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Apologetics

One of the great challenges facing church leaders currently is equipping their fellow-believers to give solid reasons for the hope they have, and to answer the challenging questions they get asked.  In this section you’ll find an apologetics course with accompanying resources, ready for you to adapt for your own situation and reuse.

Introduction to Apologetics - Part Two

Katy Kennedy

Written by Marcus Honeysett

You can download the PDF of this resource (both parts) here

Introduction

Apologetics is just a part of evangelism, which itself is just a part of witness. Not everyone will be a great apologist, but we can all be witnesses. Not being great at answering questions doesn’t mean we can’t say why we love God and are excited about the good news of Jesus.

We want to gently help people to remove barriers to faith and apologetics is helpful but not the only contribution. The end result of our questions is not simply to provide intellectually satisfying answers, but to help people see the beauty and glory of God. The heart of the matter is not intellectual anyway - it is spiritual. We can give intellectually satisfying and coherent answers without addressing whether people are willing to respond to what they hear. By returning to the heart of the gospel and the need to turn to Christ after we have answered a question, we often find out whether that question is really a personal matter or simply an intellectual plaything. If it is, it is usually better to gently bring move the conversation on.

We have the privilege of taking the word of God and helping people see the relevance to themselves. Therefore we should expect that we will have the opportunities in apologetic discussions to apply the message personally and invite a response.

How do we do this non-threateningly?          

Role play another of yesterday’s questions

 

Discuss - how can you turn a conversation?

  • start where people are Acts 17
  • identify common experience - eg sense of longing, not understanding the world, guilt, mortality, values. Go from isn’t this interesting, to how does it affect me?
  • keep your conversation jargon free
  • make appeal come out of the question - eg in answer to “what about those who have never heard” say “but you have heard, and are responsible”
  • help people understand the attractiveness of Christ - it is a big step you are confronting them with. Christ offers forgiveness Mk 2, life Jn 4, the Holy Spirit Jn 16, reconciliation Rom 5, dealing with guilt Rom 8, Heaven Heb 10, etc. Know some of the benefits of being a Christian from scripture
  • tell your story - how has being a Christian affected you? Not afraid of dying, etc. While we are concerned to give objective truthful answers to genuine questions, we also know that those answers have had a profound affect on us personally.

 

Two more example questions

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

The question of suffering and evil is probably the most vexing of them all. The underlying assumption is that God either isn’t all-loving: He will not prevent suffering; or He is not all-powerful: He cannot prevent suffering. Either way, the answers we give must reflect the fact that God is both.

When faced with questions about suffering and evil, we must also understand that here, more than in any other question, are two related, but different elements - the theological and the personal. Both are profound, both deserve much more than trite answers from us. It is here that the link between apologetics and pastoral counselling is most clear. Larry Crabb has a helpful model for counselling. He says that we live in a world that is a mess, but that God’s ultimate intention is that creation will know the peace of His rest. Moving forward with God is therefore a process of moving from mess to peace. The answers we give to questions of suffering ought to reflect this - we know objectively we are moving towards heaven and we need to know subjectively the peace which the Holy Spirit brings.

While we may have theological models or understanding (sin, God allows freewill, He is just and Heaven and Hell will put things right, etc, etc), we need to be extremely careful before we just spout them. There are factors that are helpful for us to bare in mind, which we will talk about in a minute, but especially in evangelism, don’t pretend we know more than we do. Honestly admitting our lack of knowledge can be as significant as things we do know the answers to…

 A.     Jesus was not afraid to deal with questions of suffering, and neither are the NT writers. Lk 13:1-5 - the passage about the tower.

B.     Jesus does not offer sweet platitudes. He also points up two errors - either admitting that this was a direct consequence of specific sins, or that it was purely random.

C.     All suffering is the result of living in a fallen creation Rom 1, Gen 3, and this includes natural disasters. Rebellion against God is responsible, God is not. Suffering entered the world as a result of sin, and 90% of it remains as a result of on-going sin.

D.     The reason the innocent suffer, is that nobody is really innocent.

E.     God’s perspective is of the ends. At one end He made the world good, at the other He will have a sinless, perfect creation for Himself. That is His purpose, not making things pleasant for me now, regardless of the sin of which I and my race are so clearly culpable. Indeed Rom 1 makes it clear that a lot of what we consider suffering and evil is a result of God giving over in judicial alienation, as punishment. Hence in the Lk passage Jesus could conclude that when we see suffering the right response is repentance.

