No one appreciates a callous apologist!
Last week we started our new blog series on apologetics, which we defined as the defense of Christianity, not our apology for believing in Christ. As we also stated last week, we must be cognizant of how we come across as we share our proof for the accuracy of the Bible and Christ’s resurrection.
Because Christians, in general, have earned the reputation of being condemning, self-righteous, and unloving. Many Christians feel justified in being so, as they clearly see themselves as being on “Team Right.” But Jesus calls us to humility, which He clearly modeled for us throughout the New Testament.
So if your evangelism strategy is to “stomp” on people, just know that you are “witnessing” in a way that runs counter to the respectful way Jesus treated people. And even by today’s standards, most of the people Jesus sought to spend quality time with were definitely “sinners.”
~ Apologetics: Jesus As Our Model ~
Think about how Jesus approached the Samaritan woman at the well. He well knew the centuries-old animosity between the Jews and their northern neighbors, the Samaritans. And he well knew that a “pious” Jew would have nothing to do with these “unclean” Samaritans. Particularly a Samaritan woman shacking up with some guy to whom she wasn’t married.
But Jesus chose to travel through Samaria on His way to Galilee, just to have a mind-blowing encounter with this world-weary woman. He intentionally sent his disciples off and waited by the well, supernaturally knowing that the hot, mid-day was the only time this shunned woman would chance to fill her water bucket. “How can you ask me for a drink?” she asked, stunned. A Jew — and a rabbi at that — would stoop to request a favor of her?
Can you imagine the gentle smile on Jesus’ face as he led her into realizing that He was the living water her dry and damaged spirit so desperately needed?
Jesus didn’t judge this woman’s sin before bestowing His love and understanding on her. Neither is it our job, then, to whack non-believers over the head with their sins. To do so is rather hypocritical, anyway, as not one of us is perfect. Yes, we are to focus on living to God’s standards. But our knowing Jesus doesn’t make us “better” than non-believers who don’t even try to do so.
It’s incredibly easy (and human) of us to default to condemning non-believers. Often, I think, because we’ve been told by a church or pastor to draw a clear line in the sand between “us” and “them.” But if Jesus really wanted us to have that separatist mindset, he would have catered to the religious leaders of his day, not the “sinners” who so keenly felt their need for him. I am deeply saddened by any church whose members are charitable only within church walls.
Jesus asks us to be loving — and to leave the pesky work of softening people’s hearts to the Holy Spirit. As Christian singer TobyMac puts it, our simple job description: be Lights Shine Bright.
People were drawn to Jesus because He met them where they were, with arms wide open. Because He valued each person, they were willing to kick the tires of having a personal relationship with Him. They will respond to our love, as well.
~ Apologetics: Dead Zone Without Humility ~
We can think ourselves so righteous for “knowing” Jesus. And so proud of our ability to rattle off scripture or historical facts about the Bible (such as you will learn as we travel through this blog series together). But people don’t really care what we know, if they first don’t know that we really care. One thing let’s not be: a Pharisee. #shudder
So let’s drop our self-righteousness and admit that few of us, this side of heaven, will ever as squeaky clean as we seem to expect non-Christians to be. Once we get clear that Jesus does NOT ask us to be not perfect, but our authentic, real, struggling selves, we can allow non-believers to be utterly human as well. Jesus is well pleased when we get to know people and their struggles before we try to help them clean up their act.
To be an effective apologist, then, we need to engage people the way Jesus did: with humility, kindness, patience, and as much love as we possibly can. Loving is hard, especially with hard-to-love people. But we must remember that Jesus changed lives because He offered empathy and understanding, not because He put on boxing gloves.
As Pastor Britt Merrick writes in his book, Godspeed: If Jesus wasn’t interested in humility, He would have come as a king, not a baby.
Adds Merrick, “Through reading through the Gospels, we learn that Jesus truly knew people. He knew them supernaturally because He was God — but He also know them personally, as humanity. Jesus spent time with people, He listened to their stories, and He knew their hearts.”
Apologetics, then, isn’t about arguing the “rightness” of Christ. It’s about sharing His Good News in the context of loving community. You and I can definitely get there, with God’s help! But we must keep our focus on Christ. Let’s look at five ways apologists often get in their own way as they attempt to share the validity of the claims of Christ.
~ 5 Reasons Apologists Get a Bad Rep ~
1. Apologists Often Do Not Speak with Gentleness, Respect, and Love
When Christians demean non-believers, with words or an attitude of arrogance, they lose all chance at being heard. Would you willingly listen, with an open heart, to a person focused on telling you that you were wrong, misguided, or stupid in your life choices? Yeah, me neither.
We must never let it be our aim to “win” arguments with non-believers. Rather, our goal is for Christ to shine through us. If, as we’re talking to a non-believer, we feel our anger flare, we need to ask God for a humble spirit ASAP. Satan, remember, loves to get us angry so it becomes impossible to build bridges of community. If we can’t speak or act in love, says the Bible, we’re focused on being right, not useful to God.
2. Apologists Often Are Not Emotionally Healthy
Undeniably, Apologetics often attracts emotionally hurt people who attempt to use their knowledge to control and humiliate others. The question to ask ourselves: Are we seeking facts to have “ammo” to shoot at non-believers? If so, our hearts have not genuinely broken for those who don’t know Christ. Only God knows how He will deal with persons who manipulate others in His name. I, for one, want people to develop a lasting friendship with Jesus. Manipulating them into following Jesus would create a temporary relationship, at best.
3. Apologists Often Overstate Their Case
Our eagerness to convince non-believers (or even strengthen fellow Christians) can contribute to our potentially stating things more certainly than they are. The evidence for Christianity is compelling; we need not embellish it. So let us be careful that we do exaggerate or make up “facts” to make our arguments more persuasive. What’s more important: spinning a good tale, or building solid credibility with a person with whom we can continue to dialogue about Christ?
4. Apologists Often Are Cold and Mechanical in Their Delivery
How will we ignite the hearts, minds, and emotions of non-believers? By telling the story of Christ through our own personal experience. People need to hear the historical evidence for Christ, but they also need to see how Christ has personally changed us. Some of us feel we don’t have a strong testimony if we lack a stunning story of redemption. Drop that fable right now, friends. Ask God to show you where He is working and has worked to change you to be more like Him. (Note to self: if we don’t actively see God working in our life, we need to ask ourselves if we’re really committed to walking with Him.)
5. Apologists Often Are Intellectually Elitist
If you’re reading Evidence to learn big words like “evidential” and “ontological”and “bibliographical,” more power to you. There’s nothing wrong with enhancing your vocabulary. But don’t use these words as you talk to others about Christ, unless they understand their meaning. Using words that don’t clearly communicate detracts from our effectiveness — and makes our efforts more about ourselves than Christ. Which would you rather hear God someday say? “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or “Well, weren’t you a pompous windbag?” #yikes
~ Be a Relational Apologist! ~
Bottom line, to reach people for Christ, we have to lead with love. If we are to effectively share the Good News with others, we must seek to build relationships that enable us to speak from a heart of genuine care. A non-believer, then, is not a “sinner” wearing a bullseye target, but a lost person of immense value to God. May we see people the way God does, and ask for His discernment in sharing our knowledge and personal experience of Christ’s redemptive nature! God wants us to lead as many people “home” as possible — by starting with meeting people right where they are! #letsdoit #makethislifecount
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!