by Lee Anderson, Jr. —
So far in this series, we have looked at the biblical directives related to evangelism and apologetics, and have seen how they relate to each other theologically. Today, we will explore how evangelism and apologetics intersect on a practical level. How may the use of apologetic arguments facilitate, support, augment, and enhance the proclamation of the Gospel message to lost sinners in need of salvation?
The answer to this question depends a great deal upon the evangelist’s audience. While the content of the Gospel message will always remain the same, the style of the presentation of that content—along with the presentation of any relevant apologetic arguments—may differ considerably from one person to another. The manner of presentation will necessarily differ in presenting the Gospel to a Jew, versus a Muslim, versus a Hindu, versus a Roman Catholic, versus a Mormon, etc. However, as it concerns the practical side of witnessing, there are certain principles which are universally applicable when using apologetics to assist in evangelism. We will consider five that I believe are especially important.
First, it is essential to recognize that the purpose of apologetics extends beyond proving Christianity to be true on an intellectual level; apologetic engagement is about more than merely “winning an argument.” As R. Albert Mohler observes, “For too many evangelicals, the study of apologetics is reduced to philosophical structures and rational arguments.”* It is important to recognize the apologetic task is not about intellectual activity alone, and while apologetics is useful for removing impediments to faith and so paving the way for people to trust in Christ unto salvation, no amount of apologetic argumentation will ultimately produce salvation. Though the potency of apologetics should be acknowledged, in the end it is the Lord God alone who draws lost sinners unto Himself (John 6:44, 65; cf. 12:32), and the Holy Spirit who convicts (John 16:8–11). Mohler’s perspective on the use of apologetics in evangelism is admirably balanced: “Christianity is not [merely] a truth to be affirmed, but a Gospel to be received. Nevertheless, that Gospel possesses content and presents truth claims that demand our keenest arguments and boldest proclamation.”**
Second, as we saw in Part 2 of this series, apologetics involves the critique of worldviews that stand in opposition to Christianity. Such is to be done—gently and appropriately—in the manner of 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” To this end, it is often wise to ask pointed questions designed to target the flaws and inconsistencies in the worldview held by the evangelist’s audience. However, the evangelist must not forget that, in the aftermath of using such an apologetic strategy to demolish the foundations of a non-Christian worldview, it is vital, by the use of scriptural truth and positive arguments, to rebuild in the place of old ideas a Christian worldview.
Third, in using apologetic arguments, the evangelist must be sure not to become entirely caught up in the defense of details or minutiae. Notably, the current culture in America—and in many other parts of the world—has given rise to a generation of people very quick to advance an array of objections against biblical Christianity. The evangelist must seek to be sensitive to these objections and prepared (both with respect to attitude and argumentation) to respond. However, while responding to objections leveled against the faith is important, devotion of too much time to this dimension of apologetics can lead to distraction. Eventually, as is fitting in each situation, it is necessary to move past answering objections and take a more proactive approach, and seek to use other apologetic arguments to build a positive case for the Gospel of Christ.
Fourth, relatedly, it is essential to recognize that even positive argumentation has limits. When properly working together, the conjoined approach of apologetics and evangelism must go beyond offering proof—even proof related to the most central components of the Gospel. There must be a deliberate effort to clear the way for an invitation to repent toward God and believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation (cf. Acts 20:21). As Allister McGrath states, “Apologetics prepares the way for an invitation to be issued, by helping people understand what Christianity is about and why it is so attractive and meaningful. . . . Evangelism . . . asks individuals to consider whether they are ready to take the step of faith—a step for which apologetics has prepared the way.”*** When addressing nonbelievers, arguments for the proof of the Gospel should always proceed toward an invitation unto faith.
Fifth, some situations demand that apologetics be bypassed or dispensed with altogether. It is not necessary to preface every Gospel presentation with apologetic arguments. Sometimes, the evangelist encounters those who have eager hearts, who are ready to receive salvation if only they were to be introduced to the truth concerning Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 16:30). In these cases, it is necessary for the evangelist to move directly to the straightforward delivery of the truth of the Gospel (cf. Acts 16:31). Apologetic issues can be engaged with later as a part of discipleship, but apologetics should not be considered essential in such witnessing opportunities.
Along with all these things, it is imperative in our witnessing that we ask God to enable us to speak wisely, kindly, and boldly, and so “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Ultimately, I believe, we can rely on the Lord’s guidance to know when and how it is best to employ the tool of apologetics in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
*R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “You Are Bringing Strange Things to Our Ears: Christian Apologetics for a Postmodern Age,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 5, no. 1 (2001): 22.
***Alister E. McGrath, “Evangelical Apologetics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 617 (1998): 6.
†All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.