During the middle of November, our church held a retreat which was focused on apologetics and evangelism. I've decided to post the transcripts for three of these messages here on my blog. Comments are more than welcome.
Session 1 - Apologetics/Evangelism
In preparing for this weekend’s messages, I was challenged with thinking of a topic which holds relevant to our church today and which fits into a broader scheme of the way we think. I’ve chosen to focus this weekend on providing us with some thoughts on our evangelistic methods/outlooks, as well as providing us with some tools to defend our faith and show the superiority of the Christian worldview among other systems of thought.
To begin this series, I’d like to give a brief outline of the sessions to come. In this first session we’ll be talking about Apologetics & Evangelism. Session 2 will deal with the moral argument for the existence of God. Session 3 will be about the Resurrection of Christ. In session 4, we’ll be discussing the validity of our experience with God in evangelism. Finally in session 5 we’ll talk about what this all means to us in our practical lives.
Let’s begin with a word of prayer.
This morning’s message is entitled ‘Apologetics & Evangelism.’ Before we begin, I feel it would be of considerable worth to define a few terms you may be unfamiliar with, and some that maybe you know but aren’t too clear on. The list of terms we’ll define is worldview, objective, subjective, apologetics, postmodernism, point of reference, Empiricism and Evidentialism.
Let’s begin with the term worldview. A worldview is simply someone’s outlook on life. It’s the way we see the world. Everyone has a worldview, whether they know it or not. As C.S. Lewis has said ‘Everyone has a philosophy. It’s just a question of whether it’s a good one or not.’ In our evangelism of unbeliever’s, we are trying to show them the supremacy of the Christian worldview in opposition to others. In our own lives, of course, we are trying to conform our minds to the Christian worldview, as laid out in the Bible.
The term objective means something that holds true whether anyone believes it or not. In other words, it is something which is true independent of the created order.
The term subjective on the other hand, means that which holds true from a given perspective. For example the statement ‘it’s raining outside’ is only true from the perspective of a person in a rainstorm, but not to someone who is out golfing on a sunny day.
Postmodernism is a philosophical worldview which has become predominant during the latter half of the 20th century. It rejects the idea of a knowable truth, and also rejects that there are objective things in the world. Because of this rejection of both knowable truth as well as objectives, the philosophy remains hard to define. These 2 things, however, serve as the main ingredients in postmodern philosophy. Most people today look at life through a postmodern framework, and this has a real effect on their ability to understand the gospel.
A point of reference is a point of common ground in our conversations with unbelievers. When we speak of the cross, for example, we have certain ideas and concepts such as the atonement for sin, the propitiation of sins, and the salvation of man included in the word ‘cross’ itself. When an unbeliever hears the word cross, they generally think we are speaking of a religious icon used in the past to symbolize the Christian religion. We need to establish a point of reference in certain issues in order to have communication with unbelievers.
Empiricism is a worldview which relies heavily on empirical knowledge. When we say empirical we mean it can be known through at least 1 of the 5 senses. Things like love, goodness, and reason simply do not exist to Empiricists because they cannot be known by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting.
Evidentialism is a worldview which demands hard facts in order to make truth claims. It is very closely linked to Empiricism. A statement like ‘it is raining,’ can be known to be true because we can see or feel the rain, and therefore have good evidence to make the claim ‘it is raining.’
When I speak about arguments and arguing, I’d just like to point out that I’m not saying that we quarrel with people, but rather that we give them reasons for believing. This is what I mean by argue. We’re never to quarrel with someone over the gospel. Additionally, when I speak of proving something, I’m not speaking of giving a 100% foolproof argument for what we’re trying to prove. When I speak of a proof, and of proving something, I’m using the term as it’s used philosophically, that we are trying to give good reasons to believe something is true.
Evangelism in our Current Situation
Before we define our last term, apologetics, I’d like to take some time to discuss the situation we find ourselves in currently, and the way we go about evangelizing our world. Prior to the 20th century, the predominant framework of thought was one of Theism. In other words most people believed in a God of some sort, and even the skeptics of the age were making arguments against God from a worldview which assumed God. This meant that things such as objective moral values, the meaning of right and wrong, and the ability to know things were assumed. You wouldn’t find people arguing against right and wrong, because it was just assumed that right and wrong really do exist. What happened was the at the worldviews of some of the predominant philosophers of the 19th and 20th century began to trickle down into the thinking of the general public. So around the middle of the 20th century we began to see a shift in the basic framework of thinking into a postmodern framework. The plunge into postmodern thought has happened at different rates and to different degrees around the world. Europe, for example is fully postmodern, ans so to talk with them about God is meaningless, since they have no point of reference to understand what we mean by God. They would assume we are talking about the mythical stories about God, once believed upon in the past. Asking them to believe in Jesus is about the same as asking them to believe in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. America has not yet fully embraced post-modern thinking and so has retained a point of reference for evangelism. It is, however, rapidly losing its heritage and is becoming more and more postmodern every day.
