CSI Apologetics

csiThoughts on The Use of Evidence in Apologetic Methodology.

Recently, I wrote up a brief outline summarizing in bullet-point fashion the key components distinguishing presuppositionalism from classic/evidential apologetic methodology.

One of my points highlighted what I believe to be two foundational distinctions between the methodologies. That being, classic/evidential apologetics believes in the self-authenticating nature of tangible evidence and proofs for the Christian faith; and men, though fallen in sin, retain in some fashion the ability to rationally evaluate the truthfulness of that evidence and make reasonable conclusions about spiritual matters.

To illustrate my point, I cited from the purpose statement of the campus apologetic para-church ministry, Ratio Christi. It says,

It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology.

I had a campus director for a Ratio Christi chapter in N.C. take friendly issue with my citing from that section of the purpose statement and he offered some challenges to my overall thesis I presented.

Some of those challenges include,

Ratio Christi utilizes the classic apologetic method, not merely “evidentialism.”
– Both classic apologists and evidentialists would never say an unbeliever can be “reasoned” to the faith.
– Presuppositionalism tends towards fideism, because it begs the question on the trustworthiness of Scripture as an unique, holy book.
– The Holy Spirit can use evidence to clear away intellectual obstacles and thus give a person a reason to believe in Christ.

I thought his comments offered up some excellent challenges to my apologetic theology, and though he provides some good ones, I still think those challenges demonstrate what I believe to be the inadequacy of his apologetic methodology. In order to spare the reader from having to slosh through a ten page paper, I’ll break up my response into two, possibly three, posts.

bigfootBy way of introduction, I will say that I am not opposed to utilizing evidence based arguments when I engage unbelievers with the Gospel. While I heartily agree that any so-called “evidence” for the existence of God or the integrity of Scripture is open to interpretation by the presuppositions the unbeliever brings to bear upon that “evidence,” a discussion involving evidence can be used to reveal the folly of those presuppositions and the faulty, inconsistent worldview from where they originate.

A good example of what I mean can be found in the debate James White had with atheist Dan Barker back in 2009. During his presentation, Dr. White played a video of an animation showing the F1 ATPase structure in the mitochondria. He did not present the video as “neutral facts” that can be used to reason with an unbeliever about the reality of God’s existence. He presented it as a fact that is incompatible with Dan Barker’s materialistic atheist worldview. In short, the presentation of this video exposes the folly of the atheistic interpretation of the world.

Additionally, just so as to be clear, I don’t depend upon evidence to be the persuading element in an evangelical encounter. Nor do I further believe the Holy Spirit “uses” evidence to clear intellectual obstacles as classic apologists claim in their dialogs with me.  That is because a sinner’s refusal to believe has nothing to do with his intellect being cleared, but has everything to do with his heart. He has a moral problem, not an evidence/intellect problem.

Let me draw our attention back to what I believe is the profoundest disagreement between our two methodologies, and that has to do with the nature of man. My challenger insists that no classic apologist he knows believes men can be “reasoned to faith apart from the Spirit.” Perhaps they may say that, but they don’t teach it or practice it. Let me explain:

If one were to survey the writings, books, seminar lectures, and radio monologues of the various proponents of so-called “classic apologetics,” they frequently appeal to men being “reasoned with,” or having “free-will to choose God,” or they even speak of some innate ability in man to “make a choice for God.”

Moreover, their presentations are often times inconsistent with their apologetic methodology. On one hand, when they teach about the doctrine of man, they will say he’s in rebellion against God and can do nothing good, yet on the other, when they engage the unbeliever, they seem to believe those exact same sinners, when presented with evidence for the Christian faith, can be convinced of it.

coldcaseTake for example the apologetic ministry (aptly named) Please Convince Me that supposedly applies the perspective of a cold-case detective to the Christian worldview. The very title of the ministry, “Please Convince Me,” insists unbelievers can be convinced of evidence. In fact, when I have heard J. Warner Wallace, the initial founder of the Please Convince Me ministry speak, his main approach is treating the truth claims of Christianity as if they are on trial in a court room and he is the lead detective presenting the evidence to the jury. Even his bio tells us he takes an “evidentialist” approach to truth when he applies it to the Christian faith.

However, their main doctrinal statement presents what I would consider an okay, biblical understanding of who man is in his fallen nature, even stating that men are so fallen they don’t even understand spiritual things. I would agree.

Yet in spite of that clear statement about the nature of man, the apologetics advocated and practiced by the ministry team, contradicts what is affirmed in that statement concerning the doctrine of man. How can a fallen sinner unable to understand spiritual things be convinced the evidence proves the truthfulness of the Christian truth claims? Would he not be a biased jury member to begin with?

My classic apologetic challenger says the Holy Spirit can use evidence to remove obstacles out of the way for sinners to believe. The reason the Holy Spirit does this, some would say, is so that the sinner can make a choice one way or another to believe or reject Christ. In the work of salvation, this is the Holy Spirit’s use of common grace working with the general revelation of nature and conscience to compel a sinner to believe. Bruce Demarest, in his book on general revelation, describes it like this,

The crippling effects of sin in the human mind are overcome in part by a general illumination of the Logos (John 1:4, 9). God wills that man, the pinnacle of His creation, should use his reason to secure truth, including elementary truths about himself. Equipped with an intuitional knowledge of God, including the light of conscience, and enabled by common grace, man by rational reflection on the data of the natural and historical order draws inferences about God’s character and operations [Demarest, 233].

So in other words, at least in the way I understand it, the “illuminating” Logos is equivalent to the “Holy Spirit using evidence to remove obstacles” and is one way He overcomes the crippling effects of sin in the human mind so as to draw men to Himself. The only problem I have with this classic, Wesleyan-Arminian view of the Spirit’s work of “prevenient” grace is that it isn’t biblical.

When I discussed the subject of man’s sin nature with my challenger, I had stated that the Bible tells us men are in need of having a divine work of regeneration happen to them first before they can savingly believe the Gospel. He responded by asking me a question, “how do I know the Bible says man needs to be regenerated?” I wasn’t sure if he was asking that question because he sincerely didn’t know what the Bible taught on the subject, or if it was his way of pointing out that my ability to understand what the Bible says about man, sin, and the Gospel proves I have the ability to understand the Gospel savingly apart from regeneration.

Whatever the case, he provides us with a starting point that allows me to briefly outline what I think the Bible teaches on man and his reason.

I agree with the classic apologist up to a point. I would be foolish to say men are so corrupted by sin that they are unable to rationally function in society, or in the case of his question, unable to understand what the Bible says about the sinfulness of men.

TimemagOf course I believe all men think “logically” (depending upon how they understand “logic”), communicate rationally with each other, react to instances of right and wrong, and have a sense of the divine, or what would be understood as a transcendent authority outside themselves. That would be what theologians understand as the “image of God” in man. God created men to be rational, logical, moral beings.

But when Adam fell into sin, sin not only separated man from God, but it also marred his ability to think rationally, logically, and morally. In the NT, the apostles often write about how man’s ability is marred in those areas. See for example Paul’s description of sinners in Romans 1:18 ff., 3:10-18, 8:6-8 and Ephesians 2:1-4, 4:17-19. It is what is termed “total depravity” because sin impacts the totality of the human being both his physical and spiritual dimensions.

I think my challenger would agree with my basic premise regarding man. Where we differ, or at least the area of disagreement between myself and what I see with the host of classic apologists with whom the majority of evangelicals in America are familiar, is with how they understand man’s ability to know God and submit to Him as their Lord.

First, I believe the Bible is clear that sinful men know there is a God. That goes back to them being created in His image. Paul tells us this in Romans 1-3. Even though they may dispute God’s existence like a number of the well-known atheists who publicly revile God and religion, they still live their lives as though He exists. They are outraged by acts of immorality (they always complain about God being a “moral” monster), they certainly insist upon being “logical” (faith and religion being “illogical”), and they appeal to a transcendent “authority” outside themselves (“Evolution is the driving force behind all reality”). In other words, they live life according to their divine image.

Second, I would agree with what my challenger implies with his question: That sinful men can understand biblical truth. I have encountered many unbelievers who know what the Bible says about the Resurrection, the atonement, and the basic Gospel message. In fact, I have met many who could articulate the Christian faith better than most Christians. Think Bart Ehrman. It is absolutely certain they know the “truth,” and in point of fact, they don’t need to be convinced of it at all by any evidence. Even the devils believe God, writes James, and they have the sense to tremble before Him (James 2:19).

The issue really isn’t unbelievers in need of being convinced of the truth claims of Christianity. The real issue is the implication those truth claims present to unbelievers. Let that last sentence soak in a moment (hence the reason I put it in italics, bold font, and colored it blue).

Remember, the Bible tells us their hearts are willfully in rebellion against God’s authority. Like Paul writes in Romans 8:7, “the carnal mind is at enmity against God.” It is a picture of warfare; men stand in treasonous opposition to God’s authority and willing reject it. Their opposition to God’s authority has nothing to do with intellectual obstacles in need of being removed or having a reasonable answer supplied to their objections. It is in fallen man’s nature to hate God’s authority governing his life, and that innate rebellion can only be over come by God’s regenerating power. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 12:3, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

Just as the Thessalonians turned from their idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9), unbelievers have to relinquish their sinful autonomy and submit themselves to Christ’s Lordship. They are in essence exchanging a worldview of foolishness (Psalm 14:1) for one grounded in wisdom that can only be found in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7, 9:10). That kind of profound, life-altering change can only come from the hand of God. It’s a divine miracle. True conversion, then, is God’s victory over the sinful heart of a man at war with Him.

Now it certainly me be that classic apologists agree with me, especially those who are Calvinistic in their theology. But there is a significant disconnect between theology and practice. Because the means they employ to engage the unbeliever with the truth claims of Christ do not take into consideration those Scripturally revealed insights regarding man’s nature. They also tend to shun the use of the Bible in apologetic encounters and put God on trial, as it were, so that the sinner can judge Him worthy of his loyalty. I find this approach not only problematic, but offensive. That’s what I’ll take up in my next post on this subject.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Readying Ourselves to Engage the World [Pt 2]

My desire with this series on apologetic and evangelistic methodology is to motivate Christians with confidence to evangelize more readily and frequently.  Obviously, much of what I have written is theoretical, and knowledge of truth is worthless unless we are prepared to apply it.

