Can you dispense with apologetics and just preach the gospel when evangelizing?

I found this post by another apologetics-enabled pastor thanks to a tweet from J. Warner Wallace.

I’m going to quote the whole thing in full:

There are those who wholly question the enterprise of Christian apologetics.  They assert that God will call those whom he chooses, and apologetics is just a distraction to the work of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of God.  This was Karl Barth’s position.

The idea is prima facie nonsense.  When a missionary travels to another country to proclaim the gospel, she learns the language of the people so as to communicate in terms that they understand.  Apologetics is simply the language the secular world uses to talk about God.  To say we shouldn’t practice a rational defense of the Christian faith is like saying the missionary need not study language, because the Holy Spirit can do whatever it wants.

When I was a junior in high school, a church youth group in which I was participating took me to a weekend retreat in hopes of setting up camp in my heart.  This was in Southeast Texas, and the only people who ran Christian camps there were Baptists.  I remember listening to a firey preacher say quite a bit about hellfire, and I spent a good deal of time after his lectures asking him questions.  Admittedly, I had not read the Bible, and he had.  The Jesus I wanted to talk about was a projection of the niceties I most enjoyed.  He was frustrated with me.  I’m sure I was not particularly respectful or informed or interesting to him.  And after what was probably a lot of patience, he said to me, “Sometimes you have to stop doubting and just believe.” Of course this was a wasted answer on a thinking person.  It was an act of the missionary saying, “I’m tired of learning your language.”

Compassion requires translation.  We must be about the work of addressing hard questions with meaningful answers.  And the cause of Christian apologetics will always be essential.

Oh, what a world it would be if every pastor was like this. It would be a different world.

Here’s a related post I found in Brian Auten’s Weekly Apologetics Bonus Links.


And Tim Keller wrote, in his book, The Reason for God, “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.” Whenever we doubt, whenever we question, we are philosophers.

This is also true of evangelism and apologetics – we are all evangelists, we are all apologists;  although many wish to distinguish between the two, there is no distinction, for every time we  clarify our beliefs to a sceptic, we are defending it from misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The Apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 3:

 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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.”

Here evangelism, apologetics, righteous behaviour and worship are all woven together into one seamless whole – “if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake”;  “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy”; “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone”; “the hope that is in you”; “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience”; it is how we are called to live.

This, indeed, is the role of the church, and we all have our part to play.

Unfortunately our time is often wasted: too many Evangelicals engage in endless debate about worship styles (or, more accurately, musical styles), because, we say, we must find ways of attracting people to church so that we might preach the gospel to them. We organise and promote endless programmes to the same end – fashionable attempts to catch the attention of a fashionable fickle world. Some, perhaps, have merit, and some, perhaps, are reached; but sooner or later we must explain what we believe, why we believe it and why unbelievers don’t; and, we must learn to do this on ‘their’ turf, in terms they understand.

There’s that view again, that preaching the gospel without any evidence to strangers is what causes them to become Christians. Just bring them to church and preach at them – that will turn Muslims and Hindus into Christians, they tell us. I don’t think it works, though.

I was just having a chat with a certain lady who lives in the South who was explaining to me about what a poor job Christians are doing (in general) of evangelizing down there. Apparently, they are often doing one of three things. 1) they ask people to come to church, 2) they ask people to read the Bible, or 3) they preach the bare gospel message to them and hope that this will magically work to convince people to become Christians.

I think that sometimes Christians can be so enveloped in their own culture that they forget how to talk to people from outside that culture. In fact when you look at those 3 approaches, the main common denominator seems to be a complete unwillingness to inquire into the person’s current views and life situation. Instead of trying to have some context in which to maneuver, the popular approach seems to be to dismiss all of that inquiring into the other person’s views. And even if the questions are asked about where the other person is coming from, then there is still work that needs to be done to answer those questions. Work that isn’t being done in many cases.

I think that the most common Biblical model agrees with this, too. In the Bible, if you could authenticate your message using miracles, then you did that, as with Jesus and the paralytic. If you couldn’t do miracles, then you pointed to other miracles that someone else had done, like Peter in Acts. But always you were aware and informed about what your opponents believed, in order to counter them, like Jesus vs the Sadducees, or Paul vs the Greeks. I think we need to do better than just expecting that people will believe you based on your say-so instead of having non-rational and rational objections that need to be addressed first.