F.      The perspective of the end is also useful for us. One question that suffering makes us ask is “how long, O Lord.” When we realise the end that God has in view - His glory - we can rejoice in suffering because it produces character and hope, Rom 5. In God’s grace even suffering is not pointless.

G.     God is not distant from suffering. Indeed in Christ He accepts the penalty of His own judgement on sin, and at the cross identifies with a suffering world more than we will ever understand. God understands perfectly what it is to suffer the greatest pain and loss.

H.     God will judge. There will be an end to evil. That is the only answer that has meaning and it forces the question “what about you? - what will happen to you when He judges you?”

I.       I say the only answer that has meaning, because the question of suffering always supposes a moral order. Without a moral right and wrong, the question of suffering is meaningless - there is no point. When suffering provokes indignation, we show inherent recognition of moral order.

 

What about those who have never heard?

A.    A question about whether Christianity can really be the only way

B.    Jesus clearly claims to be the only way Jn 14:6

C.   Actually the question begs another - can’t I come to God any way I like? - discuss possible answers to this.

D.    places great faith in man

E.    what about God’s justice? Is it unquestionable?

F.    is man responsible for his actions?

G.   sincerity is not a reliable measure of truth

H.   relativism does not work

I.      People will be judged according to what they know, Rom 2. God will do so in truth, and people can know about Him through creation. But whether we have enough in creation to respond to Him is a moot point. The fact is, that even faced with God all turned away deliberately. We do not seek the kingdom of God if left to our own devices, we seek the complete opposite.

J.    There is forgiveness available, and those who have heard have the responsibility to respond.

 

Marcus Honeysett.

© Marcus Honeysett. 

Introduction to Apologetics - Part One

Katy Kennedy

Written by Marcus Honeysett

You can download the PDF of this resource (both parts) here

 

Introduction and Explanation

What is actually going on when we evangelise? Is it a human process of argument and debate? Or is it God working, despite us? Does someone become a Christian as a result of our words, or the action of the Holy Spirit? The answer Paul gives is “both.”

Read Paul’s description of his work in Romans 15:18. He is determined that he will speak of nothing apart from the work that Christ has done in and through Him in the power of the Spirit. As He has proclaimed the good news both in word and deed, the Spirit has inspired the words and energised the deeds. As a result Gentiles have been led to obey Christ and to put their trust in Him. Note the extremely close connection between what Paul’s work and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

In disciple-making, God makes us partners in the gospel with Him and we discover, like Paul, that the action and power of the Spirit go hand in hand with proclaiming the gospel and delighting to people about Jesus.

2 Cor 5:19 spells it out. God is reconciling people to Himself in Christ. He is acting. And yet the message through which He acts He has entrusted to us so that we have become His ambassadors. Paul’s conclusion is that because we have such a great responsibility of working with the Holy Spirit and because we fear God, we urgently implore people and persuade them.

So when we are chatting to non-Christians, our witness and the conviction of the Holy Spirit go together. We often see that as someone grows in their understanding and acceptance of the message so they grow in conviction of sin and their understanding of the need to repent. Some know very little about God and start a long way back, some are much closer. The task of evangelism is as much moving people towards Christ as it is seeing them make the final step. We may have the joy of seeing people take that final step but we are much more likely to help people along the way. But the Holy Spirit is no less acting to lead and convict people, even if we are not the last people in the chain.

So we have the responsibility to move people along, maybe a little, maybe a lot. Bill Hybels talks about several factors that combine to help that movement. He expresses it in a formula: HP + CP + CC = MI. High potency (real authentic Christian living and witness), close proximity to unchurched people, and clear communication, lead to maximum impact for the gospel. We are all learning to be highly potent Christians.

This introduction is about the third part – clear communication.

 

What is Apologetics?

1 Pet. 3:15, 2 Cor. 10:5

Apologetics is defending and commending the truth of the gospel, in order to remove barriers to faith in Christ. The battle in the spiritual realms is a battle for people’s minds between knowledge of God, and false arguments and pretensions. We are instructed to learn to take every thought captive to Christ. God really does want us to be involved in His reconciling the world to Himself, and we need to be ready to respond when openings come, by building bridges to the gospel between scripture and the mind of the hearer. That is apologetics.

