Most preachers recognize that there is some type of concomitance between preaching and apologetics, generally conceived. In the last article in this series I shared three ways this is so. However, as was the case in my own preaching ministry for nearly three decades, the idea that preaching and moral apologetics go together…that was not something I gave much thought to, much less something I would have tried to contend for. Yet, as the following consideration sets forth, there are good reasons for a special relationship between preaching and moral apologetics. Here are two:
Emphasizing the Moral Nature of God and Humanity
When utilizing moral apologetics in preaching, especially in evangelistic preaching, an emphasis upon the objectivity of moral facts can provide tremendous benefit in helping unbelievers consider the role of morality in pointing them to God. Such moral facts include moral goodness, moral obligations, moral knowledge, moral transformation, and a sense of moral providence. Without these moral facts, whence the gospel?
Can the gospel be preached without speaking of moral goodness, since “no one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18)? No. Can the gospel be preached without speaking of moral obligations, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)? No. Can the gospel be preached without speaking of moral knowledge, since “what may be known of God is manifest in [all persons]…His invisible attributes…even His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:18-20)? No. Can the gospel be preached without speaking of moral transformation, since the gospel reveals that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17)? No. Can the gospel be preached without speaking of moral providence, since the gospel reveals that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), even though “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19)? No. To preach the gospel is to preach regarding moral goodness, moral obligations, moral knowledge, moral transformation, and moral providence. Of course, it is possible that someone could attempt to preach the gospel without these moral facts, but what gospel would that be?
Engaging Passional Reason
Apologists are stereotyped, and sometimes deservedly so, as logic choppers whose primary engagement with life is cerebral and rational. To summarize a remark from one of my parishioners during a discussion following an apologetic conference a few years ago, it is apparent apologists have a head, but not always apparent that they have a heart. Is this a caricature? Certainly, but a caricature is a likeness to something real, albeit an exaggerated likeness. This is why it is important to remember that when apologetics is primarily cerebral and rational it is likely unbiblical and out of balance.
What Wainwright and others (e.g., Pascal) recognize is that there is a necessary relationship between a person’s rational and affective capacities that come together in forming faith.
Consider why it is unbiblical for apologetics to become primarily cerebral and rational. In Peter’s words, the purpose of apologetics is to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). This passage reveals that apologetics is tied to hope, the hope abiding in a Christian even in the most difficult circumstances. Such hope certainly contains a rational component, but it is more than a logical process that generates and sustains hope—hope involves the whole person’s mind, will, and emotions in trusting God and knowing that He will take care of His children. Thus, to engage in apologetics is to engage in more than a cerebral consideration of premises and conclusions. Further, if apologetics is only engaged in the rational components of fact and argumentation it is out of balance, since to be balanced in apologetics requires the passional and affective elements of a person that are associated with hope and confidence in God. Balanced apologetics engages the whole person, appealing to what W. J. Wainwright describes as passional reason, “the appropriate moral and spiritual temperament” that serves reason in “track[ing] truth.” What Wainwright and others (e.g., Pascal) recognize is that there is a necessary relationship between a person’s rational and affective capacities that come together in forming faith.
How does this relate to moral apologetics and preaching? Due to the innate moral aspects of personhood (e.g., conscience, judicial sentiment), the fundamental moral considerations associated with God’s existence, and the sensus divinitatis found within all persons, moral apologetics in preaching offers a direct method of engaging the whole person on the levels of intellect, conscience, judicial sentiment, and the sense of the divine. Notice how all of these elements are present in the response of the hearers to Peter’s evangelistic sermon on Pentecost, which included claims of Christ’s divinity, Israel’s moral culpability for rejecting Him, and the possibility of change upon repentance and faith: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38). Peter’s preaching was clear, there is a moral component to the gospel, and the response of the hearers was also clear as they responded with mind and heart to the message. This example reveals that moral apologetics in preaching is important because it offers an opportunity for preachers to engage the passional reason of hearers in a unique, powerful manner.
There are other reasons why moral apologetics and preaching go together, both in evangelistic and discipleship preaching. What they all have in common is this—to be made in the image of God entails explicit and implicit moral considerations, so to preach to the whole person requires the robust moral framework that moral apologetics provides.
T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.