16 thoughts on “Can you dispense with apologetics and just preach the gospel when evangelizing?”

  1. I don’t see how you can do evangelism without some apologetics, especially in our culture. As I like to remind people:

    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.


  2. Excellent post. I am sure that some people come to Jesus in the churches – I just know that I was not one of them, and I am pretty sure I could not have been one of them. “Blind faith” just was not an option for me because I worshipped science and intellectual thought and, of course, myself, prior to becoming a Christian and believing the Bible. So, you couldn’t start with the Bible with me – because I was as anti-Bible as I was anti-Christian, maybe more so.

    Now there was some ‘heart’ aspect of my conversion. I do think that I had to recognize the hole in my soul in order to be open to Jesus and the Bible at all. So, it is valid to ask (in a secular sense) a strong intellectual unbeliever if they felt something missing in their life or not. I always ask those types of individuals if the things they gravitate toward – intellectual achievements, thought-provoking books, movies, money, sex, etc – are actually fulfilling them beyond about 3 days.

    After a traumatic violent episode on a public university campus, I even ‘witnessed’ to an engineering classroom on this subject, by asking how long everyone in there had been ‘filled with joy’ by their attainment of undergrad and graduate degrees. When everyone confirmed what I had experienced (days, weeks, possibly a few months for those initials after my name), I told them that SOMETHING or SOMEONE must be missing from their lives, because if, after so many years of incredibly hard and dedicated work, their accomplishments dissipate in such a short period of time, then intellectual attainments cannot be IT! (Not to mention that you might be gunned down before you even get there.)


    1. Wow, this is an approach I’d never considered! What a thought provoking question to ask people, especially those who are ‘high achievers’ in the world. Thanks!


    2. Thanks for your testimony. I agree with your viewpoint. I am praying for atheist loved ones in my immediate family, that the Lord will by-pass their closed minds and hardened hearts, and touch them spiritually. They are not open to apologetics or any discussion. Intellectual or mental assent does not touch the heart or quicken the spirit. I have found apologetics mostly useful as a defence of my faith, but then my gifting is for evangelising children rather than adults.
      While I didn’t have a closed mind or a hardened heart when I came to faith in Jesus Christ – in fact I had (unwittingly) been seeking the Lord as he drew me to himself. However, I do tend to rationalise, so the Lord bypassed my mind and awakened my spirit. While reading a testimony (long story how I came to be doing that), I had an unexpected and powerful spiritual experience during which I had revelation regarding the Gospel, came under conviction of my sin and was brought to repentance and surrender to Jesus Christ, That experience has enabled me to stand strong in the face of attacks on my faith, including being told I’ve been brain-washed, that I’m deluded, or that it was just an electro-chemical process in my brain! (This is the short version).

      “Not by (human) might, nor by (human) power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord.


      1. Thanks for the kind words. When I get told I’m brain-washed by my family, I always ask them how that happened, since I wasn’t in a church at the time of my conversion – I wasn’t in any group at all, I was all alone – except for being in the Presence of the Creator of the universe! I ask them if somehow I brain-washed myself – not an easy trick! Then, I gently (hopefully!) ask them if it is possible that they are actually the ones who are brainwashed – by a world that is clearly and un-mistakenly falling away. It is a good conversation starter anyway.

        I do also like to point out to my atheist friends and family that one of us is wrong, and that, since life is short, we will soon find out which one it is. If the atheist is correct, then neither atheist nor believer will ever never know it, because after physical death, we are in for the “long sleep,” as Carl Sagan put it. If, on the other hand, the Christian is correct, then we will ALL know it, and it won’t just be a matter of the fact that we are in markedly different places. The one who finds himself in the wrong place is going to have the ultimate and eternal regret of knowing that he was given the truth and rejected it.

