The use of theology in order to justify Christianity before men, in the claims it makes to be ultimate truth, in the demands it makes on its followers, and in its universal mission. Jesus Himself was often ready to answer objections and insinuations made against Him and His teaching (cf. John 8:41-58; 18:19-24), which latter He developed and justified against His opponents (cf. Mark 2:6-12; 10:2-9; Luke 4:22-28, etc.). Paul also tried to speak about the wisdom and power of the Cross in the light of deep-seated objections (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-31). “Always be prepared,” wrote Peter (1 Pet. 3:15), “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Defensive statements of faith, or “apologies,” appear as early as the second century when a group known as the “Apologists”* (Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Tertullian, etc.) took up the task of answering current slanders against Christianitye.g., that it encouraged cannibalism and impiety, that it discouraged loyalty to state religion-and was therefore atheistic-and that its central doctrines were ridiculous and offensive. The Apologists stressed the antiquity of the Gospel, the genuineness of its miracles, and its striking fulfillment of prophecy. They had to show Christianity, not only as a superior religion, but as the ultimate truth. They tried to bridge the gap between their opponents and themselves by laying hold of what they believed were similarities as well as differences between the Gospel and pagan philosophy.
After the establishment of the Church under Constantine, apologetics became an aspect of the work of great constructive theologians such as Augustine and, later, Aquinas. Even Calvin's Institutes was presented with a noble introductory letter to the French king Francis I as a defensive statement of the faith he was mistakenly persecuting. Wherever theology has pursued its main task, the apologetic aim has never been lacking: demonstrating the validity of the claims it makes for Christ, and showing that the faith is not unreasonable but has its own inner logic and consistency. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, apologetics developed as a special branch of theology dealing with the defense and proof of Christianity.
Among other matters, apologetics has sought to meet questions about the historicity of the main events on which Christianity is based, and of the Bible. It has discussed miracles, the existence of God, the knowledge of God, the harmonizing of the biblical account of Creation with that of science (i.e., “Christian Evidences”).
There are dangers in a too specific and conscious apologetic approach in our statement of the Gospel: overmuch attention to specific objections can lead to an unhealthy one-sided emphasis. A defensive program, moreover, tends to produce the mentality that prefers seclusion to open Christian warfare. In defending the Gospel, theology must never change what is essential either in its content or form or message, or remove the offense of the Cross. But dialogue need not involve compromise. Growth in understanding can come by struggling with the questions and even the unjust accusations of opponents (cf. 2 Sam. 16:9-12). An alien world needs to be shown that the Gospel has also the only teaching and power that can enable man to recover and express his true humanity.
A.B. Bruce, Apologetics (1892); J. Baillie, Our Knowledge of God (1939); A. Richardson, Christian Apologetics (1947); B. Ramm, Problems of Christian Apologetics (1949); C. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (1955).