As I make my way around various circles, as I have written, read, listened, and conversed, I feel a little like the old Uncle Sam. “I want you!”
Communicating my passion for and the need of apologetics in the local church has shed some light on people’s perceptions of apologetics. Most of the time those perceptions are pretty revealing of the Churches failure to love the Lord with our minds for 100 years or so.
Unfortunately, there seems to be an all too common misunderstanding of what an apologist actually is, both by leadership and laity. Many times the prevailing view is that an apologist is a kind of lone wolf or loose cannon. “The apologist”, people might conclude, “is that person who goes around correcting bad theology in the church and keeping the church safe from atheists.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Another common misunderstanding is that the pastor is the apologist. Especially in small Southern or rural churches, there is an overestimation of just what the pastor’s role is in the church. Everything from janitor to choir director are assumed roles for many pastors who I’m sure would rather focus on their primary duty, preaching the Word. It’s easy enough to convince people of that kind of pastoral abuse by the church though.
It’s a little more difficult to convince many rural, busy, and traditional laypeople to stop relying too heavily on their pastor for every spiritual gift listed in the New Testament. In those little churches, which make up the majority of American churches, the pastor is everything spiritual, at least in the eyes of his congregation and apologetics falls into his required bag of tricks.
This is also false.
In fact, there is not such thing as an apologist per se. In the list of gifts that God gives his church, there is no “defender” or “apologist”. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV) That’s one example of a gift list and there are no apologists listed here.
Now, of course what I mean is not that there is actually no such person as an apologist. What I do mean to say is that there is no Biblical office of apologist listed in the Scripture.
Given that you have already acquiesced that apologetics, the mandate of defending or giving a reason for Christ’s hope is in fact a necessary element of being Christian, you must be asking yourself then, “what is an apologist?” In other words, if apologetics is necessary to the church but there are no official apologists, then who are the apologists?
Well I’m glad you asked.
If you are a Christian, whether you are a pastor, elder, deacon, musician, teacher, soundman, janitor, or just a pew filler, you should be an apologist!
Say what, you say…
It’s true. Each one of us is called to be apologists.
That is why Jim Wallace is right when he says that we don’t need to teach apologetics in churches, we need to train apologists. We are all apologists. We may be bad apologists, but we are apologists just the same.
So pastor, if you are overloaded already, and my guess is that you are, don’t attempt to become the apologist in your church. You should only be an apologist in your church. You should be one of the best, but one among many. Take the role of pastor seriously enough to shepherd Christ’s flock by training them to be apologists.
Elder and deacon, it is not your place to relieve the pastor as the house apologist. Your job is to join him as one of the best apologists and train the rest of the apologists, namely the congregation.
Musicians, if you are not incorporating apologetics into your music ministry, you are missing a real opportunity to testify to the glory of God and give people a reason to do the same. Lead people to the throne and teach them of the holy God that they worship along the way.
Teachers, you are probably on the front line already. You see the need because you are asked those tough questions. You know the people in your class more intimately than any of the others who are in leadership. You know their struggles and their doubts. Help them. But don’t help them by giving them fish, help them by teaching them how to fish. If you have not yet begun to incorporate some kind of apologetics training into your program, do it now. Keep them coming back and the only way to do that consistently is to teach them the truth about why they ought to keep coming back.
Oh, and the people like me, those lone wolves who aren’t necessarily involved in leadership but love apologetics enough to do the hard work of it, begin to find a way to serve. Stop absorbing information and begin sharing all you’ve learned with the people who need it. Whether you need to train laypeople to become better apologists or help leadership be better equipped to train them, do it. For you have been called to such a time as this and your lack of zeal to train will eventually leave your pursuit of knowledge empty and hollow.
Layperson, you cannot escape the fact that Scripture demands that you are ready to give a defense of the hope that is in you, with grace and respect. “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)
How will you continue to call yourself obedient to God if you do not obey his commandments? ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)
In all that has happened recently in America and around the world, the attack on the Christian worldview and the violent persecution of Christians, how can we remain idle? If it is not enough that Scripture is God’s Word and our revealed authority, then will it not be enough that the world is asking of you, “who do you serve?”
Will you continue in your impotence and hide your head in the sand?
Next year your church may lose its tax exemption. In six months your pastor may be charged with a hate crime. Tomorrow the world may require an answer from you. What will you say? “I didn’t have time?”
You ask, “Who are the apologists?”
The apologists are you!
When God asks “Who are my apologists”, he isn’t asking someone else. He is saying…
“I want you!”