by Catlan Sardina, Lake City Small Group “Coach in Training,” Army Psychological Operations Officer, seminary student, husband and father (not necessarily in that order)
In the upcoming God Questions series, Lake City is going to explore the world of apologetics. This will be an exciting season of growth for many of us, and reassurance of the truth and validity of the Bible as God’s Word for all of us. Apologetics, the $10 word for “defending our faith,” is a great tool for any maturing Christian. But, as with any other tool, it is important to know what it is, what it’s not, and when to use it. As I’m sure the Great Carpenter would have told you, “Don’t use a saw on a job that calls for a drill.”
In this post, I would like to humbly suggest a point of reflection for all my brothers and sisters at Lake City: Don’t confuse apologetics and evangelism, they are different jobs and require different tools.
A great starting point for differentiating apologetics and evangelism is by clearly defining apologetics, what is it and what isn’t it. The passage of Scripture most often quoted to introduce apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15b:
…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, — English Standard Version
This is a passage often taken out of context, to turn apologetics into a commanded discipline. The context of 1 Peter 3 is suffering, where to place our hope when we face persecution, and what to do when we are persecuted. In this context, our greatest takeaway from verse 15 is that when things get terrible, believers should have so much hope that people ask us for a reason for it. Hope in the face of suffering is our greatest apologetic.
This seems almost unfathomable in our current cultural setting where Christians are prone towards becoming hopeless, downtrodden, and defensive every time America loses some of her Christian heritage. Just before the November 2016 elections, a writer submitted this question to Billy Graham:
I don’t see any hope for our nation. I think we’ve gotten so far from God that He’s just given up on us. That’s what happened to people in Old Testament times, wasn’t it?
Of course, Billy Graham answered the questioner by encouraging him to have hope, but this sort of thinking is not unique and does not portray the hope that Peter talked about in 1 Peter 3:15. Wouldn’t it be an amazing testimony if Lake City Community Church started The God Questions series by first preparing our hearts to have hope in times of persecution?
Imagine living out 1 Peter 3:15 as a community. Our hope in the grace of Jesus Christ would be longsuffering and unquenchable. People would see that we cannot be brought low, no matter how terrible the persecution or suffering. It would be in this context that we would provide a defense for the hope that is in us. This type of defense and witness already seems counter to the in-your-face brand of apologetics that tends to make Christians look like the defender of God. By the way, God doesn’t need a protector, we need God to be our protector.
If then, 1 Peter 3:15b does not primarily command us to prepare a logical, intellectual defense for the Christian faith, where does Scripture tell us to do this? The best passage in Scripture for understanding apologetics comes from 2 Corinthians 10:5.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, — English Standard Version
The context of this passage is far more appropriate for the discipline of apologetics. Here, Paul is talking to Christians about worldly opinions influencing other Christians. In this chapter (just two verses later) Paul talks about people being confident that they are Christ’s. In this context we derive the instruction for using logical arguments to destroy lofty opinions that may cause doubts within the Church. Did you notice the difference here? Reaching back to the analogy that apologetics is a tool, the “job” that most appropriately calls for apologetics is the moment when a Christian begins to have doubts about the validity of Scripture because of a worldly argument.
Our leadership at LC3 has already framed The God Questions series in a light very similar to this, with a goal of preventing our youth from doubting their faith in middle/high school. Bryan Osborne, from Answers in Genesis, showed some troubling figures about Christian children finding doubt and referenced the book titled Already Gone. Our church does an excellent job at discipleship. If we want to continue to take discipleship seriously, then we need to build up the hope in our less-mature believers. Apologetics is a great tool (alongside prayer, testimony, exposure to Scripture, and the power of the Holy Spirit) to assist in “destroying arguments of doubt to help take every thought captive to obey Christ.” One step further, Romans 14 proclaims that mature Christians have a responsibility to sacrifice our Christian liberties, time, and effort to disciple immature believers.
If apologetics is a hammer, the seeds of doubt within the Church are the nail. But, what about when dealing with lost-unregenerate people outside the Church? Well, now we aren’t dealing with the same problem, and if the problem doesn’t call for a hammer then we shouldn’t reach for it. It is important to remember that no one has ever been saved by a good argument, but only by the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is some Scripture for thought on why not to use apologetics for arguing with lost people:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing — 1 Corinthians 1:18a, English Standard Version
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles — 1 Corinthians 1:20b-23, English Standard Version
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”… After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. — John 6:56-58, 66 English Standard Version
All three of these passages have something in common: lost people think the Gospel is foolish. Jesus did not try to make the Gospel more appealing and more believable, he made it powerful. In another passage, Jesus was sending out His disciples to evangelize and he explicitly told them not to prepare an apologetic-type message:
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. — Matthew 10:19-20
A last passage of Scripture to help us when preaching the Gospel to the lost as opposed to combatting them with logical (albeit truthful) arguments comes from the Gospel according to Paul:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. — Romans 10:17, English Standard Version
Halfway through The God Questions series, when you are at work at the water cooler and you find yourself in a position to use your newfound apologetics Kung Fu, practice restraint. The Gospel that lives in us is not revealed through arguing over the age of the earth. The Gospel is not represented by a defensive know-it-all. The Gospel is represented daily by faithful, humble, submissive, persecuted, longsuffering, and HOPEFUL Christians. When your hope has stretched to the point that people around you have no choice but to ask for a reason, defend it with the Gospel. By your preaching of the Word of Christ they will hear, and by hearing they too will have faith. Use your hammer on a nail, but don’t try and repair a broken window by hammering it back together.