The Need for Apologetics and the Biblical Concept of God Defending His Glory

Caged LionIt is important for the Christian to see clearly that defending the glory of God is a biblical idea. Apologetics could be mistaken for a philosophical intrusion into Christianity, or an ill-advised invention to counter Enlightenment modernism. Even luminaries such as British Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, and the Prime Minister of Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, made disparaging remarks about apologetics.

Spurgeon’s famous jibe is well-known: “There is no need for you to defend a lion when he is being attacked. All you need to do is to open the gate and let him out.” Many use this oft-repeated line of Spurgeon to argue that we don’t need apologetics. Kuyper was a theologian, journalist, and statesman, and was the founder of the Free University of Amsterdam at the beginning of the 20th century. He wrote, “Apologetics has advanced us not one single step. Apologists have invariably begun by abandoning the assailed breastwork, in order to entrench themselves cowardly in a ravelin behind it.”[1]

Both of these quotes are taken out of context, however. Spurgeon was talking about the need to proclaim the Word of God, instead of endlessly arguing about it. His point was that proclaiming the words of Scripture is powerful enough to win people to the truth. Likewise, Kuyper was not speaking against all apologetics, but rather against that approach that concedes unregenerate man’s ability to reason objectively to the truth of the gospel, and places reason in the place of judgment over Scripture.

A negative reaction to apologetics is unfortunately all too common. I asked a Christian college professor one time how he would answer someone who challenged the Christian faith. His response stunned me. “I wouldn’t,” he replied. I assumed that he misunderstood my question, so I rephrased it. “How would you defend the resurrection if someone challenged it?” His response was the same: “I wouldn’t defend it. I would just state it and be done.”

This might sound spiritual, but it is nothing more than a repudiation of our calling in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to prepare ourselves to give an answer. Rather than abandoning apologetics, we need to see it as a critical part of evangelism. If we abandon apologetics, we abandon evangelism. Scott Oliphint reminds us, “Apologetics is premeditated evangelism.” By preparing ourselves beforehand we can be ready for any opportunity that comes our way to share the gospel.

The real question, however, is whether there is a biblical precedent for defending the Christian faith, and its related themes, such as the glory of God, the truth, and the gospel. This lesson focuses on the biblical teaching about the theme of defense throughout the Old Testament and the specific instruction about apologetics in the New Testament.


The Old Testament Theme of God’s Defense of His Own Glory

The Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9-24)

Right from the very first chapters of the Bible we see that God sets a precedent in defending his glory. In response to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God confronts the violation of his glory and the error that Satan perpetrated among those made in his image. God does this, not from a distance, but by condescending and coming near to Adam and Eve. The adversarial nature of Satan’s temptation and corruption of the garden and the first pair is matched and overcome by God’s determination to restore what was ruined. In the midst of curses leveled against all involved, God promises ultimate deliverance and restoration through the seed of the woman.

The fall introduced enmity to God’s world and so God defends his glory by banning Adam and Eve from the Garden. God is the defender and he sets the example for us to defend the truth when it is challenged. God does not overlook sin or the corruption of his world. He confronts directly through his sovereign rule over the universe, and indirectly through our witness to the truth.

The Exodus

In God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the primary concern was not the deliverance of Israel, but rather their deliverance in a way that showed God’s power over the Egyptian gods. The Exodus was an apologetic against the weakness of Egyptian deities. When God called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, it was for the express purpose of manifesting his glory and supremacy (Exod. 3:15; 6:7; 7:3, 5; 8:18-19; 9:16; 10:1-2; 11:9).

God confronts Pharaoh who thought he was a god who held power over the Israelites. By confronting Egypt by means of the plagues, God clearly shows the world that He is the true God. His deliverance of Israel from Egypt becomes a testimony to the world that there is only one God to fear—Israel’s God. By obeying God’s call to lead Israel, even though he felt inadequate, Moses became the spokesman for God’s declarations against Egypt and for the power and supremacy of the true God.

