Evangelism and apologetics: Which one is mandatory? Which one is optional?

The answer might surprise you – it surprised me! J. Warner Wallace explains. (H/T The Poached Egg)


Why do we embrace the burden of evangelism while relegating the burden of Case Making to professional “apologists”? Paul says something interesting in his letter to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:11-13
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

Paul repeatedly tells us that some of us are designed and given to perform certain functions. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are teachers, and some are pastors. Think about that for a minute. The reasonable inference here is that some of us are given to function in this waysome of us are not. You may be gifted and given by God to be a pastor or you may not. In a similar way, you may not be an evangelist. We may be called to share our faith (as described in the passages in Mark, Luke, John and Acts), but we probably shouldn’t beat ourselves up and feel guilty if we aren’t great at evangelism. That may not be our gift or our God-given role.

But there’s another calling we ought to feel on our lives as Christians that we usually ignore altogether. Look at what Peter says in a letter written to “exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”:

1 Peter 3:15-16:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

When addressing Christ followers who had been dispersed into regions filled with non-believers, Peter reminded Christians that everyone shared a responsibility to defend what they believed.

I attended Intervarsity Christian Fellowship while getting my undergraduate degree and Campus Crusade for Christ while getting my graduate degree. Both groups had leadership teams that rejected apologetics – including the showing of debate DVDs – because evangelism was mandatory while apologetics was only for professionals who had a special gift. It turns out that they had it exactly backwards. Make sure you get your marching orders right.

11 thoughts on “Evangelism and apologetics: Which one is mandatory? Which one is optional?”

  1. Great points. I always emphasize that:

    Some are called to be evangelists
    Ephesians 4:11 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers . . .

    All are called to be defenders of the faith (“apologists”)
    1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

    All are called to be ambassadors
    2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.


    1. Excellent verses, Neil. Especially that last one. To be an ambassador is to know what your President / King believes and to be careful and tactful in how you present it to others, in order to promote the goals of the person that you represent.


  2. I guess it depends on the type of crowd you run with, but I wouldn’t be able to dissociate sharing my faith from apologetics. If you want to share your faith, you are usually asked some type of question, and that requires apologetics.

    I attended IVCF as an undergrad too. As I reflect back, I too have to admit that I never heard an apologetics message. I see now what a mistake that was, especially in a university setting. We need to engage, discuss, and rationally present our case, not retreat.


    1. In my case, they actively opposed me from showing debates and the top history student from bringing in professors to lecture to us on the resurrection. This is active opposition, not mere neglect.


      1. Yeah, that sounds worse. What reasons did they give? That it would be divisive? Or were they nervous about having to later answer questions? You obviously were going to bring in professionals, so that would have answered part of their concern about the special gift.


        1. Well, it’s hard for me to speculate about their motives, but I will say that the proposals put forward by Todd and I and others were shot down by the leadership, and the activities we did end up doing were “prayer walks”, subjective testimonies by postmodern relativists who denied Hell, and bake sales. So you can judge for yourself where their priorities were. Debate showings could not beat prayer walks. Lecture by history professor on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus could not beat subjective testimonies. It was an either/or situation and we lost every time. Note: right after I graduated the first time, Crusade invited William Lane Craig to debate on campus and I was the sponsor and the time-keeper. So there was something.


  3. I’m confused. Is there a difference?

    By the way, the command to take the gospel to all the world was not to one or two. It was to His disciples. I think, in fact, that there IS no difference. Of course, if one defines “evangelism” as “the mission field” as in “going somewhere else and evangelizing”, that would clearly be a unique calling. We are all called, however, to share the gospel (“evangelism”) where we are, and that must definitely include the defense of the faith. I would vote for “Both!”


  4. Being a youth ministry leader in a young church, I find apologetics necessary. Today, our students have a rather difficult time grasping that Christianity is true. Because of the postmodern culture and secular school system, almost all of my students have adopted a mishmash of religious pluralism and agnosticism, despite growing up in church. Apologetics is the key to dismantling the postmodern view.


  5. Thanks for this, Wintery Knight. Yes, I’ve always found evangelism to be a priority of the church, but then, when apologetics is neglected, you see it most clearly in the downhill slide of society. People start thinking the church doesn’t have answers to issues in the public square. Obviously, both are necessary. I am slightly biased because I am hopeless at evangelism – I never know what to say – but give me paper and pen (or laptop!) to defend Christianity in writing and it’s a completely different matter!


  6. As a person that ran and volunteered in circles extremely similar to those, my observations were scarily worse and similar. Evangelism was exactled, and apologetics was considered “good, lofty, & left the to men.” (yes, I was looked at a “certain kind of way” because women were not supposed to be interested or equipped as apologists.) As a female believer, I saw them both as one in the same. How can I share what I cannot defend and/or support with fact, reason, and truth? I am not relegating testimonies and personal accounts; they’re good-in their proper place. But I have always believed emotionalism and subjectivity has it’s relavance only to a certain point; Reason and evidence have proven themselves timeless. Not to mention, this world is filled with relativism and pluralism; Apologetics filters through the fluff to best reveal absolute truth-and that is the Scriptures. More churches, especially campus ministries, need to bolster and support apologetics as a part of their mission and curricula. We need it….


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