Relationship and Apologetics of Life
So I’m not overly fond of apologetics used as an evangelistic tool. Got a better option? Well, I might. And actually, I essentially already touched on it in another post.
In my previous post on this, I noted that apologetics can lead one out of a relationship and into an argument, and few arguments end up leading people towards God. They rather end up in opposite corners feeling like they’ll never consider the other person’s position ever again. This may be an exaggeration of most cases, but I think it can be true. For that matter, most people aren’t avoiding the gospel for intellectual reasons. People do and believe in all sorts of things, both bizarre and sane, that aren’t logical. No one follows their local sports team out of logic or marries because it’s the most analytically sound thing to do. We have deeper reasons that are emotional and based in past experience, and so do those that have pushed away the gospel.
Thus, evangelism must get at the deeper reasons, and since they’re based in emotional and experiential realities, an evangelistic approach would benefit from openness to those realities for the person being evangelized. However, unless one is fairly skilled in psychological perception and interpretation, it’s difficult to know what another person is feeling and where their life has taken them apart from them revealing it to you unless it’s rather obvious. In addition, since people don’t generally reveal those things to just anyone. They tend to open up in relationship. All this leads, then, to a need for relationship in evangelism.
I already indicated the fact that apologetics with an skeptical person can pull people out of relationship and into separate corners. A better way is to move towards relationship. Jesus called us to love our neighbor, and relationship is where love is best fulfilled. Evangelism, then, should include this reality.
There are, of course, inordinately shallow relationships out there. Such relationships don’t get at the emotional realities of what’s going on and has gone on in a person that may be helping or hindering them from accepting the truth of the gospel. There must be some willingness to explore more deeply with people, which requires an active care for the other person, a respect for their space and choices, and a willingness to listen to them. Only as we listen and not condemn others (if there is no condemnation for the Christian (Rom. 8:1), wouldn’t it make sense to introduce someone to Christianity in the same fashion?) will they potentially offer to us the fears, frustrations, and desires that order their lives and thus have kept them from the gospel. We must get at their hearts. Or, better, we must allow them to choose (or not) to offer their hearts to us.
But the heart is a dangerous thing to have, let along to hold on to someone else’s. Perhaps in another post, I might discuss the potentially powder keg of our own hearts when confronted with someone else’s, but for the moment, I’ll stick with just the evangelistic issue. Once someone has offered you an opening into their deeper emotions, they have made themselves vulnerable to you. We must follow in the footsteps of Christ and acknowledge what we are given, again, without condemning it (see John 4:7-26, 8:3-11, and others). Instead, there is generally a need that is expressed, perhaps not directly, but in some fashion – fear that needs soothing, desires that need satisfying, emptiness that needs filling, etc. Christ fills these places. I mentioned in a previous post that to meet the Millennial generation, we must find their needs and point to Christ as the one who fills them. Here it is again.
This, then, is a defense of Christianity from a different perspective. If Christ loved people enough to die for them, then a world full of Christians that likewise love others, try to help them get their deepest needs met, and demonstrates that they are not condemned, isn’t this an experiential defense of Christianity? A sort of apologetic of life? We will be known as Christians because of our love for one another more than because of our comprehension of logical and theological realities, and they will be drawn to that, hoping that they, too, might be in a group that loves one another and is loved.
So there’s my take. Evangelism is better served in relationship, from a listening stance, by pointing to Christ as the means of help for people’s problems and needs, and demonstrating the life of God and His love. The short version: get at the heart and love what’s there.
Again, I don’t want to downplay the usefulness of apologetics for some circumstances. I just suspect that evangelism will be more successful and more meaningful for the evangelizer and evangelizee from this place of the heart rather than the place of the mind.