David and Goliath

When the Philistine giant cursed God and dared Israel to send him a suitable opponent, no soldier took up the challenge. But a teenage shepherd heard Goliath taunt Israel and curse God, and found that he could not ignore such a threat. David’s motivation was not for personal glory, nor was it to overcome “giants” in his life. What drove him to accept Goliath’s challenge was his jealousy for the glory of God’s name (1 Sam. 17:41-47). He wanted the whole world to know that there was a God in Israel and that the battle was the Lord’s.

David’s passion for God’s glory enabled him to see that the physical challenge of Goliath was more than a conflict of military forces. In the ancient world everybody believed that whichever side won the battle possessed a stronger god or gods than the losing side. Goliath taunted the Israelites because they were so weak, and this reflected on Yahweh, Israel’s God. This was why David could not refrain from confronting Goliath. Silence was the equivalent of consenting that the Philistine gods were more powerful than Yahweh. David’s great victory over Goliath manifested to Israelite and Philistine alike that Israel’s God was the true God.

God’s Declarations in Isaiah

In the later chapters of Isaiah God confronts the idolatry of Israel and reminds them that he is the only true God. He taunts the pagan gods that Israel prefers to worship, exposing them as powerless (Isa. 41:24), a delusion (41:29), and nothing more than empty wind (41:29). He states clearly that no god existed before Him, and none will exist after him either (43:10). These gods cannot save (45:20, 46:7). Over and over, God reminds Israel that there is no other God besides Him (44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 20-22; 46:7, 9).

Why does God go to so much trouble to discredit these false gods? He states plainly that He refuses to share his glory with any pretender (42:8). God is jealous for his glory, and he will not allow false deities to receive the glory that is due only to him. God’s jealousy, unlike ours, is an appropriate response to pagan worshipers ascribing to their idols what is only true of God. Only God is worthy to be praised. Only he is the Creator and Sustainer of the World. Only He has provided genuine salvation, unlike the false deliverance promised by false gods who do not answer or save when called upon (46:7).


In the Old Testament a pattern emerges of God confronting violations of his Word and His glory. God upholds and defends his glory, and his people are called upon to do the same. In the New Testament this pattern continues, with more specific instruction given regarding how Christians are to go about this task. In the next post we will look at the New Testament’s instruction regarding apologetics.

[1] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 11.

What I’m Reading Wednesdays-10/28/15

Gaining by LosingGaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send, J. D. Greear (Zondervan, 2015). 256 pages. $19.99

Frankly, I did not expect much from this book. I’m not a fan of the multi-site, megachurch pastor who writes books that become best-sellers simply by getting all his church members to buy the book. However, early in this book Greear says something that flies in the face of everything the multi-site megachurch has banked on for decades. He argues that “increasingly, in a ‘post-Christian’ society, unbelievers will simply not make their way into our churches, no matter how ‘attractive’ we make them.”

This is exactly what I have been increasingly talking about in my apologetics ministry. The days of the big “Come and See” events as the primary evangelism strategy is drawing to a close. As the culture becomes more hostile, people are simply not going to darken the doors of a church, no matter how “cool and relevant” we seek to become. Greear proceeds to say that “if we don’t equip our people to carry the gospel outside of our meetings, our events, our gatherings and programs, we are going to lose all audience with them. A few flashier and flashier megachurches will likely keep fighting for larger pieces of a shrinking pie.” His solution? We must teach our people to engage people outside the church. Exactly.

This book is worth the read and may serve as a kick in the pants to get pastors moving on equipping their people to confidently engage unbelievers in apologetic evangelism. Buy it!

Understanding the Various Views of Apologetics

Not all Christians approach the topic of apologetics in the same way. There are two main views regarding how we should go about defending the truth of the Christian faith.

Two Men in ConversationEvidentialism

The most well-known approach is often called evidentialism, although similar methods use names like “classical” or “cumulative case” apologetics. Evidentialism seeks to develop and counter challenges to the Christian faith with evidences for Christianity. And certainly there are strong evidences for every objection raise against the Christian faith. But there are drawbacks with this approach. Here are some of the main tenets of evidentialism and the problems that accompany them.

