Friday, September 25, 2009

Apologetics and Evangelism

I taught the first lesson in my Everyday Apologetics class last night. One of the things I tried to sort out with the students is the difference between apologetics and evangelism. It's easy to blend these two disciplines together since they overlap so much in practice and intent. But it's also important to remember that they have two different objectives, that again overlap.

Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with the objective of conversion. It is a monologue in a sense, a one way communication of propositional truth, with the intention of God using that truth to bring the person to a saving faith in Christ. Apologetics, on the other hand, is a defense of the Christian faith, with the objective of answering objections and counter claims that refute the Gospel, the existence and character of God, and other foundational truths. It's a dialog with the objecting unbeliever, with the intention of representing the Christian faith accurately and clearly.

But here's the interesting part, the overlap. Consider a situation where you are evangelizing a lost person. You are presenting the Gospel of Christ to the person in a clear and accurate manner. You're asking God to regenerate the person so that they might understand the truths that you are telling them and embrace them, and embrace Christ. This is evangelism, a heralding of the truth in order that God would convert the unbeliever.

But suppose, after explaining the essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that the person raises an objection to what you've just proclaimed to them. What now? You answer that objection with reason, truth and Scripture, right? And you have just crossed the line from evangelism into the realm of apologetics. You are now defending the truth of Christian belief against an objection, and engaged in a dialog. But your overall objective is not just to defend the faith, but still and primarily to present Gospel truth to the unbeliever so that God may save them.

So here's the overlap between apologetics and evangelism. On a person to person basis, removed from the academic and philosophical realm that we often relegate it to, Christian apologetics is part and parcel of effective evangelism. And if we are to be both effective witnesses for Christ, we must also be effective apologists for His truth. Both are essential to accomplishing His commission to us, to act as His ambassadors, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us."

So my point to my students was this: study to be prepared to make a defense for the truth of the Gospel, the reason for the hope that is in you. Study the theories and approaches to Christian apologetics to be better able to apply them in defense against objections. But study mainly to be prepared to clearly, accurately and confidently communicate the life-giving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether you're proclaiming or defending, the objective is still two-fold: first, to glorify God in presenting or defending His truth; and second, to bring an unbeliever to a saving knowledge of Christ - which also glorifies God. The objective is never to win an argument, but rather a matter of life and death, literally and eternally.

"but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;" (1 Peter 3:15)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Keller on the Centrality of the Gospel

Came across an article by Tim Keller on the centrality of the gospel of Christ. Simply put, it's something everyone must read who claims to be a Gospel-centered follower of Christ. While I'm not a super fan of Keller (in the "I am of Keller, I am of Piper, I am of Osteen" Corinthian kind of way), this is an excellent exposition. He clearly makes the point that we never outgrow the gospel in our life as a Christian. Here's a few excerpts:

Paul is showing that we never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced”. The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-3) and are renewed (Col.1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom.1:16-17).

It is very common in the church to think as follows. "The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience." But Col.1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and "hard work" that is not arising from and "in line" with the gospel will not sanctify you--it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel.

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not "get" it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel--seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.
I've posted about some of these topics in the past, the perception in the contemporary church that the gospel is just for evangelism, that it's only power is unto conversion. Keller does a much better job of destroying this heresy. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, not just conversion. Salvation is a whole process that takes us from conversion, through sanctification and all the way to glorification. And it's the power of the gospel that is the power of God in all those stages of salvation.

Read Keller's article, all of it (it's 12 pages). And then reconsider your need to constantly be reminded of the truths of the gospel, it all its fullness and depth. As Martin Luther said, "The
truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine....Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If Satan Took Over a City

I've heard this quotation from Donald Grey Barnhouse before, but came across it again today in an excerpt from Michael Horton's Christless Christianity on Erik Raymond's blog.

What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.
Think long and hard on that, Christian. Above all else, Satan desires to keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ from being made known. And he does so often by substituting other things for Him. Like an illusory veil of moralism that hides our need for the Savior. And he does so even within the church.