Skip to Content

Apologetics without Attack




We’ve all seen it—apologetics gone attack.

A Thanksgiving dinner conversation about how our faith drives voting decisions turns into a fiery political debate. A class discussion on an author’s religious views spirals into accusatory ridicule between students. A social media post turns into comment after comment of half-informed, emotionally charged, rashly-typed responses. And my suspicion is that you and I have yet to see these be effective for the gospel. 

So what if it looked different? What if we didn’t enter apologetics with the fear (or defensiveness) of expecting combative attacks? What if our conversations—even when they ended with both people still holding firmly to opposing beliefs—were marked by reasonable open-mindedness, sincere desires to grow in understanding, commitments to upholding truth, and respect for others’ experiences and intelligence as fellow image-bearers of God? (Genesis 1:27)

Scripture tells us to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us, but to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Our conversations are to be full of grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6-7) as we seek to imitate Jesus, who was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). 

So, how do we approach apologetics in a godly manner?

1. See with love. 

Scripture tells us that even our best words—in this case, our best apologetical arguments—are no better than clanging cymbals or resounding gongs if they aren’t rooted in and delivered with love (1 Corinthians 13:1). And if love is the first attribute Paul mentions in describing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), we need to begin by praying for the Spirit to cultivate the fruit of love in us as only He can—fruit that is a byproduct of abiding in Jesus (John 15:4). 

Our love alone—a supernatural love that compels us to love not only those who love us but all people, including our enemies—is an apologetic in itself (Luke 6:32-35). 

As we discuss meaningful (and complicated) topics of faith with those who don’t yet trust in Jesus, we can powerfully demonstrate His love in us by the way we listen. By this, I mean sincerely, actively, wholeheartedly listen—not just the “listening” we do when we aren’t speaking, but are distracted by our own thoughts and mentally forming our next response.

Do we love the one we’re speaking to enough to seek their perspectives and hang-ups with Jesus, the Bible, or the Church? Are we willing to consider and be compassionate towards the personal reasons they may have for opposing Christianity, such as being treated poorly by Christians? Do we love them enough to let our hearts be softened by their story, broken over their pain, and passionate for them to know, trust, and follow Jesus, who loved us all first (1 John 4:19)? 

The better we seek to understand and listen to others, the more likely they are to seek to understand and listen to us. 

In our love, they may also see the first evidence of Jesus and His life-changing love by the reflection of Him in us. 

2. Start on common ground. 

Apologetics can be quick to escalate into combative (and unhelpful) arguments when we lead with all the ways we disagree, imitating a courtroom scenario in which all burden of proof is on our side to convince the other person that God exists, the Bible is credible, and Jesus can be trusted. 

Instead, we should start on the common ground that we all have to build our lives, in faith, on beliefs about how the world started, what makes humans unique, who defines good and evil, what (if any) justice we are all held to, and what happens after we die. 

No one, not even an atheist, can avoid faith. The question now becomes: what (or who) are we placing our faith in? None of us were here to witness firsthand the origin of the earth. Whether we believe it was caused by intelligent design or entirely naturalistic causes, we must believe this in faith. When we start on this common ground, we can then discuss which we believe to be more reasonable and why. 

Another point of common ground is found in acknowledging we all hold to an absolute truth. Whether the person you’re talking to believes no one religion is right or that everyone should “live their truth” based on what they inwardly sense to be true, they are still claiming their belief is exclusively right. They are not being inclusive, for example, of our belief that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). 

We must choose a way of faith and the truths that will form our worldview. As Christians, we believe the way and truth of Jesus is the most reasonable, compelling, trustworthy answer to the questions of life we all must answer in faith. 

3. Share your journey. 

The people I’ve talked to in apologetics conversations tend to appreciate my own sharing of wrestling with faith. I put my faith in Jesus at a young age. Still, I’ve had to face all kinds of doubts and questions as I’ve grown older—in my public school education, reading (or scrolling), history books, news headlines, and conversations with co-workers, neighbors, family members, and friends. 

What doubts have you faced in your relationship with Jesus? Despite those difficult challenges, why do you still trust and follow Him? What truths do you cling to when people ask hard questions like, “How could a kind God allow suffering?” or “If God is loving, how can He send people to Hell?” There are good answers to these questions that many have articulated in beautiful ways—answers that have been lifelines and guiding lights in my own wrestling, keeping me tethered to the faith I still believe with all my heart. 

Sharing our own grappling with these complex ideas demonstrates that we, too, want to be rationalists—eager to acknowledge and answer challenging questions with a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)—and realists—engaging the realities of life while anchoring hope in the reality of God in heaven. In all this, we can pray the Holy Spirit leads them to consider our way of life and imitate our faith (Hebrews 13:7)—ultimately looking not to us but to the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). 

4. Play the long game. 

Our goal in apologetics is not just to win an argument (while alienating the one we’re arguing with). We have to be willing to play the long game.

Are we building towards the possibility of a lifelong relationship with this co-worker, neighbor, or friend in which they always feel they can come to us for a safe, kind, compassionate space to process questions and doubts? 

Before we speak, do we ask ourselves whether our words will set us up better or worse for future conversations (that this individual may have with us or with other Christians)? Are our actions and speech making this time more or less likely to end in a spirit of humility, thoughtfulness, respectfulness, and thankfulness for one another’s honesty? Apologetics should be a long game—all in service to the everlasting God who plays the longest game of eternity. 

We cannot argue, reason, or persuade anyone into salvation by our own strength. When the pride of our heart deceives us into thinking otherwise (Obadiah 1:3), we are often tempted to be impatiently forceful in our human understanding rather than acknowledging and trusting in the Lord to direct our apologetic steps (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

Some of us will plant seeds of faith; others will water them. Still, God alone can give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). 

As we pray and hope in Him to do the work that only He can do in those around us, He will keep our yoke easy and burden light (Matthew 11:28-30) as we love others, seek common ground, share our journey, and play the long game—a game that only He can win over others souls as He draws them to Himself. 

Share Article

Article Topics

Scripture References

  • Genesis 1:27
  • 1 Peter 3:15
  • Colossians 4:6-7
  • John 1:14
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1
  • Galatians 5:22
  • John 15:4
  • Luke 6:32-35
  • 1 John 4:19
  • 2 Timothy 1:7
  • Hebrews 13:7
  • Hebrews 12:2
  • Obadiah 1:3
  • 1 Corinthians 3:6
  • Matthew 11:28-30
Kaitlin Febles Kaitlin Febles was a door holder at Passion City Church for ten years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee. She is on staff at the Chick-fil-A Inc. Support Center and enjoys writing on the side for ministries like The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. She graduated from the University of Georgia and Dallas Theological Seminary (through the Passion Institute) and is a guest speaker in CORE classes like Scripture Narrative and The Church. She and her husband, Brennen, enjoy reading, running, traveling, serving with their church, and spending time with the people they love most.