Monday, October 30, 2006

Giving an Answer (2)

Our apologetics is to be Christ-devoted... but, what does that lead to in practice? Three foundations:

1.Ready to give an answer – an apologia

It's the scout motto - “be prepared”. And its common sense for life. When you have an exam to sit, you get prepared. It's called revision! If someone asks you to come for dinner you expect that they will be ready when you arrive. When it comes to conversation about Jesus it makes sense to think hard about what we might say in advance. It matters – because this relates to our discipleship – to wholehearted holiness about God. Life is of course spontaneous but Peter says, get ready. And what are we ready for? Apologia. Ready to give an answer.

The word means a “back-word”. A defence. That doesn't imply negativity, as they say – the best form of defence is attack. A positive answer. If we look at how Paul talks about Jesus in Acts we'll see that he is a master of this apologia. He is an apologist.

Which sounds negative – but its not about apologising, its about giving an Apologetic for the gospel. Defenders of the Faith, doing Apologetics. Apologists. It's the word for his preaching in Acts 22v1, Acts 25v16, Philippians 1v7 and 1v17. In Philippians it's mostly translated as a defence of the gospel. Argument for the gospel.

Elsewhere we find Paul rigorously proving, arguing, persuading people about the gospel (Acts 6v11, 17v3-4, 18v28, 19v8). He uses rigorous argument to explain in words what the gospel is about – as Jesus does in explaining the meaning of his death in Luke 24. Because the gospel is an objective sensible message. It's outrageous and scandalous in much of its claims. But it does also make sense. And a Christian must be ready to give an answer.

One caveat to this is what Paul himself says in 1 Corinthians 1-2. Here he says that he doesn't use wise and persuasive words. So, is he contradicting himself? No. There he says that he doesn't use the rhetoric of his day, he doesn't trick people with clever words and manipulate them into believing with heart-string stories. Rather he argues persuasively and proves rigorously the message of the Cross. He explains and proves from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ – God's saviour. And that will help us as we come to construct some answers we can use.

2.When someone asks for an answer give the reason – a logos

Peter says simply when someone asks for an answer be ready to give an answer. Obvious really! This isn't to say we wont initiate conversation. Our news about Jesus Christ Crucified is too important to be held back and only mentioned when someone enquires.

But, says Peter, at the very least, when someone asks you better have a good answer. And that answer is a logos, a reasonable answer. The gospel isn't ethereal it makes sense.

Notice that this is in the context of suffering. Peter says earlier that they'd better be suffering for genuine Christian faith, and if so they can rejoice in that. And as they suffer for doing good then people will enquire. Apologetics has its foundations in people asking us to speak about Jesus because of the way we live for Jesus. It's the consequence of wholehearted discipleship.

3.Gentleness and respect

When I said attack is the best form of defence some of us rejoiced inside. Some of us love a good verbal fight. We love to get into the argument. Apologetics is not about the fight. Its about the answer to the question and its about Jesus being Lord. Our aim isn't to win a fight, we might lose it, but to be gentle and respectful. Meek and trembling as we answer.

Sometimes the obvious thing to do is to seize on someones poor argument, but the gentle thing to do is not to go for the kill. Why? Because going for the kill can make people look stupid and humiliate them. And ultimately we want to win them to Christ.

This gentleness and respect is the mark of a life lived for Jesus. A gentleness. A humility. Life that isn't proud raises questions. Life that doesn't always defend itself, though it will defend the gospel. Life that doesn't fight for its rights. Life that doesn't fight every charge against it. Life that loves and cares and admits when it gets it wrong.

The other reason we can be gentle is that it's not down to us to win things, ultimately. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit uses God's Word to open people's eyes. And so though we might make the perfect argument, if the Holy Spirit chooses not to open someone's ears to hear that then it wont make any difference. If it all depends on us we have to beat people down – but if we have a high enough view of God's sovereignty then we can be gentle and respectful. Urgent but patient. Clear and kind.

Francis Schaeffer said that love is the final apologetic, it's also the first. James Sire notes that “Apologists must preserve the dignity of the person asking even the most silly question” - just because someone has defective ideas doesn't make them a defective person. And some questions are genuine obstacles, others are simply asked to try and stump us. It's best to assume the best of motives in the questioner, and gentle probe further.
Apologetics, good answers in love.