  1. A Rational Mind. Evidentialism assumes that the unbeliever’s intellect has not been damaged by original sin. When Adam disobeyed in the Garden of Eden, his sin—and the curse that resulted—passed to every human being born after him (with the exception of Jesus). All Christians believe that the will and emotions were corrupted by sin, but some, such as evidentialists, believe that man’s intellect remained (largely) untouched. As a result, evidentialists believe that the only thing holding unbelievers back from being saved is information—the facts. Therefore, this approach is focused on presenting the unbeliever with evidences whenever the unbeliever raises a challenge to the Christian faith. Evidentialists believe that if we could just present all the facts to unbelievers, then they will have to believe if they wanted to remain rational.

Problem: The Bible describes the mind of the unbeliever as futile, darkened, and ignorant (Eph. 4:17-19). This does not mean that non-Christians aren’t smart, or can’t be accomplished, but rather when it comes to the truth about God and the gospel, they close their minds to what is obviously true. We are also told that even when the unbeliever sees the truth, he refuses to acknowledge it as truth (Rom. 1:21-25), and accepts a lie in its place.

  1. The Mind as the Authority. For the evidentialist, what is rational or logical to the mind is true. The mind is the authority that determines truth and discerns it from error. Therefore, this approach focuses its attention on satisfying the demands of unbelievers for evidence that the unbeliever will accept.

Problem: If the mind is futile, darkened, and ignorant as we saw above, then it is unable to objectively determine truth because it is distorted in its thinking. Additionally, for Christians, the Scriptures are the ultimate authority for everything, and truth is what coincides with the Bible. The mind of the unbeliever is hostile to God and alienated from the truth (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21), so it cannot serve as the arbiter of truth.

  1. Truth as Neutral and Unbelievers as Objective. The evidentialist believes that truth is neutral and can be discovered objectively by unbelievers. Facts in the universe are brute facts and they will mean the same thing to the Christian and non-Christian. This is often packaged as “All truth is God’s truth”; and by this it is meant that whatever branch of human inquiry discovers facts, they are automatically true once they are called “facts.”

Problem: All data that can be discovered has to be interpreted. No fact carries its own interpretation. The unbeliever interprets all data from the standpoint of unbelief, and the Christian insists that every fact in the universe declares God’s glory (Psalm 19:1-2).

Although the evidentialist approach sounds good, it starts with a flawed theological basis. It assumes that logic and rationality are universally agreed upon (they are not), and that unbelievers will accept the truth if it is clearly shown to them. Some people even describe their conversion in such a way. Yet if the biblical description of the unsaved mind is true, no one is genuinely seeking God (Rom. 3: 11) unless God draws him (John 6:44). A biblical understanding of conversion, therefore, must begin with God’s drawing of the sinner to make the gospel clear.

The presuppositional approach takes the fallen state of the human intellect into consideration in its proposal for doing apologetics.


The term “presuppositional” is derived from “presupposition,” which refers to a basic heart commitment, or a precondition for knowledge. While many presuppositionalists prefer other names for their approach, such as covenantal or transcendental, the name presuppositional is the most identifiable. Unfortunately, as New Testament scholar, Darrell Bock notes, some use this tern to describe an approach that answers every objection with “The Bible tells me so.” This view is actually more properly called fideism, which rejects the idea that any rational justification for our beliefs must be given. Fideism, however, contradicts the clear command in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us for the reasons for our faith. A true presuppositionalism, then, seeks to get to the heart of the unbelievers challenge to reveal its irrationality before presenting the truth of the Christian faith in all its glory and true rationality.

A presupposition is a belief that serves as a foundation for all other beliefs. For the Christian, the triune God and his revelation serve as the foundational beliefs. Unbelievers often have never considered what their most basic heart commitment is, and therefore, their foundational beliefs are unexamined. For example, they often believe that certain actions are right and good, and certain actions are wrong or evil. When pressed to tell why certain actions are good or evil, they often cannot provide an answer.

