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The Gift (and traps) of Apologetics

August 3, 2017

Although it has not yet been aired, I have just completed a three-week series on Apologetics. I cover everything from the obligation to defend the faith to the usual issues, including: 1) can I know who Jesus was, 2) can I trust what the Bible says about Jesus, 3) science and faith, 4) religion and war, 5) church and state, 6) the problem of pain and suffering…and so on.

As I sit back and think about my work, I am struck with the temptation to make apologetics an end in and of itself. It is true that Christianity is a reasonable faith. Isaiah 1:18 contains an invitation from God. “Come let us reason together says the Lord.” In describing the ministry of Paul in the book of Acts, one is struck how often Luke draws our attention to Paul’s use of reason. In Acts 17:2, while in Thessalonica: “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”

In Acts 19:9, after having been thrown out of the synagogue in Ephesus, Luke tells us that he “reasoned daily in the hall of Tyrannus.” Some Greek manuscripts add that daily lectures were held in this hall – between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. For Canadians, that might not be significant – but it would for people living in that part of the world. These hours would be in the hottest part of the day – a time when people would often steal themselves from their work, nap or even attend a lecture in a cool hall.

What then did Paul do? In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul contrasts his communication style with that of what he calls “the debater of this age.” The Greeks of Paul’s day loved rhetoric. This included showmanship, personal charisma, human ingenuity and the ability to entertain. Good Greek speakers would get an audience to laugh, and then, at the appropriate moment, would move them to tears. Their ability to sway the emotions of an audience was highly respected. Paul deliberately refused to utilize this style, since he thought it would cause people to rely on human wisdom rather than the power of God.

And so, rather than the showmanship of the age, Paul appealed to the way people think. According to 1 Corinthians, this always led him back to the cross and the reason why Christ died.

And that brings me back to the contemporary issue of apologetics. Apologetics is meaningless if all we talk about is that science and the Christian faith are not in opposition to each other, or that miracles really are possible. That is not the kind of reasoning Paul has in mind.

Think of the gospel of Jesus as the castle, and the objections people have as a series of moats surrounding the castle. The reason why many never consider getting to the castle is because they think the moats are not crossable. Our goal is not to show them that they can cross the moats; our goal is to get them to the castle. Unless the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented with a free offer to come and be saved, all apologetics is misguided. Unless apologetics is the servant of evangelism, it is wasted effort.

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.


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