How Apologetics Impacts Conversion: A Historical Case Study Part 1
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.
- 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.