Session Six: Apologetics

Session Six: Apologetics

How do we respond to questions about, and objections to, our faith? In this session we will look at the tool of apologetics for the evangelistic task, considering how we may need to sharpen up to some of the things the world wants to talk about, whilst keeping the focus upon the cross of Christ.

BACKGROUND

In the previous session we looked at helping people to understand the gospel through a conversational approach to evangelism. Questions will be a big part of this kind of witness, and when people have questions it is our responsibility to present them with authentic answers that point to the truth of who Jesus is, and what that means for their life.

Christian apologetics is most basically defined as ‘a defence of the Christian faith’. Apologetics is not a new development in evangelism, but can be traced to the Bible itself, from the word Apologia in 1 Peter 3:15 to the construction and delivery of Paul’s speech to the Athenians in Acts 17. The bible features more than one account of a well-reasoned or creative presentation of the Christian faith in response to questions, concerns and objections.

The task of apologetics is not primarily to make God plausible, but to connect people to the authenticity of the hope that we have and experience. We defend the faith so that those who question it may come to see their own fulfilment within Jesus Christ. However, apologetics will never achieve this goal in itself, only the Holy Spirit can make the full connection.

“Apologetics does not save; only Jesus Christ is able to do that. But apologetics can – and should – serve as a John the Baptist, making the paths straight, facilitating routes to the cross of Christ.” 

Here is the relevance of apologetics to evangelism then, that through answering the questions, concerns and objections to the Christian faith of whoever we are talking to, the apologist acts as a herald for the truth, pointing to Christ. The use of apologetics is not limited to evangelism, it can serve the church as part of discipleship also, connecting believers to deeper truth as part of their faith journey, as much as it connects non-believers to the cross for the first time. Apologetics then is not just a tool for church mission, but for developing the missionaries themselves.

Ultimately Apologetics defends against attempts to intellectually or spiritually remove Jesus from His throne. This may create challenging dialogues, but we must remember that, “It is not our intention to offend, but it should be our aim to expose the limitations of any rival to Christ.”

TEACHING

Read the following passage and spend a little time discussing it together. What are the implications for our evangelism and preaching the gospel that you can draw from this?

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

“But in your hearts revere 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”

How prepared are you to answer the questions that follow or accompany the sharing of the gospel? Peter calls believers to be prepared to give an answer to all who ask us why we have the hope we have. Our first intention then should be able to be able to explain the gospel clearly, but as we do it is likely that questions will arise and so we should also be intentional in our attempts to answer these questions thoughtfully and meaningfully.

The most basic philosophical questions of life are also the hardest for most people to answer: “Why are we here?”, “Where did we come from?”, “What is the meaning of this life?”. However, it is unlikely you will be asked these questions directly (And that’s okay, after all, the gospel itself addresses these questions head on). More probably you will be asked to give your view on how Christianity speaks to a current hot topic issue such as sexuality, gender identity or an ethical concern such as abortion. You may be asked to defend traditional faith positions such as how God created the world, against a modern scientific understanding. Other questions may revolve around claims about God’s character, for example, if we say God is good, why does he allow suffering in the world?

Take some time to consider the kind of questions you have been asked when sharing the gospel or talking about the Christian faith. What are some of the reasons why people might ask these questions?

Fortunately, apologetics itself doesn’t save anyone, otherwise the pressure and responsibility of salvation would rest in the strength of our arguments and our ability to communicate them. Just as with a presentation of gospel truth to a person, apologetics is a way by which we can help a person move from unbelief to belief, from wrong-thinking to right thinking, but it is God himself who will bring a person to life as they hear and respond to his call through our witness.

Think about it like this: We stand with those we witness to on a road, at the opposite end of which is the empty cross of Christ. Along the road are potholes, blockages, walls, debris, sharp objects and so on. The cross itself is barely visible through a haze of fog. Apologetics is a way by which we can help a person journey down this road, sweeping away debris, filling in pot-holes, tearing down walls, removing blockages and clearing the fog to make the journey easier. Ultimately we long to help the person get closer to the cross, for it is at the cross that a person can encounter the risen Jesus and confess him as Lord in light of what he has done. Apologetics exists simply to make a way for the not-yet-believing person to encounter and believe.