My country, Canada, is somewhere in the middle between Europe and America. We are predominantly postmodern but still have relics of the old way of thinking.
What does this mean to us here in 거제 (Geoje)? We live on an island that has a cross-section of people from all over the world. Because we’re from different parts of the world, we all come from different frameworks of thought. This really becomes important to us in our attempts to share the gospel with people. We need to know where people are coming from in order to present the gospel in a way they can understand. In a conversation with Noel a few weeks ago, I asked him about the situation in the Philippines. He told me that there is still a basic belief in God and morality in that country. This has a real effect on my ability to share the gospel with people from the Philippines. For someone who has understanding that some things are right and some things wrong, we can show them the gospel through Scripture by appealing to passages that speak of the wickedness of the human heart and mankind’s need for salvation. If I’m speaking to someone from Norway, however, this approach just simply will not work, barring a miracle from God. In speaking to people with a post-modern mindset, it’s often necessary to do a sort of ‘pre-evangelism’ to establish a point of reference from which to share the gospel.
What is it?
Which brings us to our final term to define: apologetics. Apologetics is simply a defense of Christianity. William Lane Craig defines apologetics as ‘that branch of Christian theology which tries to answer the question “What is the rational warrant for Christian truth claims?”’
When we speak of apologetics, we’re not talking about apologizing for our faith or being sorry that we’re Christian. Instead apologetics is the term we use for a defense of the Christian faith. The importance of apologetics for us as Christians is that it enables us to answer questions about the Christian faith rationally.
A lot of us as Christians are timid about sharing our faith because we’re not confident abouth our ability to answer people’s questions, or else we’re not sure that there are good reasons for being a Christian. When we do share our faith we tend to get upset when we don’t know the answer to skeptics’ questions, and so we don’t answer well and get angry at people. This is where apologetics really becomes a practical help to us. When we know the answer to people’s questions, it’s easier for us to react calmly, because we don’t feel threatened by their questions. It makes sharing our faith enjoyable, and gives us confidence when we’re talking with unbelievers.
We see examples of apologetics throughout Scripture. While there is only one direct reference to apologetics in the Scriptures, there are a few examples where we see people engaging in it. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read: sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. The Greek word for defense is απολογια, which is where the term apologetics is derived from. We are told to give a defense when people ask us about our faith. This is our goal for the weekend; to provide a defense for some common questions by appealing to different methods.
Notice the role of apologetics in 1 Peter 3:15. It is to be used in answer to people’s questions. We are not to focus ourselves on studying apologetics alone. It does not stand superior to Scripture and theology. The first part of the verse says to sanctify Christ in your hearts. It is important for us to be applying Christian truth in our everyday lives. We need to live a very practical Christian life, focusing on Christ and seeking to be conformed to His image on a daily basis. Apologetics is a kind of appendix to our faith. It is to be used in service of our faith. It is something that we are to engage in with our minds, preparing ourselves for the questions of unbelievers.
Not only is apologetics to be done while sanctifying Christ in our hearts, but when we engage in giving a defense to people we are to do it with gentleness and reverence. As we talked about before, when we are unprepared for the questions, we tend to get upset, and it is hard to keep a spirit of gentleness. Studying apologetics helps us to be loving when we answer unbelievers questions. To answer with reverence, I think, is a key part of the way we approach unbelievers’ questions. For us to quote 2 Timothy 3:16 when someone has doubts about the validity of the Bible is just disrespectful, and isn’t giving reverence to to their questions. We should be able to show through some other means that the Scriptures are reliable. We should remember that it’s okay for us to not know the answers to peoples’ questions. We don’t have to and aren’t expected to know everything. When we don’t know the answers, however, it’s a good thing to admit we don’t know, but to show that we care about people and their questions by trying to find the answer to their questions either by researching it ourselves or asking other people who do know.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22 ‘I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.’ This is an important principal that we need to apply to our dealings with unbelievers. We need to tailor our evangelism to the type of person we’re talking to. If I’m talking to someone who believes you have to throw out your brain to believe in the gospel, I should be able to give good intellectual reasons for believing. If someone is troubled by lack of evidence, we should be able to give evidence. If someone is stumbling over the seeming deadness and hypocrisy of Christians, we need to be able to appeal to our experience of Christianity.
