Christians correctly assume that apologetics impacts conversion. That’s why many Christian ministries, organizations, and individuals who are motivated by evangelism take the apologetics enterprise seriously. But just how does apologetics impact conversion? And which apologetics factors contribute to a person’s movement toward salvation in Christ?

As we have stated in this series, in historic Christianity the apologetics enterprise functions as a tool to remove intellectual challenges so a person might seriously consider and embrace the faith. That’s what happened in the historical case of Augustine of Hippo (354–430) in which six specific apologetics-oriented features helped Augustine come to faith in Jesus Christ. Augustine would later attribute all of these elements to God’s sovereign grace powerfully at work in his life. I have proposed that these six factors can be considered a broad apologetic model for how God, through his extraordinary grace, leads people to faith.

Parts 12, and 3 introduced Augustine and his conversion to Christianity and addressed the first three apologetics factors that helped him move toward the faith. Here in the final article I’ll introduce three more factors that removed critical obstacles and made the faith more believable, thus paving the way for Augustine’s acceptance of Christianity.

4. The Existential Reality of Death
Augustine had a close friend who became gravely ill, and during the illness the friend was baptized Catholic. When this friend recovered briefly, he rebuked Augustine for rejecting Christianity. The friend relapsed and died, sending Augustine into a period of intense grief, which he described in his book Confessions (see Book IV). This experience forced Augustine to face the existential reality of death. Death stalks all people.It’s the human predicament. Thus, each person must judiciously consider what awaits in the afterlife.

5. Confronting Man’s Sinful Condition
After Augustine had become intellectually convinced of the truth of Christianity, his will to sin remained an obstacle. He was increasingly confronted with his glaring lack of moral integrity and total inability to live up to God’s moral standards revealed in Scripture. Augustine was embarrassed that he had encountered so many people whose moral lives put his immoral life to shame. These were people who couldn’t come close to matching his intellectual brilliance and rhetorical eloquence, but their commitment to living morally upright lives made Augustine truly envious. Augustine’s reflection on sin2 forced him to consider that he needed divine grace.

6. The Study of Scripture
Augustine had once regarded the writings of Scripture as disappointing, but he would change that perception of the definitive text in his ongoing pursuit of truth. Augustine’s previously limited study of Scripture had greatly increased through his interaction with Ambrose. Augustine’s mind was now captive to the Holy Scriptures. He saw that they “are able to make you wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15), and were a source by which God imparts the gift of faith (Romans 10:17). The final step in Augustine’s conversion to the Christian faith entailed believing God’s Word, which offered the peace and salvation he yearned for.

It may not be easy to think about, but discussing death, sin, and Scripture with a non-Christian may be what that person needs. These three elements combined with the three previously discussed (overcoming philosophical and theological challenges as well as encountering the witness of other believers) providentially led Augustine to faith in Jesus Christ.

Apologetics factors undoubtedly impact conversion, and St. Augustine’s story serves as a powerful historical framework for our efforts to engage people with the truth of the gospel today.

Reflections: Your Turn

Of the six apologetics factors that influenced Augustine, which do you think was the most important? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


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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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