In historic Christianity the field of apologetics (a reasoned defense of the faith) is considered a branch of theology. Apologetics often has a close connection to evangelism (communication of the gospel message) by attempting to remove intellectual obstacles that may stand in the way of a person embracing faith (conversion).

In this four-part series we’ll take a look at how apologetics can directly impact conversion by examining the historical case of Augustine of Hippo (354–430). St. Augustine had one of the most famous conversions to Christianity in history, and various apologetic elements facilitated his coming to faith.

Augustine would later attribute all of these factors to the sovereign grace of God at work behind the scenes of his life. These six factors can be considered a broad apologetic model for how God, through his sovereign grace, prepares people for faith.

Augustine: A Case Study in How Apologetics-Related Factors Impact Christian Conversion

While Augustine was exposed to Christianity as a child by his mother, as a youth he rebelled and rejected the faith. In his famous biography, Confessions, he describes how he engaged in illicit behavior (theft) with his neighborhood friends in the city of Thagaste, North Africa. Recognizing that their rebellious son was also intellectually gifted, Augustine’s parents sent him away for advanced studies in the capital city of Carthage.

As a wayward soul away from home in a large city in the pagan Roman Empire, Augustine fell prey to a worldly lifestyle. He was entrapped by the sensual hedonism that was so prevalent in the ancient Roman world. His pursuit of answers to the big questions of life led him further away from Christianity. He studied pagan philosophy (NeoPlatonism) and religion (Manicheanism) and his rhetorical skills led him to pursue possible political power as a spokesperson in the Roman government. Yet none of these pursuits were deeply satisfying, and Augustine experienced a profound sense of existential estrangement. He wondered whether his thirst for truth and fulfillment would ever be satisfied.

In his early thirties Augustine began to experience six elements of the providential grace of God covertly at work that served an apologetics function. Let’s now outline those elements that ultimately led to Augustine’s famous conversion.

Six Apologetics-Related Factors Impacting Augustine’s Conversion (Model)

1. Removing Philosophical Objections to Christianity
2. Removing Theological and Exegetical Objections to Christianity
3. The Example of Other Believers
4. The Existential Reality of Death
5. Confronting Man’s Sinful Condition
6. The Study of Scripture

In part 2 of this series we’ll begin exploring these six specific apologetics factors in the life of Augustine. Again, these elements can serve as a general model of how apologetics impacts evangelism.

Be sure to return next week for more of Augustine’s amazing story.

Reflections: Your Turn

What apologetics factors impacted your coming to Christ? How do you use apologetics in your witness for Christ? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources:

  • To read Augustine’s story in his own words, see Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961).
  • For more about St. Augustine’s life and thought, see “Augustine: Theologian of Grace” in Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019), chap. 3.
  • For a comprehensive resource on all things Augustine, see Augustine Through the Ages.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



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