“Representing Christ in the new millennium requires three basic skills. First, Christ’s ambassadors need the basic knowledge necessary for the task. They must know the central message of God’s kingdom and something about how to respond to the obstacles they’ll encounter on their diplomatic mission.”
- Greg Koukl
One of my favourite passages, when it comes to apologetics, is Paul’s experience in Acts 17:16-33. This is so much more than Bible trivia. This passage contains principles that are timeless. I see in Paul’s interaction with the Athenians something that is especially helpful in our generation. Here are five principles we can all use.
1. Do your homework. We seen in this passage that Paul took a tour of this city and learned about their worship. He looked at their temples and observed their altars. When we are talking to someone from a different world view, we should learn about what they believe. This could be by reading books or just asking them questions.
2. Be respectful. Deep down Paul was offended by their idolatry. This is exactly what you would expect from someone raised as a strict Jew. But when he talked to them, he commended them for their interest in religion. He did not blast them, he looked for the good in them.
3. Don’t paint everyone with the same brush. We see in this passage that there were people who followed different philosophies. We have to acknowledge that different people believe different things and we should be willing to adjust our communication accordingly.
4. Don’t be afraid to quote their own authors. It is interesting to note that Paul does not quote the Old Testament. In fact the only people he quotes are pagan authors. One of the reasons that this is helpful is that it shows your audience that you care enough to read their own texts.
5. Build bridges. Paul looks for things that they have in common in order to build bridges. Christians and non-Christians have things in common. Take advantage of that. Build on those similarities and gradually build up to a presentation of Jesus.
It is amazing to look at this passage of something that happened in Athens two thousand years ago and to see how appropriate it is for our culture in this generation. I encourage you to use these principles in your apologetic conversations.
How should Christians respond to the upcoming Noah movie? Christians tend to react to Bible movies by either fully embracing them or fully rejecting them (including the popular banning). First of all, we should not go into this assuming that Noah is going to be a faithful representation of the biblical text. This article from the Christian Post makes that clear.
So should we be outraged that Hollywood would change our stories? Should we picket the theatres? To be honest, these things just make us look silly. There is another option.
We could acknowledge that this is a Hollywoodization of the Noah story. But we could still use this as a point of conversation. There is a reason why Bible movies are popular right now. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and start talking to people about it. People are willing to pay large sums of money to see movies about the Bible. We can talk to them for free. We can even supply the popcorn. Chat with your friends who have seen the movie or who are at least are interested in the movie. Read Acts 17 and follow Paul’s example of building bridges.
For more on this topic, check out this article by Jeff Dewsbury in Faith Today.
I have been asked in the past about the difference between apologetics and evangelism. This is a good question as there is definitely a relationship and yet they are not the same thing.
We can start with definitions. Apologetics is giving a reason for our faith. Evangelism is proclaiming the Good News or Gospel. Apologetics can be and often is a tool for evangelism. The Gospel is shared but there are some questions that are causing some stumbling blocks. Apologetics can then be used to clear away the obstacles.
However, apologetics is not always used in evangelism. Sometimes the Gospel is shared and the person is ready to accept the message immediately. There are other times that apologetics is used without being connected to evangelism. For example, one could use apologetics to argue for the existence of God without sharing the Gospel of what Jesus has done. Apologetics may or may not include a Gospel presentation.
Another difference is that apologetics is not only used with non-Christians. As much as apologetics is a tool for evangelism, it is also a tool for discipleship. For some people, the hard questions do not come up until after the profession of faith. Apologetics has an important role in helping Christians grow more confident in their faith.
So evangelism and apologetics have an important relationship but they should never be confused with each other.
I recently came across this passage as I was doing my devotions.
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:7–9 ESV)
What caught my attention is this is so relevant to apologetics. Apologists (including me at certain points) tend to focus our time on the diehard skeptics. We debate the people who are the most convinced that they are right and we are wrong and we feel like we are doing real ministry. What feels good about these encounters is they keep coming back for more and it can be a lengthy conversation (if we can call it a conversation).
While I don’t think we should ignore skeptics, I don’t think that we should spend most of our time with the people least likely to change their mind. We should look for the seekers and the people who are sincerely searching for the truth. There are people interested in God and the Bible and we have the knowledge to help them.
