Defining Success in Apologetics

How do we know when we’ve been successful in our efforts in apologetics?  Do we judge success by whether we gave compelling and convincing arguments?  Or does it depend on the response of the person we’re sharing with?  James Beilby explains why neither of these is a good measurement for success in apologetics.

“While the quality of one’s arguments is certainly not irrelevant, this is also not the most important feature of apologetics.  After all, it is possible to give profound and logically persuasive arguments but do so in a way that is arrogant, dismissive and thoroughly un-Christlike.

Similiarly, while in one sense apologetics should be focused on the response of one’s interlocutor, it is possible to achieve a positive response through manipulation or shoddy arguments that will, upon closer inspection, fall to pieces.

Consequently, apologetics success is best understood as faithfulness to Jesus Christ.  In our apologetic endeavors, we are called to be faithful to Christ in at least three senses.

  • First, what we say should accurately represent who Jesus is, what he taught and, specifically, the good news he brought to the world.
  • Second, the way we do our apologetics should augment our arguments, not detract from them.  We must defend Christ in a way that fits with Christ’s message.
  • Finally, we must be faithful to God’s purposes in specific situations.  In some cases, apologetics appropriately and naturally leads to an offer for a person to commit her life to Christ, but in the vast majority of cases, our apologetic endeavors are a small step in a person’s long and winding journey that one hopes will culminate in relationship with Jesus Christ.”

— from Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It (IVP Academic, 2011), 22-23.

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4 thoughts on “Defining Success in Apologetics

  1. Thanks for the response, Chris.

    No, I wasn’t aware of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Thanks for telling me about it.

    God bless you and have a wonderful Christmas, Chris.

  2. This is excellent. It’s something to print out and stick up by the computer to remind me when I am posting to atheists just what apologetics is all about. I particularly like the description of the journey from non-believer to believer as a long and winding road. That’s an apt description.

    Some people ask if I am discouraged because I have never had an atheist convert as a result of what I have written and I always say that I am just a seed-planter. If other people come along and water the seed and a few others come along and cultivate the plant that grows and then, a long way down the road, somebody else comes along and reaps the harvest, that’s all that matters. My not seeing the harvest doesn’t diminish it in any way.

    • Hi Mary Lou,
      That was a good reminder to me too. It’s easy to get caught up in your own “performance” when doing apologetics, and forget that your role is to share faithfully and leave the results to God. It would be nice if we saw more immediate responses, but it’s a blessing to even play a role in the process.
      By the way, are you familiar with the Christian Apologetics Alliance on Facebook? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a closed group with about a thousand members who are interested in apologetics.
      Take care,
      Chris

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