When Apologetics Was Evangelism
By James Patrick Holding
The next time you have an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ, think about this: There is no example in the New Testament of a “personal testimony” being used in an evangelistic setting. Does that seem surprising? The personal testimony has become such an integral part of evangelistic training that it is assumed to be explicitly described, even mandated, in the Bible; but it isn’t.
What about Paul’s testimony to the Philippians about his former life as a Pharisee who persecuted Christians, of which he said, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung” (Phil. 3:8)?1 This is indeed a personal testimony about how Jesus changed Paul’s life, but it is found in a letter to fellow Christians, in which Paul compared himself to the “evil workers” (Phil. 3:2) who were opposing him. Paul was not witnessing to his faith as an evangelist but was illustrating for vulnerable believers the contrast between himself and those who were preaching false doctrine.
What we call “apologetics” was, in fact, what the apostolic church would have called “evangelism.” Early missionary preaching testified to the historical realities upon which the Christian faith was grounded and called for repentance on those grounds. Consider Peter’s speech to the crowd in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:22–25):
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved.
Peter did not testify how Jesus had changed his life or about how he “felt clean” now that his sins were washed away; rather, he appealed to three matters of historical record…
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