The field of the Christian study of apologetics stems from the command of scripture to:
“Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” [Jude 3]
Jude was not addressing some uniquely called individuals in the church to some special office like pastor or evangelist, but makes it clear in the first verse that he was calling all believers to the task. “To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ.” [Jude 1]
Yet over the years the defense of the faith against “every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” [2 Cor. 10:5) has become specialized due to the superabundance of cults, heresies, and isms that attack the faith from within and without the professing church.
To assist all the saints to sort out truth from error, God has raised up para-church ministries to the task of studying, researching and exposing the false ideas that threaten to overturn the faith of many. They give answers using Scripture and reason to equip the saints in their walk with Christ to battle against the deceptions and ploys of the enemy. To be forewarned is to be forearmed in the battle of ideas that would try to shipwreck their faith.
Since the time that Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the Door of the Wittenburg Church, defenders of the faith have made their mark on church history by rocking the boat to awaken a sleeping church. In our modern times, men like Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis have written tomes of apologetics resources that have become the textbooks of modern seminaries.
It wasn’t until the formation of the Christian Research Institute in 1960 by the late Walter Martin, author of The Kingdom of the Cults, that the field of the study of apologetics became specialized according to area of focus. He had an entire research department with researchers who each had their specialty of study. [Though under CRI’s current leadership, there is only the voice on the radio and office workers filling orders.] Other apologetics ministries came along in the 1970s & 80s such as Watchman Fellowship, Spiritual Counterfeits Project, and Personal Freedom Outreach.
In those days, the terms apologetics and discernment were synonymous and interchangeable. Over the years, the terms took on new meaning as approaches to the defense of the faith diverged. A division arose between the theologically academic approach and the Spirit-led Bible approach upon the publication of Dave Hunt’s book, The Seduction of Christianity in 1985.
The book got panned by CRI insiders Bob and Gretchen Passantino, whose amillennial sensitivities were offended by Hunt’s recognition of the importance that Bible prophecy played in recognizing the spirit of antichrist at work in the infiltration of doctrines of demons into the church. [They later wrote a counter-offensive book, Witch Hunt, in which they faulted Hunt for his failure to follow Matthew 18 in not going to every church leader first before quoting from their published writings. Of course the Passantinos never lived up to this twisted logic in their own writing.]
Unfortunately, the Passantinos got the ear of Walter Martin who criticized the book on his Bible-Answer-Man radio broadcast based upon their warped review. At that time I was friends with both Martin and Hunt and became somewhat of a go-between. When Dave showed me a transcript of Walter’s criticism of Seduction I recognized it as a paraphrase of the Passantino’s writing. So the next Sunday I approached Walter after his Bible study that I regularly attended and asked him point blank, “Have you ever read the book?” He admitted to me that he hadn’t and I was astounded. I later went through Hunt’s book and highlighted important points he made with a highlighter pen and gave it to Martin who used it later to confront TBN on live television for the heresies Hunt had documented.
But sadly there was always a breach between CRI and Dave Hunt and any of us independent researchers who incorporated Bible prophecy into our recognition of the spirit of antichrist in the heretical teachings that were infiltrating the church.
Over the next several years, ministries that followed Hunt’s lead, recognizing the prophesied apostasy in the church via ecumenism with Rome, became labeled as “discernment ministries.” The view that the false teachings in the church were propelling the visible church toward a unification into a global false religious system was not seen as a valid paradigm by the academic type of apologists. So the latter tended to marginalize the former and look down their noses at those who believe we are in the end times. That idea just isn’t very scholarly to them.
Those who dare to believe what the Spirit of Christ has put in their hearts that His return is near are literally mocked and told “we have no need of you.” [1Cor. 12:21] Scoffers have risen up ridiculing us saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” [2 Peter 3:3-5]
So when you hear the term discernment ministries today, you will usually see a common belief that we are in the end times. When you hear the word apologetics, you will probably be around academics who speak using big theological words. It has just sort of evolved that way. Discernment ministries overall show respect to the academics, but rarely is the compliment returned.