Here are four things we must consider for successful apologetic conversations, discuss these with the group and resolve to apply them in the coming months, holding each other accountable for how you are getting on:

1. Engage with the power of preparation

Not everyone will have the time or the inclination to be well read on the wide and varied selection of topics that can come up in apologetic conversation. For some, such as noted apologists Ravi Zacharias and Dr. John Lennox, apologetics will become a central focus of their evangelistic outreach and so study of theology, philosophy, the sciences, history, current affairs, world religion and other topics will become a necessary diet. For others, a willingness to keep engaged in subjects as we encounter them in the world and in conversation would be wise, especially where we know someone we are regularly talking with has a particular concern or issue that we can help address if we take the time to develop our own understanding of the issue. This is to say nothing of our normal commitment to feasting upon the word of God daily, that we would grow in our understanding of God and the truth he has revealed to the world. Preparation in this sense then, is not simply to prepare us to speak to the world about God, but to prepare ourselves to worship him effectively day by day – Apologetics is helpful for discipleship, not just evangelism.

2. Commit to the power of prayer

As in all forms of evangelism, prayer is essential to the task. When it comes to apologetics, alongside praying for the person (or people) you are talking with that God would soften their heart and speak through you, ask him to help you answer questions with gentleness and respect as Peter exhorts. Think of it like this, we speak with gentleness to the person we are sharing with, but with respect to God, that we would not pander to the world in our answer, but represent God well.

3. Recognise the power of humility

Arrogance and belligerence are rarely helpful and attractive qualities. Answering a question with conviction does not mean we have to throw humility out of the window, any more than being humble in response to those we speak to means we have to sacrifice our convictions on the alter of political correctness or polite conversation. Humility means we are prepared to accept we don’t know everything (indeed, sometimes simply saying: “good question, I don’t know the answer to that” is the best response we can give if that is the truth of it), for as the bible says, we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12) and Gods ways are higher than our own (Isa. 55:8-9). However, although there is divine mystery with God, he has revealed himself to us (Through creation, Jesus, the bible) and we can make sense of our existence as we explore this revelation, draw conclusions about the truth claims it offers, live it out and speak about it accordingly.

4. Utilise the power of a question

This is meant in two ways. First, letting people know it is okay to ask you questions, that you are happy to try to answer and that you won’t be offended can create brilliant opportunities for dialogue, especially with your not-yet-Christian friends, some of whom would love to ask you things but might be afraid of offending you, especially if the question seems critical in any way. Second, don’t be afraid to ask your own questions, it is not a one way street when it comes to this kind of dialogue. Our intention shouldn’t be to flippantly put people on the back foot, but to gently highlight deficiencies in their own pre-conceptions and thinking. As you attempt to answer any questions with wisdom and humility, also attempt to ask questions in the same way to help those you speak to think through their own beliefs, Jesus was a master at this and we would be wise to think carefully about the questions we ask, as much as the questions we answer.

No-one was ever argued into the Kingdom of God, or became a follower of Jesus merely because they lost a debate. But gentle and respectful apologetic dialogue can help to move people a little further down the road towards the cross, as we commit to intentionally engaging in the topics that matter to people alongside our explanation of the gospel to them.

Fill out accountability forms and feedback // Diary the next meeting and pray to close.

DISCUSSION

Make use of these through the session or all together in one section, whatever works best for your group.

  • Why is it important to take the questions of seekers seriously?
  • What are the potential benefits of engaging in apologetics?
  • What are the limitations of apologetics?
  • Do you feel equipped to answer questions that arise in your evangelism?
  • How can apologetic study be worshipful?

QUOTE

Integrate this quote as part of your teaching or use as a discussion point if helpful.

“Apologetics is a resource; it is up to the apologist to make the connections with the lives of real people in the modern world. Without this connection, theories remain theories, abstract ideas hanging in mid-air, and not grounded in the realities of life”  – Alistair McGrath

HOMEWORK

Take some time to think about some of these common questions about the Christian faith and explore how you might help a seeker journey from their initial question to the cross of Christ.

  • Who made God?
  • Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
  • What about the big bang theory and evolution?
  • If God is good why does he allow suffering in the world?
  • Isn’t the Bible full of mistakes and contradictions?
  • If God is real why doesn’t he just reveal himself to the world?
  • There is no such thing as absolute truth so shouldn’t we all just believe what we want?
  • I’m a good person, why would God send me to hell just because I don’t believe he exists?
  • Wasn’t Jesus just a wise teacher?
  • Do you really believe in miracles?

Resources that you may find helpful can be found at:

reasonablefaith.org

coldcasechristianity.com

apologetics315.com

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