You’re standing at a crossroads right now. Maybe it hasn’t hit you yet, but the choice you’re faced with is whether or not you believe what you believe enough to read on, learn how to think in a systematic way about it, and carry that knowledge forward into a world that desperately needs it, or do you want to sit quietly in a pew and make no difference? You might say, “I’m Heaven bound, there is nothing more I need to do” and you’d be right. I’m not presenting you with the choice of heaven or hell for yourself, but for others. Evangelism and Apologetics have been looked at as two separate and divergent paths for too long. Evangelists preach and Apologists argue, right? And one of those is clearly more important that the other, we’ve got the altar call videos to prove it. My contention is this, Evangelism and Apologetics are twin brothers distinguishable in presentation but not in purpose and no Christian’s ministry, whether minister or lay-person, is as effective as it should be without a working knowledge of both.
At this point you may be asking yourself one question, “What is Apologetics?” Great question! Apologetics is giving a reasoned defense of your faith. The classic verse used to describe Apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” The idea is that you know not just what you believe but also why you believe it, which means not just knowing a verse to back up what you believe but knowing thoughtful reasons why people who don’t even believe in the Bible should also believe what you believe. So we’re starting to see why I would be making the case to you that a working knowledge of Apologetics is NECESSARY to your Christian walk, God said so. The 1 Peter passage contains a simple declarative statement, BE PREPARED.
What does prepared look like?
First you have to know what you believe. Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Was he a man in whom God the Father invested his spirit at the moment of his birth, or was he fully God in Mary’s womb? Do you believe that we are required to follow the laws given to Moses by God in the Old Testament, and if not what was God’s purpose for them then and now? Does God hate Homosexuals? Transgendered people? Blacks? Jews? Muslims? Atheists? How can we say God loves everyone and yet preach that He sends those that don’t believe in Him to hell? How can we believe in miracles when they can’t be proven by science? If I prayed sincerely and believed with all my heart why didn’t God heal my friend and instead let her die? Is there only one way to God? Why? These questions and so many others must be addressed for a broken and hurting world to find any degree of healing. To dismiss them is to dismiss people who are crying out in anger and anguish with a need that only a Saviour can address. Evangelism alone does not speak to these needs.
Knowing how to answer the questions of skeptics and Atheists involves asking a lot of questions ourselves. It does no good to launch into any response until you understand why the question has been asked in the first place. Proverbs 15 exhorts and warns us that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Juxtapose that verse with the exchange Jesus has with Pilate in John’s gospel and you’ll see that the greatest evangelist/ apologist that ever lived very often began by questioning the assumptions of His questioner, “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” One question changed the tone for the entire conversation. We don’t have to be half as cunning as Jesus was. Being prepared to give an answer is sometimes as simple as being prepared to ask some questions.
Next you have to know why you believe what you believe. Is it because it’s just what you grew up with? Because your family always believed it? Because a preacher told you it was true? Maybe you read it in a book or heard a famous person talk about it. Perhaps you got it in the lyrics of a particularly moving song. Or maybe you read and thought and looked at opposing views and reasoned it out and decided that what you believe is the most compatible view to reality. Maybe more than one of these describes your path to the truth. The important thing is to know is that you know and why. This does not eliminate open mindedness. We don’t decide what we believe is true and then reject everything else without examination. If you’re going to defend your faith with the utmost respect to God and to your opponent you must give them an honest hearing and really consider the probability of truth in their propositions. Only when we respect and acknowledge the nugget of truth in the beliefs of another and make our interactions sincere and genuine can we expect to be heard and taken seriously.
Finally you have to be willing to walk away. Matthew 10:14 actually puts it this way, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” In Luke the words “as a testament against them” are added. This isn’t the only kind of walking away I’m talking about, however. Because Apologetics often involves a mental struggle it can quickly devolve into a very non-spiritual kind of battle. The goal is not to convince and convert the person on the spot. Instead the goal is to challenge them respectfully, give them something to think about, and show them God’s love and kindness. The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. Also, we want to leave the door open for future interactions. If you interact with a non-believer long enough you may actually get to see them be converted. So you’ve got to be ready and willing to walk away for your sake and theirs at the right moment to preserve future opportunities. Walk away as soon as anger rises up in you, when you begin to take offense, or when you realize the conversation is going too far off track to bring it back. Walking away doesn’t have to be literal, however, it could just mean letting the subject drop. Just move on to something else. Surround your apologetic conversations with conversations about the person’s life or the game. Be natural. If you’re approaching this with an agenda your interactions will be forced and not very effective. If you truly want to know how your friends kids are doing as well as wanting to genuinely ask about why he believes in a moral law without believing in a moral law giver (God) you’re on the right track.
To summarize, scripture is clear that this thing called apologetics is a tool that is mandatory in every Christian’s tool box. It requires a willing mind and a willing spirit. It requires curiosity and empathy. It requires self-control and a willingness to let the argument suffer to preserve relationships. In short, it requires us to be a whole lot like Jesus. So don’t get hung up on the word “apologetics” and what it means, just know that at this crossroads all roads lead to heaven but only one has the potential to change the world along the way.