These last two articles are intended to draw out some practicality with our apologetic theology. I broke up my points of application into three, our preparation, our practice, and our pitfalls.

Just as a quick review of my first point, I wrote that we prepare ourselves to engage the world by knowing our faith and knowing our friend.

Knowing our faith entails knowing Scripture, which can only be accomplished if a person willingly reads the Bible on a regular basis. Additionally, a Christian will want to supplement his daily Bible reading with exposure to theologically rich books. That would also include having on hand a copy or two of a good systematic theology. Next, knowing our friend involves recognizing those individuals we evangelize are lost, opposed to God. Their opposition to us is a reflection of their opposition to the Lord and that should not dissuade us of our evangelistic efforts.With that in mind, allow me to turn to considering my final two points.

Our Practice

Keep in mind that when you engage an unbeliever with the truth of the Gospel and discuss eternal things, two opposing worldviews are meeting head-to-head. The encounter could be likened to two kingdoms at battle or two authorities competing for devotion.

On the one hand there is a Christian with a God-centered view of reality with Christ as his sovereign, redemptive Lord. On the other, is the unbeliever with his self-centered view of reality with his idolatrous understanding of God or god/gods as his lord. The Christian sees the world filtered through the self-disclosed revelation of the eternal God as contained in Scripture. The unbeliever sees the world filtered through the self-deceived philosophies of fallen men.

With such profoundly opposite perspectives, how exactly does one make any headway?

As I noted in a previous post, the Bible provides us with some specific insights to the nature of the unbeliever. Let me quickly review those insights,

All people know God in their hearts. There is not a person on earth who doesn’t believe in God because he hasn’t been shown enough compelling evidence. That is because all men are created in the image of God. Unbelief is not a matter of there being no evidence, its having no changed heart.

What unbelievers do with the reality of God’s existence is to suppress that truth. They do that by appealing to fanciful and imaginative excuses in the form of philosophies, worldly opinions, idolatrous false religions and so forth, as a justification for not believing God in the way He has revealed Himself in Scripture. They know he exists, they just refuse to submit to him as their Lord.

I have a modern day example of what I mean. Back in December 2004, I was with my family at Disneyland with a group of friends and as we were in line waiting to get on some ride, a group of anti-Bush malcontents came striding past us. One of the guys was wearing a tee shirt with a big image of a stern faced George Bush plastered on the front with the words scrawled across it, NOT MY PRESIDENT.

I had to keep from laughing at him until he walked on past with his pals, because I thought myself, “his shirt represents the nature of unbelief. ” That little punk didn’t reject Bush as president because he wasn’t thoroughly convinced he held the office of President of the United States. He rejected Bush as president because he hated him so much. Its the matter of this kid’s heart, not what is true.

However, it is a fallacious assertion to proclaim George Bush is “Not my president,” because it doesn’t matter how much a person despises Bush (or Obama for that matter) as a person or how much he or she hates his policies in the world, he is still your president – end of issue, period. And to demonstrate that he is YOUR president, George Bush (or whoever is president at the time) could exercise the full force of his elected office to really mess up your life  The same is true of the LORD. It is only by grace He hasn’t brought the full force of his absolute sovereignty to bear upon your life to really mess it up.

All people have core convictions they trust with their lives. Those personal convictions are formed by a variety of sources. They can be a person’s up-bringing, education, religious beliefs, etc, and they shape a person’s overall perspective on life. They provide a person with the basic answers to the “meaning of life,” issues that have eternal consequences, like “why am I here?” “What happens when I die?” and similar questions along those lines, and they shape personal opinions that intersect with the rest of the world.

More importantly, a person’s core convictions are often appealed to so as to help explain away the feelings of guilt all men created in the image of God, and separated from him, experience. People know they are separated from God, so the worldview philosophies they allow to govern their lives provide them assurance about choices and beliefs they make which in reality have those eternal consequences.

All people, by and large, live widely inconsistent to their chosen beliefs they use to justify meaning in their lives. This inconsistency may be manifested in a myriad of ways, because for each person it will be different. For example, a person may have multi-cultural convictions and argue all cultures are equally good and no other culture should imply they have better values than another culture. Yet, if individuals from another culture were to express their values of burning alive widows at their husband’s funerals, the multi-culturalist will become outraged. Many people may hold differing convictions about how THEY think the world should run, until they are inconvenienced by those very beliefs in their personal lives.

Now, with these thoughts in mind, the goal of the Christian is simple when he or she engages the unbeliever:

Gently, and with reverence, confront this person’s convictions, along with the inconsistency often display between those convictions and how the person really lives. Then you bring in the Gospel by showing the person he can’t truly place his trust in those chosen beliefs and the only person he can trust is the Living God who has given His son, Jesus Christ, to redeem a people called by His name and who restores an unbeliever to a functional spiritual relationship with his Creator. 

I realize that’s a mouth full, but that will be your goal.

How the evangelistic apologist will accomplish that goal differs from person to person, evangelist to evangelist.

The easiest way to challenge your friend will be to ask questions. Ask him why he believes the way he believes. If he is prone to make dogmatic assertions, ask him to explain what he means, or how it is exactly he can justify his dogmatic assertions. If he values the teaching of a particular individual or organization, ask him to explain why.

Basically, you are asking your friend about “politics and religion.” You know, the old saying of how people don’t like to talk about politics and religion. That is because those two subjects reveal a person’s heart and what he or she values. Your questions should be the ones which reveal a person’s heart, especially discovering what he or she thinks of death and eternity and the forgiveness of sins. Believe me, no matter how hardened an unbeliever may be, those subjects do occupy his mind frequently.

And, all the while you are challenging your friend, you should be unashamedly bringing to bear upon his worldview the Word of God and the Gospel. Never abandon the foundation of God’s Word on which you stand. It alone is your authority. The person may mockingly accuse you of blindly believing the Bible, but he is also blindly following an authority, even though he may not realize it.

Our Pitfalls

In spite of excellent preparation and a flawless ability to practically present any apologetic material and provide a compelling evangelistic witness, there will be some pitfalls endangering our efforts. Our ministry will only be served and much improved if we take note of these pitfalls so as to avoid them.

1) Quickly Becoming Discouraged Even though we should expect unbelievers in rebellion against God to respond with negative reactions and hostility when we attempt to evangelize them, the experience can still be disheartening. If we really care about a close loved one, the discouragement can compound, especially if it is a sibling, a parent, an aunt or uncle, or even a spouse. At those times, we need to remind ourselves again of who it is we are speaking to: an ornery sinner. The person may be nice, sweet, and a faithful friend, but as a sinner, the person doesn’t want anything to do with God.

If the individual happens to be a close loved one, someone you may see regularly, it may be wise to step back from the verbal evangelistic confrontation and merely love the person with silent, faithful service. The power of a changed, quiet life devoted to God can shout volumes into the hearts of an unbeliever. Eventually, in God’s timing, the person will come back around to talking about the Lord. Just be alert to when it happens.

2) Overwhelming The Person With Too Much Information Sometimes when those evangelistic encounters come about, there is a tendency on the part of the Christian to present the person with every argument in defense of Christianity the Christian has ever learned. Such an approach can be a frightening experience and will just make the person want to shut down and not engage in any conversation. The better approach is to go slow and present a little bit of information at a time. Take as much time to answer any objections and concerns the person may have. And of course, listen more than you may talk, allowing your words to be carefully selected and to the point.

3) Attempt To Win An Argument Don’t come across as wanting to pick a fight and win. Even if the person is a big-mouthed skeptic who needs to be shut down and put into his place, attempting to win the argument can potentially lead to heated words, raised voices, and flaring tempers that will merely damage your character. If the conversation is becoming argumentative, the better course of actions is to graciously bow out by ending it or changing the subject.

4) Treating The Person As An Enemy Along the lines of coming across as argumentative is the danger of treating the unbeliever as an enemy. It can be easy to fall into that trap if the person is adversarial with his mocking scorn. However, we cannot fail to think evangelistically with compassion toward the individual. The person is a sinner in need of being rescued.

We shouldn’t think like Jonah who wanted the people of Nineveh to die in judgment, but sadly, many Christians have similar feelings against the sinners in our culture. Rather than seeing the lost as our mission field who need to hear the message of reconciliation, they are viewed as the troublers of American values who must be stopped at all costs.

However those people forget they were one time hostile to the Gospel as well. They may had been out right mean-spirited about it, but if the people who shared with them had treated them as an enemy they may had never heard the Gospel. We are the ambassadors of God’s grace, not the proclaimers of eternal punishment.

5) Laziness We don’t take the time to prepare our minds for the task of evangelism. It may be we don’t even really care about reaching our loved ones for Christ because it forces us out of our comfort zone. Faithful evangelism means we have to take the time – time we would otherwise use to spend on ourselves – to get to know the person. We have to get involved with his life and that takes away from time spent with the people we like. I say that with all fingers pointing back at me, because I am all too familiar with this pitfall. But we must shake ourselves from that lazy stupor and involve ourselves with the messiness of people’s lives that is encountered when we evangelize.

6) Forget To Bathe The Time In Prayer According to Paul’s words in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, we proclaim Christ and Him crucified. We go in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we need to look in prayer to the God of salvation to direct our efforts and to work in the person’s heart. That is why you don’t have to be super eloquent in your speech, or an expert know-it-all on every major cult, religion and “ism” in the world. As long as you do your part by preparing spiritually with sanctification and study of the Word, God will take care of the rest.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Readying Ourselves to Engage the World

It is my contention that Christians lack the motivation to evangelize because they lack confidence confronting unbelievers with the Gospel. That lack of confidence, I believe, is due largely in part to the lack of proper theological and biblical grounding on the subject of evangelism and apologetics.

