Apologetics is not Evangelism

tss-baseball.jpgFrom my (very limited) vantage point, American churches seem to be cultivating a growing interest in apologetics (that is, defending the faith and answering objections). In a pluralistic culture that grows ever diverse, it’s important for the church to formulate answers to the challenges. This is commendable and biblical (1 Peter 3:15).

But along with this new emphasis on apologetics runs a concurrent temptation for churches to confuse evangelism and apologetics, to confuse defending and proclaiming.

Examples of this are not hard to find. In an interview with Christianity Today, Brian McLaren blurs traditional evangelism and apologetics to the point where they are really indistinguishable. I think this reflects a broader confusion.

This blurring of lines and even an apologetics-for-evangelism replacement is especially dangerous because it relocates the ultimate goal of the Gospel. In apologetics we seek the intellectual assent of others by overcoming their questions and engaging their obstacles. But the goal of evangelism is to proclaim the message of the Cross and see God (by His sovereign grace) produce personal brokenness, humility, and repentance.

By replacing evangelism with apologetics, we may unwittingly replace weeping hearts for nodding heads. Carried out ecclesiastically, everyday evangelism gets replaced by group meetings led by experts.

So I was especially encouraged by these comments in Mark Dever’s new book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Crossway: 2007):

“… practicing apologetics is a good thing, but it’s not evangelism. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism … By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection” (pp. 77-78).

And with this shift from evangelism to apologetics comes a subversive shift in agenda. Dever writes,

“Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ’s agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him” (p. 78).

This is a great point to stop for personal reflection. Does what I call evangelism look more like apologetics? Is the ultimate goal of my evangelism aimed towards mere agreement? Or am I lovingly and gently calling sinners to see sin as personal sin, and see wrath as wrath directed towards them? Am I calling for repentance, encouraging “godly grief,” seeking repentance from “dead works,” and a clinging to the Cross (Acts 26:20; 2 Cor. 7:10; Heb. 6:1)? In short, is my evangelism marked as defending or proclaiming?

These are good things to consider.


10 thoughts on “Apologetics is not Evangelism

  1. This is an important topic — especially for argumentative types like me. As the saying goes, we want to win souls, not arguments. That usually means, “Be mindful of the manner in which you do it.” It’s also good to remember, as you point out, that we argue to clear away objections and get back to the gospel.

    I taught in Sunday School about the evidence for the resurrection and repeated it on my blog. In both places I wanted to be careful to make this point:

    “I hope you will be able to explain why you believe what you believe to those who ask you. But if you sit down and convince someone that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact, the work is not done. It is not believing that Jesus rose from the dead that saves us; it is trusting in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins that saves us. It is an important distinction that we must be mindful of.”

  2. I started reading Dever’s book yesterday and was equally struck by that point about the difference between evangelism and apologetics. The other things evangelism is not are also well worth the price of the book.

  3. While I agree, would it be possible to say that the heart of apologetics could, or should, be evangelism? Because that’s the way I like to think of it, anyway.


  4. I think the distinction can be made. It’s similar to groups that do service projects like feed the hungry and build Habitat houses call that evangelism.

    Apologetics and social works can be components of evangelism, but are not evangelism without an offering or explanation of the gospel.

    Pastor Chris

  5. Dever’s point is that you can defend Christianity and perform acts of mercy and charity without clearly presenting the gospel and calling someone to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. That is why they aren’t necessarily evangelism.

  6. I am a Christian apologist based in India. I came to your site through a general search and enjoyed the contents.

    I have been noticing the tendency of confusing apologetics with evangelism. This needs to change.

    Dr. Johnson C. Philip

  7. I’ve noticed that churches individually and the The Church overall seems to shift like a pendulum. I love apologetics, but we need to make sure that we are preaching the whole counsel of God. The Bible includes doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. If we leave anything out, we’re sure to be proclaiming a truth made up by us, not the faith once delivered to the saints.

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