First, they mistakenly believe apologetics and evangelism is a discipline only carried out by trained professional like pastors, seminary grads, or those who have studied in some apologetic program.
But when we search the Scriptures, we see that both apologetics, defending the Faith, and evangelism, proclaiming the Gospel message, are disciplines all Christians must be prepared to carry out in their daily lives.
The second misconception is the false idea that in order to be an effective apologist and evangelist a person must have knowledge about every philosophy, religious group, or cult in the world. The Bible teaches us quite the opposite. True apologetics is defending the Christian faith and worldview against any objections with the use of the Scriptures, and true evangelism is the proclamation of the Christian faith to the unbeliever.
Now, just to clarify so as not to be misunderstood. I am not saying Christians should not be familiar with religious groups and cults, or even secular, atheistic thought for that matter. It is certainly wise that if a Christian lives in Utah where there is a heavy concentration of Mormons, that in order to engage those individuals effectively, he should familiarize himself with the basic beliefs and theology of Mormonism. The same can be said about knowing a little background to your Islamic neighbor’s culture and faith. Such knowledge works to the Christian’s advantage if and when an evangelistic encounter occurs over the backyard fence. By the way, I think it would surprise most Christians that they will spend more time defending the Gospel against the false doctrine of false Christians than anything else.
The important thing to remember, however is that faithful apologetics and evangelism begins with the Christian knowing the Scriptures and the doctrines of his or her faith.
It is the Christian faith a believer defends and it is the Scriptures the Christian presents to the non-Christian. The Scriptures are what the Holy Spirit uses in the hearts of the non-Christian to convict him of sin and regenerate his heart to believe the Gospel. Thus, an evangelistic apologist should not worry about how worldly-wise he may be, or how eloquent a speaker he may not be, or how well he may know a Gospel presentation like the Roman’s road. His concern should be first and foremost a working understanding of the Gospel and all it entails.
If our goal with apologetics and evangelism is to defend the Christian faith and present the Scriptures, how then is all of that played out in a practical sense? I am sure many are thinking, “that sounds all great, but where exactly do I begin and what do I need to do?”
Let me organize our thinking around the concepts of defense and offense in order to lay a foundation for engaging others with the Gospel. I’ll begin with “defending” the Gospel in this post, and then move to “offense” in the ones following. I’ll attempt to ground my arguments in the principles found in Scripture itself.
Turning to the Bible, I believe God has provided us with a specific revelation into how we can develop an effective apologetic defense.
First Peter 3:15-17 lends us this insight. Peter writes,
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Before proceeding, it is important to recognize that Peter wrote those words to Christians who had been dispersed primarily by persecution from the Roman state (1:1). In fact, backing up to 1 Peter 3:13-14, Peter notes to his readers how Christians are specifically marked out by God’s enemies and they are not to be fearful of their threats of harm. In our modern world today we as Christian may not be suffering physical persecution unlike our brethren in places like North Korea and Islamic dominated societies, but we do suffer a form of intellectual and ideological persecution from our general society.
In recent years, there has risen an anti-theistic, anti-Christian sentiment which produces “evangelists” bent on destroying the Faith. Sadly, Christian churches have squandered opportunities to prepare the people to engage those enemies. Rather than preparing Christians to live spirit-filled and sanctified lives so as to do spiritual battle with those who stand opposed to them, local churches have wasted their time entertaining their congregations with frivolous amusements, preparing their people to vote Republican, and how to live Red State moral lives. In turn, when those Christians do encounter hostile enemies, they are unprepared to defend themselves and many join the shipwrecked lives of those who abandoned Christianity.
Instead of being distracted by the frivolous amusements and politics, Christians need to be grounded in the knowledge of the Scriptures, the theology of the Faith, and have a world view built upon the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10,11).
Hence, an effective apologetic begins with a life saturated in God’s Word that shows forth character submitted to the authority of Christ’s Lordship.
Our defense begins by being grounded in a person’s godly character. It is not based upon knowledge alone, but upon knowledge filtered through a life transformed by the Gospel and led by the Spirit.
With these three verses, I believe Peter presents,
Four foundational blocks for a solid apologetic defense
First is a Christ-centered Defense
Peter writes in 1:2 that Jesus set us apart at our salvation for His service. We in turn, in response, now set apart Christ in our hearts. This is first accomplished by the grace of God as we renew our minds. The Bible tells us that when we were sinners, we had darkened minds which were alienated from God (Ephesians 4:17ff). Now that we have been saved, our minds have been set free from that darkness and a good portion of our spiritual growth involves us removing all of our previous sinful thinking and replacing it with godly thinking.
Peter states that we set Christ apart as Lord, which speaks of his sovereign rulership over our lives. He is upon His throne and we are His subjects. We also set Christ apart in our hearts. Our heart is our mission control-center, the citadel from where the issues of life spring (Proverbs 4:23).
How exactly do we set Christ apart as our Lord in our hearts? I believe by having a consistent, God-centered worldview.
The Lord is our ultimate starting point. True knowledge and wisdom comes from a life looking through the glasses of divine revelation as contained in Scripture. Understanding the Lord helps us to understand the world in which we live. We now have true knowledge because we have been placed into a realm where we can now understand truth correctly (Colossians 1:13).
When we set apart Christ as our Lord it,
– impacts our ethics, how we interact with our fellow men;
– our personal character, how we conform to the law of God and reflect it in our behavior;
– and our evangelism, how we engage the lost world so as to win converts.
