Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"How Can I Better Defend the Faith..."

“How can I better defend the faith, and more effectively share the gospel?”

This week a young man asked me to pray for him. He is a new believer and is trying to explain his faith to fellow inmates, most of whom don’t seem that interested in what he has to say, while others seem to have a whole arsenal of arguments to refute what he believes. So he asks, “How can I more effectively defend the faith, and share the gospel?” And so in these next two posts, I’d like to write about first, defending the faith, and then next week, on sharing one’s faith in Christ. They are two different things, really.

Defending the faith, we called “apologetics.” Sharing the gospel, we called “evangelism.” They are not the same thing, though an apologist will sometimes present the gospel, and the evangelist will have to sometimes explain things an apologist would. By spiritual gifting, I am an evangelist and not an apologist. And that is fine with me. In the Bible, evangelists like Philip, got to be swept away by the Spirit of God, to find them selves riding chariots with foreign dignitaries who want to know God. (See Acts 8: 26 – 40) Apologists tend to just get whipped or stoned, etc. (See the rest of Acts). Stephen and Paul were apologists. They actively "defended the faith" before the religious people of their day. Sometimes apologists are forced into their ministry, as is the case of Stephen before his stoning, and Paul so many times. But sometimes an apologist might seek out a situation. When Paul would go to a new city, he first went to teach religious Jews in their Synagogues.

Evangelists are different; our task is different. We aren’t defending our faith, but encouraging others to consider the good news that we have to tell them. That, and we tend to have better hair. (See Television) I like to look at it this way. In the battle for men’s souls, apologists are the defense, while evangelists are the offense. Peter seemed to be more an evangelist. In Acts 2, people called out to Him, “What must we do?” He told them, and they would respond by either not believing, or else they would believe, be baptized and immediately added to the emerging church. Our audience is different. But more on that next week. Here is a good verse for apologists:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
1 Peter 3:15

Apologists tend to be great thinkers. That is, they have a love to research things, and to find the answers. I don’t. Sorry, but I just know what I believe. Yes, I know my Bible. But it is my personal experience with Christ that excites me, and what I’ve experienced I am happy to tell people about. But at times evangelists have to defend their faith too, just as apologists have to sometimes stop bringing up examples and proofs, and just share the gospel to an open heart. I can’t just be an evangelist and never defend my faith, anymore than I can ignore showing mercy or offering help, just because these aren’t my gifts. Teaching may not be my passion, but God wants me prepared in case I need to. I learned early on, that I needed to have some answers for questions about Christianity because in America, people think they know what the Bible says, without ever actually reading it.

We, who are not apologists, need training. It took me three tries to read through C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” His non-fictional work is very apologetic. That book was so deep, it answered questions I’d never ask. But it did help me, when others would ask me questions. I started seeing my need for apologists, when people who really had wrong beliefs about God, would try correcting my beliefs, or worse, if I were trying to share the gospel with someone, and others would interject things that just are not true about God. When that began to happen, I saw that my experience with God, wasn’t answering their questions. I tried getting around it, but I needed help. I mean, when people ask hard questions about God, one can only quote to them Proverbs 6:6 so many times.

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!”

It works once or twice, but by the 4th and 5th time, people stop scratching their heads and just kind of stare you down. I found it a good thing to get some training. There are a great many resources out there for this. C.S. Lewis’ non-fictional writings are good for this. Also Josh McDowell is a writer and speaker who has defended the faith and is a great resource. He presents Jesus to the Muslim and to the secularist in a most excellent way. If you are more philosophical, you might want to look at the writings of Francis Schaeffer. There are many others.

In Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden’s book Truth Quest, they write:

“The word apologetics is not a military word; it is a word that describes how a lawyer gives a verbal defense for a client in the courtroom.”