When Paul makes this statement, he doesn’t just expect people to know how to do this on their own. We have numerous examples of Paul implementing this philosophy while evangelizing. In Acts 17 for example, he appeals to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers by appealing to their own poets. He appeals to their own material to support the truth of the gospel. This is an important practice when answering peoples’ questions. Being able to appeal to people on the basis of what they appeal to as authority has tremendous sway in our conversations.
We also read of Paul’s method of evangelism in passages such as Acts 18:4, that he would go to the synagogues and argue the gospel. He would give reasons for believing that the gospel is true. Jesus Himself used varying methods in dealing with people. On the Emmaus road He made an appeal to Scripture, while to Thomas who is doubtful He appeals to the physical evidence of His wounds. He answered the questions of Nicodemus patiently in John 3, but answered the questions of the Pharisees sarcastically and often came back at them with His own questions. It is important to recognize the position that people are in, and adjust our evangelism to their specific need. This is another way apologetics serves us in our evangelism. By studying the lines of defense that have been developed in answer to big questions, we gain the ability to give people answers according to their specific needs and questions. In my own life, I’ve noticed the effectiveness of being able to address people specifically where they’re at. I can recall one time when I was in Japan, where I was actually talking to a magician, and somehow we got onto the topic of Christianity. He gave me his reasons why he believed Christianity was not a good system of thought. His basic problem was the classic problem of evil, that God cannot exist because of all the suffering in the world. He questioned me thoroughly about things, but when he finished giving his reasons I asked him a question. I asked him ‘What is the purpose of life?’ He said without hesitation that happiness is the purpose of life. I responded him by telling him that in the Christian view, the purpose of life is to bring glory to God, and with this as our starting point, the complications of life appears much differently. He was somewhat surprised to hear that the purpose of life was not our happiness, it was just something that he assumed. He responded that he would be thinking about this, and that he thought that he needed to start reading his bible again. I could have given this man an intellectual answer to the problem of evil, but that is not what he needed, and so recognizing that fact, I listened to where he was coming from and gained an understanding of his spirit and the real problem he had with Christianity and answered him accordingly. I didn’t do any follow-up on this man, and so I don’t know what happened to him, but I pray for him still on occasion. The Lord only knows the effect our conversation had on him.
Reasons for Apologetics
Which brings us to a common objection that some people have given in the past, and perhaps some of you may have right now. The objection is that we cannot argue anyone into the kingdom of God. It’s important for us to recognize that we’re not saying we’re supposed to try and argue people into heaven. We recognize the fact that the Holy Spirit draws and convicts people of their sin and need for Christ. What we’re seeking to do in apologetics is to give intellectual permission for a person to hear the gospel. Earlier we discussed how asking a European to believe in Christ is like asking him to believe in the Tooth Fairy. In order for them to hear the gospel with consideration, we have to first show them that the gospel is an acceptable position to hold. So we’re not really seeking to save people through our arguments, but we’re trying by our arguments to provide an intellectual arena in which the gospel can be heard.
Finally, our study of apologetics has a real positive effect on us. The first and most obvious way in which apologetics helps us, as mentioned before, is that it builds our confidence in the gospel. We begin to see the gospel as a consistent worldview. We can see how the answers provided from Christianity affect every area of life. The answers we find in Christianity are satisfying to all tests of truth, and to all the big questions.
Not only does it build our confidence, though, but I believe it’s also part of our spiritual development. The Scripture continually speaks of us growing in knowledge and developing our minds. We are to develop our minds to think Christianly, and apologetics is one way to help us do that. We’re to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Unfortunately there are a lot of Christians who come to know the Lord but continue to think unChristianly. There is a movement now called the Emergent church, and the basis of the movement is to redefine the church in postmodern terms. These people may truly be Christians, but to try and live Christianity in this way is to only love God partially. They are not developing their minds to be conformed to Christ, and so can never have a complete Christian experience.