Evangelism AND Apologetics

It is sometimes believed by the evangelistically-minded that there is no need to defend the faith, but simply to “open your mouth” and “tell your story.” If someone asks you “why?” you shouldn’t worry about your answer, simply reply, “I don’t know. All I know is that once I was blind, but now I see.” Don’t seek to persuade, just tell it and leave the rest with God.

The appeal to this approach of evangelism is obvious. It holds the same appeal as the gospel tract approach that mumbles, “Here, read this. It changed my life.” The appeal? It’s easy and requires no effort. I can share my story of salvation in a “gospel burp.” I feel better for having gotten it out (no more guilt about not witnessing), and I can report to my friends that I “shared the gospel.”

And it’s all a load of pious nonsense.

Our postmodern generation is not the least bit scandalized by this emotive and therapeutic “sharing” of our faith. Since everyone’s truth is different, many people will be happy for you that you found some peace and meaning in your religion. But they will not necessarily be convicted of sin and convinced of Christ, since all you did was to share your experience. Sharing your experience is good and important, but nowhere in the NT is it presented as the master plan of evangelism. The blind man in John 9 told what he could, but we are instructed in far more than mere minimalism. In this method there is no pressing of the claims of Christ upon the unbeliever,  no occasion for conviction, and therefore, little likelihood of conversion.

This was certainly NOT Paul’s approach. In Acts 18:4 he disputed in the synagogue trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. That is, he was willing to engage with those who resisted the gospel even to the point of arguing with them about the truth. This does not require being argumentative or contentious. But it does mean that the believer is willing to do more then just share his story. And the purpose of this disputation is to convince someone of a truth. Paul’s record of persuasion is found all through the book of Acts (Acts 17:2, 4, 17; 19:26; 18:4, 19; 24:25; 26:28). Additionally, in 2 Cor. 5:11 Paul reminds us that we persuade others in light of coming judgment.

All of this is consistent with the command in 1 Peter 3:15-16 for every believer to be prepared to give a defense (apologia) for the hope within him. Therefore we do not answer, “I don’t know” when asked why we believe the gospel. Rather, we are to give a reasoned defense of the truth of our beliefs.

Evangelism and apologetics can never be divorced from each other. Apologetics without evangelism is mere intellectualism. Evangelism without apologetics is blind faith. Evangelism AND apologetics, however, is the way we effectively share our faith in this world. Together they scandalize the unbelief and rebellion of the unbeliever enough to confront him with something worth believing.

2 thoughts on “Evangelism AND Apologetics

  1. Mark,
    Great post! Thanks. I am wondering if the inability to answer the question “why?” is a reflection on the way in which we explain or preach the gospel. If we have failed to preach the gospel in a way that enables those who have believed to readily answer to the question “why?”, then have we preached the right message? If we have not preached the right message, have those who have believed believed the right message? Does the inability to express “why?” reveal a failure in understanding or a failure in expression? Or both?

    1. Jason,

      That’s a good question. Sometimes our preaching and evangelism offer a stripped down version of the gospel that malnourishes believers and may present the believer with a gospel inadequate to save. Norman Geisler has a helpful table in the back of his second or third systematic theology that shows what we MUST believe in order to be saved, and what we cannot reject.

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