“I’m not some apologist trying to convince everyone I’m right.”
That’s what a former friend said to my wife right before blocking the two of us on Facebook.
Upon sharing a news piece on a very hot-button topic, my comment section exploded that day with a series of snarky remarks and criticisms about my own position on the issue. (As we all know, social media is an excellent place for civil, thoughtful dialogue.)
Our friend in question led the charge, raising objection after objection, and always in a very colourful and pointed manner. (My character and motivations were brought into question multiple times.)
In the midst of all this, my wife raised the simple question as to why we couldn’t have a civil conversation without all the personal attacks and condescension. Strangely, our friend replied that they weren’t an apologist trying to convince everyone they’re right. (Yet another jab at me, obviously.)
Apparently, they thought that any apologist deserved to be verbally beaten over the head, and that it was apparently the right of those who aren’t apologists to deliver the beating.
Only one problem: this person was an apologist too.
This Thing Called “Apologetics”
No, I don’t mean to say that this person was in any sort of Christian apologetics ministry. (To my knowledge, they weren’t even a Christian.) But what I do mean is that they were nonetheless an apologist for their own position.
Not everyone realizes this, but “apologetics” isn’t a uniquely Christian word. It comes from the Greek apologia, which simply means “defence.” So, doing apologetics, regardless of context, has to do with giving a defence for your claims or position. Ideally, that defence would be a reasoned one.
So, when our former friend began engaging me with reasons (not good reasons, but reasons nonetheless) as to why they thought I was wrong, they were, in fact, engaging in a sort of apologetics.
But how can this be if they weren’t actually defending their position but only leveling criticisms against my own? It’s because you can’t have one without the other: you can’t attack a thesis or position without at the same time defending the antithesis or opposite position.
The Unavoidability of Apologetics
While some like to think that they can spend all their time criticizing other people’s views without defending or even revealing their own, this is a vain and, quite frankly, naive endeavour.
Consider this: If I say that God exists and that there are good arguments for His existence, I’m very clearly doing apologetics. However, imagine if somebody comes up to me and says I’m wrong and then begins to list reasons why such is the case. In doing so, they’re at the same time not only revealing their own position (i.e., that God does not exist) but are also giving a negative argument for that position (i.e., that there are no good arguments for God’s existence).
Such a person would be doing what we call counter-apologetics. This practice is perfectly normal and, indeed, unavoidable, for we do it pretty much every time we voice disagreement with anybody about anything.
And contrary to the widespread attitudes in popular Western culture (including here in Canada), there’s nothing wrong with or intolerant about voicing disagreements and giving reasons for said disagreements. In fact, the only way for someone to be able to tolerate a viewpoint is to first acknowledge one’s disagreement with it. (Otherwise, you wouldn’t be tolerating but agreeing.)
Engaging with one another’s viewpoints, even when we disagree, is necessary for the honest pursuit of truth. So, if we care about what’s true, then we should want to hear what each other has to say and be given the opportunity to assess the reasons on offer for one another’s respective beliefs. And so long as we engage in this enterprise of apologetics in a humble, loving, respectful manner (Eph. 4:15; 1 Pet.3:15), it can be a very good thing to do.
What Are You Defending?
All this talk about how everybody’s an apologist for something may have you wondering, “What am I an apologist for? What am I defending?” That’s a good and important question to ask yourself.
It seems to me that if apologetics is inescapable, then you might as well devote your limited time and energy defending the things that matter most. From a Christian perspective, nothing matters more than the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, how about we spend our time defending that?
Now, you may feel a bit intimidated by the idea, and perhaps the story I shared about my experience with my former friend shot your anxiety through the roof. But what I actually want you to take away from that story is this: don’t be afraid to voice disagreements with the world, especially about matters of eternal value. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied and intimidated by those who would have you silenced, like my former friend tried to do with me. After all, if they can voice disagreements with you, why not the other way around?
If you’re a Christian who has thus far avoided apologetics, I would encourage you to step up and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Answer God’s repeated call in Scripture to give a defense for the gospel (e.g., 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Col. 4:6; 1 Pet. 3:15).
Everybody’s an apologist for something. Will you be an apologist for Christ?