R. Glover (1869-1943) a classical scholar, historian, university lecturer and orator once asked, “How did the Church, confronted by the power of Greek philosophy, Roman might, and unchecked sensuality change the direction of world history?” He answered his own question by explaining that the early Christians out-lived the pagans, out-died them and out-thought them. Do we need to do anything less to reach unbelievers with the Gospel in our present post-modern secular society?
I’m always astounded to hear so many Christians proudly proclaim that their faith is blind. Some say that even looking for evidence undermines faith. That’s silly. The greatest evangelist of the first century Church, Paul always used reason and logic to prove to whoever he was engaging in discourse that “this Jesus is the Christ.” He used logic to show the Jews and even King Agrippa that Jesus was indeed the anointed one on whom they had waited thousands of years and then crucified. And he used logic and reason to introduce the true God to the Greeks, Asians, Romans and other Gentiles.
We are called to persuade others like Paul did. In Romans 1 he argued how the physical characteristics of our world prove the Creator’s eternal power and Godhead. In Romans 2 he proved His moral law by pointing out that the Gentiles practiced many such laws independent of God’s written law. In Athens he noticed an altar with this inscription, ‘To an “unknown god”’ and used it to introduce these pagans to the “Lord of heaven and earth, Who does not dwell in temples made with hands.” He explained his approach in his first letter to the Corinthians: “… I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I become as a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.” Like Paul, we are called to reduce the gulf between ourselves and unbelievers, to gain them for the Kingdom of God. He told the young pastor Timothy that regardless of his efforts, “some will ignore the truth,” but encouraged him to never give up trying.
And Paul wasn’t the only early evangelist to use reason and logic to persuade their contemporaries that the Gospel is true and reasonable. Peter, in his first letter says: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” The phrase “give a reason” is the English translation of the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics”. Apologetics is simply the act of giving an answer, a reason, an explanation for why you believe what you believe. Every Christian should be able to do this to some degree – it’s a command, not an option. But the prospect of being asked why we believe can often make Christians a little nervous – we’re afraid of looking foolish, of not having an answer, even of letting God down.
God does not expect us to practice blind faith. Otherwise He would not have left us so much evidence of the supernatural realm and Himself – evidence that He points to time and again throughout His Word. David, in his Psalms (19:1; 50:6; 97:6) points us to nature for proof that God created the earth. God wants us to investigate and have a hope within us based on evidence that can convince others. Jesus often pointed to natural evidence of a spiritual truth. (1) “Consider the lilies of the field….” (2) “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” (3) “And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.” The apostles and we are told to study these things – look for proof of the accuracy of what we are told – think about them – weigh all the evidence. And Jesus’ message was always relevant. He taught the truth to people where they lived. He spoke a distinct word to each unique situation.
I find it interesting that even the Book of Isaiah begins with God telling Israel that they have a head problem and a heart problem: … you still fight against the Lord? Your whole head is sick, and your whole heart is weak. From the bottom of the foot even to the head, there is no good part. There are only sores from beatings and open sores. They are not taken care of or covered or made soft with oil. In other words, they’re not thinking straight and that’s resulting in bad attitudes and bad actions. A few verses later is when God invites them: “Come now, and let us reason together.” In other words, “Let’s talk about it. Let’s see where all this is headed. You can do it your way – you’ve seen the consequences of your foolish decisions. Or you can do it My way – My way is best.”
Together God and His people can discuss logically the matters in His Word. He wants to engage us in logical conversation and discussion. It’s a scene similar to a court room where arguments are brought up and evidence is weighed; arguments of reason and logic that measure evidence and help in determining right and wrong. God expects us to use logic and understanding when we read and study the Bible on our own and when we discuss it with others, including unbelievers.
It is unwise to dispel critical thinking, scientific study, and the use of apologetics as a tool to reach some of the lost, limiting evangelism to the preaching of the Gospel. After all, it was God who created the natural laws and principles that govern our universe. So here are some things we should be willing to do.
1. Pray for opportunities. Pray that God would bring non-Christians across your path and that he would open up natural opportunities for you to talk about your faith with them. Pray that they would ask you questions, that they would see something about your life that intrigues them. Pray for wisdom. God promises to give us all the resources we need to minister His love and knowledge.
2. Talk and Listen. Learn to be interested in people and their stories. Learn to really listen – to hear what’s being said, their concerns, interests and passions. God will help you find the opportunities to weave the Gospel naturally into the conversation.
3. Learn to Ask Good Questions. Evangelism (including the use of apologetics) is not primarily about having the right answers. Questions like “Why do you believe that?” or “Why do you think that?” can be very powerful. If somebody expresses a negative opinion about the Christian faith, gently asking “What’s your reason or evidence for that?” can crack open the conversation. Questions can expose hidden assumptions, shed light on motives, and show whether somebody really believes what they have just said, or if they are just repeating something they heard somewhere else. Often the key is asking the right question. For example, the question “Do you believe in God?” may generate a very difference answer from “What do you believe?” or “What do you think is the purpose to life?”
4. Study the Bible. If we are going to share and defend our faith, we first have to know our faith. Immerse yourself in scripture. Invest in a study Bible that will help explain complex ideas to you and show you how biblical passages are connected. The Bible is not a science book – but it contains scientific information. The Bible is not a medical or health book – but it contains medically relevant information. The Bible is not a behavioral science book – but it contains the best advice possible regarding the benefits of good behavior and the consequences of bad behavior.
5. Read a book and or find a website that focuses on apologetics. There are incredible books being published every year by very gifted men and women who have spent the time researching some of the toughest questions of faith – people like Greg Kunkl, Lee Strobel, Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, or William Lane Craig. Dig into some of the classic works of apologetics, those by thinkers like C. S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer. Keep an eye on websites where the subject is discussed. One I particularly recommend is “Stand-To-Reason,” found at str.com.
6. Take a Course. For example, my local church has a class called “Get whole.” In addition to ministering to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of people, it also addresses many of the issues of modern culture, as well as scientific and Christian thinking.
7. Teach Somebody Else. I contend that the best way to understand a subject is to teach it. When you know that you’re expected to explain something to others and to answer their questions – you’re forced to spend the extra effort investigating that subject.
8. Stay Humble and loving – regardless of the other’s response. Never lose sight of the ultimate purpose of evangelism and apologetics – it’s to win people for Christ. It’s not to win a debate. A clever argument can’t make somebody a Christian — only God’s Spirit can ultimately do that work in somebody’s heart. What a well-constructed discussion can do is clear away the debris that prevents somebody from seeing Christ clearly. What people ultimately need is to see the greatness and attractiveness of Jesus. Our task is simply to present Him as clearly as we can, and then get out of the way.
Without understanding what we believe and why we believe it, our faith becomes brittle and fragile: “Honest questions deserve honest answers.” Virtually any aspect of human life can be turned into an argument for why Christianity is true and reasonable. Always be aware that the devil has plenty of servants willing to step in and fill the vacuum of information with his lies, if we don’t make the effort to reveal the truth.
Christianity provides the most logical and consistent explanation for every issue and dilemma that mankind faces and every question he or she raises. But it’s going to take some effort on our behalf to prepare to present those truths in an understandable and attractive manner.