We're not apologising
The word ‘apologetics’, in the context of Christianity, basically means the defence of the Christian faith (not about apologising for stuff, although it does come from the same word in Greek!). In other words, apologetics is to do with answering those difficult questions that people throw at us about our faith. How does science fit with Christianity? Why does God allow suffering in the world? What about other religions?
The first question I want to answer however, is do we actually need apologetics at all? We know that the Bible commands us to proclaim the gospel, and we know that for someone to become a Christian, it requires the touch of the Holy Spirit to make them aware of the sin in their lives, so that they can turn to God and ask for forgiveness (John 16:8 says that the Holy Spirit will ‘convict the world of guilt in regard to sin’, and that He will ‘guide you into all truth’ in John 16:13). Therefore on the surface, there seems to be no need for apologetics in all of this, right?
However, if you have ever told people the gospel, or perhaps even just observed society in general, you will notice that many people have within them their own `barriers’, preventing them from engaging with the Christian faith. These barriers are often questions or issues which stop them from wanting to even consider Christ in the first place - for example some people respond to the gospel by saying “but I am a scientist”, thinking that as a result the gospel cannot be relevant to them. This, therefore, is where I believe apologetics fits in. It is not something which on its own has the power to bring people to Christ, but it can help to remove some of the barriers in the hearts and minds of unbelievers, to bring them to a place where they are willing to engage with the gospel.
For the Jewish people in Acts 17, their ‘barrier’ was that they couldn’t comprehend a Messiah that suffered and died; they expected the Messiah to be a triumphant warrior who would overthrow the control of the Romans. This is why for three days in Thessalonica, at the start of Acts 17, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead”. That sounds a bit like apologetics to me! To give another Biblical example, 1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Both here and in Philippians 1:7 when Paul talks about “defending and confirming the gospel”, the word in Greek used is ‘apologia’, from which we get the term apologetics.
Today, I would be surprised if people had the same barriers to the gospel as the Jews did in the book of Acts, however it is important for us to identify what barriers those around us might have, and engage with the relevant questions. As a result, we can develop and strengthen our own faith, whilst also being equipped to defend and confirm the gospel through what we say and do, just as Paul did. A cool website to help you tackle some of these issues is www.bethinking.org, and if you are feeling particularly adventurous, check out the ‘Question and Answer’ section of www.reasonablefaith.org.
For many of us, however, the main difficulty might actually be getting into these kinds of conversations with people in the first place. Below are a few practical tips for when evangelism just feels really tough…
Firstly, if you’ve been to a service or church youth group that week, let people know about it! It’s quite natural for people to ask what you got up to over the weekend or last week, so make it a priority to tell them about church. That gives them the opportunity to ask questions, and from there you can ask them what they think about Christianity, and whether they know what it’s all about (tell them if they don’t!).
Secondly, I’ve often found it difficult to get into conversations in the busyness of everyday life when you see people, but much easier when I meet up with people one on one for a coffee or a meal. In this situation when you’ve got an hour or so just to chat to someone, it’s almost quite hard for the gospel not to come up, because it’s so central to who we are. So if there is a particular person on your heart who you are struggling to chat to about Christianity, ask them to go for a coffee (preferably avoiding flirt-to-convert tactics, I might add…).
My final point is that within all of this, it is crucial to remember that the gospel is central to our evangelism. I’ve seen a lot of people have debates lasting hours on end about abstract philosophical ideas which are vaguely attached to Christianity, which end up making very little progress. Often this is because we (myself included at times) start relying on our own intellect and strength to convince the person, rather than keeping things centred on Christ. Try and listen to the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit throughout the conversations that you have, and remember that the goal is always to show people the glory and love of Christ, and the relationship that he offers through the gospel.