Apology Accepted: The Art of Evangel-ogetics
Apologetics and evangelism belong together (hence, “evangel-ogetics”). Trying to defend the faith without seeking to help people know Jesus is just an intellectual exercise.
Words are funny things. I find great amusement in exploring the definitions of different words, especially considering how the meanings intended for some words change over time based on usage. For example, when someone describes you as “nice,” they are paying you a compliment. However, the word used to mean “silly, foolish, simple”!
As I said, words are funny things that sometimes require a closer look to understand their meanings. One of the words in the title of this article likely caught your attention, as I suspect it’s not one you’ve seen before. Truth is, I made it up! Evangel-ogetics is my way of combining two ideas into one: evangelism and apologetics.
Based on my study of Scripture and my experience with evangelism and apologetics for almost four decades, I am convinced that these two activities are not only essential for all Christians but also closely related. Evangelism is the goal of apologetics, and apologetics clears the way for evangelism.
“Evangelism is the goal of apologetics, and apologetics clears the way for evangelism.”
As a former Army officer, I think of evangelism and apologetics in the same way as the relationship between the Infantry and the Combat Engineers. In order to clear a path for the Infantry to maneuver, the Combat Engineers “blow stuff up” and make bridges and tear down fences. Infantry fights on the path created by the Combat Engineers. In a similar manner, evangelism travels on the road paved by apologetics.
This point brings me to the other quirky part of the article title, “Apology Accepted.” What I mean by this turn of phrase is not the common usage, which is generally understood as one person apologizing for something they said or did and the offended person accepting the apology. The idea in such instances is close to my meaning in the title, but there’s more.
When we offer an apology for our faith (from the Greek apologia, to make a defense or give a reason), the outcome we seek is not only winning an argument but also winning a person. Hopefully, the two victories occur together as we begin with apologetics and end with evangelism. This may take several conversations but seeing someone come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ should be the goal of apologists. Make the argument so you can win the person. Do evangel-ogetics.
“Make the argument so you can win the person.”
Paul provides a great example of evangel-ogetics. When he went to synagogues and marketplaces, he sought to do more than make the case for Christianity. Paul sought converts. Yes, apologetics helped him share the gospel, but sharing the gospel was the endgame for Paul’s ministry and apologetics was his tool. He explains in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23,
“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews . . . to those who are without law, as without law . . . that I might win those who are without law . . . I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake.”
“To the Jews I became as a Jew.”
What did Paul mean by “to the Jews I became as a Jew”? He certainly meant that he reasoned with the Jews from a Jewish perspective, so that he might lead Jews to the true Messiah. In Thessalonica,
“Paul, as his custom was, went in [to the Jews in the synagogue], and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded” (Acts 17:2-4).
Paul started with his apologetic to the Jews and ended with some of them converting. Apologetics and evangelism worked together – evangel-ogetics!
“To those who are without law, as without law.”
We also see evangel-ogetics in Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles. This is what he meant by “to those who are without law, [I became as one] without law” in 1 Cor. 9:21. Paul argued for the Christian message by using Gentile thought forms and cultural awareness.
Notice that his message on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-32 began with the religious knowledge of his non-Jewish audience. He made a case from “The Unknown God” (17:23) that they worshiped to the true God who “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Observe how Paul moved from apologetics to the distinctive claims of the gospel and remember that Paul made this type of move again and again. Paul did apologetics among the Gentiles for the sake of sharing the gospel. He practiced evangel-ogetics.
A Few Tips
Hopefully you see the connection between apologetics and evangelism. I sure do. However, seeing it and doing it are not the same thing. Here are a few tips for moving forward with your evangel-ogetics.
First, pray that your apologetic knowledge will translate into evangelistic expression. If you fancy the moral argument for God’s existence, ask God to help you see and make the connections between God’s moral standards and your audience’s awareness of their moral shortcomings. Pray that you have opportunities to segue from morality to the gospel.
Second, rehearse your apologetic presentations on different topics and observe where the natural transition to the offer of the gospel arises. You’ll see it if you look for it. Learn to spot the teachable moments along the way, looking for the conversational intersections between faith and reason.
“Learn to spot the teachable moments along the way.”
Third, don’t be surprised if the transition to the gospel only comes after several conversations. Don’t grow impatient or frustrated. Remember Paul’s example of going to the synagogue in Thessalonica three times before we read of some of his hearers being persuaded.
Fourth, share the idea of evangel-ogetics with fellow apologists and evangelists. Those who lean more toward apologetics will benefit from the emphasis on evangelism, and those who want to go straight to the invitation will benefit from learning the importance of apologetics in getting to the gospel.
Evangel-ogetics. Have you heard of it?
For more from T. J., check out tjgentry.com.