Why do Western Christians say they’re timid talking about their life in Christ? They don’t think they know enough to answer the tough questions. A lot of Christians – about 93% per the studies and surveys – say they want to talk more about their faith, yet their unease answering objections gives them a feeling of unqualified fear (as in, being asked to perform brain surgery with no training).
At the other end of the spectrum is the strident lay apologist – ready and willing to jump in and argue vehemently with any critic of Christianity. Half Billy Graham, half Atilla the Hun, these turf guardians pore over rosters of issues, questions and answers studiously, memorizing the power lines and trying to be clever and winsome, and most of all, win the arguments.
Neither of these approaches is sufficiently biblical.
The biblical case, if you really want to help people? Apologize. That’s right. Apologize. Or to put it in New Testament’s language “be ready to give a reason (“apologia”) to anyone who asks you for that reason for the hope within you”. (from 1st Peter 3.15) This passage puts the life of the disciple and the work of an apologist in one point in space. This is not meant to say we are all evangelists. Some of you are supposed to be evangelists of course, but not all of us. (See Galatians 4) Yet every one of us must have an answer for why we came to Christ – and offer it up when asked. There is the “apology” – the reason – and the disciple, collocated.
Jesus’s words are frequent and very plain about this disciple thing: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24 and “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 and “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:27 and “You follow Me!” John 21:22 (All quotes are NASB)
Every one of us in Christ is called to follow him, no exceptions. And fascinatingly, there are no other categories for Christians. Christians are either disciples of Jesus, or according to Christ, we are not his at all.
If you want to influence people’s thinking about Christ, then be a disciple. Disciples live in most every vocation, place and nation. And disciples live alongside other people, offer them time and kindness – and through that sort of weird love, draw questions. “Who are you?” Why are you this way?”
Herein the call to become an apologetic disciple. Not as in saying “I’m sorry.” Rather, a comfortable-in-your-own-skin follower of Christ who wants people to think through who they are and who Christ is. Disciples will have to commit time and effort, have to risk being criticized, and certainly take the risk of not having all the answers yet persisting to relate to people.
Here’s where that passage in 1st Peter 3.15 comes alive. If you want to become meaningful to people, curious to people, someone people look to for a reason to hope for better – for a reason to look deeper at Christianity – this is the route – the apologetic disciple. Let’s go deeper here.
An apologist is often thought of as the clever Christian wordsmith, maybe a professor or a pastor, using powerful delivery to wipe out the wrong-headed thinking of non-believers, or nagging questions raised by our kids, or by believers struggling with a shaken or tenuous faith. There are big names in the field of apologetics, names whose ideas and arguments and books make us feel more confident, more thoughtful – even cocky maybe – about what we know and what the other side just doesn’t get. Google or search YouTube for apologetics and you’ll have a lot of blogs, videos and big debates, some with enough intensity to rival any college football championship. Your role? To live in a way that people ask you about you – leave the arguing to someone who does not care about communicating.
Some Christians like to memorize and regurgitate the one-liners and quotes by apologists, wishing that the use of their words will break the momentum of people firing at the faith. So, Christians sometimes think of apologetics as a weapon. A weapon that can wipe out the intellectual or academic objections anyone might raise. But that is not apologetics. Apologetics is having an account for why YOU turned over your lot to Christ. If someone else wants to talk quantum physics and the negation of the resurrection, great. Take that walk with them. Listen to their thinking. Understand them. Understand them so well they agree you “get them”. Then, when they get that you get them, expect this to happen: they will ask you what you believe. Now you may circle back to quantum physics, but if someone is willing to offer you the time to tell their story and get to know you – their problem is not with physics or any other Q&A. The problem is that no one ever agreed to give up some of their lives and take the time to talk deeply about the evidence and reality of Christ.
A biblical disciple? A real-time follower of Christ in their work, play and community interacting personally with people. An apologist? A disciple, getting to know people, and to give them, when they ask, the reason for the hope that is within them – the resurrection of Christ, the Lord.
And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:14-16
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