Presuppositions, therefore, are very important, and everyone has them. The presuppositional approach to apologetics begins with biblical truth and seeks to get at the heart of the unbeliever’s rejection of the gospel. Here are some of the basic tenets of presuppositionalism:

1. God has revealed himself, and therefore every person knows him (Rom. 1:18-21). While the evidentialist says that every person has the capacity to know God, the presuppositionalist says, with Romans 1, that every person does indeed know God. The believer knows God in a relationship of grace, and the unbeliever knows God in a relationship of wrath. Because unbelievers know God, they are without excuse. Therefore, when I am sharing the truth of the Christian faith, I am speaking of a God who is already known by the unbeliever.

2. The Bible attests to its own authority. Because there is no authority higher than God, his Word is the highest court of appeals for any question of truth. We call this the self-attesting authority of Scripture. Most other systems of belief place reason as the highest authority or test of truth. While reason is a God-given capacity, it is not an authority. Rather, reason is a tool we use to know and understand the truth. Reason helps us to clarify our beliefs and avoid contradiction in our theology, but it does not stand over Scripture to judge what is “reasonable.”

3. Only the Christian worldview can adequately explain all aspects of the human experience in a way that is rational and provides meaning. The reason for this is that this is God’s world, and His description of our origin, purpose, and destiny, as well as what is wrong with this world, is the only one that works. In other words, non-Christian worldviews and belief systems are antithetical to the Christian faith. Because they do not accept the authority of Scripture, they oppose Christianity with their partial truths.

I am convinced of the presuppositional approach. It does not deny the importance of evidence, but begins with these Christian presuppositions. When encountering unbelief of any kind, this approach challenges the unbeliever’s presuppositions to show that they cannot rationally explain life and existence. I have found it to be easy to learn for the average Christian and very effective in conversations with unbelievers. It has the advantage of beginning with the same foundation as theology, and therefore allows us to be consistent in our approach.

The Relationship between Apologetics and Evangelism

EvangelismThe goal of evangelism is to lead a person to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The goal of apologetics should be the same. So what is the difference between the two? In summary, apologetics is a distinct but inseparable part of evangelism.

  1. Evangelism is concerned with the presentation of the gospel, and the methods used to do so. Apologetics is concerned with answering objections to the gospel, clearing away obstacles, and commending the Christian faith as the only legitimate answer to man’s predicament. Imagine an All Wheel Drive car. Usually the front tires do all the work, but when they begin to slip, the rear wheels kick into motion and stabilize the car. When you are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, you are evangelizing. However, when someone raises objections against the Christian faith, apologetics kicks in and answers the objections so that you can return to evangelizing.
  1. Apologetics is just as important for Christians as it is for unbelievers. It is not only for evangelism. It is also critical to strengthening the faith of believers, grounding them more deeply in doctrine, and answering their doubts. The end result of apologetics in the church is an increased confidence in the truth, power and reliability of the gospel, the Scriptures, and the body of Christian doctrine that comprises our faith. The lack of knowledge of apologetics is the primary reason many churches have ceased to be effective in their evangelistic efforts. If Christians doubt their own faith, or don’t know it very well, they will never share it with others.

3. Apologetics and evangelism, though distinct, are inseparable. Evangelism without apologetics is limited to monologue with unbelievers. Apologetics without evangelism is merely an intellectual exercise. They are designed to be complementary. To simply talk to an unbeliever until they interrupt you is not biblical evangelism. Evangelism should be a dialogue wherein you take the time to hear what the person believes and why he does not believe in Christ, and then give answers that reveal the truth of Christianity. By keeping the focus of apologetics on winning the lost to salvation (and not something like “proving God exists”), apologetics remains in its rightful place as a partner to evangelism.

Apologetics in the New Testament

Uses of the Word Apologia

The Greek word apologia is used several times in the New Testament, and each usage reflects the meaning of defending against an accusation.

In Acts 19:33 Alexander attempted to make a “defense” to a crowd that had erupted after Paul was charged with persuading and turning many people away from idol worship. Paul’s great offense was to say that the idols made the craftsmen in Ephesus were not real gods.

