In Defense of Intellectual Christianity

Plato and Socrates

Or an apologetic for Apologetics…

I love to think. I enjoy thinking long and deeply about theological and philosophical topics. Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I am passionate about these things. I am passionate about Apologetics, indeed Apologetics, I would say, is my calling.

What is Apologetics? The word itself comes from the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), which simply means to “make a defense” or “speaking in defense.” For the Greeks ἀπολογία was a term from a legal setting were one would speak in defense of a charge against him or her such as in Socrates’ defense. In the broader sense it is simply giving a reason for an action or proposition.

Parents hear an ἀπολογία all the time from their children. They might ask “why have you not cleaned your room,” or “you missed your curfew last night so you are grounded.” What will follow almost always is a defense for the messy room or the missed curfew. That is an apology in the truest sense. Contemporary English has corrupted this meaning to be synonymous with “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” and so on. So when someone starts talking about giving an apology for Christianity they may be misunderstood as saying “I’m sorry for Christianity.” This is obviously not what the word means in the last.

Apologetics as it pertains to Christianity is the use of the principles of logic and reason with theology to defend the propositions that Christianity makes. These propositions would include things like God exists, there is objective morality, and Jesus was raised from the dead. There are different lines of argument; indeed there are multiple lines of argument to establish these propositions.

It must be stated, however, that no philosophical arguments can establish the truth ultimately. Jesus warned against those who would seek proof or “demand a sign” numerous times. As Ravi Zacharias states, “God has put enough into this world to make faith in him a most reasonable thing; but he has left enough out that make it impossible to live by reason alone.”[1] Again, Apologetics is presenting a defense not a proof. Proofs are part of a different kind of argument.

Apologetics, by nature, is intellectual, and in some cases it is highly intellectual. As such, in my experience, there tends to be opposition or at least wariness towards Apologetics. One may be inclined to ask questions about the importance or usefulness of Apologetics. Who really needs to know these things? Why is it important at all, and isn’t it just a bunch of fluff with big words anyway? All that really matters is my faith and “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ right?

It is absolutely the case that Apologetics is not in any way necessary for salvation, nor is there any requirement for Christians to run off and enroll in a Masters level course in theology or philosophy. Though Apologetics, in the strict sense, is using reason and rhetoric to defend the faith, there is an Apologetics of life whereby one exemplifies the truth and rational behind what he or she believes by the way that they conduct themselves day to day. There is no greater force that is detrimental to evangelism of any kind than incongruence between message and life.

However, Jesus did say that the greatest commandment was to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22.37, emphasis added). St. Paul exhorts us to “be mature in [our] thinking” (I Corinthians 14:20). Consider also Hebrews 5:12 where the author rebukes his audience for still needing to be taught “the basic principles of the oracles of God.” Verses 12 through 14 go on to say that these people need “milk” not “solid food,” and that those who live by “milk” are “unskilled in the word of righteousness. “Solid food” is for the mature.

Yet the church seems to be timid regarding intellectual and theological engagement. As such, the teachings on the substance of our faith, both contemporary and those handed down by such great thinkers as St. Augustine, ST. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and others, are not much heard in churches nowadays and have not been for a great many decades if not a century or more. Moreover, Christians today are not reading works from Christianity’s intellectual heritage,[2] nor do they seem to find them of any great import for their lives.

How Tragic! The declines of intellectualism and theological engagement within the church have robbed Her. The lofty and weighty concepts of God, which are due His glory and majesty, have become diluted and, in some cases, perverted. As a result low views of God, and Jesus for that matter, are widely held among Christians. It is a view wholly unworthy of God and the source of a great many of the woes besetting the church.[3] Thinking rightly and deeply about God and His message are vital. It is necessary, not only for systematic theology, but for practical Christian living as well.

It, therefore, seems clear that the heart, soul and mind are meant to be engaged. This can be seen in Scripture and is plain common sense. “We should have good reasons for thinking that Christianity is true before we give complete dedication to it.”[4] But not everyone will encounter every question of reason. Just as Scripture is shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to drown in, as the saying goes, so too is Apologetics. Each of us should pursue the Truth and truths of God and His message as far as He has graced us with ability. My conviction is that Apologetics, thinking long and as deeply as one can about the deep things of God and His revelations, is integral to discipleship and for maturing in Christ.


[1] Zacharias, Ravi. Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality. New York: FaithWords, 2012, Kindle EBook. (Introduction)

[2] Tozer, A.W. Knowledge of the Holy. Fig Books, 2012, Kindle EBook. (Preface)

[3] Ibid

[4] Copan, Paul and Craig, William Lane, eds. Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007. (Pg. 22)

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3 comments on “In Defense of Intellectual Christianity
  1. maygrrl says:

    Loved this! I especially liked your point about defense vs. proof. Ravi’s comment was perfect. Well done!

  2. Hey, Forrest, thanks for this post! I am interested in similar posts, do visit my blog applecherrypipz.wordpress.com and leave a comment if you can!:)

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