Apologetics frequently comes to mean answering questions about faith in Christ because that is how openings often arise. A question is asked: “what do you think about …..” One of the challenges for us, if we are to obey Peter’s call to be ready to give a reason for the hope we have, is to have thought previously about what the reasons are, so that when the questions come we will be able to answer them. In this way we can put a positive case for a Christian view of the world, as well as spotting holes in other positions. Prior thinking gives us confidence that there are real, trustworthy answers, and that we might be able to use them to help others. If we don’t know the answers we are likely to avoid the questions for lack of confidence.

 

Questions

  • What are some of the main questions people are asking about life today, that they may be interested in a Christian response to? (whether or not they are positive about the Christian position)
  • Role play some of them in pairs. Discuss the difficulties in giving a response that is both biblical, receivable and helpfully kind to the hearer.
  • Discussion. How could you answer the question “Why do you trust the Bible” Which ways lead towards a discussion about Jesus and which lead away?
  • What sort of principles should we observe when thinking about how to answer people’s questions?

 

Principles For Answering

  1. Glorify God in all that you say. It is easy to win arguments, but an argument is not our goal. Helping a person to respond to Christ is our goal. We want to introduce a person, not an academic subject.
  2. Have discussions, not monologues. Speak with humility, compassion and respect. Listen hard. Jesus often answered a question with another question: What do you think? How do you read this?
  3. Talk about what you know. Be prepared to admit what you don’t know.
  4. Hear the question behind the question. For example does a question about the validity of all religions contain an assumption that all truth is relative? Or does a question about suffering hide very real hurt?
  5. It is the seed, not the sower that produces Christians, in the power of the Spirit. Don’t be satisfied with general answers - learn to use relevant passages of scripture.
  6. God always answers prayer.
  7. Answer in a way that leads towards the gospel not away from it.

Here are a few pointers for some common questions:

1.    Is the Bible True?

a.    Have you read it?
b.    Jesus clearly thought the Bible was true - see Wenham Lk 11:51
c.    Jesus clearly demonstrates the Bible to be true through fulfilment of prophecy Lk 24:25 - questions about the Bible are closely linked to Jesus’ claims for Himselfs
d.    Manuscript reliability
e.    NT Spirit’s testimony Jn 14:26
f.      Testimony of the resurrection - eg 1 Cor 15
g.    Internal and external testimony - truth claims eg Lk 1, Jn 20, 2 Pet 1:16
h.    If it is true, what difference should it make? Acts 2
i.      What are the options? Either all made up, or Jesus seen through a romantic haze, or true

       2.   Is Jesus The Only Way?

a.    He claims this for Himself Jn 14:6. Explore mutually exclusive truth claims
b.    The claim is based on who He is - the question is really about what He is able to do. It highlights our need for a saviour 1 Pet 2:24, Rom 3.
c.    Is Christ really God? Heb 1
d.    Question contains underlying ideas of pluralism and tolerance. Answer with the fact that God has spoken Heb 1, that His Jesus’ words are God’s work Jn 14, and that there is judgement Rom 1+6
e.    Liar, lunatic or Lord - sincere belief is not enough


          3.   Isn’t faith Psychological?

a.    A question about proof and subjectivity vs objectivity. The Bible places the importance of truth at the top of the agenda
b.    To say that the desire for God means He doesn’t exist is as illogical as to say he is exists merely because of wish-fulfilment
c.    We are made in His image - it is right that we should desire Him
d.    We are not dependent on contemporary experience but objective revelation in God’s word, backed up by evidence that can be examined. An empty tomb.
e.    A psychological crutch should be comfortable. Jesus makes uncomfortable demands on me and confronts me with a true picture of myself as a sinner

         4.  How Do You Know God Exists?

a.    Another question about proof. Depends on definition of proof as opposed to evidence.
b.    Ways God has revealed Himself - nature (Rom 1), Jesus (Jn 14), The Bible (2 Tim 3)
c.    Creation
d.    Inner conviction
e.    Universal morality

 

Marcus Honeysett.

© Marcus Honeysett.