As I noted in my last couple of posts on this subject, doing apologetics and evangelism requires a good defense for the faith and a good offense to challenge the hearts of unbelievers.

Defending the faith begins with a life saturated in God’s Word that shows forth godly character submitted to Christ’s Lordship. Challenging the unbeliever involves directly assailing the worldview he has created for himself by confronting his heart and mind with the truth of God revealed in Christ.

Hence, effective apologetics and evangelism will utilize both defensive and offensive tactics to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

With that bit of background, I want to become more practical with the principles I have been outlining so far.  In order to ready ourselves to engage the world with the Gospel, I have three primary areas I would like to address: Our preparation, our practice, and our pitfalls. I will consider the first point with this post, and the final two in the next one.

There are two important points we need to grasp in order to get prepared,

First, Know Your Faith

That is an unspoken given. So why even mention it? Simply because evangelical Christians are spiritually illiterate when it comes to their faith. Some folks even seem to be willfully ignorant. It’s as if they don’t really care about learning the Bible, or key doctrines, or any theology at all. I find that attitude of self-imposed ignorance mystifying.

I would think any person who genuinely experiences a spiritual awakening would immediately desire to know the faith he or she just embraced. That was my experience when the Lord saved me. Yet sadly that is not the case for many Christian. Older, more seasoned Christians are often times even more ignorant.

They tend to only listen to CCM and rarely if ever think to listen to good biblical preaching. They may attend a weekly Bible study, if one is even offered, but the study is superficial. Church has become a routine done on Sunday mornings. A good service is judged by how well the pastor captivated the audience, or perhaps how much the music moved the people to experience “glory bumps.” Now, there are probably legitimate reasons why this lazy attitude exists in Christians, say for example, poor pastoring from the pulpit or insufficient discipleship, but whatever the case, a Christian must stir from his spiritual stupor and begin knowing his faith. How can this be done?

Begin first by regularly reading the Bible.

The Christian must get into the disciplined habit of reading the Bible daily. Cultivating a habit with reading the Scripture is an absolute, a “no other options” must for a Christian’s life.

You can never defend anything you know nothing about, and you will certainly never proclaim it to others with any authority. Neglecting the reading of Scripture is inexcusable, because there are many helps available in our day and age to aide a person in this area. For example, there are a number of “Through the Bible in a Year” outlines, including reasonably priced editions which break the Scriptures up so a person can begin on January 1st, and if read faithfully every day, the entire Bible will be completed by December 31st.

A person doesn’t have to get up at 4 AM to read the Bible. Find whatever time works best for you and start reading it through. I personally like the evening hours. Even if a person has reading disabilities and takes TWO years to read through the Bible, well fine, if that is what it takes. The important thing is reading it.

Once you have read through the Bible a few times, I would suggest finding a NT book you happened to like and picking up a short, but soundly written commentary, and do an in-depth study on that one book. One year I wanted to learn Galatians. I picked up maybe 4 or 5 commentaries, short in length and written by solid guys, and spent a few months (along with my daily Bible reading) studying Galatians. I have done this with Romans, though not extensively as Galatians, 1 – 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and the Pastoral epistles of Paul.

Also, listen to good preaching, particularly expository preaching, either by listening to the radio or purchasing CDs, tapes or MP3s. Excellent expository preaching is a fantastic way to learn the Bible as you read it regularly.

Second, supplement your daily Bible reading with reading good, biblically rich books written by solid men and women.

Along with the Bible, you want to gather around yourself good books written by solid men and women whose doctrine and ideas are shaped by the text of Scripture. Those are not the devotional style books found on the top 20 lists available at the local retail Christian bookstore which is usually overstocked with religious paraphernalia like Precious Moments figurines, footprints plaques, and all the CCM a person can’t humanly listen to.

The books I am talking about here are often written by individuals who are dead, like the Puritans; but their work is still in print because of the genuine value of their work. They cover important doctrinal subjects like God’s attributes, the authority of God’s Word, or the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the doctrines of salvation, and Christian sanctification. Those are the books you want to find and read, for they will help familiarize you with the teaching of scripture.

I can recall the first time I met John Piper when he spoke during one of our seminary chapel times. He had given a heart stirring message on the personal priorities of a pastor and afterward, I had occasion to ask him which Christian books and authors impacted his faith. I remember him pausing and then replying that rather than picking a variety of authors and books, he recommended finding a man who has written extensively and has been tried by time as being a faithful theologian and teacher, and read everything he wrote available in print. At the time, Piper had just finished the works of Jonathan Edwards and was then studying the life works of John Owen. I was encouraged by his words, because I had read much of A.W. Pink’s printed materials and was starting to immerse myself in the printed sermons of Thomas Watson. Piper provides excellent advice for supplementing consistent Bible reading.

Third, get yourself a good systematic theology.

A systematic theology is one of those real thick books with itty-bitty print and are generally more expensive that your regular book. For the laymen, they can be scary. However systematic theologies do what it’s title proclaims: it systematizes theological subjects by organizing biblical doctrine in to logical categories and showing how they all function in a comprehensive whole.

A systematic theology may be intimidating for some because it is so overwhelming in volume, but don’t let size discourage you for securing a couple of different ones.

The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns is a good starter, as is the classic Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof. A couple of more recent ones which are more in-depth, but geared for laymen and are easy to read, are Robert Reymond’s New Systematic Theology and Robert Duncan Culver’s Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. You may not agree with every conclusion a particular author makes with his points of theology, but a good systematic theology will help immensely with framing a theological structure built upon a strong foundation of daily Bible reading.

Realize that you will not be an immediate expert in all things theological and apologetic. But, you will be developing habits which will serve you well when you evangelize.

Second, Know Your Friend

A second important truth to keep in mind as you prepare to engage the world with the Gospel is to remember you are engaging unbelievers. We tend to forget this sometimes. Even though you have a friend who is sweet and nice, he or she is a sinner in need of a savior and it is the main reason a person is resistant to your message of salvation.

I mentioned what the Bible teaches on the state of  an unbeliever.  Let me remind us of some basic facts concerning the unbelieving friend you are about to engage:

Your friend will be deceived by the world’s wisdom of this age. He may be enamored with so-called experts perceived as authoritative in his life. These authorities can take many forms: false religions, pseudo-Christian cults, secular personalities. Who, or whatever, this authority is will hold sway in your friend’s heart by forming his perceptions and presuppositions about reality.

As a result of sin, your friend is darkened to spiritual truth (Ephesians 4:17 ff.). He doesn’t properly understand spiritual truth, and may in point of fact think you are “nutty” for believing any thing spiritual to begin with.

Your friend is also hostile to God. He is opposed to the Law of God and ultimately doesn’t want to have anything to do with it (Romans 8:5-9). His hostility may be mild or severe depending upon the person.

Even though he is darkened to spiritual truth and hostile to God, you still must persevere with giving him the Gospel. You possess the only message by which your friend can be saved. Only the Gospel can bring him to a place where he is reconciled to God and live in a spiritually functional life pleasing unto the Lord. Additionally, you engage him in the power of the Spirit. Hence, God has mandated His people to present the Gospel and He equips them with the ability to be effective, so regardless of how resistant your friend may be, God’s Spirit can easily break through the hardness of heart.

With my next post, I’ll consider some application.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Developing a Strategic Offensive

offenseI have been attempting to provide a simple, layman’s overview of apologetics and evangelism. The basic elements Christians need to consider when engaging a hostile world with the Gospels.

I have considered our foundational defensive measures we should use, so now I wish to orient the Christian’s focus on an offensive strategy.

A focused offense is also important, because there will come a time during the course of any apologetic encounter when the Christian must challenge the faith commitments and overall world view of the non-Christian by calling the person to repentance and submission to Christ as Lord.

I believe it is vital for all Christians to keep in mind that they are confronting a person’s entire belief system when they present the Gospel. Often times they mistakenly approach evangelism with the notion they are addressing individual sin issues in a non-Christian’s life, and they make the Gospel presentation no more significant to an unbeliever than choosing between flavors of ice-cream.

Evangelism, for instance, may be viewed as an attempt to get a person to pray a quick prayer so as to add his “profession” to a growing record. What would essentially be another “notch” in the belt, or golden soul-winning star added to a collection. Others may see evangelism as a means to get a non-Christian to give up certain moral vices like hard-rock music, smoking and partying on the weekends, and voting Republican. That is not what apologetics and evangelism is about.

When the Christian stands in a laundromat speaking to a non-Christian about his life, the Christian is doing more than persuading the person to relinquish his moral vices and convincing him to come to church on Sundays. That Christian is challenging the entire way a non-Christian thinks, lives, behaves, and believes. The non-Christian is living in rebellion against God, according to his own self-interests, with no genuine thought to how God would desire him to live his life. Thus, when a Christian tells a non-Christian he needs to repent from his sin and place his trust in Christ alone for his salvation, the Christian is confronting and challenging the validity of a non-Christian’s faith commitments in at least six ways,

1) The person faith commitments are misplaced, trusting himself rather than God.

2) He is believing wrongly about spiritual things, and in turn, about reality and the way he thinks and lives.

3) He is living a life in rebellion against God.

4) The manner in which he behaves himself dishonors God.

5) God has a right to justly punish his sinful treason.

6) Nothing else can save him from his condemnation, only Christ alone.

Those are areas of a person’s life that have eternal consequences and a Christian would be sinfully amiss if he only presented the Gospel in such a manner the non-Christian is left with the impression that what is at stake is whether or not banana chunky fudge is better than chocolate vanilla swirl. That is why having a tactical apologetic offensive with the non-Christian is vital.

Now, turning our attention to the scripture…

The Bible often uses the picture of warfare to illustrate the confrontation a Christian has with the unbelieving world. For instance, in Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul describes the Christian’s confrontation with the world like unto a soldier preparing for battle. Yet the warfare he has in mind is not one that is tangible and involves physical shoot outs and sword fights, but one that is spiritual, wrestling against the spiritual forces in high places.

