Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia. Always be prepared to give an apologia, a reason for the hope that is within you. When Peter saw the confusion at Pentecost, he explained, “This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel.” He brought evidence to bear and gave an explanation.
Apologetics has two prongs to it. It is not merely giving an answer to questions but it is making truth clear. That’s a very critical point. We have to understand with clarity not only why we believe, but what we actually believe. When Paul says to Timothy, “Guard your doctrine and your conduct,” what we believe is important because that informs how we live. So apologetics is that discipline.
It is not a military term. It is not to destroy the opponent. It is not like warfare where you want to vanquish the opposition; you have to win the opposition. My mother had a proverb for every occasion. She used to tell me, “Whenever you cut off a person’s nose, there’s no point in giving them a rose to smell.”
So apologetics cannot cut off a person’s nose. We are representing the sweet aroma of Christ.
Most of our evangelism is being done to the “unhappy pagan” – the one whose life is falling apart. And that’s fine because Jesus says that when you know you’re sick, it’s a blessing to you because you can find a physician. The unhappy pagan knows something is missing.
The “happy pagan” is the term that I give to somebody who has tranquilized their meaninglessness with substitutions like pleasure, fame, or wealth. Lee Iacocca, the automotive magnet, gave an interview to Good Housekeeping and said, “Here I am in the twilight years of my life still wondering what it’s all about. Fame and fortune is for the birds, I know that for sure. And I’m wondering what it is all about.”
Jack Higgins, the novelist who wrote The Eagle Has Landed, was asked if there was anything he wished he had known as a younger man. He said, “I wish somebody would have told me that when you get to the top, there is nothing there.”
The loneliest people on this planet are those who have all that the world pursues and come away empty. But if that which they had accomplished and gained were all turned over into the hands of Jesus Christ and expressed in pure worship, think of how meaningful that life could be in the alleviating of suffering for so much of humanity.
In scripture, whether Paul is speaking to Felix or whoever, he is dealing with them at their level and within their context. If you ask the right questions, you open them up within their own assumptions and then you can determine the entry point of the discussion and give the right answers. That’s what apologetics does. Basically it’s engaging people in conversation so that the light of Jesus Christ may be presented to them.
I do not know of any other message outside of the gospel of Jesus Christ that has the answers to the things we are searching for – the whole transformation of the heart that is needed, the graciousness in our attitude that is needed, how to deal with sensitive issues with effectiveness, and then to have reliance on the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis used to say, “Nothing is so self defeating as a question that has not been fully thought through until it has been fully posed.”
What did he mean by that? When you fully pose a question you have to disclose your assumptions. So, if a person says there is too much evil in this world they assume there is good. If you assume there’s good, you assume a moral absolute by which to differentiate between good and evil – a moral law. If you assume a moral law, you must assume a moral law giver, but that’s whom they are trying to disprove and not prove because if there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil. The question self-destructs.
Now somebody might say to me, “Why do we need a moral law giver?” We need a moral law giver because any time a problem or a question on evil or suffering is raised, it is either raised by a person or about a person, which means the question assumes intrinsic value for personhood. Yet materialism does not have that luxury. In naturalism or materialism, you have the random product of time plus matter plus chance. There is no intrinsic worth. But the question assumes intrinsic worth, which means we are the offspring or the creation of a person who has intrinsic worth and that ultimate worth is in God himself. So you have to evaluate the questions assumptions. Then you move toward the heart and give meaningful answers.
Think of what Paul was up against. He was a product of three cultures: Greek, Roman, and Hebrew. All of them were hostile toward his conversion. Even the disciples didn’t know what to do with him so they put him in a basket and lowered him over the wall. They didn’t realize they were putting a man in the basket who was going to write one-third of the New Testament. And he changed history!
Just when it seems darkest, God has a way of turning things around and that is the surest way for us to know that He is sovereign and He is working revival. So don’t retreat! Think carefully how you engage, but you must engage. Somebody you will meet is looking for answers and one person can make a difference.
It is not a time for us to retreat. In fact, it is a time for us to engage even more with the answers God gives, undergirded by the love of Jesus Christ and the confidence and conviction that He places in your heart.
Ravi Zacharias appears again this Monday on LIFE TODAY. This article was compiled and edited by James Randall Robison from Ravi Zacharias’ comments on the three programs originally airing August 31, September 1, and September 3.