As this Proverb states, trying to instruct a scoffer is only asking for trouble. State your beliefs and when they scoff, just move on. Don’t let them distract you from the wise, that is those who know they are missing something and are looking for the truth.
What role should personal testimonies play in apologetics? I know this is a controversial topic among apologists. For many, testimonies are too subjective and they would rather the emphasis be on more logical evidences for the truth of Christianity.
While I acknowledge the shortcomings of personal testimonies, I can’t help but notice that Paul is described in Acts as sharing his testimony twice. Not only does he share his conversion story, in his letters he often talks about how God is working in the midst of his suffering. Paul seemed to believe that the argument from experience had an important role.
In what way should the argument from experience be used? One of the common ways is that of sharing your conversion experience. It does not have to be a dramatic conversion with sex and drugs. It can be a quiet conversion where the faith moves from that of the parents to that of the person. It can also be ways that God acts in the life of the Christian, including answers to prayer and other spiritual experiences. I have often seen non-Christians moved more by how God is working in my life than the logical arguments that I present.
I am not saying that we should rely only on the argument from experience. It has its limitations. But it is an important part of the puzzle. When it is paired with other evidences for the truth of Christianity, it can have a powerful effect.
You can purchase the Tactics book here. For more from Greg Koukl, go to the Stand to Reason website.
Last Sunday, our pastor included the Wesleyan quadrilateral in his sermon. The WQ is a way of discerning between true and false doctrine. It includes Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. If a theological statement goes against all four, there should be great doubt about its truth.
I can already imagine people responding by saying, “Forget the WQ, I use Scripture alone.” No you don’t. I guarantee you that you use reason in your interpretation. You use your mind to know when you are reading history, when you are reading poetry and when you are reading parables. Don’t deny it. What about tradition? When you talk about the Trinity, you likely do not use the basic description found in Scripture but rather use the traditional descriptions developed by church councils. Experience? Evangelicals tend to be afraid of experience. But even experience is biblical. In Acts, the reason that the Gentiles were welcomed in the Church was that they experienced the Spirit being poured out on the Gentiles. The truth is, these are tools that are helpful.
As we talked about this, it got me thinking about how people come into the Kingdom. Some people become Christians by reading Scripture, some by reasoning, some rediscovering their Christian tradition and some people by experience. We shouldn’t force people to become Christians according to our favourite part of of the WQ. If people become Christians through experience, we should not get upset because they did not become a Christian through philosophy. People tend to become a Christian through one part of the WQ. The other parts should come later, but people have to start somewhere.
Be sensitive to who people are, what God is doing and do not push your preferences.
Today is Billy Graham’s 95th birthday. Many people, Christian and other, acknowledge the impact of Billy Graham’s life and ministry on the world. But few people would point to him as one of the world’s great apologists. I would like to argue that he is.
It is true that Billy Graham does not have a PhD in the philosophy of religion, nor is he known for debating atheist professors. But that is a narrow definition of apologetics, one that most of us cannot attain to. I would suggest that Billy Graham is an apologist in the way that many of us could and should emulate.
Let me turn the clock back twenty-five years. I was a former atheist, a recent theist and very much still the skeptic. I had grown up in the church, watched the fall of televangelists and was not sure what to make of Christianity. I happened to be flipping through the channels (without a remote in those days) and came across the Billy Graham Crusade. The only reason I gave him a moment was that even our liberal Anglican priest seemed to respect him. I kept waiting for Graham to do the big push for money but it never happened. There was something about his preaching that kept me coming back. It was not that he was really funny or that he was flashy. It was pretty plain. But there was a confidence in his message. There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness and Graham came down on the right side. As I listened to Billy Graham, Christianity seemed to make sense, he had a way of making the faith sound reasonable without going over my head. He dealt with the questions I was asking, not the questions people decided I should be asking. Each time I watched this program, I became more and more convinced that Christianity was true. I ended up contacting the BGEA and received the information to become a Christian. Billy Graham may not have set out to be an apologist, but that is exactly the role he played in my life.
Billy Graham is an apologist in a way that we all can be. His apologetic is not based on his level of education but in his confidence in the Gospel. If we really believe this stuff is true, it will come across in the way we talk to people. Wrestle with your own questions, as Graham did as a young man, decide one way or another what you are going to believe. If it is Jesus, then go all in.