In Acts 22:1 Paul gives his “defense” to the tribunal in Jerusalem who had arrested him after the mob attacked him. He was accused of teaching against the Mosaic law and temple worship (21:28) and of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (21:29). This happens again in 24:10 where he makes his defense against the accusations that he was a public enemy, one who stirs up riots, and a leader in the sect of the Nazarenes (a follower of Jesus). Note, two of these accusations are false and one is true. This word is used again in Acts 25:8, 16; 26:1-2, 24, and in each occurrence Paul defends his preaching of the resurrection of Messiah Jesus.

In Philippians 1:7, 16 Paul refers to these incidents in Acts, and describes them as a defense of the gospel. In other words, what Paul was defending was the good news of the risen Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:16 Paul recounts his first defense when no one was present with him, because they had deserted him, presumably in fear of their lives. But the Lord stood with Paul and strengthened him.

In addition to the actual uses of apologia, the concept of defending the truth of the gospel and the glory of God can be seen throughout Scripture. It is clear, then, that apologetics was the very essence of Paul’s ministry when dealing with unbelievers. He did not separate evangelism and apologetics. They are inseparable.

In the next post we will look at the relationship between evangelism and apologetics.

Intro to Apologetics

apologetics2The term apologetics was at one time only rarely heard in Christian churches. Despite the widespread popularity of apologists such as C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer in the 1960’s and 70’s and Josh McDowell in the 80’s and 90’s, the vast majority of evangelical Christians in America today are completely unfamiliar with the discipline of apologetics. They neither know how to defend their faith nor share it effectively. Many believers live with a quiet fear regarding challenges to the Christian faith. They hold firmly to the Bible, but don’t want to have to think hard about why they believe it. As a result, many Christians avoid conversations with non-Christians about anything spiritual, since they have no confidence that they could provide answers if asked.

Yet, thinking about our faith and knowing it well enough to defend it are exactly what we are commanded to do in 1 Peter 3:15-16. Here we are each commanded to prepare ourselves to give an answer, or defense, when your faith is challenged. This is a significant part of evangelism, as discussions about the gospel rarely occur without some objections being raised by the unbeliever. Additionally, this duty is for every Christian, not just for pastors or scholars. This is the missing element in many churches’ evangelism strategy. The average church member feels ill-equipped to know what to say when confronted with any of the myriad attacks on the faith.

At the same time we now live in a time where apologetics is everywhere. The last fifteen years has seen an explosion of good books, websites, and resources to help Christians defend the faith in an increasingly hostile world. The advent of YouTube has made available thousands of debates, lectures, and lectures on apologetics. This is a positive blessing to the body of Christ. Christians have more resources now to help them than at any other time in human history.


First Peter 3:15-16 tells us that every Christian is to be prepared to “give an answer” or “make a defense” when his faith is challenged. Apologetics, then, concerns the defense of the Christian faith against all forms of unbelief. The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word, apologia, in verse 15. This is a legal term meaning a defense against an accusation in a court of law.

One Greek Lexicon gives the range of meaning of this word: “to give an answer,” “to clear oneself of charges,” “to defend oneself in a court of law,” “to speak on behalf of oneself or of others against accusations presumed to be false” (Louw & Nida). In this context, when the Christian faith is falsely accused (“the Bible has errors” or “Jesus never rose from the dead”), the Christian is to give an answer that shows the accusation to be false.

Cornelius Van Til, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in the mid-20th century, and pioneer in the field, gave this simple definition: “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life” (Van Til, Christian Apologetics). This definition shows that a study of apologetics must include every kind of objection that may be raised up against the truth of Christianity.

A more recent definition includes the importance of showing the rationality and beauty of the Christian faith. William Edgar defines apologetics as “the art of persuasion, the discipline which considers ways to commend and defend the living God to those without faith.” (W. Edgar, “Christian Apologetics for a New Century: Where We Have Come From, Where We Are Going,” in NDCA, p. 3). The goal of defending the faith is to persuade the unbeliever that Jesus is the Messiah and he is in need of salvation. While defending the faith, however, we also ought to be commending it, that is, showing how the Christian faith answers the deepest needs of the human condition and makes sense of the world.

