The Bible famously tells us that there’s a season for everything we do here on earth. There are both seasons to plant and seasons to uproot, to tear down and to build up, to weep and to laugh, to be silent and to speak, and so on (Eccles. 3:1-8).
But if it’s true that everything we do in this life has a season, then it follows that this would also apply to apologetics. In other words, there are both seasons to do apologetics and seasons to not do apologetics. In fact, this is made abundantly clear from the New Testament letter written by Jude.
Jude had originally intended to write to his readers on the topic of salvation in Christ. However, something came up that required him to change course and instead turn his letter into an apologetic. He says in Jude 3, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Jude obviously understood that there are different seasons for when and when not to do apologetics. And if knowing the difference was so significant that it changed the entire course of a God-inspired book of the Bible, then it’s important for us to know that difference as well.
So, when should we and when should we not use apologetics?
The Right Times for Apologetics
It’s fairly easy to figure out the right times to do apologetics, if only for the fact that Scripture lays them out for us quite plainly. There are at least five occasions when using apologetics is in order.
1 – Answering Questions
We need to use apologetics when answering questions about the reasons for becoming a Christian. These include questions about Christianity’s truth and relevance. The posterchild verse for apologetics puts it nicely, commanding believers to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do so with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15; cf. Col. 4:6). So, basic to apologetics is the task of answering questions.
2 – Answering Objections
Apologetics is also necessary when answering objections to Christianity. The apostle Paul was well-acquainted with this, repeatedly having to defend his apostleship and the gospel he preached against detractors. Describing this task within the context of spiritual warfare, he says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Answering questions and answering objections are essentially two sides of the same coin.
3 – Countering False Teachings
Apologetics can similarly be used to counter false teachings. This includes the false beliefs taught in other worldviews as well as false doctrine being taught within the Christian community. In fact, one of the necessary qualifications for pastors is to be able to not only teach sound doctrine (theology) but to defend sound doctrine (apologetics). We’re told pastors “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke [i.e., refute or convince] those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Indeed, pastors should be the ones leading the way in using apologetics in this regard.
4 – Resolving Doubts
Apologetics can be immensely helpful in resolving one’s doubts about the faith. In fact, this is exactly why Jude shifted gears in writing his letter: some people were doubting the truth of the gospel and as a result were abandoning the faith. Thus, Jude felt compelled to contend for the faith in his letter and call his readers to do the same. And he appears to have seen this as going hand-in-hand with his call for the church to “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22).
5 – Strengthening Faith
On the flip side of the previous point, apologetics is one of the best tools for strengthening one’s faith. The author of the Gospel of Luke says that his primary purpose in writing his meticulously researched account of Jesus is for his friend Theophilus to “have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). And elsewhere, the same author says that even the risen Jesus presented himself alive to the disciples “by many proofs” over the course of forty days prior to his ascension (Acts 1:3), no doubt at least in part for the purpose of building up their faith before his departure. Apologetics isn’t just for reaching unbelievers; it’s also for strengthening the body of Christ.
Alright, so the Bible is pretty clear on the right times to do apologetics. But does Scripture give us any indications as to the wrong times? Well, it doesn’t do so explicitly, but there are some biblical principles that can help us discern times when apologetics would not only be unhelpful but may even be harmful.
The Wrong Times for Apologetics
There are at least two types of situations in which apologetics would be unhelpful, if not entirely harmful.
1 – Pearls Before Swine
In the first case, we should consider Jesus’ warning about casting pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). No, this saying isn’t meant to serve as an insult to unbelievers by comparing them to pigs. The point is simply that just as it would be pointless and even counterintuitive to cast something like pearls to swine, so too is it sometimes pointless and even counterintuitive to continue sharing the gospel with somebody who clearly doesn’t want to hear it. It would be pointless because the conversation would be going nowhere, and it becomes counterintuitive when it results in further hardening an already-hardened heart. This can happen not only with sharing the gospel but also with defending the gospel to such a person.
2 – Bad Timing
Apologetics may also prove to be counterintuitive if the timing is inappropriate. In this second scenario, consider, for example, the impropriety of a person mourning over the death of a child only to be bombarded with presumptuous rationales as to why God might have allowed this tragic loss to happen. (This has happened to me and my wife.) Even if the aspiring comforter’s heart is in the right place, their apologetic will simply come across as insensitive or even heartless. Scripture says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). While a sound rationale for the emotionally charged situation may be available, the person involved doesn’t always need to hear it. What they need is for someone to come alongside them and bear their burdens with them.
Clearly, knowing the different seasons of when to use and when not to use apologetics can make a big difference in how we engage with others. So may God grant each of us the wisdom to discern those seasons for the sake of ourselves and those around us.