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Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. [1] [2] [3] Early Christian writers (c. 120–220) who defended their beliefs against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called Christian apologists. [4] In 21st-century usage, apologetics is often identified with debates over religion and theology.



The term apologetics derives from the Ancient Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία). [1] In the Classical Greek legal system, the prosecution delivered the kategoria (κατηγορία), the accusation or charge, and the defendant replied with an apologia, the defence. [5] The apologia was a formal speech or explanation to reply to and rebut the charges. A famous example is Socrates' Apologia defense, as chronicled in Plato's Apology.

In the Koine Greek of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul employs the term apologia in his trial speech to Festus and Agrippa when he says "I make my defense" in Acts 26:2. [6] A cognate form appears in Paul's Letter to the Philippians as he is "defending the gospel" in Philippians 1:7, [7] and in "giving an answer" in 1 Peter 3:15. [8]

Although the term apologetics has Western, primarily Christian origins and is most frequently associated with the defense of Christianity, the term is sometimes used referring to the defense of any religion in formal debate involving religion.

Apologetic positions

Baháʼí Faith

Many apologetic books have been written in defence of the history or teachings of the Baháʼí Faith. The religion's founders wrote several books presenting proofs of their religion; among them are the Báb's Seven Proofs and Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán . [9] Later Baháʼí authors wrote prominent apologetic texts, such as Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl's The Brilliant Proof and Udo Schaefer et al.'s Making the Crooked Straight;. [10]


One of the earliest Buddhist apologetic texts is The Questions of King Milinda , which deals with the Buddhist metaphysics such as the "no-self" nature of the individual and characteristics such as of wisdom, perception, volition, feeling, consciousness and the soul. In the mid-19th century, encounters between Buddhists and Christians in Japan prompted the formation of a Buddhist Propagation Society [ citation needed ]. In recent times, A. L. De Silva, an Australian convert to Buddhism, has written a book, Beyond Belief, providing Buddhist apologetic responses and a critique of Christian Fundamentalist doctrine. [11] Gunapala Dharmasiri wrote an apologetic critique of the Christian concept of God from a Theravadan Buddhist perspective. [12]


The Shield of the Trinity, a diagram frequently used by Christian apologists to explain the Trinity Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.svg
The Shield of the Trinity, a diagram frequently used by Christian apologists to explain the Trinity

Christian apologetics combines Christian theology, natural theology, [13] and philosophy to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, to defend the faith against objections and misrepresentation.

Christian apologetics has taken many forms over the centuries. In the Roman Empire, Christians were severely persecuted, and many charges were brought against them. J. David Cassel [14] gives several examples: Tacitus wrote that Nero fabricated charges that Christians started the burning of Rome. [15] Other charges included cannibalism (due to a literal interpretation of the Eucharist) and incest (due to early Christians' practice of addressing each other as "brother" and "sister"). Paul the Apostle, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and others often defended Christianity against charges that were brought to justify persecution. [16]

Later apologists have focused on providing reasons to accept various aspects of Christian belief. Christian apologists of many traditions, in common with Jews, Muslims, and some others, argue for the existence of a unique and personal God. Theodicy is one important aspect of such arguments, and Alvin Plantinga's arguments have been highly influential in this area. Many prominent Christian apologists are scholarly philosophers or theologians, frequently with additional doctoral work in physics, cosmology, comparative religions, or other fields. Others take a more popular or pastoral approach. Some prominent modern apologists are Douglas Groothuis, Frederick Copleston, John Lennox, Walter R. Martin, Dinesh D'Souza, Douglas Wilson, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Francis Schaeffer, Greg Bahnsen, Edward John Carnell, James White, R.C. Sproul, Hank Hanegraaff, Alister McGrath, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Peter Kreeft, G. K. Chesterton, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Hugh Ross, David Bentley Hart, Gary Habermas, Norman Geisler, Scott Hahn and RC Kunst. [17]

Notable apologists within the Catholic Church include Bishop Robert Barron, [18] G. K. Chesterton, [19] Dr. Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Kenneth Hensley, [20] Karl Keating, Ronald Knox and Peter Kreeft.

