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.
Earlier in the summer, I suffered from a number of health issues. I had a dramatic weight loss, severe joint pain, fainting, anemia and something odd in my lungs. Because I was between doctors, I went to a walk-in clinic doctor. The problem was that he was firm that he would only look at one symptom at a time, assuming that they were all different health issues. He focused on my feet (joint pain) but did not do much else. All my health issues got worse. I eventually received better medical care, discovered that all my symptoms were connected and I in fact have something called sarcoidosis.
Why do I share this? I see in this a picture of apologetic conversations. When talking to a skeptic or a doubting Christian, we should be careful how we deal with the symptoms. There is a certain wisdom in focusing on one issue and there is a time for that. But it is also important to see how each issue is connected. How are the intellectual concerns connected with family background issues? How does that fit with personal disappointment or broken relationships? By looking at all the symptoms, you can see what the real problem is. There is no point pushing the ontological argument when the real issue is that they were abused as a child. Take the time to look at the big picture instead of tackling the first question that comes up. Treating symptoms won’t do when you have not diagnosed what the root problem is.
“The news which the Church has to proclaim is that in virtue of what has happened in Jesus Christ man can now live with God in faith and love and hope, on the ground of God’s unfathomable and unmerited mercy. And this news is so urgent that in every time and place where the Church exists it must be proclaimed at once and in all circumstances.”
- Karl Barth
I have not been blogging much lately because I am at Acadia Divinity College, taking my last two courses for my Doctor of Ministry degree. The course I just finished was “A Theology for Holistic Mission and Ministry” taught by Ronald Sider. This was a great course that reinforced the idea of the church being involved in both evangelism and social action, and not feeling the need to choose one or the other. This course fit very well with my interest in apologetics.
How would a course that talks about social justice fit with apologetics? Well, Ron Sider has some very strong apologetic aspects to his life and ministry. One of the influential people in his life during his time at university was John Warwick Montgomery. Ron even strongly considered becoming an apologist. That apologetics is still important to him was seen in that the first lecture was not on feeding the hungry or stopping human trafficking but in looking at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
I came across an interesting reference to apologetics in one of his books. In his book, Good News and Good Works, Ron says this:
“Wholistic apologetics would fit well with wholistic revivals. Earlier I talked about the problem of Western secularism, which pervades the intellectual world—especially our universities, which are overwhelmingly non-Christian. Enlightenment secularism is one reason for the loss of faith among educated people, but another crucial reason is Christian failure. We have not lived what we preached. In disgust, many intellectuals have turned away from our hypocritical Christianity.” (p. 191)
People are frantically trying to find a worldview that makes sense of the world. As Ron points out, “Full-orbed biblical Christianity is what they need. And the best way to help them to see that is by wholistic discipleship and wholistic apologetics.” (p. 192) We need to continue to point out evidence for the existence of God and demonstrate the historical credibility of the resurrection. But those of us interested in apologetics should also seek to demonstrate the truth of Christianity by making a difference in the world around us.
One of the dangers of apologetics is that we can get completely focused on winning arguments or bringing in converts to Christianity. There is nothing wrong with those things. We want both to happen. But when they are our complete focus, there can be a temptation to let our integrity slide.
How does that happen? We can feel the need to pad our arguments, relying upon quantity rather than quality. We can share stories and supposed facts without checking for accuracy, betting that those we talk to won’t check either. We can rely on the power of rhetoric rather than the simple Gospel. Unfortunately, some Christians have even been caught enhancing their own testimony to the point of making it more fiction than reality. Others toss out biblical texts without any concern for context, hoping that the sheer weight of biblical authority will carry the argument.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2 ESV) This is such an important reminder. Our job is not to produce results with our own impressive skills but to present the truth, to be faithful to God’s word. We must flee from the short cuts, even though that might make things more difficult in the short run. We must be transparent and proclaim the Gospel with a life of integrity. The moment we let go of our integrity, our ministry literally can disintegrate. What we need to do is be faithful to God, proclaim the truth and leave the results in God’s hands.