Thus, setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts impacts our worldview entirely and comprehensively.
A Prepared Defense
Peter writes that we are “to always be ready to give a defense or answer” to those who ask of us. The word defense is the word apologia where we derive apologetics. I believe there are two ways we can be prepared:
Constantly prepared. A Christian should always be on the alert for evangelistic opportunities. Like a doctor on call or a soldier ready to go to battle at a moment’s notice. There must be a willingness to be looking around for opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. And believe me, they can happen before you know it. Perhaps coming out of the grocery store there are Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out literature. How exactly would you engage them? Or maybe you sit beside a person on an airplane trip who sees you are reading a Bible or some Christian book and inquires of you as to what it means to be a Christian. How would you respond to that person? There are potentially numerous evangelistic opportunities sitting around us if only we would be alert and prepared to meet them.
Knowledgeably prepared. We are to be ready to give an answer for our hope. Hope is a word that sums up the assurance we have of our salvation. In other words, when people ask of us why we believe what we believe, we are prepared to answer them with the Gospel message that saved us and will certainly save them. If we are to be constantly prepared we must know what we are going to say. That is why it is vitally important for all Christians, regardless of their station in life, whether pastor or laymen, to have a working knowledge of Christian doctrine.
This means first and foremost a thorough familiarization with the Bible, both OT and NT. To be familiar with the Bible means we must be reading it regularly. A Christian cannot expect to be a credible evangelistic apologist if he is not familiar with the Bible. Moreover, we must know theology. As much as it appears to be a daunting task to pick up a 900 page book with little bitty print and read through it, I believe it is a necessary exercise to be a faithful apologist.
Now, the question can be asked, “But I thought you said up above that it is unnecessary to know about a whole bunch of stuff outside of the Bible?” Yes, that is true, but systematic theology is different, because a solid theology helps the Christian understand the Bible thematically and doctrinally. It will define crucial, biblical words like justification, atonement, redemption, salvation, etc., words Christians may use in an evangelistic encounter, and we want to be prepared to use them accurately with precision. As a Christian studies faithfully the Word of God, while supplementing his study with the works of solid, trusted men who know how to handle the Scriptures properly, he will have all he needs to have a prepared defense.
A Humble Defense
Our answer to the inquirers of our faith must be presented with meekness and fear. Meekness has the idea of power under restraint. Like a massive horse that could trample a man to death, but is harnessed and controlled to pull a wagon. A Christian with much ability and knowledge with debating could easily put down a mocking opponent, but rather than overwhelming a non-Christian with that ability and knowledge, he keeps it harnessed and restrained so as to maintain respectability and a God-honoring appearance to others who may be watching his response.
The word fear adds to this thought of meekness. Biblically, fear is understood as a God given respect and reverence toward our sovereign creator. In the context of 1 Peter, the apostle may have in mind a fear that is a necessary caution that we do not come across as self-righteous, proud, and arrogant when we provide our answers for our Faith. Additionally, we show respect and reverence to those individuals we are evangelizing.
Both of those terms put together have direct bearing upon our speech and attitude. Because whether we like it our not, how we conduct ourselves in an evangelistic encounter will be more than half the battle. I have seen Christian young men (even I being numbered among them at one time) who may be theologically bright, articulate, and gifted with the ability to think fast on his or her feet when responding to the questions and criticisms of non-Christians, but their haughty attitude demolishes their entire apologetic because they come across as a jerk.
I can remember watching two Christians engage two homosexual activists on a TV news/talk program once. One Christian was kind, reverent, and respectful to those men he was engaging. The other Christian was angry and seemed to perceive them as enemies. Both of them basically said the same exact thing about the sinfulness of homosexuality, but only the first one earned a hearing from the homosexuals because of his meekness and fear. Remember, we are not to win an argument, but win a soul.
A Holy Defense
Then lastly, Peter writes that we are to have a good conscience. The conscience is that God implanted ability to evaluate the moral quality of human actions and warns of sin by producing shame and guilt.
All men have a conscience. It is the key factor of man being created in the image of God and the reason why hardened atheists can offer moral judgments even though they can’t justify those judgments based upon their chosen worldview. A clear conscience is produced by a life of holy integrity when God redeems a person and declares him righteous on account of Christ’s atoning work.
In an apologetic encounter, we are not to come across in such a way that our conduct could produce mockery on the part of the non-Christian. We want to walk with integrity before the unbelieving world. Again, this is coupled with the previous defensive principle of being controlled with meekness and fear. We never want those to whom we are witnessing Christ to have an opportunity to ridicule our Savior on account of our foolish behavior.
I have often seen “Christian” protestors waving cruel signs that dishonor the individuals they are intending to evangelize. Whether they be homosexuals, or abortionists, or even poor folks enslaved to a cult. The protestors, in the name of being a “prophet of God,” believe it is their duty to hurl insulting religious remarks toward those they are attempting to convert. All the while, the non-Christians walk away doing exactly what Peter says we should never allow them to do: reviling their conduct. Those so-called Christians, rather than causing those who mock Christ to be ashamed due to their good conduct, allow their poor conduct to heap shame upon their heads. This is what we must avoid.
With these four foundational defenses ready in the personal lives of Christians, they then can be prepared to challenge the non-Christians. That is what I will take up next time.