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April 12, 2015

The Changing Face of Apologetics

Dr. John Neufeld

As many of the readers of this blog will already know, Back to the Bible Canada is making 2015 a year of stressing the need for evangelism. “I Will Tell,” taken from Psalm 78:4, expresses the necessity of the proclamation of the gospel. But wherever the gospel is proclaimed, Christians need to be able to give an answer for the hope that we have, as 1 Peter 3:15 says. We need to be able to answer the objections of non-Christians in such a way that the gospel seems both winsome and reasonable.

When I first started to take interest in the field of apologetics (back in the good old days), the primary questions being asked then were decidedly different than the ones being asked today. In the past, the questions included the following: Can I trust the Bible? Was Jesus a real historical figure? Can we prove his death and resurrection? What about evolution and the apparent old age of the earth compared with the biblical record in Genesis 1-2?

Even though these are still being asked, the leading questions have changed substantially. They include, but are not limited to the following: What about homosexuality? Are Christians hateful and disrespectful to people whose sexual orientation is different from their own? What about religious extremism? Is your religion open to differing views or are you hostile? How do you explain the alternative accounts of the life of Jesus? This would include the gospel of Mary Magdalene, the gospel of Thomas and others.

Although the two lists of questions do have some overlap, there has been a shift in the way in which questions are being asked in the present generation. A generation ago, the leading questions dealt with truth as objective reality. Can the Christian faith demonstrate that what it claims can be objectively verified?

Today however, more emphasis is placed on questions that deal with whether or not Christians are able to respect those with whom we disagree. For instance, even the questions being asked about the gnostic gospels are not so much about whether they can be defended. The central question is: “Are you willing to acknowledge that there are differing opinions on the life of Jesus, and will you respect that others may think differently than you do?” Notice that these are often not primarily questions about objective truth.

In some ways, the lack of concern for objectivity can seem maddening. After all, doesn’t truth matter? And in that, it would be easy to rail against the present lack of concern for truth. But in the past, when apologetics consisted primarily of presenting objective evidence for the faith, there were times when it was not done out of love, concern or respect. I remember how we sometimes ridiculed those with whom we disagreed. We had forgotten that the important issue was not to win the debate, but to win people to Christ.

In my opinion, apologetics needs to be the servant of evangelism, and not the other way around. Our concern is win people to Christ. In the process, we do find that Christ is the truth. As we come to Christ, both truth and grace become prized. But it is our desire above all that we reach people.

“I Will Tell” is a call to present the glory of the crucified and risen Christ in such a way that men and women will truly come to know and believe.

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