That raises another problem area with Christians. Many of them mistakenly believe our spiritual battle is directly with demonic entities. In other words, the very hosts of the demonic world. Our spiritual battle, then, involves us praying up hedges of protection against the intrusion of demons into our daily lives, “binding” them with the use of “Christian” incantations, or naming them directly, like a “demon of lust” or “anger,” in order to prevent them from having influence upon a person.

I remember back during my first year of college (actually before I was a genuine Christian), someone loaned me a copy of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and told me with a straight face and an earnest tone in the voice that after reading this book my entire perspective of reality will change. That was an ominous challenge for me, so I immediately picked up the book and began to read.

The story is about the ill happenings taking place in a small town surrounding a beleaguered pastor and his wife, as well as some other characters who figure into his circumstances as the story moves along. What made the book popular, however, is how the author, Peretti, opens up the spiritual realm to reveal how there is a conflict between demonic, fallen angels and the good, holy angels of heaven.

The demons are described as ugly, hideous troll like creatures with bat wings, where as the good angels are tall, majestic, and muscle bound, with long flowing hair. Basically, an American Gladiator, or perhaps Fabio with eagle wings.

At any rate, we learn from the story that as long as the Christians are praying and “walking” in the spirit, the good angels have the strength to defeat the demons. If Christians don’t do anything, the angels are helpless to act against the powers of evil. We are also told there are demonic hierarchies with powerful demons in charge over a state, lesser powerful demons in charge of a city, and still a lesser powerful demon in charge over a town or neighborhood block. Near the end the story, the Christians have a revival of sorts and pray together to cast out the biggest and baddest demon (next to Satan of course) who had come into town to set up shop. Their united prayers empower the leading angel in the book to lay a mixed martial arts style smackdown on the head demon.

Even though his book made for some riveting fiction, the scenarios involving the demonic hordes and angelic hosts was absolutely unbiblical and presented a sci-fi view of spiritual warfare. I can recall how many misguided Christians, taking a cue from the book, began to organize conferences where Christians would pray together to strengthen the angels in large American cities to cast out the powerful demons controlling those cities.

I remember how the person who loaned me the book put together a prayer team that spent all day one Saturday marching around my college campus in the same manner Joshua led the Children of Israel to march around Jericho so as to capture it for the Lord. That type of misleading spirituality only feeds a superstitious mind-set that sees a devil behind every ill wind and misplaces a person’s confidence in trusting the sovereign providence of God.

The scriptures never describe spiritual warfare in that manner. Note how Paul writes in Ephesians 6:11 that our attention is directed toward combating the schemes of the devil. We are not fighting the devil directly, but the schemes he has put into place to hold men’s minds captive to their own sin and error.  

Paul expands on this picture of spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthian 10:3-5

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

There are three areas of warfare we as Christians need to take heed to insure we will have a strategic offensive with the Gospel.

1) The Battle Ground

Just like in Ephesians 6, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that we are waging war not against fleshly individuals, but against spiritual realities. But note that our warfare is not like playing a game of Halo or Warcraft. We are not fighting personal demonic entities, like a demon of lust or demon of greed, but we fight against arguments, lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God, and thoughts.

Put simply, true spiritual warfare engages a person’s mind

We do engage the devil, but it is his methods we grapple with, not him personally. The devil’s most effective method of making war is by spreading false doctrine, erroneous philosophies, false religions, and alternate, anti-God worldviews.

Our battleground is set upon those ideas, false doctrines, and philosophies. Satan is desirous to keep men from knowing God. Granted, our rebellious sin nature does a good job, but Satan helps keep men in bondage with his schemes. Thus, our battle is waged on the ground controlling the hearts and minds of men.

2) Our Weapons

Paul speaks of our weapons of warfare. The word weapon is a generic description of anything used as a weapon like a sword, or spear, or club. There are two descriptions of these particular weapons at our disposal.

First, our weapons are not fleshly or man-made. Obviously that is because our warfare is not against physical entities. It is rather pointless to utilize a sword against a philosophy or false doctrine. Paul may have in mind the notion of human wisdom. What would be man-made techniques of persuasion. Perhaps a modern-day example would be the various seeker-sensitive approaches to evangelism that attempt to win non-Christians to the Gospel by meeting “felt needs” or manufacturing a comfortable and delightful church attending experience that doesn’t rub the wrong way.

Second, Our weapons are mighty. The word “mighty” has the idea of powerful. The root word is dunamas and it presents the picture of having ability or capability. The weapons we command are capable of achieving the goal in which they are used. That is because they are spiritually energized by the Lord. We are not dependent upon weapons that cannot defend us nor hurt the enemy, but in our arsenal we have the one weapon that is able to do what we use it to accomplish.

What then is our main weapon? The knowledge of God in Christ

We know the Lord, we are able to discern the truth, we have possession of His revelation, and we are to proclaim it as our main weapon against the schemes of the devil in which we do battle. As we proclaim the knowledge of God, particularly encapsulated in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, any effectiveness is granted by God. He is the one who empowers our endeavors.

3) Our Strategy

It is quite simple: destroying strongholds, arguments, lofty opinions and taking every though captive.

The word destroy comes from the word katastrophe from where we derive our modern English word catastrophe. It means to over throw or cast down in destruction. We destroy strongholds or what would be a firmly built fortresses of unbelieving minds. Those strongholds manifest themselves in clever argumentation opposed to God’s truth, creative imaginations, evil reasoning, intentional purposes designed to fight against God, and any other mental devices men use to dream up ways to suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. Those arguments deny the truth, or ignore the truth, or make the truth into a lie. All of them are sinful, high-handed rebellious reasoning against the Lord.

Our offensive strategy, then, is to employ the spiritual “weapon” of the knowledge of God in Christ to the hearts and minds of sinful men so as to take their minds captive to the obedience of Christ. We are to persuade them with the truth against the many sophisticated lies they have invented to fuel their rebellion against the Lord.

That is not only an honorable calling for Christians, but also a difficult one. However, the Lord has promised the empowering work of His Spirit to aide our endeavors. The result of our apologetic does not rest in our persuasive abilities as a debater, but in the work of God drawing men’s hearts to Himself. We just have the glorious honor of being the “weapon” in the Redeemer’s hand.

But, does that mean we only throw out a bunch of Bible verses? Are we not to convince the non-Christian of his errors? And how exactly do Christians engage those sophisticated lies the non-Christian has invented? That will be the subject of my next post.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Building Our Defense

I believe Christians often operate under two misconceptions concerning evangelism and apologetics.

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 says to, “Set apart Christ as Lord” in our hearts. “Set apart” is the basic meaning of “to sanctify.” Any object or person considered sanctified has been set apart for special use.

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.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Evangelism’s Woes

When I was in college as a brand new Christian, I dreaded the thought of evangelizing something awful. I saw evangelism as needlessly hassling people at a laundry mat on Saturday mornings who otherwise wanted to be left alone to fold their clothes. There was also the interruption of a family’s Tuesday evening supper time or their watching the final moments of Wheel-of-Fortune so I could engage them in a phony spiritual conversation that merely led to pressuring them to attend our church.I was always nervous during those encounters, primarily because I was clueless as to what to say and that was on top of my awkward anxiety I was feeling at the time because of my perceived, unwanted intrusion.

Additionally, I always left with a heavy heart of guilt because rather than putting the person into a spiritual head-lock and holding him down until he cried “uncle” by praying a sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus into his heart, I just wanted to end the conversation with a pleasant “thank you for your time” and then exit as quickly as I could. A true lover of men’s souls, at least as I thought, would never struggle with cold-turkey evangelizing. Yet here I was struggling, because I didn’t know what to do really and I felt those encounters were inappropriately manufactured.

During the first semester as a junior in college, I was asked by my college pastor to participate in an Evangelism Explosion class being taught at our church. Our college pastor was preparing a mission trip of sorts during our spring break and he wanted me, along with a select group of other kids, to prepare ourselves for the trip by having some “evangelizing” knowledge and experience. I was some what willing to take the class, because I thought it would help me overcome my dislike toward evangelism, especially the cold-turkey variety.

Evangelism Explosion, or E.E. as it is popularly known, was a simplistic evangelism outline developed by D. James Kennedy. The gimmick driving the E.E. presentation was two opening questions designed to break the ice with the person being evangelized, as well as provide a starting point for the evangelist to introduce his presentation.

The first question asked something like, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”

Pretty much every person to whom I asked this first question responded positively with a “yes.” I don’t believe I can recall anyone I asked responding with, “No, I’m headed to a devil’s hell in a hand-basket and loving every minute of it.”

The second question, however, was meant to add the rub that was to get the presentation going. It asked, “If you were to die tonight and stand before the LORD, and he were to ask, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”

The question is supposed to expose what it is exactly a person is placing his or her confidence in for salvation. Unlike the first one, I received a variety of unique responses with that second one.  Anything from “my good works” to “I walked an aisle at a revival service when I was eight.” I can recall one time on one of those spring break mission trips to the Detroit area asking a 13 year old kid the second question. His reply was classic: “What would I say to God if he asked me why He should let me into heaven? Well, its your job.” What do you say to that exactly?

Any rate, I took the class. It was a 10 lesson course that met once a week. For the bulk of my friends, it was on Tuesday evening. I had a college class on that night, so I had to take it on Saturday mornings. It was myself and another fellow my age who had even a greater dislike for evangelism to the point of being emotionally paralyzed. At first, the two of us were enjoying the class, because it was taught by one of our Sunday school teachers who did a good job. Plus, the first 2 or 3 weeks did not involve any of that door-to-door or laundry mat evangelism I dreaded.

But maybe the 4 week into the session the teacher couldn’t do it any more for some reason or another and a popular lady from our church took his place. (Yes, you read that right). When that happened, my evangelistic fervor was extinguished.

The lady had a reputation of being charismatic-friendly (she loved to attend James Robinson crusades if you know who he is) and she was heavily influenced by Bill Gothard, a man I believed only caused havoc in congregations who used his teaching materials. During the lecture portion, that lasted about 45 minutes in her living room, she spiritualized the biblical text at every turn and spent a good 10 minutes binding devils and calling up hedges of protection around us as we prepared to go out into the world.

