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Why Apologetics is Important to Your Church
by Paul D. Adams
James W. Sire wrote a book titled Chris Chrisman Goes to College (IVP, 1993). In it he showed how the fictitious character, Chris Chrisman, grows up in an evangelical home with evangelical parents going to evangelical private school and attending evangelical church. When Chris goes off to secular college it isn’t long before his Buddhist roommate and atheist professors challenge his faith. Not being taught to think deeply or critically about Christianity, Chris’s commitment was in jeopardy and those he encountered saw little reason to embrace his faith. Sure he had a good idea what the Bible said and what his family, friends, and church believed, but he was not ready for the objections raised by alternative worldviews. Sadly, this could be the story of most in today’s evangelical churches.
TWO ESSENTIAL TASKS, ONE MISSING INGREDIENT
All Christian churches are committed to two indispensable tasks taught from the Bible: 1) evangelism and 2) discipleship. How these are defined and the degree of emphasis on each varies. But one thing is clear: Every church calling Jesus Lord and Savior agrees we must effectively communicate the Gospel message. And yet to accomplish these two tasks one of the most important ingredients has been ignored. Like a pinch of salt in a recipe, our mindset is that we can either take it or leave it. Sure we occasionally include it, but typically we think of it is an add-on or an accessory not essential to the recipe. That missing ingredient is the discipline of apologetics.
This essay will show why apologetics is critically important for an effective ministry in evangelism. This is not a call to implement an 8-week program in your church only to move on to something else. Instead, it’s a challenge to radically refocus how your church does evangelism. Rather than viewing apologetics as an intellectual exercise only for the highly educated who can afford to accessorize their faith with debates, studies in world religions, and lots of hard reading, it’s a call to integrate apologetics into your overall philosophy of ministry so you can effectively prepare God’s people to engage God’s world with God’s message for God’s glory.
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THE ROLE OF APOLOGETICS IN EVANGELISM
If St. Thomas Aquinas’s claim rings true that philosophy is the handmaiden to theology, then we could say that apologetics is the handmaiden to evangelism (Mark Mittelberg, “Implementing Apologetics in the Local Church,” 1992). In the same way that theology is grounded in a philosophical framework, so too is the Gospel message supported by a solid apologetic ministry. It was only a few decades ago that believers could present the Gospel and assume their nonbelieving neighbor or friend shared a basic Christian worldview, such as belief in God, a commitment to truth, or some notion of sin. Today, however, with the advance of atheism (especially the New Atheism), moral and intellectual relativism, secularism, consumerism, me-ism, and so forth, a Christian worldview is foreign to most. When it comes to religion, we may be speaking the same language in our culture, but we are using radically different dictionaries. Answers to questions about moral values, the nature of truth, the meaning and value of human life, or the existence and character of God are not shared with our nonbelieving neighbors, co-workers, friends, or even family members.
As Bill Craig says in his recent book On Guard, “the gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the backdrop of the culture in which you’ve been born and raised” (p.17). We can no longer simply proclaim the Gospel without first understanding the beliefs and values that shape our audience. Before the Gospel can be heard we must be prepared to respond to objections, answer questions, and value honest doubts about the Christian faith. Apologetics is God’s means of bridging this great divide between our culture and the Gospel message…
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