For many Christians, apologetics is a forgotten art. Though Christian laymen and ministers usually know how to share their faith, very rarely will you find that same person able to defend it. Due to the rising anti-Christian climate currently prevalent in America today, believers need to be informed about how to defend their faith.
Before examining the branch of theology known as apologetics, we have to know what this term actually means. Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning “a verbal defense, a speech in defense” or “giving an answer or response back.” Therefore, apologetics is that branch of Christian theology that is dedicated to the defense of the biblical Christian faith.
Apologetics is a biblical concept (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians. 7:11; Philippians 1:7; 2 Timothy 4:16, and our focus verse, 1 Peter 3:15). The word apologia is found in Peter’s first epistle. Peter declares, “sanctify or (set apart; make holy) 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” (3:15). In this passage, the word apologia is translated “defense.”
Since apologetics is one branch of theology, its relationship to the other main branches of theology can be shown. Theology simply means “the study of God.” Of course, when studying God, His work of creation and redemption must also be included. Therefore, theology entails the study of all Christian doctrines. The main branches of theology are the following: 1) exegetical theology, 2) biblical theology, 3) systematic theology, 4) historical theology, 5) practical theology, 6) polemics, and 7) apologetics.
As I mentioned earlier, Christians in the pews and ministers usually know how to share their faith, they are often unable to defend it. Due to the anti-Christian climate currently prevalent in America, believers need to be informed about this discipline. So let’s now take a quick look at the other branches of theology, which includes apologetics and then show how apologetics can be used in the church and in the life of the believer.
Exegetical theology is the branch of Christian theology which deals with the direct study of the biblical text. Exegetical theology attempts to arrive at the true meaning of the biblical passage being studied. Questions that might imply when looking at the biblical text are what does the text say and what does the text mean. This type of theology encompasses the study of biblical introduction, biblical languages, and archaeology. Hermeneutics is the science of how to properly interpret the Scriptures, and is utilized within the realm of exegetical theology.
Exegetical theology forms the basis for all other branches of Christian theology. This is due to the fact that the Bible is the sole authority from which orthodox (correct teaching) Christians draw their beliefs. If a student of the Word of God wrongly interprets biblical passages, it will damage his theological system of thought, possibly leading to false doctrine and heresy.
Biblical theology studies God as He has progressively disclosed Himself throughout the Scriptures. The Old Testament does not immediately reveal Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. Instead, God related the account of His creation of the universe (Genesis 1 and 2). This was followed by the fall of mankind into sin (Genesis 3). God then promised to send a Savior to defeat the serpent (Genesis 3:15).
Man is commanded to perform animal sacrifices when seeking to approach God (Genesis 4). These animal sacrifices were a foreshadowing of the future day when the Savior of mankind would come and die for the sins of the world (Hebrews 10:4; 9:22; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
When the earth increased in wickedness, God judged the world by bringing upon it a flood that destroyed all mankind. Only Noah and his family members family were saved (Genesis 6-9). As humans once again multiplied, they united in their rebellion against God. God divided mankind by causing them to speak different languages at what we know as the Tower of Babel. This resulted in the beginning of the nations (Genesis 11).
God then selected one man named Abraham and produced from him a nation (Genesis 12). From this nation the world’s Savior would someday come. This chosen nation was Israel. Through Moses, God gave Israel His Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).
The Law was never intended to save anyone. Its purpose was to show men that they fell short of God’s holy standards, and that they need to trust in the coming Savior (Galatians 3:24).
The Old Testament contains the history of the nation Israel, some of its inspired poetry, and messages from its prophets. In short, the Old Testament points forward to the coming of the Savior.
The New Testament begins with the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The Gospels record eyewitness testimonies of the life, teachings, and works of the Savior when He came to earth. The book of Acts gives an account of the history of the apostolic church, while the epistles teach how we as Christians should live. The Bible culminates with the book of Revelation. This book predicts the return of Jesus the Savior to the planet earth in the last days.
As one examines this brief survey of God’s revelation called the Bible, it becomes clear that God did not reveal Himself and His salvation plan all at once. He did so progressively over a period of more than 1,500 years. Biblical theology takes note of this and seeks to study God’s unveiling of Himself as He progressively did so.
Therefore, biblical theology picks up where exegetical theology leaves off.
Systematic theology groups the teachings of the Bible into a system that makes sense. It seeks to display a “total picture” of God’s revelation to man. There are several divisions in systematic theology.
- Prolegomena deals with introductory matters, while Theology Proper discusses what the Bible teaches about God Himself.
- Bibliology contains the truths that the Bible declares about itself. Angelology spells out the scriptural doctrines about spirit beings called angels. The study of fallen angels is called demonology. The leader of the fallen angels is called Lucifer or Satan. The doctrine about this vile being is called Satanology.
- Pneumatology deals with the study of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. Christology is the study of Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity.
- Anthropology is the doctrine of man, while Hamartiology is the doctrine of sin. The doctrine of salvation is discussed in Soteriology.
- Ecclesiology is the study of the biblical teachings about the church.
- Finally, Eschatology is the study of the last days.
Systematic theology picks up where exegetical and biblical theology leaves off. Once it is determined what a given biblical text means (exegetical theology), one can proceed to study how God progressively revealed Himself in His Word (biblical theology). After this, the teachings of the Bible must be grouped into a system that makes sense (systematic theology).
