Christian laymen and ministers usually know how to share their
faith, they are often unable to defend it. Due to the anti-Christian
climate currently prevalent in America, believers need to be
informed about this discipline.
Before examining the branch of theology known as apologetics,
the term must be defined. Apologetics comes from the Greek word
apologia, meaning “a verbal defense, a speech in defense.”1
Therefore, apologetics is that branch of Christian theology that is
dedicated to defending the beliefs of biblical Christianity.
Apologetics is a biblical concept. The word apologia is found in
Peter’s first epistle. Peter declares, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your
hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks
you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness
and reverence” (3:15).2 In this passage, the word apologia is
Since apologetics is one branch of theology, its relationship to the
other main branches of theology must be shown. Theology simply
means “the study of God.” Of course, when studying God, His work
of creation and redemption must also be included. Hence, theology
entails the study of all Christian doctrines.4 The main branches of
theology are 1) exegetical theology, 2) biblical theology, 3) systematic
theology, 4) historical theology, 5) practical theology, 6) polemics,
and 7) apologetics.5
Exegetical theology is the branch of Christian theology which deals
with the direct study of the biblical text. Exegetical theology attempts
to arrive at the true meaning of the biblical passage being studied.
This type of theology encompasses the study of biblical introduction,
biblical languages, and archaeology.6 Hermeneutics, the science of
how to properly interpret the scriptures, is utilized within exegetical
Exegetical theology forms the basis for all other branches of
Christian theology. This is due to the fact that the Bible is the sole
authority from which orthodox Christians draw their beliefs. If a
student of the Word of God wrongly interprets biblical passages, it
will damage his theological system of thought.
Biblical theology studies God as He has progressively revealed
Himself throughout the scriptures.8 The Old Testament does not
immediately reveal Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. Instead,
God related the account of His creation of the universe (Genesis 1 and
2). This was followed by the fall of mankind into sin (Genesis 3). God
then promised to send a Savior to defeat the serpent (Genesis 3:15).
Man is commanded to perform animal sacrifices when seeking to
approach God (Genesis 4). These animal sacrifices pointed forward to
the day when the Savior of mankind would come and die for the sins
of the world (Hebrews 10:4; 9:22; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
When the earth increased in wickedness, God judged the world by
bringing upon it a flood that destroyed all mankind. Only Noah and
his family were saved (Genesis 6-9). As humans once again
multiplied, they united in their rebellion against God. God divided
mankind by causing them to speak different languages. This resulted
in the beginning of the nations (Genesis 11).
God then selected one man named Abraham and produced from
him a nation (Genesis 12). From this nation the world’s Savior would
someday come. This chosen nation was Israel. Through Moses, God
gave Israel His Law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).
The Law was never intended to save anyone. Its purpose was to show
men that they fell short of God’s holy standards, and that they need
to trust in the coming Savior (Galatians 3:24).
The Old Testament contains the history of the nation Israel, some
of its inspired poetry, and messages from its prophets. In short, the
Old Testament points forward to the coming of the Savior.
The New Testament begins with the four Gospels (Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John). The Gospels record eyewitness testimonies of
the life, teachings, and works of the Savior when He came to earth.
The book of Acts gives an account of the history of the apostolic
church, while the epistles teach how Christians should live. The Bible
culminates with the book of Revelation. This book predicts the return
of Jesus the Savior to the planet earth in the last days.
As one examines this brief survey of God’s revelation called the
Bible, it becomes clear that God did not reveal Himself and His
salvation plan all at once. He did so progressively over a period of
more than 1,500 years. Biblical theology takes note of this and seeks
to study God’s unveiling of Himself as He progressively did so.
Therefore, biblical theology picks up where exegetical theology
Systematic theology groups the teachings of the Bible into a system
that makes sense.9 It seeks to display a “total picture” of God’s
revelation to man.10 There are several divisions in systematic
Prolegomena deals with introductory matters, while Theology
Proper discusses what the Bible teaches about God Himself.
Bibliology contains the truths that the Bible declares about itself.
Angelology spells out the scriptural doctrines about spirit beings
called angels. The study of fallen angels is called Demonology. The
leader of the fallen angels is called Lucifer or Satan. The doctrine
about this vile being is called Satanology. Pneumatology deals with the
study of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. Christology
is the study of Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity.
Anthropology is the doctrine of man, while Hamartiology is the
doctrine of sin. The doctrine of salvation is discussed in Soteriology.
Ecclesiology is the study of the biblical teachings about the church.
Finally, Eschatology is the study of the last days.
Systematic theology picks up where exegetical and biblical
theology leaves off. Once it is determined what a given biblical text
means (exegetical theology), one can proceed to study how God
progressively revealed Himself in His Word (biblical theology). After
this, the teachings of the Bible must be grouped into a system that
makes sense (systematic theology).