        I call this difference in knowing or not knowing our ultimate state when we are in it “asymmetry of ultimate knowledge,” since atheists like to think of themselves as more knowledgeable than us “brain-washed” Christians. :-)


  3. yep. i became a christian at 15 ’cause i read a book explaining doctrine. i was raised in the church but no one could answer my questions. all i got from youth group was Jesus loves you and don’t have sex which wasn’t adaquite for my analytical mind.


    1. Go, Rachel! Can you share with us the title of the book or more on the type of book that helped you. It might be helpful to us in our witnessing.


      1. It was Without a Doubt by Ken Samples (his first book) that helped me understand what Christianity teaches.


  4. I am lost as to how evangelism and apologetics got separated as categories to begin with!

    Apologetics is simply making a defense for the gospel – in other words, showing why it’s factually, objectively TRUE and therefore you should believe it.

    If the gospel is not true and if you can’t tell people WHY it’s true, why on earth would you then expect people to believe it and dedicate their lives (and eternity!) to it?

    That’s like having a criminal trial where neither the prosecuting side nor the defense side are required to present evidence in support of their view, and then expecting the jury to make a proper verdict. How can they do so when they’ve not been given anything upon which to base a decision?

    For the life of me I don’t understand this mentality.

    Jesus didn’t ask anyone to believe Him based on just His words. Anyone can claim this or that. He healed people. He fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish. He reminded people of prophecies fulfilled. He went to the OT and expounded on it. He gave people REASONS to believe Him.

    The same is true for Paul. He also used the OT. He used the philosophies of the people he was speaking with. In acts we often read that he reasoned with people. How can you do that unless you’re giving people REASONS to believe what you are saying? Acts 19 says that God even did miracles through Paul, such as healings. Again, there were REASONS why people could believe his words.

    Again, if the claims of Scripture and of Christ are not factually, objectively true, and if we can’t offer people at least SOME reasons as to why that is so… what on earth are we doing when we say we are “preaching the gospel”? Because truly, I don’t know what is meant by the term if it does not encompass all I’ve said above.


    1. All I know is that when I go to church, I get the distinct idea that people believe that conversion takes place by reading the Bible to people. I don’t understand why no one understands that this doesn’t actually work in practice. Because it doesn’t.


      1. Well, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it doesn’t work at all. God’s Word is powerful and does convict people, sometimes in quite amazing ways!

        But generally speaking, people do need a reason to believe that what it says is true, and that’s what we as Christians are called to do.

        That’s especially true in cultures (like American culture) where people have been force-fed lies for generations about what the Bible says and teaches.

        And yes, it is the Christians who are against apologetics that drive me INSANE. I didn’t even know there could exist such persons… until I began hearing from them!


    2. I think for some Christians, the issue is: should we use extra-Biblical reasonings in our approach. I say we should use both in general, but also that we should consider the audience. If the person is a rabid anti-Christian like I was, it not only would have been ineffective to start with the Bible, I am sure I would have immediately walked away. In fact, I did. For decades.

      I never considered the possibility that there were good reasons for becoming a Christian that were not found in the Bible. I just assumed it was “blind faith” by weak people relying on fictional literature. So, I think it has to be tailored for the audience. I am sure that there are some unbelievers who are more open to the Bible than I was, in which case we can use Biblical arguments to show the beauty, joyful rewards, and compelling case for Christianity.

      And, none of this presupposes that we can’t also be using extra-Biblical apologetics to defend the authenticity of the Bible. To me, that is the logical place to start when defending the Bible, because strong anti-Christians have a problem with using the Bible to confirm the Bible. But, I do want to say that, from this side of the fence, the self-attestation of the Bible is tremendously powerful stuff, and a worthy apologetic in itself – primarily for the building up and encouragement of believers.


      1. “should we use extra-Biblical reasonings in our approach.”

        I found this way of framing the issue very helpful. If this is the concern of some Christians, then I can better understand and appreciate their concerns.

        But when Christians say “apologetics shouldn’t be used” I take it to mean that we shouldn’t give any explanations of any kind for why we believe what we believe. And I have actually heard some Christians outright state this. it’s the, “You just have to believe!” approach, which is unhelpful, as you yourself described.


        Your comment was very well stated and i agree wholeheartedly.


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