What is Apologetics? Explaining Why the Gospel is True and Reasonable

by Greg Pritchard

Many believers think evangelism is explaining the same message, using identical words, to every nonbeliever they come in contact with. But this is not how Jesus communicated his message. If we want to communicate Jesus’ message, shouldn’t we examine how Jesus communicated? 

Jesus was an apologist

Jesus did not have a “Four Spiritual Laws” message that he recited with each new audience. Jesus communicated responsively to each situation or person he encountered. Sometimes he taught a parable or used a powerful image. Other times, he didn’t give information at all, but asked a question.[i] Walter Hollenweger explains:

“We find everywhere the same pattern: the starting point of Jesus’ evangelism is mostly (although not always) a question, or the concrete situation of the people around him… New Testament evangelism does not start from a proposition. It starts from a situation.”[ii]

Think of how Jesus interacted with Nicodemus, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, who came at night to speak to him. Nicodemus affirmed Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” In response, Jesus jarringly told Nicodemus, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus purposely told Nicodemus something that would confuse this educated teacher of the law, and Nicodemus bewilderedly responded, “How can this be?” “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:1-21).

Jesus gave a powerful image to show that his message wouldn’t fit in Nicodemus’s fossilized categories. Jesus was not merely a teacher sent from God as Nicodemus had affirmed; Jesus was the messiah who must be “lifted up” in crucifixion so that “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). Nicodemus’s categories were too small and had to be eliminated for him to truly understand Jesus.

In the next chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman drawing water at the well and never mentioned being “born again.” (In fact, Jesus never used “born again” in all the rest of the Gospels). But Jesus also confused her by asking her to provide a drink for him. She was astonished “that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria.” (The author John explained, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”) Jesus talked to the woman, asked her a question, and got her to admit that she was living with a man who was not her husband. Jesus used their common topic of water to explain that He is the “living water” and the source of “eternal life.”   

We see in these two examples a picture of how Jesus communicated. He sometimes purposely confused people (as he did in both of these examples) and destabilized their current ideas. Jesus explained his message to both of them using different images and words. We see this same pattern throughout the Gospels. Jesus was in conversation, asking and answering questions, telling stories and teaching individuals and small and large groups.

Jesus did not deliver his message like a sermon in a typical church service. What would happen if someone asked a question in the middle of a sermon in your Sunday church service? It is inconceivable. Our concept of communication is one way. We train Christian leaders to preach the Bible to a quiet audience. But Jesus engaged people in a two-way dialogue. There are over 150 questions in the 4 Gospels…

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What is Apologetics? Explaining Why the Gospel is True and Reasonable