In the next post we’ll look at the examples in Scripture where apologetics was practiced.

The Failure of Philosophy and the SCOTUS Decision

nietzscheI was reading an interview with seven philosophers about the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, and in none of their short essays, save one, did the philosophers who responded actually apply any serious philosophy. Their answers are mostly opinion pieces lauding justice and dignity, with no attempt to define those terms philosophically, or to justify their importance. As K. Scott Oliphint says, Philosophy is largely well-articulated unbelief.

Only one philosopher, Cheshire Calhoun of Arizona State University, asks the right question. She notices that Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, referred several times to the “transcendent purpose of marriage.” As a non-Christian Calhoun questions where Kennedy gets the notion of the transcendent, and why that notion should be binding. The transcendent smacks of religion, and that cannot be tolerated, so she suggests that we do away with the concept and the vocabulary.

If any law is based on a concept of transcendence, there is a danger that transcendence may interfere with the next sexual taboo to fall, be it polygamy, incest, etc. Best to drop the language of transcendence, she advises, because it legitimizes marriage too much, and it’s high time we stopped considering marriage to be anything more than a misguided relic of the hateful past.

Calhoun is right about one thing. If there is a transcendent to which we can appeal, we are all in deep trouble. That transcendent may demand of us things we don’t want to do. It may hold the specter of future judgment. Like many of her philosophical peers, Calhoun is eager to jettison the notion. Also like many of her peers, she forgets the prescient words of one of her own comrades in the philosophical guild, albeit of a different century.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s parable of the madman confronts the hubris of those who discard the divine. He knew that ridding ourselves of the transcendent did not bring bondage, but a loss of the foundations of society, dignity, and rationality.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

What Calhoun celebrates, the idolization of desire, will not only be the destruction of her trade, philosophy, but civilization as a whole, the very thing she thinks has been saved by SCOTUS’s decision. If desire reigns, there is no need for philosophy, because each one’s own peccadillos are all that matters. Philosophy’s task is rendered irrelevant. There is no more room for the questions of universal good and justice. Such questions themselves become as oppressive as a transcendent idea of marriage.

The concept of civilization, too, will have to be redefined or discarded, once the most deviant in society realize that the holy grail of hedonism, consent, is nothing more than a preference. If there is no transcendent, there can be no argument that consent should be the guiding ethic of sexual expression. Once consent is lost, it’s a quick fall to chaos and destruction.

Bible believers know what happens when everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The biblical book of Joshua recounts the horrors of life without restraint. As one Puritan divine prayed, “O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate. This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.”

While those in favor of the SCOTUS decision praise it for its grant of justice and dignity, they pull the rug out from their own feet. Do away with the transcendent God, and terms like mercy and justice become meaningless. Only by beginning with the triune God of Scripture can the genuine dignity and justice in the world be possible.

Stale White Bread: The State of Evangelism in the Church

In an article last month in Christianity Today on the state of evangelism in the American church, Ed Stetzer summarizes two recent studies by Lifeway Researchers and the Barna Group. The Lifeway study concluded what any observant ChristiaWhite-Breadn already knows—evangelism has dropped off significantly in recent decades. Most Protestant Christians (85%) believe they have a responsibility to share the gospel, but only a few (25%) actually do so, or plan to do so.

Why is this? As with any issue, the answer is complex, but I can suggest several reasons.

First, evangelism training has not changed much in 50 years. The last evangelism training many Christians received was the same as what their grandparents received, even though the world has drastically changed. Post-WWII evangelism was primarily aimed at Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants, both of whom held to a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian view of man’s ability to merit God’s favor to some extent through good works. These were people who already believed in the Christian God (to some extent), and who already respected the Bible. Evangelism, therefore, was primarily focused on showing the listener from the Bible that salvation was by grace, not works. From the 1940’s through the 70’s, this strategy worked quite well, as untold numbers were saved and churches grew. But it inherently lacked any great substance, like white bread. It appeared to be nutritious for the church, but it lacked any substance.

