How Apologetics Serves Evangelism
By Douglas Groothuis and Andrew I. Shepardson
We believe that as we share the good news with others, we are being faithful to the biblical model when we bring explanations of the truth and rationality of the Christian worldview along with our proclamation of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. Indeed, evangelism often needs apologetics in some important ways.
First, apologetics can help the evangelist to awaken their audience to the importance of considering the Christian worldview. Think back to the moral argument. This argument states that morality requires God as the foundation for objective moral values and duties. For the person outside the household of faith, the realization that their sense of morality requires a divine foundation may help them to take seriously the possibility of the existence of God. Since people have an awareness of the moral law (Rom. 2:14–15) but have not necessarily thought about the foundation for moral values and duties, apologetics can reveal that belief in God is required to make sense of their moral intuitions. In addition, the moral argument is an occasion to consider how we all fall short of moral perfection. This may help the nonbeliever to recognize their need for the Savior.
Second, apologetics serves evangelism by helping the evangelist to respond to objections to the Christian worldview. . . . For someone who might object that Christianity is anti-science, we can point to the fact that there are a number of presuppositions required for doing science (the knowability of the external world, human cognitive reliability, mathematics, etc.) that Christianity uniquely supports and that naturalism puts in doubt. Answering the objection that Christianity is anti-science may be a key step in the evangelistic process of someone considering whether Christianity is true. In our experience, many people have presuppositions, concerns, or objections to Christianity. Even if they have not thought through all of their objections, most people who would not call themselves Christians have some thoughts about why they are not Christians. Why not do everything you can to be ready to respond to these objections? Now, it is also true that sometimes, people’s objections to Christianity are more existential and personal than they are logical or philosophical. The approach that we recommend here is that apologetics may be required to respond to objections, but it may not be sufficient. In this way, evangelistic ministry is not a zero sum game where all you need is apologetics. Patient, personal connection, where you love someone in Jesus’ name is always needed. We simply claim that sometimes loving someone in Jesus’ name means providing rational answers to their objections.
Third, apologetics helps evangelists to explain and confirm the truth of the gospel, and this allows the one who hears the gospel to understand and accept the cognitive claims that Christianity makes as a prelude to genuine faith. A reminder of the nature of faith is in order. Christians have often understood faith as having multiple components of trust, belief, and knowledge. This tripartite picture of faith can be summed up in the Latin words noticia, assensus, and fiducia. Noticia is the intellectual component of faith whereby someone understands the Christian truth claims. Assensus is the emotional or convictional element whereby a person is able to say they believe Christianity is true. Fiducia is the side of faith that relates to the will whereby one is able to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Apologetics is important, not because it causes someone to have faith but because it clears the intellectual ground for someone to be able to develop noticia and assensus. This seems to be partly what the writer of Hebrews was getting at when he said, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6). Apologetics can help someone to believe that God exists through natural theology and to believe that God rewards earnest seekers through establishing the reliability of the Bible.
Fourth, apologetics challenges the prevailing culture’s worldview assumptions, and this allows Christianity to become a part of the culture’s plausibility structure. A plausibility structure is comprised of all the beliefs a person may be willing to entertain as possibly true. For example, although you may never have seen her in person, your plausibility structure includes the belief that Beyoncé is a talented singer. However, your plausibility structure likely excludes the belief that Martians rigged the 2021 World Series through telepathic interference in game four. The way you may approach the Martian question is how some people view the idea that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in Palestine roughly two thousand years ago. You are not really willing to entertain a belief in Martian telepathic interference in the same way that many are not willing to entertain a belief that a dead man rose. Apologetics, though, can challenge the worldview assumption that it is impossible for a dead man to rise. This is the case, too, with the culture’s bias toward methodological naturalism, moral relativism, mythological/ figurative readings of the Bible, and the idea that God speaks (revelation). Consider how important all of this is for evangelism. If you would like to share the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, you would need your audience to believe that Jesus is a real person, and that the Bible reliably reports Jesus’ claims to be God as well as his acts of dying and rising. None of this precludes God from directly certifying these truths to someone, but it could complement God’s direct revelation.
Taken from Douglas Groothuis and Andrew I. Shepardson, The Knowledge of God in the World and the Word: An Introduction to Classical Apologetics (Zondervan Academic, 2022).
“Astute and accessible, comprehensive and compelling, here’s an outstanding introduction to classical apologetics. You’ll find yourself going back time after time to this invaluable reservoir of insights and wisdom. Read it with a highlighter in hand!”
—Lee Strobel, founding director of the Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics at Colorado Christian University
“Groothuis and Shepardson have written a brilliant defense of classical apologetics. They’ve ably shown, with incredible lucidity, impressive research, and tightly given arguments, that God exists and that Christianity is the true religion founded by God. And they’ve mounted a sophisticated and comprehensive defense of the need, importance, and validity of defending and commending these beliefs to others.”
—Paul M. Gould, associate professor of philosophy of religion, director of the MA in philosophy of religion program, Palm Beach Atlantic University
Find The Knowledge of God in the World and the Word at Amazon, Zondervan, and other major booksellers.
— Douglas Groothuis (PhD, University of Oregon) is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, where he heads the apologetics and ethics masters degree program. His articles have been published in journals such as Religious Studies, Philosophia Christi, Themelios, Christian Scholar's Review, Inquiry, and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He has written numerous books, including Christian Apologetics, Philosophy in Seven Sentences, and Truth Decay.
— Andrew I. Shepardson (PhD, University of Toronto) leads the B.A. and M.A. programs in Applied Apologetics at Colorado Christian University and is co-pastor of Hope Denver Church in Denver, Colorado. His work has been published in Philosophia Christi, Quadrum, The Denver Journal, Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and the Toronto Journal of Theology. He is the author of Who’s Afraid of the Unmoved Mover?: Postmodernism and Natural Theology.
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