practical application:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)
“The will of God…that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” That sounds like something we all want to know and have, but how do we get it? First think about what Paul did not say. He did not say to be transformed by developing close feelings toward God, or by obeying commands, or by changing our desires, or by fellowship and worship. These are all important elements of spiritual growth, but they are not what Paul mentions here. Rather, Paul tells us that we are transformed by offering our minds to God for renewal, by allowing him to spiritually transform our faculties of reason and understanding. This is a strong claim that places the mind at the forefront of Christian growth.
Now why would Paul do such a thing? I think it’s because Paul recognizes the role that a person’s mind has in shaping their character. As Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland points out:
Anyone who has struggled with bad habits knows that you don’t become transformed by just willing the old habits to go away. This is why preaching that centers too much on exhortation without instruction is ineffective. According to Paul, the key to change is the formation of a new perspective, the development of fresh insights about our lives and the world around us, the gathering of the knowledge and skill required to know what to do and how to do it. And this is where the mind comes in. Truth, knowledge, and study are powerful factors in the transformation of the self and the control of the body and its habits for a healthy life in the kingdom of God (Love Your God with All Your Mind, 66).
Moreland’s main point here is that in the complexity of human psychology, our beliefs and have a profound impact on our actions and character. More specifically, as Moreland explains, a belief’s impact on behavior is a function of three elements of that belief: its content (what the belief says), its strength (how firmly or confidently we hold that belief), and its centrality (the degree of importance the belief plays in our entire set of beliefs). Thus, if we believe the true gospel of Jesus Christ, have a unshaken confidence in that belief, and see that belief as effecting everything else we believe, we are significantly more likely to break our sin habits than otherwise.
Tying this back to the point about spiritual transformation, then, the study of Christian apologetics can be a way that we renew our minds spiritually as Paul commanded. Apologetics can help to clarify the specific content of our faith, and help to distinguish what is true Christianity from what is not. Apologetics can strengthen our confidence in our faith, by providing arguments and evidences for its truth. Finally, apologetics can make our faith more central to our worldview as a whole.
This is what it means to not compartmentalize our faith. When we see how philosophy, science, and history can support our faith, and when we see how our faith impacts the other areas of our lives, including our work and studies, then we will see our faith as the core of our worldview, and we will no longer divide our lives into sacred and secular categories. The study of apologetics is thus one way to transform our minds spiritually and come to know the “good, acceptable, perfect will of God,” as Paul discussed.
So let us not miss out on the many blessings God has for us, and the rich spiritual formation he could take us through, when we pursue him with our minds through the study of apologetics.
In conclusion, studying apologetics helps us to influence culture, bring non-Christians to Christ, and strengthen our own faith. These three benefits of studying Christian apologetics, along with the biblical support for it, imply that every Christian ought to at least gain a basic understanding of apologetics, so long as they are able.
Learn about the various types of apologetics here.
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Have you experienced any of these benefits of apologetics personally? Be sure to leave any thoughts or questions you have in the comments section below!