They go on to say that the Greek word is “apologia” and that it is found often in the New Testament. For instance, it is in both 1 Peter 3:15 (see above), and for example:

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.”
Philippians 1:5

Apologists get sent to where their belief system will be attacked. Evangelists get sent to where they will be heard. Ah, but even if I am not a gifted teacher or apologist, I am a servant of God by name. And so according to 2 Timothy 2:24-25, I need to learn apologetics:

“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:24-26

Apologists strive for people to live according to the truth. They don't just always want to be right. They love truth. They know that the truth will set people free in their hearts. This is the passion of the apologist. Jesus said:

“..If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31b-32

So if you want to defend the faith, the thing to do is to know God’s word. Ask the Lord for wisdom, and for a gentle spirit and kind heart. Then ask the Lord to send you people who don’t have it right. If they listen; wonderful! When you don't have an answer for their question, you go back and find the answer. You can always say, “I’m sure the Bible has an answer to this, and so let me have a look and I’ll get back to you as soon as I find it.” Then you go back to the resources that you have, your Bible and the apologists who have written on that question, and you pray. God loves to reveal Himself to you. Then you can go back to those you were talking with, with your answer. Truth isn't in a hurry. If they are not open, but just argumentative, you don’t need to push at all. It is the Lord who opens hearts. And of course, quoting Proverbs 6:6 will always buy you a little time.

One more note to future apologists. It seems important that you keep your cool. Speaking the truth; yet giving gentle answers. Others may shout at you, but you are to exhibit the peace of God. I remember trying to convince a friend to follow Jesus. Instead of evangelizing, I was trying to apologize. Frustrated to tears, I burst out with, “Dag-*&#^$%!!! I just want you to have peace like ME!!!” If you want to defend the faith, knowing His word is one thing, but you need to also ask the Lord to work in you profoundly, the fruit of His Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22

Note: There aren’t many fruits listed here. It is describing one fruit with many characteristics. Imagine a fruit vender trying to sell his peaches, and barking out, “Come and get it, the peaches aren’t very sweet, but they sure are fuzzy!!!” Apologists need all the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. And God will work that in you if you ask Him too.

1 comment:

Beau-Jeffrey said...

Bro. Tom,

What a great post; I loved it! You hit it right on! I am DEFINITELY an apologist...but I'm also an evangelist. As you know, I surrendered my life to Christ while in prison--and through my experiences there, I became an apologist, as there are so many different faiths beliefs there, that I felt I needed to know how to defend the faith as well as simply evangelize. I too devoured books from Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, etc. But more importantly, I spent a lot of time in the Word itself, studying Bible, the Hebrew & Greek (my cellie & I even made our own translation of 1 thru 3rd John--which gave us both a great appreciation of what translator's go through in trying to decide which English words to use in translation). I also delved into Bible dictionaries & loved studying Early Church History. Not only that, I spent a great deal of time studying other faiths as well. For example, I read the Quran through twice--and even studied a little bit of Arabic. I will say this, however, I DEFINITELY had the T I M E to do this! I only wish I had such time to do that now that I'm out. I truly miss that. All of this came in handy in sharing my faith. Having said this, however, the MOST IMPORTANT part was living the life. When in prison you're in a small little community where everyone knows everyone--as well as what you're doing when no one is looking. Being equipped is great--even commanded, but if we're not living out the faith we only disgrace the God we serve and our words mean little. I distinctly remember a young Muslim man I had been witnessing to. We had spoken on several occasions--and then one time he witnessed me unloading a big pallet of milk--which I ended up dropping on my foot. I few words came from my mouth--and thankfully, they were something like "OHHHuch, that REALLY hurts!" I had no idea that he was behind me (not close enough to help--just close enough to see & hear me), and he approached me later that night and said, "You really are a Christian!" When I asked him why he said that, he went on to say that had that pallet dropped on him, the words would have been something quite different. All of this is to say, that what proceeds from the mouth--comes from the heart; And a changed heart will result in a changed life. Others will see it and then want to know more...IF the Spirit is drawing them. This man eventually gave his life to Christ. I consider this to be the ULTIMATE in Evangelizing "Defending the Faith" When we LIVE IT OUT--it speaks for itself--it defends itself! I thank the Lord for that day, as I could have said something else, after all, we're all human, and we sometimes say things that we'd LOVE to take back later...but it's too late! AMEN!

Of course, JUST loving the life is definitely NOT enough--which is why we're COMMANDED to "Go into the world and preach the Gospel/Good News," as well as to "Be ready always to give a reason for the hope that lies within us, with meekness and with fear."

I have learned a few ways that have helped ME to approach this topic--some of which came to me quite a long time ago (while in prison), and was recently confirmed. I'll share if you like, as it has helped me tremendously in sharing my faith without getting into an argument with someone.

God bless you & the ministry that God has set you over.

Your brother in Christ,