Christian Apologetics: Truth, Love, and Faith Conversations

graphic of three shields to represent faith, truth, and love

Have you ever encountered difficult questions about God or the Bible while sharing your faith? If so, you already realize the importance of being able to give thoughtful responses to challenges like: “If God exists, why is there evil in the world?” or, “Doesn’t the Bible demean women?”

Although many Christians have sought out answers to questions like these, some approaches invite an unbeliever closer to considering the truth of the gospel. Others can turn people off to even continuing a conversation about Christianity.

Here, we’ll explore five key questions for Christians new to apologetics so they can confidently approach sharing the truth.

  1. What is Christian apologetics?
  2. Who should practice apologetics?
  3. What is the purpose of Christian apologetics?
  4. How do we see apologetic engagement portrayed in the Scriptures?
  5. How should we engage in spiritual conversations?

    Books & courses to help you study apologetics

What is Christian apologetics?

Center for Public Christianity director Joshua Chatraw and executive director of the Center for Apologetics at Liberty University Mark Allen have this practical view in mind as they define apologetics: “The practice of offering an appeal and a defense for the Christian faith.”1

This definition highlights both the positive (or offensive) aspect of apologetics and the negative (or defensive) aspect of apologetics.

  • The appeal refers to giving positive reasons to believe that Christianity is true (e.g., evidence for God’s existence or the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection).
  • The defense refers to explaining how a person can reasonably believe Christian truth claims despite challenges raised up against them (e.g., the problem of evil or the idea that Jesus was merely a mythological figure).

My definition of apologetics captures the practical outworking of this discipline:

Apologetics is the ministry of explaining the Christian faith with both courage and compassion.

This brings together the concepts of apologetics, truth, and love which reflect a biblical theology of cultural engagement. While courage refers to a firm stance on Christian truth claims, compassion refers to a loving, person-centered approach that seeks dialog rather than debate.

Still, perhaps the simplest definition of apologetics is “a defense.” The word “apologetics” is derived from a Greek word which appears in 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense ἀπολογία (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (All Scripture quotes in this article are ESV.)

Here, “make a defense” refers to providing a reasoned response to questions about the faith and an explanation of our hope in Christ. It is this hope that fuels our desire to share the good news of Jesus with those who have yet to embrace God or his message. It is this same hope that should fuel our resolve to stand firm in the midst of challenges.

Who should practice apologetics?

Jude 3 says “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” This applied whether believers were talking to other Christians at gatherings or out in the world.

Apologetics is a task which the Scriptures enjoin upon all believers. It is not a call exclusively for pastors and other Christian leaders.

What is the purpose of Christian apologetics?

Apologetics can help us strengthen our faith and attract unbelievers to Jesus. Lincoln Memorial University Professor of Philosophy and Religion Stephen Cowan highlights two goals of apologetics:

[Apologetics is] an intellectual discipline that is usually said to serve at least two purposes: (1) to bolster the faith of Christian believers, and (2) to aid in the task of evangelism.2

If you’re like most Christians, your first goal might be to gain a greater personal confidence in the truth claims of the Christian faith. After this, a secondary purpose might be to help your skeptical friends or neighbors begin to consider the gospel message. This is what Norman Geisler had in mind when he said apologetics is: “opening the door, clearing the rubble, and getting rid of the hurdles so that people can come to Christ.”3

This means seeing apologetics as a loving ministry. Approaching apologetics in this way means listening to people to understand them—not just to order to prepare a refutation or response.

I recently had a conversation with an Uber driver who asked about my line of work.

He told me he wasn’t religious but had all kinds of questions: “Where is God?”; “Why doesn’t Jesus show up on earth today?”; “Wasn’t the Bible changed?”

Instead of trying to win anything or go into “debate mode,” I listened to his concerns about religion and stories about his struggles in coming to America. I asked clarifying questions, shared my story of moving from the Philippines to the United States, and even resonated with some of his concerns.

Eventually, he said something like, “How can I get the truth about Jesus and not just believe what people say?” I recommended reading the Gospels for himself, but he didn’t know the names of the canonical Gospels. Seeing this conversation as a ministry, I took the time to patiently explain what the Gospels are and where he could find them in the Bible. I helped him understand basic Christian teachings like the humanity and deity of Jesus. At the end of the ride, he thanked me for “the consultation” and “history lessons,” as he put it, and wished me well in my work. I prayed for him silently as I exited his vehicle and left the results of that encounter to God.

