When it comes to apologetic engagement-fish or cut bait! At least that’s what I’m thinking. It just seems like we’re just spinning our wheels sometimes. There’s a lot of teaching, training, and talk about putting all of that into practice. But, in the end nothing ever really seems to happen. It’s hard, without persistent leadership, to make that first step out of the classroom and into real world apologetics.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some legitimate concerns that stand in the way of folks defending the hope of Christ. I understand how it seems that it would be better to continue learning and training so that when it’s finally go-time, we’re well equipped. Apologetics is an important tool to help people see the truth about Jesus. It can also be a hindrance if applied incorrectly. Unlike some things, many Christians understand the clarity of the Gospel to be of utmost importance. We don’t want to do anything to muddy the waters. I think that it’s easy to fall prey to some common misconceptions and fears that lead to our apologetic apathy though.
Fear of rejection
Probably the primary fear people have when it comes to presenting the gospel or defending it, is the fear of rejection.
Rejection can come in many forms. Some people will reject what we say as false. They will disagree with us.
Some folks will reject us as presenters of truth. They will say that we are arrogant for making the claim.
Some people will say that the fact that we make a presentation is itself bad form. They will tell us that our belief should remain private and that our public practice is offensive.
There are others of course, but it doesn’t really matter. The truth is this-you will be rejected in lots of ways. People will reject your message. They will reject you as a messenger. Some people will even use the system, whether it be work place rules or the law, to shut you up!
Get used to it. It’s alright. It’s also assumed.
“having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:16, ESV)
We ought not be surprised at any of this nor should we strive to maintain a status quo of acceptance. Jesus predicted that we would be hated because of our fidelity to him and his message. Stop trying to avoid that. You can’t be faithful to Christ and be loved by the world. Period.
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”” (Luke 16:13, ESV)
Fear of incompetence
This is common, especially when in the context of apologetics. Apologetics is a big field of study with intellectual heavy lifting that must be done. Most of us don’t have time to do the kind of study to be effective at answering every question we may encounter. That’s legitimate.
There is a problem with that line of thinking though. It’s 1 Peter 3:15.
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, 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,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)
We are commanded to honor Christ as Lord by always being ready to give an answer to anyone who may ask us about the hope we have. That means that we are to be equipped, and there is no exception because we have jobs or kids or even school. Furthermore, we are commanded to go into all the world preaching the gospel. That puts us in a spot. If we go ahead and “go” then we’re probably going to encounter folks who have questions that we can’t answer immediately. So, what do we do?
Fish or cut bait?
Go anyway. In the meantime, get yourself equipped and learn to say these words…” I don’t know”.
Stop fearing incompetence. Chances are, you are incompetent. Be honest with yourself and everyone else and admit it when you are. Then, do your duty. After asking for forgiveness and a little time to do the work, get the answers to the questions folks ask. There are a plethora of websites, apps, Bible inserts, etc. to help you answer quickly things you can’t be expected to have stored in your mind. If you need to go deeper than some of those helps might be designed to go, get a great apologetics book. About once a week there are Kindle deals to be had if you go to The Poached Egg on Twitter. Greg West does an amazing job equipping folks there.
To fail to do your duty to give a defense for the hope of Christ because you feel incompetent flies in the face of Christ and his work. For all practical purposes it is the confession that this is “about me, my competence, my intellectual prowess, my value as an apologist”. It is an exercise of pride. It runs contrary to the gospel and misplaces hope in you rather than in Christ.
Do your duty. The results are God’s.
Fear of confrontation
Finally, there is the fear of confrontation. Most people, especially Christians, don’t like to argue. In fact, the idea that we ought not argue about religion undergirds most people’s understanding of what it means to be American. That is an historically inaccurate belief.
American history is littered with theological and apologetic disagreements and arguments that parallel them. I would go so far as to say that arguing for what you believe is an American tradition. Don’t fool yourself into believing Americans never argue and don’t let anyone coerce you into silence with that lie.
The great majority of Christians believe that it is not Christ-like to argue though. Many of us have heard the phrase “You can’t argue someone into heaven”.
Well, that’s gobbledygook!
Them’s fightin’ words
These are usually the same folk who propose (an argument) that “we ought to just love people”.
Here’s some rhetorical medicine. You can’t love anyone into heaven either!
The fact is, people go to heaven because they KNOW Jesus of Nazareth. They know Jesus as God who became man, that he died to pay for our sins and he rose from the dead! They trust him as Lord and repent of their sin and then and only then do they begin to love him.
Yep. You got it. They KNOW Jesus before they love Jesus.
Furthermore, heaven (eternal life) is described by the Apostle John as “knowing God”. Throughout eternity we will get to KNOW God. We will finally love him with all our minds. And friends, that’s where the battle is, the mind.
“And this is eternal life, that they KNOW you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV)
Christianity is a religion of the mind. It is an historical faith based on events that really happened. Sometimes that means we must prove and convince folks that Christianity is true. Not only does faith exist now because God works supernaturally, those supernatural acts are justified in another supernatural act (the Resurrection) that happened in history. We must learn to overcome our fear of confrontation and argue that hope of Christ.
This short list is not meant to be comprehensive. There are more reasons Christians wont engage apologetically. But, IMO, these are the main three.
As a Christian, we ought to do away with fear. If Christ really did walk out of that tomb, and we are the children of God, what do we have to fear?
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, ESV)
As teachers, we ought to encourage our students to overcome their fear by helping them see that the Christ we trust is able to keep us to the end. Nothing else matters.
The point is this: do your duty and God will handle the rest.
The time for intermural jousting has passed. It’s time for apologetics engagement-fish or cut bait.