I love talking about Jesus with people. I love talking about (and writing about) my faith. I love learning about and teaching the Bible. But bring up the subject of Christian apologetics and I will crawl under a table. Ick. In the past, I’ve not devoted too much attention to learning to defend my faith through the systematic use of facts. As a result I’ve been awkward with my apologetics -either altogether avoiding them or arguing unabashedly.
Over the years I’ve witnessed “apologetics dialogues” where the presenters seemed prideful, pushy, and brash. They seemed to preach in-your-face sermons of “Believe this because I’m right and you’re wrong” that left unconvinced listeners feeling ignored, dismissed, and foolish. Not my idea of loving evangelism or gentle conversion. Not that I haven’t ever been too pushy, but usually I tend to pass on the whole “offering proof” side of things.
Over this past weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended an apologetics conference led by one of my pastors. Hearing men and women I have relationships with, speak about the validity and defendability of the Bible in a loving way, was attractive. I realized, apologetics can be a valuable tool in a believer’s toolbox and workers can use them with wisdom and love.
Through the course of the conference, I learned about the ramifications of a godless world, how fine-tuned the universe is, and about the reliability of the gospels. And though I cannot regurgitate the Kalam Cosmological Argument or everything theists and non-thesits agree and disagree about, I want to share with you some of my favorite take-aways from the final session and my favorite session, led by John Hopper:
Apologetics is a component of evangelism.
I’ve generally ignored this component altogether. I’ve relied exclusively on the Spirit’s work to the degree that I’ve been lazy in learning legitimate factual evidence that could benefit someone’s struggling soul. If I take the time to develop authentic and trusting relationships with unbelievers and pray for their conversion and salvation, it would help if I could also answer some of their questions about the Bible’s legitimacy. When used by the power the Holy Spirit, apologetics may be the tool God uses to break down walls of disbelief that have been keeping a sinner from the cross.
When you are engaged in a faith conversation with someone, asking a lot of questions helps. Listen to their answers. Understand where they are coming from so you can understand where you believe differently and can offer them Christ’s hope. As you ask questions, pray for the Holy Spirit to help you answer. Pray He would reveal their doubts and grant Biblical insight leading them to faith. Asking questions may expose they’re standing on weaker ground than they realized. Instead, offer them the firm footing of the Gospel.
Build one Brick at a time.
Conversations aren’t a high school debate tournament. We aren’t declaring a winner and loser at the end. Realize the Lord is using your spiritual conversations as individual bricks in the wall. He is building a foundation and you aren’t responsible for building the whole thing by yourself, or all in one conversation. Faithfully build one brick at a time.
I loved this point. We need to give people a chance to swallow information. We are not asking them to believe in a far away star, a theory that makes no difference to them, or a fictional character. We’re asking them to believe in something and someone who will change the course of their life and relationships. Who changes their eternity. Give them a chance to process this reality and a chance for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart.
We aren’t the change-agents.
My biggest gag-reflex to apologetics comes from the idea that I could be responsible for changing someone’s mind or heart. No factual information, burden of proof, or fine-tuned argument will open blind eyes or soften the hardest heart. Heart work is God’s work. My pastor, John Hopper said it like this: “We are not mind-changers. We are truth-pointers.” I think each of us would do well to remember our place in the transformation.
No substitute for practice.
It’s not easy to have difficult dialogues with people who disagree with you. It’s not easy to be prepared for difficult questions you don’t know the answer to. But, we can get better if we practice. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to go and share the gospel of salvation with the lost and dying world. And most of the time, we’re just going to have to live through the awkwardness until we get comfortable.
Put to use what you have.
This is probably the biggest hill I’m climbing. As an all-or-nothing gal I tend to shy away from things I’m uncomfortable with or think I won’t do well at. The truth is, I have Biblical knowledge. I know Christ and have received salvation. I can start there. Before I’ve read up and learned how to answer more scientific questions or debate about other religions, I do have enough to start the conversation.
- Be engaged as a listener.
- Believe apologetics can be effective.
- Assume people have questions, but they don’t feel comfortable bringing them up.
- Work hard to make the discussion a safe place.
- Keep the conversation friendly in tone.
- Keep your own emotions in check.
- Ask questions.
My husband said it this way: “At the end of the day, belief is a spiritual matter not an intellectual matter. We aren’t going to argue someone into faith. But, reasoning with someone in love, can lower people’s defenses and knock down walls that may lead a person to see more clearly.”
What’s your experience with apologetics? Positive or negative? Where are you on the scale of avoiding altogether to arguing unabashedly? How is God calling you to adjust your own position?