The Gift of Apologetics

Acts 18:27-28 (NIV)

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

The twelve apostles had many spiritual gifts that included evangelism, teaching, (healing, miracles and tongues when they were available), and apologetics (the Greek word is apologia—translated as defense or answer in 1 Peter 3:15 ). The gift of apologetics (although not mentioned directly anywhere with the list of other spiritual gifts Romans 12:8, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16) is a legitimate spiritual gift given to specific believers even today. Many spiritual gifts are not mentioned in the Bible because the passages that speak about them are not supposed to be comprehensive and limited in any way. Instead, there are gifts within gifts so that every single member of Christ’s body possesses a specific version of a particular gift unique to them.

For example, teaching is one gift. But we know that many different types, approaches and styles of teaching ministries are available to the church. But some gifts are entirely different from those described in the New Testament. Apologetics is just one of many of these gifts. Unfortunately, some do not consider it to be a legitimate or biblical gift and that it should be avoided entirely. However, Acts 18:27-28 above seems to counter this claim that debating unbelievers (apologetics often though not always involves defending the Christian faith and the Scriptures it is based on) is unbiblical. It is true that Paul was one of the twelve apostles with special authority given to Him by Christ. But teaching, evangelism, and apologetics are all spiritual gifts still given to believers today.

We need to differentiate between foolish arguments and debates and the type of discussions engaged in by those called to defend their Christian convictions. Also, we need to understand that this can involve some believers defending biblical truths even against attacks from other genuine born-again Christians. Apologetics doesn’t always have to involve unbelievers. They can include brothers and sisters in Christ who may not be so easily convinced about a particular doctrine or teaching within the Bible (whatever the specifics may be).

Before we continue, it is prudent to remind ourselves again that all believers will (from time to time) have to engage in multiple ministries (even though they may not be gifted in all those other areas). Everyone will inevitably do a little bit of teaching (happens all the time in one-on-one discussions either with unbelievers in evangelism or with believers in fellowship), exhortation, encouragement, giving, and so forth. So even though we aren’t all called to (for example) evangelism as our primary ministry, we are called to share the gospel if the opportunity presents itself (the Spirit is leading us to do so). And we must all be ready to give a defense for what we believe (a little bit of apologetics involved in that). That does not mean we pursue other work to the neglect of our specific calling from God. Romans 12:3-9 indicates that we are not to try to pursue things we are not called or gifted to do because we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We must keep our abilities and calling in their proper place and perspective. But that does not eliminate the fact that we will (on occasion) engage in various types of work for small intervals of time (that is something that will naturally occur for all believers).

1 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (Greek-apologia-means a defense or answer to something) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Romans 12:3-9 (ESV)

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Titus 3:9-11 is a commonly used passage to argue against the truth that some people have the gift of apologetics. However, the real issue this passage brings up is what we debate and how we do so. There is no hint of a command to abstain from debate altogether.

Titus 3:9-11 (NIV)

9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

We should not waste our time discussing foolish controversies because some topics are not worth arguing about at all (and can cause more spiritual harm than good). Any believer will need discernment to spot something that would fall in this category.

Genealogies (in our specific context) involved whether one was a true Jew or not. Some of the false teachers looked down on Titus because he was a Gentile. Therefore, they argued he was not qualified to teach. Paul pushed back against this because the truth has nothing to do with one’s ancestry. Therefore, it would be an obvious waste of time for Titus to argue with those who looked down on him for things that had no bearing on his words. Engaging in those matters would only distract him from the true work to which he was called (teaching and sharing the gospel).