If we want people to listen to our stories and ideas, then we must first be willing to listen to their stories and ideas. When we listen to people’s thoughts about God, we are being given a window into their souls—and a view into their concerns which may connect to the gospel. Seeing apologetics as ministry also means respectfully engaging in genuine dialog­­—not debate.

Finally, this approach entails explaining the truth of the Christian faith in a way that helps people work through their doubts and the challenges of radical skepticism, postmodern relativism, or other systems contrary to the faith. But what does engagement actually look like?

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How do we see apologetic engagement portrayed in the Scriptures?

Biblical examples of apologetics include appeals to evidence as well as good deeds. In terms of appealing to evidence, Paul often explained that Jesus was the Messiah.

In Acts 17:2–4, Luke notes that Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and many women in Thessalonica were persuaded that Paul’s message was true. Here, he spent three days in a Jewish synagogue reasoning from the Scriptures “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” and demonstrating that “Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (v. 3).

Paul’s approach to people in Athens shows his ability to contextualize his message in light of his audience’s concerns. Despite being provoked at the sight of a city “full of idols” (v. 16), he compliments their quest for spirituality (v. 22), quotes a familiar saying about Zeus, and uses the words of a Greek poet, Aratus, in his appeal (v. 28). This is an example of seeing apologetics as a ministry—service—that connects truth with love.

Jesus brought truth and love together in his ministry. He healed a paralytic to demonstrate both compassion and to validate his claim to have authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1–12). The ultimate validation of Jesus’s claims about himself would be his death and resurrection (Luke 11:29). After Jesus rose from the dead, “he presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

Craig Hazen notes:

Jesus demonstrated the truth of his message and his identity over and over again, using nearly every method at his disposal, including miracle, prophecy, godly style of life, authoritative teaching and reasoned argumentation.4

In terms of good deeds of love and kindness, the church was meant to be a contrastive community that displayed a transformative faith. Jesus said “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:13–16). He prayed for the church: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

Your good deeds can give unbelievers pause and invite them to see that Jesus is worth following. Seeing Christians who sacrifice for one another or live in unity despite their differences can spark curiosity about Jesus. This is especially important in our current cultural context, where most people will not care about the truth of Christianity until they are first persuaded that Christianity is relevant and good. What can love and kindness look like in terms of cultural engagement?

How should we engage in spiritual conversations?

To obey the command in 1 Peter 3:15, we must be willing to do two things.

  • We must do the hard work of studying apologetics so we can not only have more confidence in the Scriptures, but be prepared to share reasons for our faith.
  • We must do the hard work of seeking to understand other people, including their struggles and concerns, so we can have better spiritual conversations.

In this, we need to see apologetics as a way to serve people. This helps us not lose sight of the stipulation that our apologetic engagement must be done with “gentleness and respect.”

My mentor Darrell Bock, executive director of cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary, helped me think through the relationship of apologetics and cultural engagement through focusing on a number of New Testament texts. These were formative for me in developing a biblical theology of engagement.

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Verses about apologetics

These eight cultural engagement texts speak to the way we should interact with unbelievers and explain what we believe about Jesus.5

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.
—1 Peter 3:15

While most encounter 1 Peter 3:15 in discussion about apologetics, not many realize that it appears in a broader context which highlights the manner in which God tells us to engage. It can be easy to miss Peter’s focus on the hope that is a key part of the text—a positive message which should always be presented in a positive way.

In apologetic discussions, it can be difficult to balance two things:

  • The way in which the gospel inherently challenges us all
  • The gospel invitation

We should avoid exclusively focusing on critiquing non-Christian faiths or practices. Instead, keep Christ at the center of the conversation. We should also demonstrate how our hope in Christ not only affects our future, but our present attitudes and actions.6

Emphasizing Peter’s call to “make a defense” while minimizing his command to engage “with gentleness and respect” is to miss a key part of his message. Ask God to help you genuinely care about someone before you engage and minister to them. While it can sometimes seem difficult to love certain people, a truly Christian apologetic should never approach an encounter looking for a fight, being fearful, or resenting the other person.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul presents the way in which we should serve others as a result of the gospel message. God reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us a ministry of reconciliation (vv. 18–19):