By the 80’s and 90’s this form of evangelism began to decrease in its effectiveness. Postmodern skepticism, the public failure of influential Christian leaders, and the influx of world religions through immigration changed the fabric of American society. No longer could evangelists assume that their hearers believed what had been widely held a few decades before. Now they were encountering objections to the Christian faith from a variety of directions. Believers found themselves having to defend the Bible and Christianity in ways many felt ill-equipped to do well—textual criticism, the historicity of the Gospel accounts, and the uniqueness of the Christian faith among world religions.

Coinciding with this change in the culture was the Church Growth Movement’s emphasis on the “come and see” approach to reaching the lost. This is the second reason many Christians don’t share the gospel—the whole idea of serious discipleship and the “go and tell” of the Great Commission has been superseded. Removing anything that could be remotely offensive to unbelievers, these proponents sought to massage the unbeliever into the kingdom. I have met many attenders of CGM that were no clearer on the gospel than the average Muslim or Mormon, because the sharp edges of sin, wrath, repentance and belief had been whittled down to having an emotional experience with God. Christians in these types of churches, like toothless, domesticated bears at a roadside attraction, are reduced to inviting their friends and neighbors to the next “super” event at their megachurch, because they themselves have never been equipped.

The stale evangelism training of the previous generations fails in today’s world. This was brought home to me powerfully while speaking at a family camp in St. John, New Brunswick last summer. A retired pastor of 50 years, now in his late 70’s, approached me after I gave a session on apologetics. He grabbed my hand firmly and said, “That’s what we should have been teaching all these years! We have been teaching evangelism all wrong!” In other words, the canned approach of spitting out a gospel formula failed to follow the example of Jesus and the apostles in their evangelism, and therefore was unable to deal with objections and challenges. This elderly saint recognized the power in an apologetic approach that enabled one to “go and tell.”

That brings us to the Barna study, which found that 65% of Millennials (those born between 1980 and the mid 2000’s) had shared their faith in the last year with an unbeliever. This is encouraging news. And it doesn’t surprise me as an undergraduate professor. Much more than my generation, the Busters, younger Christians seem motivated to know their faith and to boldly share it.

There are many factors involved in this generational shift, but one I believe is a major part of this move is the resurgence of apologetics. With the advent of the internet the availability of resources for defending the Christian faith have become ubiquitous. Younger Christians who are tech-savvy can easily find and learn apologetic answers to the challenges that arise against their faith.

The younger generation may be able to revive the evangelistic fervor of the American church that the Busters and Boomers lost. Rather than see the declining state of evangelism as something to mourn, we ought rather to perceive it as an opportunity for a new, more potent and effective form to rise from its ashes. This new evangelism will be apologetically equipped and ready for the challenges that arise. We may yet see a great revival of evangelism in our day.

The Terror of Antiquated Creeds

TerrorI spoke at my son’s Baccalaureate service this week, and it was held at an area church. The service provided an opportunity for the fellowship of Christian students at his public school to celebrate the faithfulness of God to them during the last year, and to celebrate the seniors’ graduation.

While waiting for the service to begin, I thumbed through the “chorus book” of the United Methodist Church. The title of the fourth song in the book caught my attention: “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning.” Besides the clumsy lyrics (“As two currents in a river fight each other’s undertow…”), it sounded like a scientist or mathematician wrote it, as it incorporated words and phrases like “calculation,” “converging,” “science,” “coherent,” and “breadth of human knowledge.” All good words, no doubt, but strange for a hymn.

The third verse, however, holds the real gem. Here are the lyrics:

May our faith redeem the blunder of believing that our thought

Has displaced the grounds for wonder which the ancient prophets taught.

May our learning curb the error which unthinking faith can breed

Lest we justify some terror with an antiquated creed.

Say what?

Now, I am all for correcting error that unthinking faith can breed. We have plenty of that in evangelical Christianity. Think the Left Behind series, celebrity pastors, TBN, and those who emulate the Duggars.