Arguing about many of the specifics of the Law (which no longer applied to any believer under the New Covenant) was a dangerous activity, especially for a Gentile like Titus. Many of the false religious teachers of those days (some of them were even believers in a poor state) undoubtedly attacked this great man of God for not using the Law as they saw fit. But the Mosaic Law was only for the nation of Israel for a specific time to convict people of sin and help them realize their need for a Savior (Paul mentioned it was like a schoolmaster meant to help bring him to Christ). The Law could not save, and many of its restrictions no longer applied to Israel or anyone else. But the religious Jews and false teachers attempted to use the freedom that Titus exercised through the New Covenant of grace as a weapon against him. If he didn’t follow the Law or do this or that, he (in their eyes) wasn’t saved. In other words, they used these things against him to discredit what he taught. To debate such people in light of such folly would be a dangerous waste of time because it would produce nothing. To continue trying would only be throwing pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). People who teach dangerous things (whether believer or unbeliever) and use them to divide the body of Christ are an obvious threat that should be avoided at all costs. It is best to have nothing to do with someone who won’t listen after a second warning because they are clearly not interested in stopping what they are doing.

The above is still a rule those gifted in apologetics must abide by. The Bible nowhere gives any exceptions for specific individuals because it applies to all believers. No one should waste time trying to convince someone who has proven themselves to be “swine.” If a person is not going to listen (no matter how well and how many good things are said), then to continue trying to convince them of the truth and change their minds is pointless if all they want to do is argue and oppose what they hear (they aren’t looking for it and have made up their minds which is clear). Paul reasoned with the unbelieving Jews (initially) and Gentiles (later on). He did not continue trying to persuade those who proved themselves unworthy of further discourse (especially when they tried to cause division). Acts 18:4-5 below does present an extreme case where Paul’s listeners began heaping verbal abuse on him. Any rational believer (regardless of their gifting) would flee such a situation.

Acts 18:4-6 (ESV)

4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Titus 3:9-11 has specific meanings only as they apply to those particular circumstances (as they did for Titus in his situation). This passage does not say that debates and arguments between believers and unbelievers are forbidden. Discussion (arguing) can be both necessary and a good thing but also bad and ill-advised. It depends on the topic, the circumstances (is the person trying to be divisive and getting angry and aggressive?) and how the other side responds to it. Sometimes, someone (whether believer or unbeliever) continues to argue but only does so because they are legitimately trying to figure out the truth. Believers can argue with other believers and unbelievers over matters of truth and doctrine because civil arguments within the body of Christ are a good thing that allows brothers and sisters to sharpen one another and practice presenting and defending their own points of view.

Sometimes, some will argue because that helps them to sort things out to either reinforce their own view or confirm it to be false. But even though discourse is permissible in any of those cases (granted it is kept civil), we should never attempt to force the truth down people’s throats. So although it is true our job is never to change someone’s mind, that is still our true desire for them if we know what they believe and defend is false. So when we present views against something unbiblical, we do so with the hopes that the other person will eventually change their mind (no matter how unrealistic that may be) while allowing them the freedom to believe what they want without “chasing after them” over it.

A great weakness in the church is that arguments are taken too far (the wrong things are discussed and often not handled in a godly way) or are avoided altogether for “unity.” Approaching disagreements in an unbiblical manner is obviously wrong. But always avoiding disagreements and sharing our convictions with other members of the body produces a more shallow and less serious relationship with our brothers and sisters. It becomes so much harder to sharpen and build one another up if we are always unwilling to engage with others on matters we may differ. God often uses other believers (gifted in apologetics or not) to help bring each other to the truth even if said person resists it for a time.” People can come to change their minds either in a particular discussion or later on.

Now, does this mean we are obligated to join every debate or involve ourselves in every argument that comes up? The answer is an obvious no (that does fall into an area of application most of the time). But some engagement will be necessary at some point (if the Lord intends for us to help someone or have them help us) and even inevitable for those who are growing as they should. God can use civil debates for good if we approach them as we should. Of course, He can also use failures, but we should always do our best to avoid bad conduct.

To finish off this topic, those gifted in apologetics will naturally be involved in more disagreements than other believers. The ability to “crack” some of those tougher nuts is something they are more gifted in than most, which requires a great deal of patience (something many believers will not have). But, as will all discussions believers have with anyone, how these men and women must engage has to be in a spirit of gentleness, kindness, love, and grace.

Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 4:5-6 (ESV)

5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.