Tom Gilson

Strategic Apologetics: New Initiatives For An Integrated Long-Term Approach

Dual Announcement!

Announcing the formation of a strategic apologetics interest community in the southwest Ohio/Tri-state area — Cincinnati, Dayton, and surrounding areas.

Announcing the launch of a new study into strategic apologetics.

See the end of this blog post, “Relational Perspective Revisited,” for more on both initiatives and how to join in.

Strategic Apologetics: An Integrated Long-Term View

Early in 2009, while I was working as an internal strategic planning consultant for Cru, I began asking God a new question in prayer. I had a strong interest in apologetics at the time, but was not much involved with apologetics leadership. The question was whether to pursue an initiative to unite strategy with apologetics.

The answer God gave was a resounding “Yes!” Since then I have discovered, obviously enough in retrospect, that I was far from the first person to wonder about strategy and apologetics. I’ve learned a lot from observing others’ strategic successes in the church (I wrote a chapter on one such success, Matthew Burford, in A New Kind of Apologist) and from observing all the questions and answers bubbling up on Facebook and in places like Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 website.

One question in particular has been asked over and over again: how to get apologetics into the church. In all this time I have yet to see a comprehensive strategy aiming toward that objective, integrating theological, missiological, cultural, and practical concerns in one place, and taking a long-term goal-oriented perspective.

It’s time we did the work to build that strategy. What I mean by that may be unfamiliar to many, so I’m going to lay out an example in the form of several perspectives I think a fully integrated strategy must include.

I. Situational Perspective:

Simply put, the other side is advancing its ideas with great success through its hold on the “microphone”: they can get their message out rapidly and easily through the media, education, arts, etc.

We, on the other hand, have an almost ridiculously massive ground organization: the Church. But it’s underequipped and nowhere near fully deployed, so we’re losing ground — which is leading to spiritual death for many individuals, and cultural demise for a generation here in the West.

II. Theological Perspective

Apologetics belongs in the church. It’s essential to evangelism and to spiritual formation.

In just what way, though, does it belong in the church? I suspect the key to that question is in the Bible’s teaching on spiritual gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. Obviously not every Christian has every spiritual gift, but I believe it’s safe to say (even if I cannot prove it biblically) that every church of any size at all should be manifesting all the gifts through individuals within the church. (Cessationists would exclude the sign gifts, but that debate has little significance to the point I’m making here.)

For example, not every Christian has a gift of compassion or mercy, but most churches have at least one member with that gift, who is likely to be manifesting it through ministries of caring. They don’t have to do all the caring; in fact, every one of us, with or without that gift, is called to participate. But not every one of us is called to lead and to organize it. We need someone else to provide vehicles for us, to help us find ways to care that we might not discover on our own.

Similarly with apologetics: It’s not a good idea to expect most church members to understand the evidences and arguments, beyond a very basic level. But every church member should know that there’s a gifted, ministry-oriented member among them who can teach and who can be a source of answers when answers are needed.

That’s a minimum level of apologetics equipping needed by every church, and it’s one way apologists could articulate our goals for equipping every church with apologetics: to place and equip that one person in every church.

That’s not to say it’s a statement of the entire need. It’s a minimum-level goal. Beyond that, as God allows apologists the opportunity, every church member (especially youth) should receive enough teaching and training so that they (a) know for sure that good answers exist, even if they can’t always articulate those answers, and (b) know enough beyond that to be able actually to use the answers in evangelism and defense of the faith.

That’s how I see it based on my understanding of Bible and strategy today. If I’m right about this, then apologetics strategy should focus on:

  1. Finding and equipping at least one apologetically gifted person for every church, and
  2. Helping churches understand how best to use that person as a teacher, evangelist and encourager.

(Among other things, of course)

III. Missiological Perspective

Missionaries train to understand their host culture’s questions and to give biblically sound, persuasive answers in the local language. That’s exactly what apologetics does. Our problem in the West may be that we haven’t recognized that we are missionaries to a foreign host culture with its own questions that we can answer biblically, persuasively, and in language our listeners can grasp. Apologists need to learn from missionaries and missiologists. We need to let their knowledge and experience inform our strategy.

IV. Relational Perspective

Maybe it’s my grad studies in Organizational Psychology coming to the fore here, but I believe many of us could do a lot better in finding ways to motivate and encourage leaders to promote apologetics in the church. It starts (in many cases if not all) with a strong, trusting relationship with one pastor whose encouragement can open doors.

Apologists need relational encouragement. We are (pardon me) not famous for being the warmest, most gracious and relational people in all of Christianity. Most of us could stand to grow in that. Meanwhile, though, many of us are lonely: we’re the only people in our church who seem to care much about the things we find so important. We feel isolated, probably because we are isolated. We feel equipped in our apologetics craft but not what it seems to take for our craft to be accepted in our churches.

In my view, therefore, we need to gather in community-wide networks to encourage one another in the ministry of apologetics. This is distinct from the arguments, evidences, and other tools of apologetics we usually talk about when we meet together. It’s not about apologetics per se, it’s about effective ministry through apologetics.

V. Training Perspective

Finally we arrive at the place where most apologists begin: the material we want to teach, and the people we want to teach it to. This must be church-friendly in all the ways listed above, it must be educationally appropriate, and its long-term view should be toward training, including simulations and practice opportunities, not just the imparting of information.

VI. Relational Perspective Revisited

Regarding the dual announcements above:

  1. Because of my convictions regarding relationally encouraging one another, I am beginning today to seek and to gather a network of local apologists in the Cincinnati/Dayton/Tri-State region where I live. If you live in this area please contact me for meeting information.
  2. I’m also building an online Christian Leadership Forum, mostly to help leaders unite for a wise, knowledgeable, and biblically-motivated response to contemporary Western culture’s unfamiliar challenges. That forum will include space for serious work to be done in a virtual environment on issues like this one.Membership will be by invitation. Messages to specific invitees will be going out over the course of several weeks as the site develops a footing.It’s currently at an alpha stage of development: probably ready to go, but needing input. Admin help would be welcome. Join in on the ground floor by contacting me for more information.

Image Credit(s): pshutterbug.

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

Purchase Here!

More on the book...


Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

Recent Comments

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy

%d bloggers like this: