Love + Apologetics = Evangelism
guest blog by Andy Willhoit
I recently sat through a sermon from a youth pastor who repeatedly emphasized the following statement – “anytime we leverage anything other than love, we move the church backward, not forward.”
To support his premise, the pastor then went on to describe an anecdote in which one of his former youth members, now fresh out of college and starting a career, had contacted the pastor because she was having trouble communicating her Christian beliefs with coworkers. The topic of evolution had come up, and the coworkers were belittling the former student for believing in a universe created by God. She had contacted her former pastor for spiritual support. The pastor instructed her to be confident that God had placed her in this particular environment for a reason, and that in all of his personal experiences he has never witnessed anyone coming to Christ through skillful debating. To read between the lines, being able to carry on an intelligent conversation about her beliefs was NOT one of the reasons God placed her there.
The message from pastor to student, and thus from pastor to congregation, was that only love could move the kingdom of God forward. Participating in the act of debate, refutation or intellectual conversation could only prove to move God’s kingdom backward – not forward. How do you think Paul, Peter or James would react if they found out they had been moving God’s kingdom backward when they debated with and refuted the Jews and Gentiles?
The problem with this type of logic (aside from the fact that it is being preached to the church), is that it is a false “either / or” premise. It can only be love, or else. Why can’t it be both? The truth is, it should be both. Not one by itself without the other. Our love should be on such beautiful display to the culture around us that it causes people to stop and say, “hey, what is it about that person – I want what they have.” And because our lifestyle is winsome and attractive, they then are propelled to ask why we believe the way we do.
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And so what if the antagonistic coworker challenges us with difficult questions? Would we not be the prime disciple on display who can both exhibit a winsome lifestyle to Christ and be prepared to give an answer to their questions or attacks (1 Peter 3:15)? It’s comparable to being a talented athlete who has also developed endurance and strength to supplement their skill-set.
When we are taught that it is alright to avoid being intellectually prepared to reason with an unbelieving world, than all that remains to convince others as to why we believe what we do is our own personal experience “Christ has changed my life drastically, that’s all the proof I need!” Not that there is anything wrong with that. Countless people have become followers of Christ through this very tactic.
Unfortunately, if believers are going to rest on the “changed life” as evidence by itself, and not invest in learning why they, and others, can logically believe the Christian faith to be true, then a heavy burden is placed upon the believer to live such an incredibly winsome lifestyle that it is capable of trumping philosophical, historical and scientific evidence.
To be personally honest, this would be a tremendous burden for me. I am not the perfect follower of Christ. I want to be. But I am human, full of many weaknesses, temptations and sometimes lazy in my pursuit of becoming more like Christ. My desire is to be prepared to win people for Christ with both my lifestyle, and my intellect. The world is a big place. Our culture is full of people who are ripe for the gospel, in which a winsome lifestyle is all that is needed to push them off the fence and into God’s kingdom. However, it is also full of many good people, whom God loves dearly, who by no fault of their own have been raised in an unbelieving household, and need only a few good reasonable answers to remove intellectual barriers from their unbelief.
I humbly disagree with the pastor’s philosophy. I say, anytime we leverage ourselves, whether with our hearts, or our minds, we move God’s church forward. The challenge we face is being able to recognize when a seeker or skeptic needs something to hear from our heart, or our logic.
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