When we started the personal evangelism portion, we were supposed to call on those folks who had visited our church and filled out a card. Come to find out that Saturday mornings are a terrible time to visit with people. Go figure.

Worse still were those college students, particularly the ones who were required by their fraternity and sorority to visit a church at least twice each semester. Just for future reference in case someone wants to try go door-to-door on a Saturday morning, a 19 year-old nursing a hang-over from the previous night’s party who is just getting out of bed at 11 AM and meets you at the door in his underwear could care less about sitting through an E.E. presentation.Just sayin’.

Since most, if not all, of the people we were supposed to visit were never around on Saturday mornings for us to present our evangelistic outline, guess where our lady teacher thought the best evangelism fodder existed? We made a bee line to the laundry mat.

Moreover, our outreach pastors were always trying to find inventive ways to inject the E.E. presentation into a conversation. During the spring of 91, after the start of Desert Storm, one of our clever pastors put together a faux-survey that started out asking the person his opinion about war and international politics, but then moved to abruptly introducing the two E.E. questions. Most folks would hang with you if you stuck with the war and politics portion of the survey, but immediately shut down as soon as you turned to “religion.” I hated those surveys because I felt they were outright dishonest and painted the person presenting it as a liar. In fact, I had some guy call me dishonest to my face and I believe he was right to say so.

Churches in my college community had similar outreach/evangelism programs. Many of them would have folks going door-to-door in the neighborhood evangelizing Christians who just returned from their own evangelism efforts. One church in my area had the manager of the Kroger grocery store as a member. He allowed a group of young musicians from his church to set up a rock and roll stage on a tractor trailer flatbed and play loud, cacophonous music with the name Jesus sprinkled through out the lyrics way into the late hours on Friday and Saturdays in order to reach out to the high schoolers driving up and down the main drag.

Other churches took to what they called “street preaching.” That “street preaching” was a far cry from the excellent efforts of such current ministries like Way of the Master and Tony Miano.  The “street preaching” I witnessed was a guy or two with bull horns or some other public address system who would bombard the shopping public by shouting at them to repent from the cultural ills of our society, while holding crudely made signs with Bible verses scrawled across them, or hideous picture of Jesus, or the Pope, or maybe Joseph Smith.

Even though they may be unique to myself, those personal anecdotes were how I understood evangelism in the early days of my Christian walk.  I imagine other readers may have similar experiences. Thus, I had an aversion toward what I thought was hit-and-run evangelism: Hit the person with a canned gospel presentation or a tract and then run off to hit still another person with the same canned material. Sadly, those methods are how many Christians today view evangelism and apologetics and they call it “soul winning.”

But that hit-and-run “soul winning” is the very method we should seek to avoid for at least four reasons:

Hit and Run soul winning is built upon shallow theology. Rarely does the presentation or the tract handed to the person fully explain the need and purpose of the gospel. All that is shared is how a person is a sinner, God loves him or her, and he or she needs to pray a prayer asking Jesus into his or her heart. For the scrawny, red-neck guy wearing the devil horns hat that I presented a hit-and-run style message to one night in that Kroger grocery store parking lot, being a sinner is a fun thing, because it means beer and women. Going to church is not only boring, but it makes him have to give up his beer and women.

Rarely do those hit-and-run presentations explain fully WHY a person is a sinner, WHY being a sinner offends God, and WHAT it was exactly that Christ accomplished on the cross. Unless a Christian is firmly grounded in the theology of redemption so as to expand upon the presentation, the person never fully knows WHY it is exactly the gospel is truly a life and death proposition.

Hit and Run soul winning is designed to illicit only a response, not develop disciples. The end goal of the presentation is to get the person to “pray the prayer.” Never has the Christian giving the presentation thought beyond what happens AFTER the person really prays the prayer. That is a vital question, because Matthew 28 says to go into all the world an “make disciples” not “get people to pray a prayer.”

The true end goal of apologetics and evangelism is to bring the person to the Lordship of Christ. However, that will be most effectively accomplished if the one who led him to Christ now gets involved in his life to help him live out his new faith. Sadly, most “soul winners” don’t have this in mind when they “soul win” nor are they trained to think in terms of discipling new converts.

Hit and Run soul winning is concerned with numbers over people. Expanding upon the last point, the emphasis placed upon “soul winning” is getting a significant cache of people to pray after the end of the presentation. In other words, it is only gathering numbers.

For instance, after our E.E. teams returned from the “field” everyone gave a report. There was a competition of sorts as to who could one up the other by telling how many people heard the entire presentation and a super bonus if someone prayed the prayer. I can recall a guy from another church in town bragging about how he had won twenty souls during a particular week. But that is a numbers game, not a genuine concern for the “souls” of those people. After that fellow boasted about his “trophies,” a thoughtful friend of mine had the wisdom to ask him, “So you have twenty people to disciple now?” The guy’s response was “That’s the churches duty, I just win’em.” People are not trophies to be earned in large quantities.

Hit and Run soul winning presents the gospel in a frivolous manner. Cheap, manipulative gimmicks, rock and roll bands on the back of flatbeds, crudely made signs, and hollering at the public from a bull horn can quickly cheapen the savior who gave His life as a ransom for many. Christians must be honoring to their Lord when they present the gospel and that is accomplished by handling accurately the gospel message. We cannot be presenting a partial gospel message; it must be the full doctrinal content of why Christ had to die. Nor do we hand out tracts that give a theological incorrect presentation of salvation, and we certainly must respect those to whom we are sharing our faith.

I am not opposed to E.E. or the handing out of tracts to the lost, or even street preaching done by biblically sound men. They can all be effective tools for the Christian. I believe, however, that Christians need to keep in mind the gravity of the message they are presenting. It must be presented clearly, concisely and with an attitude honoring to God, and I think those are qualities lacking in many evangelistic encounters.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Directing Our Apologetic Focus

laserEvangelism is a commanded discipline that many Christians tend to ignore and they provide a variety of excuses as to why they shy away from any form of evangelism.

Some Christians may think they do not have the personality to engage a stranger in a discussion on the topic of religious faith. Others believe they aren’t smart enough to answer difficult questions and objections. While still others sadly don’t care to bother anyone at all with the Gospel message because they think religious belief is too personal and it is none of the Christian’s business to tell a person he is wrong about his convictions. Thus, my goal with these articles on the subject of apologetic evangelism is two-fold:

a) to stir up a desire in Christian folks that proclaiming the Gospel is not an option, and

b) challenge them to craft their skills in presenting the gospel message to non-Christians with a solidly biblical apologetic method.

Just to review a moment.

The popular approach to apologetics and evangelism that most Christians are familiar involves meeting the non-Christian on what is considered neutral, unbiased ground. This is done by presenting to him a series of philosophical, logic-chopping arguments and lines of tangible, empirical evidence that are believed can clearly argue for the truth claims of Christianity. The evidence is laid out so both the Christian and non-Christian can evaluate it together to determine if the evidence genuinely affirms what the Christian faith proclaims. The Christian then appeals to the non-Christian’s reason so as to get him to conclude with the Christian that the particular evidences under consideration are undeniable and self-evident and thus affirming the validity and reliability of the Christian faith.Even though that may be the popular approach in evangelistic apologetics, I believe it has some serious problems. I believe there is an approach that is not only more biblical, but even more effective when challenging the non-Christian. I will call this the worldview approach

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Rather than focusing our apologetic defense of Christianity upon the presentation of specific lines of evidence and philosophical arguments that appeal to an unbeliever’s reason, with the worldview approach, an evangelist begins by building his apologetics around some specific insights revealed in Scripture concerning human nature.

Let me briefly summarize those insights:

1) All mankind bears the image of God. Genesis 1:26,27 tells us that when God created man, He created him to be His image bearer. Simply put, men were created to think rationally, ethically, and have their thoughts reflect God’s thoughts as they live in the world He created.

2) Sin has separated mankind from God. That is manifested in many ways through the attitude and behavior of men:

– They have no desire to love God. (Romans 3:10-18)

– Their minds are darkened to the point they often think irrationally about the world in which they live. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

– Their hearts are rebellious against God so that they wish to have nothing to do with Him and in point of fact fight against His sovereignty. (Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 2:1-4)

– Sin causes men to be oriented toward the world, away from God, so that they pursue their own lustful imaginations and the sinful desires found in their hearts. (1 Corinthians 2:14).

One important note to consider: though men are sinners with darkened minds, that doesn’t mean they are stupid and unable to function in life. Men can solve problems, invent new things, promote commerce, and build societies, so their sin nature does not make them a non-functioning invalid. The image of God stamped on a person does remain intact. However, sin creates a disconnect, disrupting how men relate to their creator.

3) Men suppress the truth of God. Romans 1:18 ff. tells us that men know God is real. There is no need to convince any non-Christian with evidence the truth that God exists. All men already know it in their hearts; they reject it because they hate God (Psalm 14:1). What men do is use the imaginations of their heart to explain away God’s authority to define His world, man’s reality, and His command for submission to His sovereignty.

Instead, with the creation of their various alternative explanations, men seek to redefine our world apart from God. They seek to establish their own authority over what is believed to be their own lives. All false religions, for example, are not misinformed attempts by well-intentioned people to worship the true God, but rather are expressions of rebellious hearts seeking to establish their own righteousness apart from God.

As a result of those factors caused by the impact of a sinful nature, the Christian apologist is more aware of where the non-Christian is coming from and he can better focus his apologetic approach when engaging that non-Christian. When he presents biblical truth and the gospel message, the Christian should endeavor to aim his approach toward four key areas:

First, with a biblical understanding of human nature, there isn’t any neutral ground on which to meet the non-Christian. The popular apologetic method suggests that men can evaluate facts and evidence objectively without any bias. Additionally, it is believed the evidence is self-evident and any person who uses common sense and reason will see the reasonableness of the self-evident evidence.

