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)

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