I have found that many Christians are unable to articulate the difference between evangelism and apologetics. In fact, for some, it might be a surprise to learn that evangelism and apologetics are distinct from one another. Despite the distinction, they often work hand in hand. We see this dynamic in many other areas of life. For instance, mathematics and architecture are completely different disciplines, but an architect will employ mathematics in their designing. In this example, mathematics is subordinated to architecture. Another example is philosophy and theology. The two are distinct disciplines, but philosophy is often employed in the task of theology. In this case, philosophy is subordinated to theology. Evangelism and apologetics are two distinct disciplines, but we use apologetics often in the evangelistic task. Evangelism is the goal! However, we often use apologetics to aid in the effectiveness of evangelism as needed.
What is evangelism? Sadly, this is something that is commonly misunderstood by many Christians. There are many brothers and sisters in Christ who believe that inviting someone to church, or asking a stranger if they could pray for them, or recounting their testimony to a non-Christian is evangelism. The fact is that none of these things are evangelism. Like apologetics, they can be part of the evangelistic task, but these are not–in and of themselves–acts of evangelism. Why? Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel. If the gospel is not proclaimed, we are not engaged in evangelism.
What is the gospel? The gospel message must include the following elements: (1) lordship, (2) atoning death, and (3) bodily resurrection of Jesus. This is the gospel message we see over and over and over again in the New Testament, whether it is Peter proclaiming it to crowds in Acts 2 and 3, or Paul reminding the Corinthians of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, and many other places in between. How we present these gospel facts should help the person we are speaking with understand why the gospel is necessary and how to respond. For instance, “All of us are separated from God on account of our sin. In order to reconcile us to himself, God sent his Son Jesus (lordship) to die on the cross to atone for our sin (atoning death), and he raised Jesus from the dead to secure our right standing before him (bodily resurrection). This offer of redemption is for you. Would you like to respond to it today?”
Now, let’s face it. Every non-Christian you encounter believes something right now. They might believe God doesn’t exist. They might believe another religion is true. They might believe that God does not factor into the affairs of humanity. They might believe that God is not good because of all of the evil in the world. They might believe God hates them because of things they have said, done, or thought. This is where apologetics comes in. It does not take the place of the gospel, of evangelism. However, it helps to overcome some of the obstacles that keep people from responding positively to the gospel.
So, evangelism and apologetics are distinct disciplines. However, we often need to use apologetics when evangelizing because every non-Christian believes something currently, and that belief might be keeping them from surrendering their lives to Christ.