Monday, June 8, 2015

Apologetics Serves Evangelism in a Post Christian Culture

Thinking this morning about where our culture has been and where it is going, I could not help pondering about the church’s effectiveness in this post Christian culture in reaching those without Christ.  

The truth is that every believer already, whether they realize it or not, does some form of pre-evangelism to the ones who are hostile to the gospel message. The question now becomes, do they want to continue to do it poorly or do they want to do it well? And it saddens me to think that there are many pastors who are still stuck in the old paradigm of "the Bible says" approach to evangelism. 

While that paradigm may work in some scenarios, such encounters are becoming less frequent as our culture plunges itself deeper into the the naturalistic worldview.  How is this manifesting itself?

Moral and religious challenges have ramped up their challenges to biblical Christianity (e.g., same sex marriage, the rise of Islam in culture, secular humanism and the new atheism — sound familiar?) We are no considered by many as a "Christian culture." 

So the question that I would like to answer in this posting is how does apologetics serve evangelism in our post Christian culture.  Let me approach this from a few angles, in hopes to answer this question.

Angle #1: What Do We Need to Understand?

While evangelism is done by all Christians who are obedient to fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we often forget the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40). Apologetics is often misunderstood to be a rigorous exercise for an exclusive group of Christians. But in all actuality, this is totally false.

As I mentioned earlier, the truth is that every believer does some form of pre-evangelism to the ones who are hostile to the gospel message. But with the cultural shifts that have been moving over the last couple decades, my question is how well do we want to do it, in order to reach the skeptics of our culture?  The Great Commandment for many is just loving God with heart and soul. But what about the mind?  This is why I firmly believe that the Great Commandment and the Great Commission can not be separate from one another.

Simply stated, the Great Commandment calls us to discipleship, encouraging us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind. The Great Commission takes the second part of the Great Commandment and commissions us to "love our neighbor as ourselves" and go out and make disciples. 

With the seismic cultural shifts over the last fifteen to twenty years, the aggressive push toward a more morally relativistic where truth and morals is heating up even more. It is time to understand that we cannot do evangelism without doing apologetics.

Angle #2:  What Do We Share in This “Happy Pagan” Culture?

If we are active in sharing with those who need to hear, it is always understood that the content is the gospel of Jesus Christ.[1]  The gospel has the power to save because it tells us of our need for redemption through Jesus Christ, who is the only way to salvation, the only one is the source of true truth, and the one who can give us eternal life.

The problem in our culture is that we are now running into people who have never heard of Jesus, or not giving their eternal destiny any thought.  The gospel message that is based upon revelation is distant and even foreign in a multicultural and religiously pluralized culture.[2]

Because of the gospel message being distant and even foreign to many people today, we have to incorporate ways to try and clear the bushes. While it may not be foreign to those of use two millennia from the events of the Acts of the Apostles, we need to understand that a "the Bible says" or "the Scriptures tell us" approach was closer to the culture then that it is today. This approach was more acceptable some forty years ago (dating myself here) than it is today.

That said, the words of Peter in his first letter to persecuted Christians is very relevant today,

"but sanctify Christi as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks youth give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those how revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:15-16).

So if someone is not open to your or my "giving them the gospel," what content can we use? Simply, you and I can discuss Christian doctrine, but sometimes the person may not be open to that. Therefore  "sanctified reasons" and sound logic[3] for the Christian faith need to be brought in to the discussion.[4].  This is pre-evangelism before the evangelism begins.

Angle #3:  What Should Be Our Goal When We Do Share?

As I alluded to earlier, there are still and will be times when a straight sharing of the gospel is appropriate, effective, and timely. Those are the moments when as Jude and the Apostle Paul say, we have the opportunity of "snatching those from the fire" and "reaping the harvest" that God has been cultivating through others' witness of Christ.

But what about the ones, and there seem to be a growing number of these, where people do not accept nor listen to what the Bible has to say about one's lost state before God? Let me break it down this way.

In evangelism the goal is always a gospel presentation with the hopes that the Holy Spirit will draw the person to faith.  What about the "happy pagan" who does not accept the Bible as the Word of God, and Jesus as their only way, truth, and life to salvation? This is where there is one goal before faith will come.

Bear in mind that the goal is still faith, but it should not be trying to tie down the sinner in 15-20 minutes and coerce them into accepting Christ. There may need to be the need for clarifying Christian teachings because of so much static from Christian television programs promoting the health and wealth heresy. There may be obstacles with reference to the problem of evil or why all the different religions and how they could be wrong.

In those situations, depending on the degree of apologetic training one has had, it is important that we clarify our terms when it comes to Christian teaching. Here the goal is to "clear the rubble and the bushes" that are in the way of the person and causing them not to see Jesus Christ and what He came to do for them.

Conclusion

Let me wrapt this posting up by saying that not everyone is in agreement on the use of apologetics dovetailed with evangelism.  I will have more to say on that in the not too distant future.

However, I have seen the Holy Spirit work in ways where He clears up the person's understanding and uses the responses to their objections to draw the person to hearing, and supernaturally understanding the gospel and coming to saving faith.  One should never blindly believe something to be true, and expect it to be true.

We have an overwhelming amount of evidences that point to the truthfulness of the Bible. God expects us to love Him with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. It was the way it happened in the First Century and I think we will see an increase where apologetics needs to be brought in as the "handmaiden to evangelism" if the Lord tarries.

Are you ready to reach go out and give the "happy pagan" Heaven?     


Notes

[1] The definition of the gospel is found in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church (15:1-5).

[2] When I use the word pluralized, in this context, I am speaking of a culture where are a competing number of worldviews and it is believed that none of those worldviews is dominant over the other.

[3] There is a difference between sound reasons as opposed to the reasons given by the secular city. When you have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), your thinking is different from those whose thinking is blind (2 Cor. 4:4; 11:3).

[4] Our ministry offers training on how to do this. Some times effective listening and asking questions is the best approach.

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