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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