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

In verse 20, he shares an image of our position as believers:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

An ambassador works for peace while representing his or her nation and the leader of that nation. As Christ’s ambassadors, we must also work for peace and reconciliation between God and the people around us. Further, we represent our Lord and his church before our earthly citizenship, political identity, or ethnic group. We see ourselves as citizens of a multicultural, redeemed community first.7

When I was serving as a missionary professor with Converge Worldwide in the Philippines, Kristie Kenney was the US ambassador to the Philippines. I noted her public appearances to build goodwill among the people in our city. For example, she stopped by a local McDonald’s to talk with the employees and customers and show her support for an American brand. The image of her at this restaurant embedded itself firmly in my mind as an illustration of how Christians represent Christ in our world. She did not spend all her time living at the US embassy. She connected with Filipinos and dialoged with them in the public square.

Just as ambassadors engage with their host culture, we must also take the initiative to dialog with the people around whom we live. While we do this, we communicate our message of reconciliation through words and deeds.

While our call is to represent the Lord and make our appeal on his behalf, Paul’s language of “imploring” or “pleading” with people to be reconciled to God leaves no room for condescending speech. In verse 21, he mentions that it is Christ who changes people: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Thus, Christ’s ambassadors can be faithful representatives and leave the results to God.

Still, Christian truth claims do challenge common ways of thinking about life. How should we approach the worldview contrast?

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
—2 Corinthians 10:4

In 2 Corinthians 10:4–5, Paul writes that we are in a spiritual battle which requires spiritual weapons:

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Here, people are not portrayed as targets. The nature of the strongholds that can be destroyed by our spiritual weapons clarify the metaphor. If “we destroy arguments,” part of our arsenal includes clear thinking that can expose deceptive philosophies and lies about God that hinder people from considering the gospel, knowing God, and receiving eternal life.

We will return to Paul’s concept of the spiritual war shortly. For now, it is worth nothing that these resources must be used with respect. Talbot School of Theology Research Professor of Philosophy William Lane Craig used to sign his books with 2 Corinthians 10:4 as a subscript. However, he recognized a problem with using this verse. Craig was one of my teachers and once said this:

It could lead certain younger, naive apologists to the impression that apologetics is all about arguing, and tearing things down and taking captive; so they become quarrelsome, aggressive, obnoxious, or proud. This is not at all what the intention of the Christian apologist ought to be.8

He chose to use another verse to highlight the connection of truth and love: Ephesians 4:15.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
—Ephesians 4:15

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes that Christians shouldn’t be easily swayed by deceptive ideas.

This includes living a lifestyle of truth and love that leads to spiritual maturity. Since we mature through truth and love, we must avoid false ideas and unloving attitudes which hinder our discipleship and evangelism. “Speaking the truth in love” is part of becoming more like Christ. As we do this, gentleness and respect can become a natural part of our conversations.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
—Ephesians 6:12

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul again mentions the spiritual battle.

This is a reminder that people are not our enemies. Our conversations should never feel like we are in hand-to-hand combat. Instead, we must stand firm and resist the devil (vv. 11, 13). Because we are engaged in a spiritual battle, we need God’s strength and his resources (v. 10). Paul uses the metaphor of armor made up of truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God (vv. 13–18).

Our mission is not to seek and destroy. Rather, it is to rescue people from deceptive spirits who go undetected in people’s lives. The way we go about doing that is not to adopt the strategies of so many in the popular culture. No, we must engage with integrity, grace, and respect.9

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.
—2 Timothy 2:24–25

2 Timothy 2 records Paul’s advice to Timothy, a young pastor. He tells him to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” and to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels (vv. 22–23).

Then, he writes exhibiting kindness, perseverance, and gentleness—even when engaging with those who oppose the gospel (vv. 24–25).

Here is another reminder that it is God who grants repentance. We are not responsible for anyone’s response to the Christian message.10

While the gospel itself may cause offense, may it never be conduct unbecoming an ambassador of Christ that causes the offense. Quarrelsome debates rarely end well for either party.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
—Colossians 4:5–6

In Paul’s final remarks to the Colossians, he says believers must make the most of the time.

