What Role Does Apologetics Play in Mission?

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on evangelism in a time and place where Christianity is not the dominant worldview, see Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Joshua Ryan Butler explains that apologetics is less like a chess match and more like a blind date.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

I think apologetics plays an increasingly important role in mission and evangelism. Back in the day, it used to be that, you know, if you wanted to have kind of the questions, you had to go out and find the questions. Whereas today, the questions are coming to you. So, what I mean by that is, back in the day, it’s not that people didn’t have questions about the faith or whatever, but if you wanted arguments against the faith or challenges to the Christian faith, you know, you had to go to the library, check out a book, read up on it, and there were some who would do that.

But today, it seems more through media, through online, through whatever else. People are having questions, caricatures of the Christian faith, questions and challenges to it that come up. It’s just more pushed out into the popular sphere, mainstream sphere. And so, I do think that it’s important that, as we interact with people outside of the body of Christ and even within that have some of these tough, challenging questions, that we ourselves press into knowing how to love our friends and our family, coworkers, and others well who have got these tough questions.

And I think part of it is not so much about being the person who has all the right answers. Sometimes it’s maybe a caricature of apologetics some people have. We can tend to think it’s just about having all the right answers and being able to crush someone in an argument or whatever. I don’t think that’s the goal. I think the goal is actually be equipped to love people well because the reality is many of us have daughters and sons and relatives and friends and people who have some real hang-ups or obstacles to encountering Jesus as he truly is and falling in love with the Savior.

So, I like to think of evangelism and apologetics less as like a chess match. A friend of mine gave this analogy once that sometimes we tend to think of apologetics like a chess match, like I’m in a battle with the other person and we’re going to battle to see who wins. He gives his argument, or she gives hers, and I give my argument, and we go back and forth to see ultimately who has the victory. The goal is like, I beat you, right?

No, that’s not the goal of apologetics. I think of it more as if we’re setting someone up on a blind date. In a blind date, the goal is actually introducing someone, a person that you love to someone that you actually think is best for them, is the best fit for them, but they might have some misperceptions of that person and who they are. And this is how we want to introduce people to Jesus. Part of that means overcoming some of the obstacles, either misperceptions or at times either right perceptions but maybe understood in the wrong way, if that makes sense. We want to help people to be able to encounter Jesus clearly and as he truly is.

And finally, I think there’s actually an opportunity with apologetics for us to go deeper into the faith ourselves. I’ve often found that one of the reasons that there are kind of these caricatures and things of the faith out there is at times that we’ve perpetuated them as the church and I think these can become good opportunities to press deeper back into the Bible, back into a robust and historically faithful theology so that we would be able to understand our own faith better.

And so, it’s not just that apologetics is getting equipped for evangelism, but part of it is helping us go deeper into our own faith in our life with Christ. And hopefully as we do that, we’ll be better equipped to share the love of Jesus with his world.