Apologetics: What It Is and Isn’t and Why It Matters

By Holly Ordway

Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Innsbruck, Austria, photo by Dennis Jarvis

Has anyone ever asked you, “Why do you believe that?” or “How do we know that God is real?” Perhaps you have a friend or family member who has doubts about Christianity—or you’ve wrestled with doubts yourself. Is your son or daughter headed to college, where he or she will encounter challenges and temptations to abandon the Faith? Do you have colleagues or friends who are hostile to the Church? Have you ever wondered how on earth you can talk to anyone about Christ in the first place?

Responding to these kinds of questions and helping to resolve these doubts is the work of apologetics—and it’s relevant in every Christian’s life.

Despite the name, ‘apologetics’ doesn’t mean apologizing for one’s faith; it comes from the Greek word apologia, which means ‘to make a defense for’: in short, to explain why what we believe is true. As St. Peter put it: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15).

St. Paul is perhaps the first apologist, explaining to the Athenians on Mars Hill that the intuitions of their pagan religion were clarified and fulfilled in Christ, and reminding the Corinthians that the Resurrection actually happened in history, with eyewitnesses—and that it is the foundation of our Faith.

The Great Commandment tells us to love God with “heart, soul, strength, and mind”—that is, with the whole person: intellect, emotions, will. To be sure, we can love and obey God without knowing much about him (thank God!); the gift of faith is not limited to those who can give explanations for their faith.

If we have the opportunity to learn, we should do so: we are called to child-like, trusting faith, not child-ish, ignorant faith. After all, anyone who has spent any time around children knows that they are far more inquisitive than most adults. Children by nature want to learn about the world; they fearlessly ask questions, because they trust that their parents and teachers can answer those questions.

So, too, with learning about our Faith and sharing what we know. We are all called to evangelize—to share the good news—and also to help people understand that the Gospel really is good news, and that it is true.

Apologetics isn’t the province just of specialist scholars and scholarly saints, but of ordinary men and women in every walk of life: parents and teachers, lay ministry leaders, priests and pastors, to be sure, but also anyone who has a friend or colleague with doubts, or who wants to be able to invite others to the Faith. Indeed, apologetics is for everyone who wants to develop a stronger faith, to really understand why we believe what we believe, to know Our Lord better and love him more fully.


Holly Ordway is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith. To learn more about how personal narratives, literature, friendship, and more can be used in evangelization, check out Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, available from Emmaus Road Publishing.