Historical theology studies the progressive development of
systematic theology throughout the history of the Christian
church.11 This branch of theology examines the many different
creeds and statements of faith that were drawn up by the church
throughout the centuries. Much focus is placed upon the thought of
great theologians, e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and
Historical theology often directs its attention to the thought of one
or more of the different eras of church history. Important time
periods would include the apostolic age, the early church fathers, the
medieval period, the reformation, and the rise of modern theology.12
Different periods of church history focused on different areas of
theology, mainly for purposes of combating doctrinal errors. For
example, the early church fathers devoted much of their effort and
time to christological issues, while reformation theologians
specialized in soteriology. Much can be learned through a study of
Practical theology is the practical application of the teachings of the
Bible to one’s life.13 Regeneration is the first issue that needs to be
applied. The Bible teaches that a person must be born again to see
God’s Kingdom (John 3:3). This new birth comes only through faith
in Christ as Savior (John 3:16-18).
Once a person is saved, sanctification comes into play. This deals
with the daily life of the believer as God sets him apart for His
purposes (Romans 6 and 7). Practical theology also includes issues
such as living a life of service, studying the Word, worship, prayer,
Practical theology builds upon the accomplishments of the other
four theological branches mentioned above. It seeks to apply the
truths of God to one’s daily life. This branch of theology moves the
theologian from a mere “head knowledge” of the truths of the Bible
to a personal relationship with the God of the Bible. When one
partakes of practical theology in the fullest sense, he moves from a life
of study to a life of service.
Polemics is the often overlooked branch of theology that specializes
in the refutation of heresies that develop within the professing
church.14 Hence, polemics is the function of “good” theology
whereby it protects itself from “bad” theology.
Throughout church history, false doctrines have risen within the
church. These heresies have been continually refuted by theologians
who sought to protect the essential teachings of the Bible. At times,
heretics accepted correction and recanted of their erroneous views.
On other occasions, however, some heretics had to be
excommunicated from the church in order to protect the essential
teachings of the Christian faith.
Often, unrepentant heretics started their own religions or cults.
This was exactly the case concerning Islam and Mormonism.
Though their founders claimed to be returning Christianity to its
purest form, both Islam and Mormonism were actually heretical
offshoots of Christianity. Once the heretical movement is clearly
separated from true Christianity, polemics (which deals only with
internal heresies) is no longer used against it. Instead, apologetics is
called upon to enter the theological battle for truth.
As was already mentioned, Apologetics is that branch of Christian
theology which devotes itself to the defense of the gospel. Unlike
polemics, which refutes internal heresies, apologetics defends the
essential teachings of the Bible against external attacks. Whereas
polemics refutes false teachers who claim to be proclaiming Christian
truths, apologetics enters into debate with those who openly claim to
be opposed to historic and biblical Christianity.
Apologetics has two functions.15 Negatively, it refutes belief
systems that oppose Christianity, and, positively, it defends the
essential truths of the Christian faith.
As the table on page 10 shows, one can easily see where apologetics
fits into Christian theology. The first four branches of theology
(exegetical, biblical, systematic, and historical) attempt to arrive at
the truths of the Bible. The fifth branch (practical theology) attempts
to help the believer live these biblical truths. The sixth theological
branch (polemics) protects Christian truth from internal errors. And,
finally, the seventh branch of theology (apologetics) defends
Christian truth from outside attacks.
All seven branches of Christian theology are needed. For the truth
must first be found. Then it must be lived, protected, and defended.
The church will suffer if it neglects any of these seven branches.
Apologetics is vital to the Christian church today. Those who share
the gospel must also defend the gospel. People are seeking answers
to their questions. Through apologetics we can find those answers.
We can remove intellectual stumbling blocks that stand between lost
souls and Christ. We can communicate the gospel in such a way that
the “modern” man will understand it. We must, as the inspired writer
instructs us, “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).
(the study of God)
1) EXEGETICAL THEOLOGY
Direct study of the biblical text, attempting to arrive at the true
meaning of the passage in question.
2) BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
Studying God as He progressively revealed Himself through the
3) SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
Grouping the teachings of the Bible into a system that makes sense.
4) HISTORICAL THEOLOGY
Studying the development of systematic theology throughout the
history of the church.
5) PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
Applying the teachings of the Bible to one’s daily life.
Refuting heresies that arise within the professing church.
Defending the essential teachings of the Bible against external attacks.
Taken from Dr. Phil Fernandes's Book:CONTEND EARNESTLY FOR THE FAITH
Copyright 2008 Phil Fernandes, Ph.D.