Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Nexus of Evangelism and Apologetics

Two sides of the same coin. That is how we describe many ideas that are so intimately related that we can’t separate them despite their distinctions. Evangelism and apologetics are two different concepts but they are linked in a very intimate way—so intimate that one is unlikely to happen without the other.

Evangelism is a term that comes from the Greek word euangelion which is often translated as “good news.” The good news is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and evangelism is the call for each Christian to share that good news. The classic passages come in Matthew 28:19–20 and Mark 16:15 where Jesus commands the disciples to spread the gospel to all people on the earth. From a biblical perspective, evangelism does not take place unless the person and work of Christ are declared with words.

Many in the modern evangelical culture of America have bought into the idea that we can share the gospel by our actions. Some will quote Saint Francis of Assisi as saying, “Preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.” Two problems—he didn’t say that and it is antibiblical. If you can communicate to another person that they are a sinner in need of redemption through the sacrificial work of a perfect Christ on the Cross, then you are a better mime than I.

A cursory look at Scripture shows that the gospel is spread by the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:12–17). And, it is most often described as a public proclamation in city squares and community centers (synagogues). This does not mean that it never happened on an individual basis, but that those who insist street preaching is not how the gospel should be spread must argue against Scripture.

Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia that means to offer a defense or reason. Apologetics, in a biblical sense, only happens when we are offering a defense for the salvation that we have in Christ. 1 Peter 3:15 is the passage that exemplifies a command for Christians to defend their hope in Christ.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
All too often, people claim to be practicing apologetics when they are defending the manuscript integrity of the New Testament  or asserting the problems with radiometric dating methods. It is possible that both of these could be done in a way that would not be considered biblical apologetics. In the verse above, the reason is directly connected to the hope that we have as Christians. That hope is found in Christ alone and described to us in the Bible. If we are not intentionally connecting our defense and reasoning to the authority of the Bible so that we may affirm our hope in Christ, we are not doing biblical apologetics. To make sure that we are connecting our intellectual arguments to Christ takes a special effort, but it is essential to keeping our efforts grounded in Him. If we excise the center of this verse by simply saying “always be ready to give a defense,” we run the risk of focusing in vain on academic arguments.

Another important component to consider in this verse is the manner in which we should approach apologetics—with meekness and fear. Too often, apologists come across as boisterous and uncharitable in their presentations. We should not be afraid to proclaim the truth, but we do it under control and with an attitude of a messenger delivering truth from the King. Secondly, we perform this function with reverential fear knowing that is only by the grace of God that we have been granted the status of ambassador for the King, and that without the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, our efforts cannot succeed in bringing anyone to salvation. We might also consider the fear that we should have in misrepresenting the One we are in service to through misapplying the truth He has revealed to us.

Evangelism is not simply living a moral lifestyle, though that is a witness that supports your proclamation of the gospel. Apologetics is not simply defending a scientific model, though such a defense may confirm a biblical account. If either of these activities is not centered on whom Christ is and what He has done, they cannot be seen as meeting a biblical command.

As Christians seek to evangelize those around them, there will surely be questions that arise from the explanation of the gospel message. Answering those questions demonstrates the intimate connection between sharing the hope of Christ and defending that hope. If someone seeks to defend a position for the sake of argument and apart from a gospel-oriented purpose, neither evangelism nor apologetics is taking place. Offering the hope of Christ and defending that hope cannot be separated any more than the two sides of a coin.
I would love to hear your feedback on these ideas, especially if you believe something I have said is unbiblical. If you don't have time, just check one of the reaction boxes below.

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