Maturing in Christ will affect a believer’s public life. The wisdom of our actions, informed by God’s commands, will often contrast with what the world calls “wisdom.” Seasoning our words with salt suggests our words might acts as a pure, penetrating, and preserving element in society.

Paul’s command to be gracious is in effect at all times. This is similar to Peter’s command to display “gentleness and respect” in 1 Peter 3. On both counts, we must be gracious in our conversations with unbelievers.11

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
—Galatians 6:10

We must demonstrate love for our neighbors by doing good to everyone. Darrell Bock connects this to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–35), which exhorted people to be neighborly rather than seek definitions which exclude certain people from the definition of “neighbor.”12

Beyond words, we must do good to all people, especially—but not exclusively—to Christians. Our unity, love, and kindness within the community of believers should show the difference the gospel makes in our lives, but so should our engagement with unbelievers.

The love we show each other in the church and those outside the church can play a powerful role in the way our message is received.

For example, an agnostic who cares about issues of justice may be given pause by seeing believers working with unbelievers to bring more justice into the world. This, in turn, could allow the agnostic to be more open to hear what drives Christian ethics and consider the possibility that objective moral values and duties are more compatible with the Christian worldview than naturalism.


As we represent Jesus and respond to challenges to our faith, we must adopt the attitude of a Christian ambassador. As part of our discipleship to Jesus, let us study apologetics to gain a greater personal confidence in Christian truth and help unbelievers consider the gospel message.

Books & courses to help you study apologetics

Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness

Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness

Regular price: $27.99

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Five Views on Apologetics (Counterpoints)

Five Views on Apologetics (Counterpoints)

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An Introduction to Christian Worldview

An Introduction to Christian Worldview

Regular price: $19.99

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Cultural Intelligence: Living for God in a Diverse, Pluralistic World

Cultural Intelligence: Living for God in a Diverse, Pluralistic World

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Mere Apologetics

Mere Apologetics

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CSB Apologetics Study Bible Notes

CSB Apologetics Study Bible Notes

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Mobile Ed: AP101 Introducing Apologetics (5 hour course)

Mobile Ed: AP101 Introducing Apologetics (5 hour course)

Regular price: $189.99

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Mobile Ed: Apologetics Bundle (4 courses)

Mobile Ed: Apologetics Bundle (4 courses)

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Mobile Ed: AP113 Objections to the Gospels (6 hour course)

Mobile Ed: AP113 Objections to the Gospels (6 hour course)

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Mobile Ed: AP211 Show and Tell: Apologetics in the Postmodern Context (6 hour course)

Mobile Ed: AP211 Show and Tell: Apologetics in the Postmodern Context (6 hour course)

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  1. Joshua Chatraw and Mark Allen, Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 17.
  2. Steven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2000), 8.
  3. Quoted in Francis J. Beckwith, J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, eds., To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 9.
  4. Craig J. Hazen, “Defending a Defense of the Faith,” in Beckwith et al., To Everyone an Answer, 39.
  5. Apart from my commentary on 2 Corinthians 10:4 and Ephesians 4:15, the texts selected for this section came out of a series of personal conversations with Darrell Bock. For more details, see chapter 1 of Darrell L. Bock, Cultural Intelligence: Living for God in a Diverse, Pluralistic World (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020).
  6. Bock, Cultural Intelligence, 16–21.
  7. Bock, Cultural Intelligence, 25–30.
  8. Mikel Del Rosario, “What William Lane Craig Taught Me About Truth, Love, & Apologetics,” Apologetics Guy, June 9, 2010.
  9. For more detail, see Bock, Cultural Intelligence, 11–16.
  10. Bock, Cultural Intelligence, 30–32.
  11. Bock, Cultural Intelligence, 22.
  12. Bock, Cultural Intelligence, 23–25.
Written by
Mikel Del Rosario

Dr. Mikel Del Rosario helps Christians explain the faith with courage and compassion. He is an Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at Moody Bible Institute. He has published over 30 journal articles on apologetics and cultural engagement in Bibliotheca Sacra with his mentor, Dr. Darrell Bock. Del Rosario holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics with highest honors from Biola University, along with a Master of Theology (Th.M) and a Ph.D in Biblical Studies (Emphasis in New Testament Studies) from Dallas Theological Seminary where he served as Cultural Engagement Manager, producing and hosting the seminary's Table podcast.

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Written by Mikel Del Rosario
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