However, the biblical perspective does not concede that any neutral ground exists anywhere. As we saw above, the Bible explicitly tells us that men evaluate their world through minds darkened in sin and separated from God. Hence, they interpret the evidence and facts in a rather un-neutral way; a way that cleverly explains away the evidence and facts pointing to the reality of God.

Second, all men interpret evidence and evaluate their world filtered through a set of presuppositions, or what could be considered unquestioned axioms that are taken for granted by the non-Christian. Those presuppositions are not supported by specific beliefs, but rather they form the means by which a person assess other beliefs and draws conclusions about the world where he lives; The glasses he uses to view his world.

Atheists, for example, assume no supernatural exists, because they claim they have no tangible evidence of the supernatural. Thus, any evidence presented by the Christian in defense of the Christian faith will be interpreted according to that anti-supernatural presupposition or axiom. Nothing the Christian presents to the atheist will convince him of Christian truth claims as long as his anti-supernaturalism remains his cornerstone presupposition.

In fact, it is accurate to say that all men on earth, regardless of their station in life, have foundational presuppositions they assume are correct when they look out over their world. Even Christians utilizing the popular apologetic method have some starting presuppositions. For example, the notion that the non-Christian can be reached on neutral ground and they can reason in the same way the Christian does when considering the validity of specific evidences. There is nothing wrong with presuppositions filtering how we view reality. The issue is what authority establishes those presuppositions and if pressed, can the person justify or render an account for their validity?

Third, all men, then, have formulated a worldview in which they intersect and connect with the world. A worldview is a person’s philosophical outlook on life consisting of the most foundational faith commitments a person uses to interpret the world and the life we experience. It can be religious based, like Bible-belt, red state evangelicalism, as well as non-religious, like Manhattan metropolitanism.  Whatever the case, the worldview will be defined and shaped by what the person considers to be the ultimate authority informing his worldview.

For most people, their ultimate authority is their own human autonomy. That is, the individual person makes himself the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Once again, that is because men have minds darkened in sin and they are separated from God. Their personal bent is oriented toward the earth away from heaven and God’s sovereign authority, so that their ultimate “authority,” even if we can call it that, is generally their own selfish hearts.

People may claim lip-service to an authority outside of themselves like a religious institution or even secular science, but when scrutinized closely, their philosophical outlook on life begins and ends with what personally pleases them. Even the authority they give lip-service to may be twisted and molded to satisfy their whims.

Fourth, men live inconsistent to what they know to be true. On the one hand, non-Christians continue to live according to the image of God stamped upon their inner being. They have a sense of absolute morality, of right and wrong, of justice, beauty, and logic. Yet on the other hand, in spite of that image of God, they often live inconsistently to the worldview they have created for themselves.

For instance, an animals rights proponent would argue that men and animals are all equal. A chicken has no more worth than a human, or a horse, or any other animal that lives on the earth. However, if pressed a bit, animal rights activists would more than likely adhere to an evolutionary belief of origins. In doing so, they live blissfully unaware of the radical inconsistency between their animal rights activism and evolutionary theory. For if Darwinian evolution is true, then natural selection favors those species that are stronger and able to survive over others. Humans, according to evolutionary theory, would be the strongest and most capable of surviving, and if humanity decided it would be in the best interests for their survival to eliminate bothersome, lower species of animals, what rights do they really have?

With those four basic theological proponents in place, the challenge then for the evangelistic apologist is to exploit those four areas in an apologetic encounter by forcing a non-Christian to provide a justification for why he believes what he believes. Basically, the Christian is challenging the authenticity of the non-Christian’s worldview. A Christian can accomplish that by demonstrating the irrationality of the non-Christian’s particular worldview, as well as challenge him to justify his presupposition in light of his chosen perspective on reality.

The Christian does that, not by starting from a position of neutrality that attempts to argue toward God and divine revelation, but from a position that is unabashedly within the circle of divine revelation and argues from the Christian understanding of the world, man’s condition, and the redemption of Jesus Christ. Instead of avoiding the Bible and bring it into the discussion after lines of evidence for it have been set forth and agreed upon, the Christian appeals to it from the start as his ultimate authority.

Apologetic Evangelism 101: Introductory Considerations

The word “evangelism” can conjure up uncomfortable thoughts in the minds of many Christians today.

Those folks see evangelism as 2 hours of aimless wandering around on a Tuesday evening hunting down people who may have visited their church in order to share a canned gospel presentation with them. Or perhaps evangelism is hassling people at a laundry mat or in the mall with gospel tracts. Whatever the case, Christians will often struggle with thoughts of guilt, because they don’t “witness” enough, or they aren’t the “soul winners” like others they may know at church.

Additionally, the idea of apologetics is foreign to them as well.  Apologetics is something only qualified seminary students do, or those folks who have specialized ministries dealing with cult groups and other false religions.

Those are two common misconceptions Christians have about evangelism and apologetics, and it will be my endeavor with these series of posts to dispel the discomfort experienced by Christians when they are in a position to evangelize. Moreover, I wish to shore up our theological thinking as to the best approach we should take when we defend our faith and engage the world with the Gospel.

Before I begin, it may be helpful to briefly define the words evangelism and apologetics as they pertain to the Bible.

Evangelism is a word taken from the Greek word evangelion, which simply means good news or glad tiding. We see this word used for instance in Romans 10:15 where Paul speaks of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things. Christians could rightly be called good news messengers, because we proclaim the good tidings of Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection.

Apologetics is derived from the Greek word, apologia, translated as a defense in 1 Peter 3:15. Our modern word apology is derived from apologia, but the word means much more than just saying “I am sorry.” It is a legal term that has the idea of removing misconceptions and answering objections. Thus, when a Christian engages a person in an apologetic encounter he attempts to remove the misconceptions the unbeliever may have about the Christian faith and answer any objections.

Now, with those two definitions in mind, allow me to dismiss two “myths” about Christians, apologetics, and evangelism.

First, all Bible-believing Christians must be prepared to offer a response to those non-Christians who may have questions or criticisms concerning our faith. This is clearly taught in 1 Peter 3:15-17. I will develop some practical applications from this text in a later article, but suffice it to say for now, Peter’s words are emphatic that developing a Gospel strategy that entails both apologetics and evangelism is not a duty solely undertaken by pastors or seminary graduates or “trained specialists.”  It is a responsibility that is to be undertaken by all Christians from all walks of life regardless of education, age, sex, race or denomination. In a manner of speaking, apologetic evangelism is an equal opportunity for everyone who names Christ. Offering an apologetic in defense of our faith is for all men and women who name Christ. Defending the faith is technically called apologetics.

Secondly, apologetics is a vital part of evangelizing the unbeliever with the Gospel. Some Christians separate apologetics and evangelism as if they are two entirely different disciplines. They even define apologetics as pre-evangelism and evangelism as giving the Gospel presentation. That is really an artificial dichotomy, because nowhere in Scripture do we see what would be called apologetics separated from evangelism. When it comes down to it, apologetics and evangelism are two sides of one coin and work in cooperation to present the Gospel to the unbeliever.

So, with all of that as foundation, the issue under debate as far as Christians are concerned is to determine the most profitable method of approach to apologetic evangelism.  Or put another way,

what exactly is the best way to defend the faith and present the gospel?

The most popular approach with apologetic methodology, and the one most familiar to the average church-going Christian, is the utilization of specific lines of evidence or philosophical argumentation during an encounter with an unbeliever. This is the approach advocated by the majority of Christian para-church apologetic ministries that dot the evangelical landscape.

It is the strategy used by Christian radio programs like Hank Hanegraff’s Bible Answer Man and Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason, and authors like Josh McDowell in his classic work, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Lee Strobel and his “Case for” books, many of the proponents of Intelligent Design theory, and groups like the Ratio Christi apologetic college alliance.

Basically, in an apologetic encounter, the Christian will present to the unbeliever specific proofs, or lines of evidence, that supposedly authenticate the truth claims of the Christian faith. The evidence could be anything from the traditional proofs for the existence of God, evidence for the reliability of the Bible, and proofs for the claims of Christ’s Deity and Lordship. It is assumed by the apologist that the evidence presented in defense of his faith is self-evident and self-authenticating and that it appeals to the reason of the unbeliever.

For example, if a Christian is attempting to demonstrate the infallibility of the NT documents, he may appeal to the many thousands of copies of NT manuscript evidence available for scholars to consider. He may point out how the manuscripts supporting the NT books are more numerous and go back to within generations of the original authors more so than any other manuscripts of any other historical documents in ancient antiquity. The Christian will use that proof as evidence demonstrating the general reliability of the NT. “A book with thousands of copies which are relatively the same in content and are just a generation removed from the original authors shows forth a book that is accurate in what it records.” Or so it is argued.

Take another example: Suppose the Christian is attempting to prove the historicity of Christ’s Resurrection to an non-Christian who believes Jesus never really died, but merely fainted from the trauma of his experience, was mistaken as being dead by those who crucified him and those who saw his crucifixion, but later revived in the cool tomb where the soldiers put him.

In order to answer such a claim, the Christian can appeal to the historical secular evidence for the brutal nature of a crucifixion. For instance, the terrible scourging, the physical nailing of the hands and feet to the wood with large spikes, the inability due to great pain the person on the cross experiences just to lift himself up to gasp for air. All of those proofs are meant to show that Jesus really died, and didn’t just pass out from the stress and pain only to be rejuvenated later in a cool cave.

In addition to appealing to lines of evidence, the Christian may also employ philosophical arguments that are viewed as logically compelling to the unbeliever. For example, in order to demonstrate the existence of God to a skeptical unbeliever, the Christian may point out the complexity of the human body and appeal to the idea that such a complex organism like the human body could not develop without a sufficient cause. The Christian would then move to show how it is only logical to accept the truth that all created things must have a cause, and because every effect must have a cause, eventually, there must be an uncaused cause and the only likely candidate for ultimate causality is God.

The Christian presents those proofs and arguments in such a way that both the Christian and the non-Christian can evaluate them on equal footing, or in other words, from a position of unbiased neutrality. The proofs and arguments are put in the middle of the table, as it were, and both the Christian and the non-Christian evaluate the significance of each proof as to its value in proving the Christian faith.