The crown jewel, though, is the word terror. The creeds now become the principles behind terrorism. This reminds me of my year spent studying German philosophy at Villanova University. In a class on Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of my professors became well-known in the philosophical world for his dissertation, which argued that disagreement constituted violence. I think the irony was lost on him that any dissertation worth its salt disagrees with at least some ideas from others.

So here is the UMC chorus book warning of the potential terror that might be unleashed on humanity should we hold to an ancient creed. This is the hubris of liberalism. Only those who live in the modern world of the late 20th century and early 21st century can be considered enlightened. Scratch that. Only the present liberal mind that does not hold too strongly to any religious beliefs can be considered enlightened.

Yet, what terror and disorder the abandonment of “antiquated creeds” has brought to our world! Nietzsche was indeed a prophet when he warned 19th century liberal Europeans in his “Parable of the Madman” that in killing God they had unleashed eternal night.

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?

I contemplated the small group of teens gathered for the baccalaureate service in this UMC church. They had just navigated another year of public school boldly, and with a potent testimony that led to students being converted. I thanked God that they had cast their lot with the creeds and, as a result, possessed a thinking and powerful faith.

Affirmations for Evangelism and Apologetics

positive-affirmation-quotes-for-lifeSometimes in the midst of an encounter with an unbeliever our confidence in the gospel that we felt even one hour before dissipates quickly. We suddenly doubt that our conversation partner really needs the gospel, or that the gospel makes sense, or that unbelief is contradictory and irrational, or a thousand other things.

To avoid the loss of clarity and courage I have found that prayerfully meditating on a few apologetic truths on a regular basis keeps the fear and doubt at bay. Here are twelve affirmations I keep posted on my office bulletin board to review as often as I can. They help me boldly commend and defend the truth, so I am ready for any encounter with someone who needs Christ. This list originated from a reading of Cornelius Van Til’s My Credo, written many years ago as a summary of his apologetic method.

  1. Every person I encounter has a knowledge of God implanted in his heart that he is suppressing. This knowledge is clear and obvious to him because God has made it plain.
  1. God pursues sinners every day by every means. Everything in nature and in life is revelatory of God and man’s need to be reconciled to him.
  1. The key to effective evangelism and apologetics is to ask questions to reveal the unbeliever’s belief system and his ways of suppressing the truth.
  1. God has called me to be an ambassador of reconciliation between God and sinners. I have been equipped by the Holy Spirit and my training to do this.
  1. I will find supreme delight in glorifying God through sharing Christ. The joy that I will experience by speaking up for the gospel will eclipse any fear or discomfort I feel in the apologetic encounter.
  1. The good news of Jesus Christ is the answer for and the greatest need of the unbeliever. If the unbeliever comes to salvation, they will be forever grateful I addressed their greatest need.
  1. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of regeneration and transformation as I share Christ and defend the Christian faith. In the apologetic encounter, I am joining the conversation already going on as the Holy Spirit is drawing the unbeliever to Christ.
  1. The Word of God is living and powerful to expose and dismantle false systems of belief and stubborn opposition to the truth. I will incorporate as much biblical truth as is strategic in any conversation.
  1. Because unbelievers worship false and counterfeit gods, they experience guilt, lack of peace and joy, hopelessness, fear of death, and meaninglessness, among other results of the Fall. I will contrast these experiences with what is found in Christ.

10. Because unbelievers cannot consistently find meaning and truth in their unbelief, they borrow ideas and concepts from Christianity. I need to identify and challenge that borrowed capital.

  1. I will not wander into vain discussions and speculation about unimportant matters. I will stay focused on proclaiming the wisdom and glory of Jesus Christ. I will seek to get them to consider the person and work of Christ, and to read the Bible.
  1. As much as the Holy Spirit is moving, and the unbeliever is willing, I will seek to lead the unbeliever to repentance and faith in Christ. No matter how far I get, however, I will consider any progress to be successful planting and watering of gospel seeds.