I love to do both evangelism and apologetics, and many times, they go hand in hand.
But are they the same thing and do they have the same end? The answer is 'no'.
The Bible tells us to preach the Gospel to every creature and make disciples of all nations. The Bible also tells us that we are to defend the faith, and give an answer to every person who asks a reason of the hope that is in us.
Don't get me wrong. We can use apologetics in evangelism, and some times we need to do so. But here is the problem; we tend to think of them as the same thing. Let me explain in more detail.
I am in a lot of different circles on the Internet. I am in several apologetic groups and at the same time, am also involved in evangelism groups. I have friends who are also in these same groups. It is like one big fellowship on the Internet. But there is a problem.
The problem appears to be that we use apologetic skills when we should be preaching the Gospel. For example, there are people who want to defend the faith (or at least their theology) when they should be presenting the Gospel message.
I am not sure I agree with this apologetic tactic, but there is a large apologetic group that explains Catholicism as a false religion. In fact, those who head up this group will go to Catholic churches and give out tracts which explain what Catholicism is wrong. If they believe that Catholicism is wrong (and I am not making a case here for whether or not Catholicism is right or wrong at this time), then wouldn't it be better to actually do evangelism with these Catholics instead of giving them literature telling them why they are wrong?
There are certain instances where I believe that apologetics can lead to evangelism. For example, if a Jehovah's Witness comes to your door, explaining why you should become a Jehovah's Witness, this is a perfect time to explain what the Bible says about salvation, God, Jesus, etc. One can use the Bible to help the Jehovah's Witness to see where he or she is in error. This is the time to defend the faith. The true faith which was delivered once to the saints, is being challenged in this case. The conversations we have with Jehovah's Witnesses could lead to sharing the Gospel, if the Jehovah's Witness is open to hearing the Gospel message.
Put yourself in the other person's place. If you were coming out of a non-mainstream Christian church, would you want someone handing you literature telling you that you are wrong? Does this show humility to the lost person? Yes, at some point if the Gospel is shared and received, the person will know that the doctrine he or she believes in (or thinks they believe in) is wrong. Many people just go to church for the sake of going to church. They are not really aware of the depths of whatever the church holds to in their doctrine. They typically go to some kind of church to earn a brownie point with God. And then imagine if someone who really does know the Lord, gives them a tract telling them that they are wrong? Do you think they will have the humility and grace to receive the message of the tract? Wouldn't it be better to share the Gospel with them instead of pointing out where they are wrong, doctrinally?
With anything we do for the kingdom of God, we must demonstrate as well as declare, the Gospel. People will look at our lives and how we live them out determines how people interpret who God is and what He is like. The Bible says that 'God is love', and if that is true (which we know it is) are we showing God's love by serving others and ministering to them, or do we think we are showing people God's love by telling them that they are wrong in what they believe in?
Some of the early church fathers had to stand up for the truth. They had to defend the faith, and we are glad that they did. They stood up for what was true, in spite of the cost they would have to pay for defending the truth. They did apologetics and God used them to make sure that the church continued in truth. What they did was not necessarily evangelism though, so we can't mix the two and blend them into one. There were vicious attacks against the truth, from various people who took their stand for what was false. Someone was needed to fight for the truth. The truth did prevail. It was a good thing that they stood up for what was true, when the truth was being challenged.
Throughout church history, there were those who did evangelism as well. One good example was St. Patrick, who converted many in Ireland, to the Christian faith. Others were Saint Nicholas of Myra (although he also was an apologist) and in later years, George Whitefield. They had love for people in their hearts.
The bottom line is, when sharing the Gospel, we don't tell them that they are 'wrong'. At some point, if they understand the Gospel message, they will know that they are wrong. It is not up to us to do the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. God will help make the connections for them as He works in their hearts.
We have to see those who we are doing apologetics with as lost souls. We can't have an 'I'm right, You're wrong' mentality. That is not showing kindness to anyone. We must show the grace of God and pray for the recipients to be able to receive God's grace. It's God's loving-kindness that draws people to repentance, not His displeasure. And remember, we are sharing Someone with them. We are not sharing our 'theologically correct belief system'. There is a difference.
So, how do we know the difference? When do we use apologetics and when do we do evangelism? If the message of the Gospel is being attacked, we use apologetics. If people attend a church where something other than the Gospel is being preached, then we use evangelism. However, if this church is aggressively attacking the truth, use apologetics. Apologetics are used to defend the faith. People who are sitting in a dead church are not attacking the Gospel. They need evangelism. If someone is knocking on your door to try to convert you to their religion, then use apologetics. Hope this makes sense!