Apologetics is not about scoring points, but about helping people on their way to knowing God.
Since Buzzfeed invaded social media, our lives have been full of lists. We like lists: they are easy, they might even be funny, and they keep things simple, generalisable. I would really love to be able to give you a quick “7 things that…” and send you off into the world with The Road (http://theroad-uk.com/) in one hand (on your smartphone) and these tips in another.
Unfortunately, when we’re seeking to answer the big questions about our faith it is not so simple.
Why not? Surely any decent youth leader could give you a list of “do’s and don’ts”, and you may be right. But the thing is, behind every question to defend is a person with a story. ‘Apologetics’ is the word we use to describe answering big questions about life from the perspective of the Bible in a way that meets our friends where they are at. People rarely ask questions purely for the sake of it, their questions are triggered by something going on in their life or in the world around them. Our answers cannot simply be one size fits all.
So, to engage in apologetics well we need to be prepared, we need to know our friends, and we need to seek God.
Have you ever heard someone give a talk in which they start by speaking passionately about a film or recent event, but when it comes round to talk about Jesus they look down and read words from a page? Suddenly the words they are saying seem like an add-on, less important, and kind of detached from real life. Are we like this when we talk about our faith? We can hold a debate for a whole lunchbreak about our favourite sports team or latest Netflix find, but when it comes to questions about our faith we get stuck. We rack our brains for something we once heard in Sunday School, mumble something about Jesus, and leave our friends all a bit confused about whether our faith is at all relevant. We aren’t prepared.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. 1 Peter 3:15
Therefore, before we start trying to answer the big questions other people might ask us we need to do some thinking about what those questions mean ourselves. For those who have spent many years in church that can be a real challenge; we know God and we trust the Bible, it makes sense to us, but when someone questions our faith it can make us falter. Why is there suffering in the world? How should we see other religions? What does the Bible actually say about sex?
Just as a musician or a sportsperson practices with their team before they go on the big stage, we shouldn’t be faced with these questions for the first time when we’re under the spotlight.
Lucky for us, there are lots of resources out there to help us think through the big questions we may be asked. You might like to start by picking a topic you’re interested in and watching through the videos on The Road (http://theroad-uk.com/). Then try to explain what you’ve seen in your own words. What examples would you use to explain the answers? When in your life has this topic been important? Next time, think about which question you are most afraid of your friends asking and do the same again. Get yourself prepared.
Know your friends
When Jesus was met with a question, he often answered with another. This wasn’t to irritate those who challenged Him, but to encourage them to work out what they were actually asking. Take His encounter with two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Jesus knew all of the answers, and yet he gives these men space to talk before he jumps in. We need to give our friends space to ask questions, to learn where they are coming from and what they think already, and only when we’ve given them plenty of time should we provide an answer. We need to listen much more than we talk.
Then, once we understand the question we’re being asked, we need to give answers that make sense. It’s no good just repeating someone else’s opinion; we need to use our own words, ones that everyone understands (not Christian jargon!), and show how the question is relevant. It won’t help to make things sound more complicated than they are or to pretend we know things that we can’t possibly grasp. All we can do is offer people the little understanding we have of a topic, in words that make sense to us and with examples that relate to our lives.
Whatever we say, we need to remember that all people are made in the image of God and that He wants a relationship with them all. Your friends have important things to say, they probably have good arguments to make, they might even be cleverer than you are. When we are giving reasons for the faith we have, we won’t always get it right. We won’t always ‘win’. That is ok. Our role is not to convince everybody to think the same way, not even Christians agree on everything, but to shine some light on the questions people have, removing some of the barriers between them and God.
Next time you’re faced with a question about your faith try holding back from answering until you really get where the other person is coming from. Ask them, “what makes you think that’s true?” and listen carefully to the answer. Learn their story. Then provide what answer you can, in your own words explaining what you know about that topic and about God. Let them ‘win’ if you need to, but don’t miss the opportunity to shine a little light on the question in hand.
Ultimately, God’s call for us is not to answer every question perfectly but to reflect Him and stand up for Him in the world around us. That means that the way we answer a question will always be more important than what we actually say.
In Galatians 5 we read that one of the ways God changes us as we draw close to Him is through the fruit of the Spirit. As we spend time with God and let Him into our lives, we naturally grow in “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22-23). Displaying any of these qualities will make a huge difference to the impression we give as we debate our faith! And, amazingly, we can pray that God would help us with these, we do not have to be totally patient or totally kind all on our own. Instead, as we spend time with God we become more like Him, and we start to reflect the humility Jesus shows us on the road to Emmaus. Apologetics is not about scoring points, but about helping people on their way to knowing God.
Even better, God is on our side as we do this.
In the Bible we see lots of examples of God giving people words to speak just as they needed them and we can pray for that too. Whenever you engage in these conversations make sure you pray that God would be at work. Ask God to grow the fruit of the Spirit in you, that you would reflect Him whenever you are defending our faith. And know that He is with you. We do not need to be afraid.