Historical theology studies the progressive development of systematic theology throughout the history of the Christian church. This branch of theology examines the many of the different creeds and statements of faith that were drawn up throughout the history of the church through the centuries.. Much focus is placed upon the thought of great theologians, e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley.
Historical theology often directs its attention to the thought of one or more of the different eras of church history. Important time periods would include the Apostolic age, the Early Church Fathers, the Medieval period, the Reformation, and the Rise of Modern Theology.
Different periods of church history focused on different areas of theology, mainly for purposes of combating doctrinal heresies. For example, the Early Church Fathers devoted much of their effort and time to Christological issues, while Reformation theologians specialized in soteriology. As you see various churches and their doctrinal teachings you can see how much can be traced from and learned through a study of historical theology.
Practical theology is the practical application of the teachings of the Bible to one’s life. Regeneration is the first issue that needs to be applied. The Bible teaches that a person must be born again (born from above) to see God’s Kingdom (John 3:3). This new birth comes only through faith in Christ as one’s only Savior (John 3:16-18).
Once a person is saved (redeemed by Christ), the sanctification process comes into play. This is a lifetime process that moves throughout the believer’s daily life as God sets him apart (the meaning of sanctification) for His purposes (Romans 6 and 7). Practical theology also includes issues such as living a life of service, studying the Word, worship, prayer, and evangelism.
Practical theology builds upon the accomplishments of the other four theological branches aforementioned. It seeks to apply the truths of God to one’s daily life. This branch of practical theology moves the theologian from a mere “head knowledge” of the truths of the Bible to a personal relationship with the God of the Bible. It can be said that we live out our theology. This is because when we partake of practical theology in the fullest sense, we move from a life of study to a life of service.
Polemics is one of the four functions in apologetics, and is often the most overlooked branch of theology which specializes in the refutation of heresies that develop within the professing church. Hence, polemics is the function of “good” theology in that it protects itself from “bad” theology.
Throughout church history, false doctrines have risen within the church. These heresies have been continually refuted by theologians, who sought to protect the essential teachings of the Bible. At times, heretics accepted correction and recanted of their erroneous views.
On other occasions, however, some heretics had to be excommunicated from the church in order to protect the church’s essential teachings of the Christian faith.
Often, unrepentant heretics started their own religions or cults (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, United Pentecostal Church, Seventh Day Adventists, etc). This was exactly the case concerning Islam and Mormonism. Once the heretical movement is clearly separated from true Christianity, polemics (which deals only with internal heresies) is no longer used against it. Instead, apologetics is called upon to enter the theological battle for truth.
Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which devotes itself to the defense of the gospel. Unlike polemics, which refutes internal heresies, apologetics validates by defending the essential teachings of the Bible against external attacks. Whereas polemics refutes false teachers who claim to be proclaiming Christian truths, apologetics enters into debate with those who openly claim to be opposed to historic and biblical Christianity. Apologetics has two functions. Negatively, it refutes belief systems that oppose Christianity, and, positively, it defends the essential truths of the Christian faith.
Let me also add that because our culture is becoming more and more hostile to the Christian faith because of the rising nature of secularism, Islam, false theologies and hostile ideologies, apologetics must be incorporated into our present day evangelism (pre-evangelism). Finally because of our weak worship music in the church today, we can see that there has been a wanting in discipleship over the last thirty to forty years. Add to that the fall out of kids walking away from the faith (75% from Christian homes, it is imperative that we incorporate the discipline of apologetics in our present day discipleship, which can include the other kinds of theology.
From my presentation in this post, I think it is easy to see that apologetics fits into Christian theology. The first four branches of theology (exegetical, biblical, systematic, and historical) attempt to arrive at the truths of the Bible. The fifth branch (practical theology) attempts to help the believer live these biblical truths. The sixth theological branch (polemics) protects Christian truth from internal errors. And, finally, the seventh branch of theology (apologetics) defends Christian truth from outside attacks.
All seven branches of Christian theology are needed. But truth of the Christian faith must be discovered and embraced first and foremost. Then it must be lived out (LOUD), protected, and defended. The church is starting to show signs of suffering because it has abandoned the life of the mind and neglects that some or all of these branches. Apologetics is vital to the Christian church today.
In today’s post Christian/post truth culture, those who genuinely seek to share the gospel must also defend the gospel. People are seeking answers to their questions. Through apologetics we can help them find those answers.
We can remove intellectual stumbling blocks that stand between lost souls and Christ. We can communicate the gospel in such a way that the “modern” man will understand it. We must, as the inspired writer instructs us, “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
THEOLOGY – The study of God
EXEGETICAL THEOLOGY – Direct study of the biblical text, attempting to arrive at the true meaning of the passage in question.
BIBLICAL THEOLOGY – Studying God as He progressively revealed Himself through the Scriptures.
SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY – Grouping the teachings of the Bible into a system that makes sense.
HISTORICAL THEOLOGY – Studying the development of systematic theology throughout the history of the church.
PRACTICAL THEOLOGY – Applying the teachings of the Bible to one’s daily life.
POLEMICS – Refuting heresies that arise within the professing church.
APOLOGETICS – Defending the essential teachings of the Bible against external attacks. Refutes error protecting the church from heresy, alleviates the doubts during difficult times, and clears the bushes in evangelism so the lost can see the beauty of Christ clearly and receive Him as Lord and Savior.
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