It is important to remember that the Christian apologist generally does not appeal to the Bible at this point, nor does he present the Gospel. In fact, appeals to the Bible to evaluate the so-called proof or evidence under consideration, or to anchor the arguments being used, is viewed as being possibly detrimental to the apologetic encounter.

At this point, the Christian is appealing to the unbeliever’s reason and the reasonableness of the evidence presented, and he merely wishes to demonstrate to the unbeliever that certain evidences and philosophical arguments can show the reliability of the Christian truth claims. Once the unbeliever agrees with the Christian that the evidence presented shows forth the plausibility of the existence of God, or the truthfulness of Christ’s claims to deity, or the factuality of the Resurrection, or the reliability of the Christian Scriptures, only then does the Christian take the unbeliever to some specific Bible verses and present the Gospel.

Even though this is the approach advocated by popular level Christian apologists, I believe it contains some foundational flaws.

I say that for at least 3 reasons:

1) In the end, after the Christian and non-Christian finish their discussion, all that was really accomplished was the haggling over the “authoritative” nature of the evidence presented or the arguments outlined.

What the Christian believes is compelling proof for the truth claims of his faith may be unimpressive to the non-Christian. Also, there is no true, neutral evidence everyone will agree upon. As we will see later, all men evaluate the evidence in their world through what could be termed a worldview filter. In other words, everyone has some starting presuppositions framed by their foundational, personal biases that bring them to draw the conclusions about interpreting evidence in the way they do.

2) After all the evidence is presented to the unbeliever, the conclusion is one of probability.

“If this evidence X is reasonable then it is possible the claim of Y may be true.” The Christian faith is not about possibility but certainty in an historical event as revealed in Scripture: The coming of God in human flesh, living among His people for 33 years, giving His life on the cross for the atonement for sin, and resurrecting from the dead to demonstrate the certainty of our justification and removal of sin. The possibility of this happening also means the possibility of it not happening. In one sense, this apologetic method smacks of postmodern relativity, because it pushes certainty and absolute truth into the realm of uncertainty as far as a discussion with an unbeliever is concerned.

3) The Christian is forced to lay aside his only source of true authority, the Word of God.

Contrary to the popular view of apologetics and evangelism which holds off talking about the Bible until the Christian can “arm wrestle” the non-Christian into coming around to thinking like him, the only standard by which a Christian can even begin to present a reasonable apologetic presentation is one that is framed by an understanding of Scripture as God’s revelation to man. Proofs for the existence of God and certain lines of evidence may be helpful when speaking with a non-Christian, but they are only truly helpful if they are understood in the context of a biblical worldview, with a Christian explaining reality through the prism of Scripture.

Those three points will lead us into a more efficient way to engage apologetics. That is what I will take up next time.

Apologetic Evangelism Methodology 101 (pt 9)

Readying Ourselves to Engage the World (pt 3)

I have been discussing how we as Christians can ready ourselves to offer a credible evangelistic apologetic to the unbelieving world. I have three major points I wish to highlight I believe can help Christians set their mind to the task.

I first considered Our Preparation, then Our Practice, and with this final point,

Our Pitfalls

In spite of excellent preparation and a flawless ability to practically present any apologetic material and provide a compelling evangelistic witness, there will be some pitfalls endangering our efforts. Our ministry will only be served and much improved if we take note of these pitfalls so as to avoid them.

1) Quickly Becoming Discouraged Even though we should expect unbelievers in rebellion against God to respond with negative reactions and hostility when we attempt to evangelize them, the experience can still be disheartening. If we really care about a close loved one, the discouragement can compound, especially if it is a sibling, a parent, an aunt or uncle, or even a spouse. At those times, we need to remind ourselves again of who it is we are speaking to: a ornery sinner. The person may be nice, sweet, and a faithful friend, but as a sinner, the person doesn’t want anything to do with God.

If the individual happens to be a close loved one, someone you may see regularly, it may be wise to step back from the verbal evangelistic confrontation and merely love the person with silent, faithful service. The power of a changed, quiet life devoted to God can shout volumes into the hearts of an unbeliever. Eventually, in God’s timing, the person will come back around to talking about the Lord. Just be alert to when it happens.

2) Overwhelming The Person With Too Much Information Sometimes when those evangelistic encounters come about, there is a tendency on the part of the Christian to present the person with every argument in defense of Christianity the Christian has ever learned. Such an approach can be a frightening experience and will just make the person want to shut down and not engage in any conversation. The better approach is to go slow and present a little bit of information at a time. Take as much time to answer any objections and concerns the person may have. And of course, listen more than you may talk, allowing your words to be carefully selected and to the point.

3) Attempt To Win An Argument Don’t come across as wanting to pick a fight and win. Even if the person is a big mouthed skeptic who needs to be shut down and put into his place, attempting to win the argument can potentially lead to heated words, raised voices, and flaring tempers that will merely damage your character. If the conversation is becoming argumentative, the better course of actions is to graciously bow out by ending it or changing the subject.

4) Treating The Person As An Enemy Along the lines of coming across as argumentative is the danger of treating the unbeliever as an enemy. It can be easy to fall into that trap if the person is adversarial with his mocking scorn. However, we cannot fail to think evangelistically with compassion toward the individual. The person is a sinner in need of being rescued.

We shouldn’t think like Jonah who wanted the people of Nineveh to die in judgment, but sadly, many Christians have these feelings against the sinners in our culture. Rather than seeing the lost as our mission field who need to hear the message of reconciliation, they are viewed as the troublers of American values who must be stopped at all costs. These people forget they were one time hostile to the gospel as well. They may had been out right mean-spirited about it, but if the people who shared with them had treated them as an enemy they may had never heard the gospel. We are the ambassadors of God’s grace, not the proclaimers of eternal punishment.

5) Laziness We don’t take the time to prepare our minds for the task of evangelism. It may be we don’t even really care about reaching our loved ones for Christ because it forces us out of our comfort zone. Faithful evangelism means we have to take the time – time we would otherwise use to spend on ourselves – to get to know the person. We have to get involved with his life and that takes away from time spent with the people we like. I say that with all fingers pointing back at me, because I am all too familiar with this pitfall. But we must shake ourselves from that lazy stupor and involve ourselves with the messiness of people’s lives that is encountered when we evangelize.

6) Forget To Bathe The Time In Prayer According to Paul’s words in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, we proclaim Christ and Him crucified. We go in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we need to look in prayer to the God of salvation to direct our efforts and to work in the person’s heart. That is why you don’t have to be super eloquent in your speech, or an expert know-it-all on every major cult, religion and “ism” in the world. As long as you do your part by preparing spiritually with sanctification and study of the Word, God will take care of the rest.

Apologetic Evangelism methodology 101 (pt 3)

The Myth of the Neutral Playing Field

I am making a brief excurses in my apologetics 101 series to address the myth of neutrality when engaging a non-Christian.

An anonymous blogger took issue with my strategy in apologetics and evangelism, particularly the notion of my claiming there is no neutral ground between the Christian and the non-Christian. He attempts to make the case for arguing TOWARD divine revelation, rather than arguing FROM divine revelation. In other words, the apologist must appeal to evidence in order to affirm the validity of the Christian worldview. To approach the non-Christian in the fashion I am suggesting, by de-stabilizing the underlying presuppositions in the worldview he has constructed for himself, is begging the question. That is, I am bringing to bear upon this non-Christian my biblical perspective without establishing its validity first.

I can understand his complaint, because our anonymous blogger claims to be a theistic evolutionist. That means he must walk the dangerous thin line between biblical authority and so-called scientific authority and more times than not, the scientific authority wins out over biblical authority in re-explaining scripture, especially the view of origins. His theistic evolutionary persuasion is relevant information, because it reveals some presuppositions of his own.

Namely, his high view of general revelation, or God’s revelation of Himself in nature and the created world, as self-defining in terms of its scope and authority apart from the special revelation of scripture. I would venture a guess and say our blogger believes general revelation has sufficient authority to inform and correct the special revelation of scripture. Moreover, he has confidence in the mind of sinful man to reason and rationalize together with the Christian over the truth claims of Christianity, or the “truth” claims laid out by the non-Christian in defense of his own beliefs.

Also, I was somewhat bothered that our anonymous blogger didn’t really interact with my main points about how the Bible describes the condition of man. I specifically pointed out that the scripture clearly tells us sin has seriously impacted the mind of man, as well as turned his heart away from God in rebellion. This condition is played out in how men excuse away or rationalize any so-called evidence presented to them as proof of God’s existence or the validity of the Christian world view.

Hence, this idea of a neutral playing field where a believer and an unbeliever can meet to discuss terms of engagement really is non-existent, because the unbeliever, regardless of his personal background, always has presuppositions he brings to that field in any discussion.

I thought in order to expand my study on apologetic methodology it would be helpful to provide some extended quotations from a line of Christian thinkers over the myth of neutral ground.

From John Frame’s work, Apologetics to the Glory of God:

The apologist must be a believer in Jesus Christ, committed to the lordship of Christ (cf. Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). Some theologians present apologetics as if it were almost an exception to this commitment. They tell us that when we argue with unbelievers, we should not argue on the basis of criteria or standards derived from the Bible. To argue that way, they say, would be biased. We should rather present to the unbeliever an unbiased argument, one that makes no religious assumptions pro or con, one that is neutral. We should, on this view, use criteria and standards that the unbeliever himself can accept. So logic, facts, experience, reason, and such become the sources of truth. Divine revelation, especially Scripture, is systematically excluded.

