A partial dictionary definition of apologetics is “the systematic defense and exposition of the Christian faith addressed primarily to non-Christians.” It is a word not necessarily used very often in the church environment. It is more likely found in the seminary, or in classes studying philosophy and religion.
It is, perhaps, understandable. A good church service involves the whole-hearted worshipping of God through music and prayer and scriptural preaching. It is hardly the place for a dry philosophical debate about God’s existence. Evangelicals in particular would prefer to discuss the joy of the Christian life, the limitless joy of discovering the love of God for his people. Evangelism is where the excitement is to be found. We want to spread the gospel. We want to fulfill the Great Commission.
How many of us, however, are satisfied with what we are actually doing in this regard, or in what we see other Christians doing? Let’s face it; it is a tough, post-modern world out there. It is hard to be patient with awkward questions about the rationality of faith.
John Stackhouse discusses the role that Christians might play in the conversion process in his book Humble Apologetics. When we consider the essential role of the Holy Spirit, the role of the Christian tends to appear rather, well, humble:
We recognize, ultimately, that to truly believe, to truly commit oneself to God, is itself a gift that God alone bestows. Conversion is a gift. Faith is a gift. God alone can change minds so that those minds can both see and embrace the great truths of the gospel, and the One who stands at their center.
This should take the pressure off, but we know there is work for us to do. What voice do we adopt when we are asked about the existence of evil? What tone do we take when we are asked about ethical questions? What posture do we assume when asked about the way we live? Stackhouse paints a picture of a witnessing Christian that, to some, would seem unusual:
We should instead adopt the voice of a friend who thinks he has found something worth sharing but recognizes that not everyone will agree on its value. Indeed, we should adopt the voice of the friend that wants to stay friendly with our neighbors whether or not they see what we see and believe what we believe. ... We should act as if we see the very image of God in them. We should therefore avoid any attempt to manipulate them into religious decision. And we should continue to love them whatever their response to the gospel might be—as God does.
Not everyone will prefer this model of communication for the Christian. Some will prefer a bolder and more exuberant ideal. In any case, the test of loving our neighbor no matter what is indeed, part of the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39).
It is upon this glorious commandment that we should perhaps pause and ponder:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (ESV). We are not commanded to understand our neighbors, just love them. We are not commanded to push, pressure, or cajole them; just love them. We are not commanded to enlist, persuade or sell to them; just love them. And if we are utterly bewildered as to how to love them, there is nothing to be done but pray for them with and through the help of the Holy Spirit.
It is in this context that we might finally also consider the use of our minds. We are asked to love God with our minds. Logic and rationality are surely gifts to be used in the expansion and encouragement of faith, not barriers to be overcome. Has someone prayed for a miracle healing and received a blessing? Wonderful! But we might expand our use of the word miraculous to include things which we take for granted. For example: a broken bone, properly set, will knit back together. But why should it? Is this not also miraculous? Virtually every aspect of the human body operates in astonishing ways, ways that medical science strives to understand. Nothing is more miraculous than the fact that we are alive at all!
Shout for joy in the Lord,
O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the heart of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings,
with loud shouts.
Psalm 33: 1-3.
In faith and fellowship,
 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Chicago: Encycopaedia Britannica,) 1981.
 John G. Stackhouse Jr., Humble Apologetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 2002, p.228.
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