John Henry Newman (February 21, 1801 – August 11, 1890) was an English convert to Roman Catholicism, later made a cardinal, and beatified in 2010. In early life he was a major figure in the Oxford Movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots. Eventually his studies in history persuaded him to become a Roman Catholic. When John Henry Newman entitled his spiritual autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua in 1864, he was playing upon both this connotation, and the more commonly understood meaning of an expression of contrition or regret.

Christian apologists employ a variety of philosophical and formal approaches, including ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments. [21] The Christian presuppositionalist approach to apologetics utilizes the transcendental argument for the existence of God. [22]

Tertullian was a notable early Christian apologist. He was born, lived and died in Carthage. He is sometimes known as the "Father of the Latin Church". He introduced the term Trinity (Latin trinitas) to the Christian vocabulary [23] and also probably[ citation needed ] the formula "three Persons, one Substance" as the Latin "tres Personae, una Substantia" (itself from the Koine Greek "treis Hypostaseis, Homoousios"), and also the terms Vetus Testamentum (Old Testament) and Novum Testamentum (New Testament).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There are notable Latter-day Saint apologists who focus on the defense of Mormonism, including early church leaders such as Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage and more modern figures such as Hugh Nibley, Daniel C. Peterson, John L. Sorenson, John Gee, Orson Scott Card, and Jeff Lindsay.

Several well-known Mormon apologetic organizations, such as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (a group of scholars at Brigham Young University) and FairMormon (an independent, Mormon-run, not-for-profit group), have been formed to defend the doctrines and history of the Latter Day Saint movement in general and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in particular.


Deism is a form of theism in which God created the universe and established rationally comprehensible moral and natural laws but no longer intervenes in human affairs. Deism is a natural religion where belief in God is based on application of reason and evidence observed in the designs and laws found in nature. [12] The World Order of Deists maintains a web site presenting deist apologetics that demonstrate the existence of God based on evidence and reason, absent divine revelation.


Hindu apologetics began developing during the British colonial period. A number of Indian intellectuals had become critical of the British tendency to devalue the Hindu religious tradition. As a result, these Indian intellectuals, as well as a handful of British Indologists, were galvanized to examine the roots of the religion as well as to study its vast arcana and corpus in an analytical fashion. This endeavor drove the deciphering and preservation of Sanskrit. Many translations of Hindu texts were produced which made them accessible to a broader reading audience.

A range of Indian philosophers, including Swami Vivekananda and Aurobindo Ghose, have written rational explanations regarding the values of the Hindu religious tradition. More modern proponents such as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi have also tried to correlate recent developments from quantum physics and consciousness research with Hindu concepts. The late Reverend Pandurang Shastri Athavale has given a plethora of discourses regarding the symbolism and rational basis for many principles in the Vedic tradition. In his book The Cradle of Civilization, David Frawley, an American who has embraced the Vedic tradition, has characterized the ancient texts of the Hindu heritage as being like "pyramids of the spirit".


'Ilm al-Kalām, literally "science of discourse", [24] usually foreshortened to kalam and sometimes called Islamic scholastic theology, is an Islamic undertaking born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of Islamic faith against skeptics and detractors. [25] A scholar of kalam is referred to as a mutakallim (plural mutakallimūn) as distinguished from philosophers, jurists, and scientists. [26]


Jewish apologetic literature can be traced back as far as Aristobulus of Paneas, though some discern it in the works of Demetrius the chronographer (3rd century BCE) traces of the style of "questions" and "solutions" typical of the genre. Aristobulus was a Jewish philosopher of Alexandria and the author of an apologetic work addressed to Ptolemy VI Philometor. Josephus's Contra Apion is a wide-ranging defense of Judaism against many charges laid against Judaism at that time, as too are some of the works of Philo of Alexandria. [27] [28]

In response to modern Christian missionaries, and congregations that "are designed to appear Jewish, but are actually fundamentalist Christian churches, which use traditional Jewish symbols to lure the most vulnerable of our Jewish people into their ranks", [29] Jews for Judaism is the largest counter-missionary organization in existence, today. Kiruv Organization (Mizrachi), founded by Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, and Outreach Judaism, founded by Rabbi Tovia Singer, are other prominent international organizations that respond "directly to the issues raised by missionaries and cults, by exploring Judaism in contradistinction to fundamentalist Christianity." [30] [31]


Some pantheists have formed organizations such as the World Pantheist Movement and the Universal Pantheist Society to promote and defend the belief in pantheism. [32]