This argument may appear to be simple common sense: since God and Scripture are precisely the matters in question, we obviously must not make assumptions about them in our argument. That would be circular thinking. I would also put an end to evangelism, for if we demand that the unbeliever assume God’s existence and the authority of Scripture in order to enter the debate, he will never consent. Communication between believer and unbeliever will be impossible. Therefore, we must avoid making any such demands and seek to argue on a neutral basis. We may even boast to the unbeliever that our argument presupposes only the criteria that he himself readily accepts (whether logic, fact, consistency, or whatever). pg. 4

Peter tells us, on the contrary, that the lordship of Jesus (and hence the truth of his word, for how can we call him “Lord” and not do what he says [Luke 6:46]?) is our ultimate presupposition. An ultimate presupposition is a basic heart-commitment, an ultimate trust. We trust Jesus Christ as a matter of eternal life or death. We trust his wisdom beyond all other wisdom. We trust his promises above all others. He calls us to give him all our loyalty and not allow any other loyalty to compete with him…Since we believe him more certainly than we believe anything else, he (an hence his Word) is the very criterion, the ultimate standard of truth. What higher standard could there possibly be? What standard is more authoritative? What standard is more clearly known to us (see Rom. 1:19-21)? What authority ultimately validates all other authorities? … Our Lord’s demand upon us is comprehensive. In all that we do, we must seek to please him. No area of human life is neutral. pg. 5

From Greg Bahnsen’s, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith.

Sometimes the demand to assume a neutral stance, a non-committal attitude toward the truthfulness of Scripture, is heard in the area of Christian scholarship (whether it be the field of history, science, literature, philosophy, or whatever). … They reason that since truth is truth wherever it may be found, one should be able to search for truth under the guidance of the acclaimed thinkers in the field, even if they are secular in their outlook. … Whatever some people may say with respect to the demand for neutrality in the Christian’s thought – the demand that believers not be set apart from other men by their adherence to God’s truth – the fact is that Scripture sharply differs with this demand. Contrary to neutrality’s demand, God’s word demands unreserved allegiance to God and His truth in all our thought and scholarly endeavors. pgs. 3, 4

From Michael Kruger’s article The Sufficiency of Scriptures in Apologetics in The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2001. Found on line here (PDF)

As culture perpetually pressures Christians toward intellectual agnosticism, it is imperative they understand why they must resist. Does it really matter if they seek to plant their apologetic in the soil of neutrality? Consider three reasons why believer should not be neutral.

Neutrality is Impossible: Jesus has declared neutrality to be impossible: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, NIV). Failing to comprehend this truth has lured many Christian apologists into a very common mistake: they ignore the philosophical worldviews that lie behind each system of thought and instead quibble over isolated facts only, not realizing that it is the philosophical worldview (or presuppositions) of people that determines what they see as a “fact.” In other words, they forget that every person has a “worldview” through which and by which he interprets the evidence – making neutrality an impossibility. pgs 75, 76

Neutrality is Ineffective: Attempts to be neutral have a bit of irony to them. Believers agree to meet unbelievers on some common ground because they are convinced that it will make them more effective, when in fact that is the very thing that hinders them. … In a discourse with the unbeliever, he will perpetually demand that Christians be neutral (as he considers himself to be). If they agree with their opponent at this point, they have lost the debate from the outset and minimalized their effectiveness. Why? Because the moment they get out their intellectual flashlights and join the unbeliever in the search for truth from some supposedly neutral starting point – claiming “the facts speak for themselves” – then they have conceded that he is able to correctly interpret the facts. Thus, when the unbeliever turns around and uses the facts to argue against Christianity, Christians no longer have a basis to object to his conclusions. After all, did they not tell him “the facts speak for themselves”? To grant the unbeliever neutrality is like handing him a loaded gun; why should believers be surprised then when he turns around and uses it against them? pgs 77, 78

Neutrality is Inconsistent: The final reason one should not seek neutrality in intellectual debates is because it is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture that are objects to be proven in the first place. Proverbs 1:7 (NIV) records, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” This verse is not saying that the fear of the Lord is the result of having knowledge or that after a detailed examination of the data a person concludes that he ought to fear the Lord. No, the claim is that unless one fears the Lord from the outset and subjects his mind to God’s way of thinking, then he can know nothing at all. … Such texts make the incredibly bold assertion that a person cannot have knowledge unless he grounds his thinking in the principles of God’s word, i.e., unless he thinks like a Christian. How inconsistent it would be then to try to convince the unbeliever of this truth from some neutral starting place without thinking distinctively like a Christian? How can anyone claim the Bible is the ultimate source of authority in the universe, when all the while suggesting that it should only be believed because it conforms to some other “neutral” standard (which itself does not have the Bible as its ultimate source of authority)? pgs 79, 80

Inevitably, the one who objects to this method of apologetic approach will argue that such a method begs the question and is circular reasoning. This approach assumes the Bible to be true without first establishing that it is. This is the complaint of our anonymous blogger when he writes:

Look, Christian apologetics is the argument for a “worldview”. If you start with a Biblical worldview, the battle is already won. I don’t fault anyone for appealing to a Biblical worldview with their interlocutor as a starting point, but in my experience, it is the rare un-believer who is willing to accept the “playing field” Butler advocates as a predicate for the conversation, simply because it begs the question. Badly.

Oddly, he states that he doesn’t fault the apologist for appealing to a biblical worldview as his starting point when he engages the non-Christian, but to do so is not good enough, because it forces the non-Christian to play on a field of argument he is unwilling to accept. But this objection fails to take into consideration the fact that the non-Christian also has his “playing field.” He too is question begging. He has his own starting points that shape his worldview and how he understands evidence and facts. Hence the reason the idea of neutrality in confronting a non-Christian is a myth. Let’s consider some further citations:

From Carl F.H. Henry’s work, Toward the Recovery of Christian Belief.

Every theology or philosophy or science has a starting point enabling it to get under way. Euclid’s classic work on The Elements, written about 300 B.C., stated the five postulates or unproved principles concerning lines, angles, and figures from which he deduced geometry. … From his postulates, axioms, and definitions, Euclid deduced the theorems that state the content of plane and solid geometry. … Just as geometry has basic axioms from which its theorems flow, so theological and philosophical systems also have governing axioms. Axioms are the ruling principles with which any system of though begins. They are never deduced or inferred from other principles, but are simply presupposed. No axiom is arrived at by reasoning; as the starting point, an axiom is therefore in the nature of the case beyond proof. … From its controlling axioms every system’s theorems are subsequently deduced. Even if empiricists may and do deny it, all systems are based on axioms; without initial axioms nothing can be demonstrated. Natural science is impossible unless one assumes that meaningful correspondence exists between the laws of thought and the order of the external world. pgs 63, 64

From John Byl’s book, The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math and Meaning.

A worldview, we noted, is a way of looking at the world and making sense of it. It forms the basis by which we explain reality and guide our lives. Our worldview consists of our most basic beliefs, the things that we take for granted concerning God, the world, and ourselves. These basic beliefs have the nature of initial assumptions or presuppositions. They themselves are not supported by other beliefs or arguments. Rather, they form the means by which we asses other beliefs. They are reached when “why?” questions must be stopped with a “that’s the way it is.” The mark the end of our rational chain of explanations. The network of worldview presuppositions forms the foundation by which other propositions are either proven or disproven. We explain reality in terms of our presuppositions, but the presuppositions themselves must be accepted on faith. pg 15

How are we to judge between two opposing worldviews? Can we ever hope to convince someone with a different worldview that ours is better? At first sight this seems impossible. After all, a clash between worldviews is a clash between two opposing systems of thought, between two rival sets of presuppositions. Each side, in terms of its own presuppositions, will judge the other side’s presuppositions (a subsequent conclusions) to be wrong. If one’s worldview reflects one’s most basic faith commitments, how can we hope to rationally convince an opponent that any particular belief of theirs is false? To put it another way, if worldviews are like spectacles through which we view the world, how are we to convince someone wearing yellow-tinted spectacles that there are blue flowers? He won’t be able to see blue until he exchanges his yellow spectacles for a pair that enable him to see a wider range of colours. But that amounts to a radical conversion, a major switch in faith commitment. A first step in that direction is to convince the person that he is wearing spectacles. The next step is to persuade the person that his spectacles are defective. pg 19

From Michael Kruger’s journal article,

At this point the most common objection is this, “Are you saying we should assume the Christian worldview as we try to prove the Christian worldview? Isn’t that circular reasoning?” The simple answer is yes, that is circular reasoning. Although most circular reasoning is negative, when one argues for an ultimate intellectual criterion, a certain amount of circularity is unavoidable. If I stake the truth of the Bible on anything other than its own self-attesting authority, then the Bible ceases to be the ultimate criterion for truth and is replaced by another ultimate criterion. All other philosophical systems are in the same situation. pg 81

To deny circularity when it comes to an ultimate authority is to subject oneself to an infinite regress of reason. If a person holds to a certain view, A, then when A is challenge he appeals to reasons B and C. But, of course, B and C will certainly be challenged as to why they should be accepted, and then the person would have to offer D, E, F, and G as arguments for B and C. And the process goes on and on. Obviously it has to stop somewhere because as infinite regress of arguments cannot demonstrate the truth of one’s conclusions. Thus, every worldview (and every argument) must have an ultimate, unquestioned, self-authenticating starting point. Another example: imagine someone asking you whether the meter stick in your house was actually a meter long. How would you demonstrate such a thing? You could take it to your next-door neighbor and compare it to his meter stick and say, “See, it’s a meter.” However, the next question is obvious, “How do we know your neighbor’s meter stick is really a meter?” This process would go on and on infinitely unless there were an ultimate meter stick (which, if I am not mistaken, actually existed at one time and was measured by two fine lines marked on a bar of platinum-iridium alloy). It is the ultimate meter stick that defines a meter. When asked how one knows whether the ultimate meter stick is a meter, the answer is obviously circular: the ultimate meter stick is a meter because it is a meter. This same thing is true for Scripture. The Bible does not just happen to be true (the meter stick in your house), rather it is the very criterion for truth (the ultimate meter stick) and therefore the final stopping point in intellectual justification. pg 81, n. 31

These are just a smattering of quotations that show us that if a Christian is to engage an non-Christian in an apologetic encounter, he must do so from a position fully committed to Christ as his Lord and without attempting to run out onto a mythical field of neutrality.