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Apologetics vs. Evangelism: Is there a difference?

Jeff Augustine, MA – Theology

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken? No. The egg? No. The chicken? No. The egg? On and on it goes into infinite regress. This granddaddy of causality dilemmas usually ends without a satisfying answer but that all depends on how you see and understand the world. By the end of the 16th century, this well-known dilemma seemed to be answered in the Christian world, based on the creation story of the Bible in Genesis.

Since God created the animals, it would seem the chicken came first then the egg. However, what if you are not a Christian or if you have a different belief about where chickens and eggs came from?

A similar dilemma arises when Christians debate the difference between evangelism and apologetics. Are they the same? Are they different? How do they relate? Which comes first? Does the gospel message need to be explained before it can be defended? Dr. Francis Schaeffer referred to apologetics as “pre-evangelism”. The evangelical tradition focuses on the proclamation of the evangel, the good news of the gospel, both lived and proclaimed. Apologetics is a defense of Christian belief that helps to explain and clarify the gospel message.

What is evangelism?

Evangelism entails proclamation, the verbalization of the gospel message (the Evangelion) throughout the world. Evangelism is an announcement. It is telling others the plan of salvation and about the kingdom of God, the announcement of the divine reign, and an invitation to participate in the community of God. We are announcing that God, through Jesus Christ, has intervened in history to affect our salvation. In the words of Harvie Conn, “Evangelism announces the liberating work of God as in Christ He fashions a new humanity.”

Evangelism involves caring for the poor and needy, praying for healing and other needs, deeds of kindness, and participation in civic activities or attempting to influence governmental policies to make them more consistent with biblical principles.

Evangelism is also present. Evangelism occurs as the Holy Spirit creates an eschatological community in the world. The very presence of the people of God stands as a sign that God has acted, is acting, and will act. Evangelism is speaking and living the gospel message.

What is apologetics?

Apologetics is quite literally defense of the faith; the Greek word apologia means “defense” as a lawyer gives at a trial.  In every generation, people face the challenges, questions, and concerns of the gospel message of the Christian faith. Christians seek not only to explain their beliefs but also to commend their beliefs.

1 Peter 3:15 instructs the Christian apologist to ‘always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you.’ Christian apologetics, according to 1 Peter 3:16, needs to be done with ‘gentleness and respect.

Apologetics helps others develop an intellectual and reasonable examination of the Christian message. The goal of apologetics is to strengthen the faith of Christians and to attract others to the gospel. The gospel message itself is always capable of persuading.

It does not need to be rendered persuasive, it already is. The gospel itself is a sensible and coherent one and answers such questions as why there is suffering in the world, whether people matter, life after death, and so on. Evangelism can, in fact, be it's own apologetic.

The gospel message in itself, the truth that God died for us in Jesus to reconcile us to him for all eternity, answers many of the questions people have about reality and the meaning of life. To help people with their doubts, their questions, and their struggles, the apologists teach us to speak in the language of today’s culture.

Is there a difference?

Whether in the time of the apostles or in the culture of now, defense of the gospel and the gospel message itself share at the core the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. It is not so much how the two differ but rather how they are alike in the goal of bringing people to know the Lord. At CCU we know both works together for expanding the borders of the kingdom.

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