Apologetics & Evangelism in a Post- Christian Culture


by Rob Lundberg

I don’t think anyone of us will disagree, that our culture is really going into the bin of chaos. We have ideologies, gender confusion, skeptical views, sexual dysphoria behaviors of varying stripes, and all kinds of hedonistic, sexual dysphoria, and narcissistic behavior vying  for attention and affirmation in our culture. With all of this going on, I wonder when pastors are going to wake up and realize that their job description is not wrapped in a building program, or growing the numbers in attendance for Sunday Small Group (a.ka.a. Sunday School). 

In all actuality, the “if you build it they will come” mindset of many churches is not working.  The statistics are telling, where much of the resources out there are confirming that 3 out of 4 young persons leave the faith after they leave home or in their first year of college or university.  Youth ministries focusing on relationships among young people, instead of discipling their youth in growing deep in their relationship with the Lord, are the catalyst for creating atheists, rather than robust believers ready to fulfill the Great Commission. But in order to fulfill the Great Commission, we cannot ignore the Great Commandment given by God and affirmed by Jesus. I will have more on that in just a moment.

When are we going  to realize that something needs to change to bring the church out from out behind the eight ball of the culture? My objective for this post is to show that we need to bring in the handmaiden of evangelism, apologetics, into the church and into our evangelism. With our skeptical culture increasing, tracts will work in very limited contexts.  We must engage people and be able to articulate our faith in an intelligent manner.

The cold hard truth is. . . 

 . . . that every believer already does some form of pre-evangelism with those who are hostile to the gospel message, whether they realize it or not. The question is whether they want to continue to do it well or continue to do it poorly?  It saddens me to think that there are many pastors who are still stuck within the old paradigm of “the Bible says” approach to evangelism or concerned with Sunday School (small group) enrollment. 

We need to understand that the current evangelistic paradigm found in many churches may not work in many sectors of our culture. The more we engage the culture, the more we are seeing our culture plunging itself deeper into the the naturalistic worldview.

How is this manifesting itself?  The challenges from a moral and religious ideologies (e.g., same sex marriage, the rise of Islam in culture, secular humanism and the new atheism) are ramping up to where they are competing with one another for affirmation as a “new norm.” With all of this going on, and with the church having a laissez-faire attitude to the issues, I think it is accurate to say that we are no longer (if we were ever) considered a “Christian culture.” 

So the question that I would like to answer in this posting is: how does apologetics serve evangelism in our post Christian culture?  Let me suggest a response to this from three (3) angles, in hopes to answer this question.

Angle #1: What Do We Need to Understand?

While evangelism is done by all Christians who are obedient to fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we often forget the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40). Apologetics is often misunderstood to be a rigorous exercise for an exclusive group of Christians. But in all actuality, this is totally false.

As I mentioned earlier, the truth is that every believer does some form of pre-evangelism to the ones who are hostile to the gospel message. But with the cultural shifts that have been moving over the last couple decades, my question is how well do we want to do it, in order to reach the skeptics of our culture?  The Great Commandment for many is just loving God with heart and soul. But what about the mind?  This is why I firmly believe that the Great Commandment and the Great Commission cannot be separate from one another.

Simply stated, the Great Commandment calls us to discipleship, encouraging us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind. The Great Commission takes the second part of the Great Commandment and commissions us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” and go out and make disciples.[1] 

With the seismic cultural shifts over the last fifteen to twenty years, the aggressive push toward a more morally relativistic where truth and morals is heating up even more. It is time to understand that we cannot do evangelism without doing apologetics.

Angle #2:  What Do We Share in This “Happy Pagan” Culture?

If we are active in sharing with those who need to hear, it is always understood that the content is the gospel of Jesus Christ.[2]  The gospel has the power to save because it tells us of our need for redemption through Jesus Christ, who is the only way to salvation, the only one is the source of true truth, and the one who can give us eternal life.

The problem in our culture is that we are now running into people who have never heard of Jesus, or not giving their eternal destiny any thought.  The gospel message that is based upon revelation is distant and even foreign in a multicultural and religiously pluralized culture.[3]

Because of the gospel message being distant and even foreign to many people today, we have to incorporate ways to try and clear the bushes. While it may not be foreign to those of use two millennia from the events of the Acts of the Apostles, we need to understand that a “the Bible says” or “the Scriptures tell us” approach was closer to the culture than that it is today. This approach was more acceptable some forty years ago (dating myself here) than it is today.