Native Americans

In a famous speech called "Red Jacket on Religion for the White Man and the Red" in 1805, Seneca chief Red Jacket gave an apologetic for Native American religion. [33]

In literature

Plato's Apology may be read as both a religious and literary apology; however, more specifically literary examples may be found in the prefaces and dedications, which proceed many Early Modern plays, novels, and poems. Eighteenth century authors such as Colley Cibber, Frances Burney, and William Congreve, to name but a few, prefaced the majority of their poetic work with such apologies. In addition to the desire to defend their work, the apologetic preface often suggests the author's attempt to humble his- or herself before the audience. [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

Richard Swinburne English philosopher and Orthodox Christian apologist

Richard Granville Swinburne is an English philosopher. He is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Over the last 50 years Swinburne has been an influential proponent of philosophical arguments for the existence of God. His philosophical contributions are primarily in the philosophy of religion and philosophy of science. He aroused much discussion with his early work in the philosophy of religion, a trilogy of books consisting of The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason.

Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion.

Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths. The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means "faith-ism". Philosophers have identified a number of different forms of fideism.

Christianity and other religions Christianitys relationship with other world religions, and the differences and similarities.

Christianity and other religions documents Christianity's relationship with other world religions, and the differences and similarities.

Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews.

Apology, apologize/apologise, apologist, apologetics, or apologetic may refer to:

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry is a nonprofit, nondenominational Protestant apologetics ministry with an internet and radio outreach. It is involved in evangelism - including full-time support for several foreign missionaries. It is based in the United States and was founded in 1995. Matthew Slick currently serves as president of the ministry. The ministry is registered as a 501(c)3 organization and is headquartered in Nampa, Idaho.

Norman Leo Geisler was an American Christian systematic theologian and philosopher. He was the co-founder of two non-denominational evangelical seminaries.

Greg Bahnsen American theologian and philosopher

Greg L. Bahnsen was an American Calvinist philosopher, apologist, and debater. He was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a full-time Scholar in Residence for the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS). He is also considered a contributor to the field of Christian apologetics, as he popularized the presuppositional method of Cornelius Van Til. He is the father of David L. Bahnsen, an American portfolio manager, author, and television commentator, as well as his first born, Jonathan Bahnsen, and youngest, Michael Bahnsen.

Christian apologetics Branch of Christian theology that defends Christianity against objections

Christian apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that defends Christianity against objections.

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Aristides of Athens 2nd-century Christian Greek author

Aristides the Athenian was a 2nd-century Christian Greek author who is primarily known as the author of the Apology of Aristides. His feast day is August 31 in Roman Catholicism and September 13 in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Apologia Formal defense of an opinion, position, or action

An apologia is a formal defense of an opinion, position or action. The term's current use, often in the context of religion, theology and philosophy, derives from Justin Martyr's First Apology and was later employed by John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua of 1864, which presented a formal defense of the history of his Christian life, leading to his acceptance by the Catholic Church in 1845. In modern usage, apologia describes a formal defense and should not be confused with the sense of the word 'apology' as an expression of regret; however, apology may mean apologia, depending on the context of use.

Robert Passantino

Robert Passantino, was an American author and journalist who wrote on subjects related to Christian apologetics, philosophy, and the Christian countercult movement.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to theology:

Cornelius Van Til Dutch-American philosopher and theologian

Cornelius Van Til was a Dutch-American Calvinist philosopher and theologian, who is credited as being the originator of modern presuppositional apologetics.

Jewish polemics and apologetics in the Middle Ages were texts written to protect and dissuade Jewish communities from conversion to Christianity, or more rarely to Islam. The terms polemics and apologetics may be distinguished but may also be considered somewhat subjective. A smaller number of proselytizing text also exists intended to convert Christians, or more rarely Muslims, to Judaism. However, the vast majority of Jewish polemical literature was written in response to Christian polemical writings and with a permanent reference to Christian arguments.

Within criticism of religion, counter-apologetics is a field of thought that criticizes religious apologetics. Every religious apologist criticizes the defense of other religions, though the term counter-apologetics is frequently applied to criticism of religion in general by freethinkers and atheists. Luke Muehlhauser, the former executive director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, defines counter-apologetics as "a response to Christian apologetics...examining the claims and tactics of Christian apologists and then equipping [a thinker] with skeptical responses to them".


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