The Necessity of Apologetics In the Local Church

Written by: Dayton Hartman

Dayton Hartman is the lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He serves as an adjunct professor of church history for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He attended Liberty University, where he earned an MA in Global Apologetics, and he holds a Ph.D. in Church and Dogma History from North-West University.

This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked HERE.

“Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”  – Francis Schaeffer

Apologetic engagement is no longer an option for pastors and church planters—it’s a necessity.

In just a few decades, our culture has gone from increasingly de-Christianized to post-Christian, and now we’re lurching toward pre-Christian paganism as our default worldview. We don’t see mass gatherings worshiping the gods of weather, nor is there a federally mandated festival venerating the tree nymphs or dryads of our national forests. 

However, worldviews once described using the vocabulary of mythology are now espoused with the language of materialism. The lingo is different, but the presuppositions remain largely unchanged. 

Pastors Are Apologists

No longer can we simply make Christian claims that assume a common understanding of reality, the nature of truth, or even the belief in something that could be definitively called “truth.” Instead, we’re at a junction in history requiring pastors and church planters to be missiologists and apologists. As a sobering reminder of this state, William Edgar writes, “Christians have grown so used to their own language, terms, and culture that they have become isolated from those who surround them.”We’re at a junction in history requiring pastors and church planters to be missiologists and apologists.CLICK TO TWEET

So, what is apologetics? I prefer John Frame’s positive and biblical definition. He says apologetics is “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.” This more positive approach to defining apologetics better captures the essence and tone of the biblical mandate. 

The apostles described pastors as apologists. In Titus, Paul states that an elder must be “holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 CSB). Additionally, Peter wrote that all followers of Jesus should “regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). 

Shouldn’t we all live in a way that makes people question what we believe and why it matters? Pastors must be prepared to refute false teaching, engage false worldviews, and defend truth claims. 

The Cultural Landscape

This cultural moment is precarious for the local church. We’re playing catch-up with the rapidly shifting landscape of beliefs (and unbelief) around us. Recent research shows that only 23% of millennials (and younger) believe that Scripture is the Word of God. Another 26% think that Scripture may contain God’s Word but shouldn’t be taken “literally,” according to Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University

Even so, there are signs of hope. In a recent Barna survey of 2,000 US adults, “three out of four (74%) say they want to grow spiritually. The same proportion (77%) also say they believe in a higher power. Nearly half (44%) say they are more open to God today than before the pandemic.” 

People are open to spiritual things but don’t have a reference point for a Christian worldview. So how do we respond?

Apologetics happens in the local church.

First, we must reorient the task of apologetics to the local church rather than parachurch organizations or the Christian academy. Apologetics isn’t merely ideological or academic—it’s a regular discipline for all Christians. 

“While Christian thinkers, apologists, and philosophers in the academy are wonderful gifts of grace, they are not the first or even final line of defense for Christian truth claims. Church history demonstrates that the phenomenon of professional apologists is predominantly modern.”

Lean on Scripture for direction. 

Second, we should read Scripture with an eye toward the thoroughly apologetic nature of many texts. Here are a few examples:

  • Genesis 1–2 functions as a repudiation of the cosmologies of the Ancient Near East.
  • The plagues in Exodus serve to humiliate and undermine the gods of Egypt. 
  • At Pentecost, Peter preaches the gospel message while explaining and defending claims regarding the work and identity of Jesus as the Messiah.
  • In Acts 17, Paul reasons with the men of Athens by engaging their worldview.
  • Apollos preaches and defends the notion of Jesus as the Messiah in Acts 18.
  • 1 Peter is a handbook for Christian living, mission, evangelism, and defense while living in a hostile environment. 

Incorporate apologetics into preaching and discipleship.

Third, we should develop a plan to incorporate apologetics into our preaching and discipleship strategy as a church. Look for apologetic moments in your preaching (these can be as simple as talking about how we know Jesus arose from the dead). If you pay attention, you’ll find opportunities to equip your congregation nearly every week. Apologetics isn’t merely ideological or academic—it’s a regular discipline for all Christians.CLICK TO TWEET

Further, develop a basic worldview training course for your church that equips Christians to understand challenges to their faith and how to interact with the presuppositions of the culture around them. Pastors, I encourage you to strategically plan dates on your calendar for when your liturgy, from start to finish, will act as an apologetic to the congregation.  

Everything around us is changing, and that can be a disorienting reality. Still, take heart; there is nothing new under the sun. The good news is that the truth is fixed because truth stands on two legs—and truth’s name is Jesus.