Monday, July 4, 2011

The Difference between Apologetics and Evangelism

As an elder in our church and as an apologist, I am reminded that there is a difference between the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and what I call "the Apologetic Mandate" (1 Peter 3:15-17).  This difference is found from conversations with folks on both sides of the scale have some confusion between evangelism and apologetics.  One group thinks that apologetics is irrelevant and that you just need to give the gospel.  The other group says you must do apologetics as a means of evangelism.  Both of these groups are way off kilter.

First off let me say, that we are called and commanded to do the task of apologetics.  We are also called to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).  So what is evangelism and what is apologetics?

First off let me qualify apologetics with the term "Christian apologetics", which is the branch of philosophy that is devoted defending the reasonable content of the Christian faith with particular refererences to those criticisms of that content that comes from outside and even inside the Christian faith.[1]    In other words, apologetics answers questions and objections that people may have about our Christian beliefs.  There may be times where apologetics may be a part of a evangelism, but it is not evangelism in the purest sense of the usage of the terms.

So what is "evangelism"?  One of my professors from seminary put it this way.

"Evangelism involves the presenting of Jesus Christ to men and women that under the conviction and leadership of the Holy Spirit, they will confess their need for the Savior, repent of sin, and trust Christ as Lord and serve Him in one of His churches."  (Gray Allison, Winsome Words for Willing Witnesses).

John Stott, at the Lausanne Convention in 1974 confirms Allison's definition with the following, "To evangelize. . . does not mean to win converts. . .but simply to announce the good news irrespective of the results."  Stott and Allison are not in conflict with one another.  The gospel is good news!  What is that good news?  What is the gospel?  The gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5,

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the Twelve. . ."

The gospel is not about sharing your testimony.  It is not imposing the truth or the f-a-c-t-s of the gospel upon someone.  It is not about social action as noble and needed as social action is in a corrupt global world.  Lastly it is it not about accruing results.

Earlier in this essay, I mentioned that I graduated from seminary.  Let me say that it is one of the most, if not the most, evangelistic seminary in America!  Yes, I am very very grateful to have graduated from such a very evangelistic seminary, where students were required to develop a lifestyle of evangelism, however I am concerned about its pride in keeping track of I have this issue about keeping track of the number of professions, recommitments, and church starts students have been a blessing to participate in.  Where are those professions?   Where are those recommitments?  What are we doing to train our students to equip the people in the pews not only to do evangelism but dovetail its handmaiden to our evangelism.  What is that handmaiden?   The task of apologetics.

Seminaries today are weak, and by weak I am meaning that spiritual formations may bring a person closer to God intimately, but if you leave out apologetics studies, one will only be learning about God with the heart and the soul.[2]  Bring IN apologetics studies (an not just a one semester course) and bring the mind in as well.

There is a difference in evangelism and apologetics.  Let's make sure that we appeal to the soul as well as to the mind as we point to the problem of man's sin, but then bring in the solution, not being afraid of any objections in the process.



Notes

[1]  The reason I mention inside the Christian faith as well is because of the recent statistics of kids that are leaving home for college and 'walking away from the Christian faith.  I believe (and have been ranting on this for years now) that apologetics is needed in our churches to help reinforce the faith and that is (or is not) being preached from pulpits.

[2] There are very few seminaries that are equipping their students with concentrations in apologetics.  Biola University, Southern Evangelical Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are pace setters in this discipline.

1 comment:

Songs of a Semi-Free Man said...

Thought-provoking post. I agree that we need basic apologetics in the church. Thanks for posting!