The article I link here, How an Ex-Christian And Counter Apologist Came Back To Jesus – Q+ A With Theologia Apologia, has a lot in it to chew on. Erik Manning is one of my favorite “apologists” on the Internet because he keeps it real. He comes from the other camp (atheism), and I think that always provides fresh perspective.
I put apologists in parentheses because many people, including Christians, don’t really know the term. An apologist is a person who studies and presents evidence defending faith (simply put). The term comes from the Greek word, apologia, which is used in 1 Peter 3:15 when Peter encourages people to “always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope you possess.” (NIV)
I had not really focused on the part about “everyone who asks” before, but I think it’s relevant to the article and the message I hear in it. Maybe we spend too much time trying to convince people who aren’t asking us about our hope, people who don’t care, people who aren’t asking questions or seeking answers.
At the same time (speaking from my own experience), we miss opportunities when people actually ask us those questions! One of the problems with “apologists” is that we prepare for audiences that we choose to “walk into” with all of our memorized and canned responses, but we may not always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit speaking to us in midst of the audiences we encounter throughout our daily lives.
On a related matter, I see Christians posting things along the lines of not being ashamed to say they are Christians. (See also Christians on Social Media) Certainly, if the Holy is convicting a person about the fear of man and the need to “come out”, do it. But, that kind of statement is usually lost on the world, generally, and not very effective (it seems to me) in spreading the Gospel message.
As for the article, the interviewee was a new Christian when he went off to seminary, and he was ill-equipped to face the challenges he encountered. He wasn’t grounded in his own faith. He says, “It was hard for me to have intimacy with God when I was devoting a lot more time to reading and studying about the Bible for a class than I was to reading and studying the Bible devotionally, or when I wrote 10-page papers about a biblical theology of prayer while my personal prayer life was scarce.”
He came from a “seeker-sensitive” church that didn’t deal with the meaty subjects he encountered in seminary, and he “felt lied to”. Bitterness and disillusionment set it. He began to develop suspicion and skepticism about the surface level faith with which he was familiar when plunged into the deep end.
This is where the article speaks to me. This is here the lessons lie.
For one thing, we shouldn’t push people to seminary, even if they feel a call to ministry, before they are ready. We also should be careful about encouraging new Christians into positions of leadership.
I am reminded of the story of the Hillsong worship leader who “deconverted” publicly last summer and the author of the book, who was a young Christian when he wrote it, taking the position that Christian shouldn’t date. Neither of them had solid foundations under their feet when they found themselves in front of others in leadership positions. That’s a recipe for crashing and burning.
Canned answers, also, don’t help. Memorized answers to difficult theological and philosophical questions are not effective apologetic or evangelistic tools (by themselves). “[W]e should be ready to give a defense, but I think we should ask ourselves if the approach we’re using is helpful and winsome.” Skeptics have canned answers too.
Apologetics isn’t a magic pill. Arguments and knowledge aren’t primarily what we have to deliver. The Gospel is found in the person of Jesus – the Living Waters and the Bread of Life. The primary reason for the hope we have within us is Jesus!
If we consider Jesus, we see that he asked poignant questions of the people he encountered. He may have had the advantage of knowing their thoughts, but he still asked questions. How much more should we be asking people questions?
Since we don’t know the hearts and minds of the people we encounter, how much more do we need to listen?!
We need to engage people like Jesus did. We need to take an interest in them as people. We need to recognize the needs, the hurts, the motivations and the humanity of the people we speak to.
Why need to gain some understanding of who they are, what moves them, what concerns them, what experiences have defined their lives. We need to meet people where they are, just as God meets us where we are.
We also need to be real. None of us have all the answers. We can’t prove to anyone that God exists. There are “problems” with Scripture; Christians can be jerks; the Church has made a lot of mistakes historically. We don’t have a formula for good living to sell. We have had our own struggles.
But, we have Jesus! He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is with us through all the trials and difficulties of life. We can trust him because he showed his love and commitment for us by giving his own life for us on the cross.
God cares intimately for us, and we should care for and take interest in the people we encounter who ask about the reason for the hope we have within us. This isn’t about notching victories, but relationship.
God can only do His work within us when we have personal, intimate relationship with Him, and God can work as well in the relationships we have with other people. We aren’t the ones who do the work in the heart of a person. It is God who works within us to will and to act according to His good purpose … if we let Him.
We need work on our own spiritual foundation – our own relationship with God. We need to let God do His work within us on a daily, ongoing basis. Then you will be ready, in season and out of season, when the opportunities present themselves, “to give the reason for the hope that you have”, and you will be able to “do this with gentleness and respect”.
This is the other half of the verse where we get the word, apologia – “do this with gentleness and respect”. This is the “winsome way” the interviewee in the article is talking about. Both the content and the delivery that is important.
Study apologetics. Memorize the answers if you want. But the focus, I believe, should be on our own relationship with God, relationships with others and how we deliver the reason for the hope that we have within us.
Going back to the observation I made in the beginning about being ready to give an answer to people who ask, I think we should be looking for the opportunities God presents to us when they arise We don’t control the schedule or timing of those “divine appointments”. We simply need to be ready. (Easier said then done!)
The Gospel is found in Jesus (not in our memorized apologetic answers), and the delivery must be guided by the Holy Spirit (not our own personalities and intellectual command of the material). Being ready means being in ready relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit who works within us and the people who are seeking Him.