That said, the words of Peter in his first letter to persecuted Christians is very relevant today,

“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks youth give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

So if someone is not open to your or my “giving them the gospel,” what content can we use? Simply, you and I can discuss Christian doctrine, but sometimes the person may not be open to that. Therefore  “sanctified reasons” and sound logic[4] for the Christian faith need to be brought in to the discussion.[5].  This is what we mean by doing pre-evangelism before real evangelism begins.

Angle #3:  What Should Be Our Goal When We Do Share?

As I alluded to earlier, there are still and will be times when a straight sharing of the gospel is appropriate, effective, and timely. Those are the moments when as Jude and the Apostle Paul say, we have the opportunity of “snatching those from the fire” and “reaping the harvest” that God has been cultivating through others’ witness of Christ.

But what about the ones, and there seem to be a growing number of these, where people do not accept nor listen to what the Bible has to say about one’s lost state before God? Let me break it down this way.

In evangelism the goal is always a gospel presentation with the hopes that the Holy Spirit will draw the person to faith.  What about the “happy pagan” who does not accept the Bible as the Word of God, and Jesus as their only way, truth, and life to salvation? This is where there is one goal before faith will come.

Bear in mind that the goal is still faith, but it should not be trying to tie down the sinner in 15-20 minutes and coerce them into accepting Christ. There may need to be the need for clarifying Christian teachings because of so much static from Christian television programs promoting the health and wealth heresy. There may be obstacles with reference to the problem of evil or why all the different religions and how they could be wrong.

In those situations, depending on the degree of apologetic training one has had, it is important that we clarify our terms when it comes to Christian teaching. Here the goal is to “clear the rubble and the bushes” that are in the way of the person and causing them not to see Jesus Christ and what He came to do for them.

Conclusion

Let me wrapt this posting up by saying that not everyone is in agreement on the use of apologetics dovetailed with evangelism.  I will have more to say on that in the not too distant future.

However, I have seen the Holy Spirit work in ways where He clears up the person’s understanding and uses the responses to their objections to draw the person to listen, and supernaturally understanding the gospel and coming to saving faith.  One should never blindly believe something to be true, and expect it to be true.

We have an overwhelming amount of evidences that point to the truthfulness of the Bible. God expects us to love Him with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. It was the way it happened in the First Century and I think we will see an increase where apologetics needs to be brought in as the “handmaiden to evangelism” if the Lord tarries.

Are you ready to reach go out and give the “happy pagan” Heaven?

Notes

[1] Let me also state that Jesus gave the commandment to us as disciples (John 13:34). There is a connection to the second part of the Great Commandment, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” The second part of the Great Commandment prescribes us to love every person created in the image and likeness of God. On the other hand, as commissioned saints, Jesus’ call to love another is to us a followers of Christ, not to those outside the faith.  If you are a believer, you and I are called to love one another as Christ loved us.  So I am asking for a fair hearing in this post.

[2] The definition of the gospel is found in Paul’s First letter to the Church at Corinth (15:1-5).

[3] When I use the word pluralized, in this context, I am speaking of a culture where are a competing number of worldviews and it is believed that there is no one worldview dominant over the other. 

[4] There is a difference between sound reasons, as opposed to the reasons given by the secular city. When you have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), your thinking will be different from those whose thinking is blind (2 Cor. 4:4; 11:3).

[5] Our ministry offers training on how to do this. Sometimes effective listening and asking questions to find out where a person’s starting points is the best approach.

4 comments

  1. Hey Rob,

    I agree with you – one certainly cannot tie someone up and expect them to open up to the Gospel message. One thing that I’ve always marveled at is the remarkable use of “apologetics” that Jesus employed in His earthly ministry, and though it might be somewhat trite, sometimes I simply think to myself…what would Jesus say?

    There was certainly no lack of happy pagans in first century Palestine – per capita, there probably were more at that time then now (depending on your definition of “pagan”). And of course…He ate with them, drank with them, interacted with them, asked questions…asked more questions…rarely answering questions directly but redirecting the conversation in ways that allowed the questioner to “tie themselves up” to their need for redemption…

    As you’ve alluded to, this is likely the only initial “in-roads” to an unbelieving, pagan, relativistic, scientific naturalism loving person created in the image of God: allowing them to trip themselves up just enough within their own assumptions about their worldly existence that they are at least open to hearing what you have to say about the subject. In other words, in order to have a spiritual conversation with someone…you first need to reach a common understanding that humans are, indeed, spiritual creatures.

    Keep up the great posts!

    Luke

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