A couple of types of preaching influenced by apologetics are found in Scripture: apologetic preaching as evangelism and apologetic preaching as discipleship. In this installment I offer what I conclude are important distinctives of apologetic preaching as evangelism. Before I do, a caveat. I am convinced that though evangelism may occur without apologetics, when apologetics are used with unbelievers the goal should be oriented toward evangelism. Apologetic preaching as evangelism is never about besting an opponent or winning and argument, it is about seeing seekers and skeptics come to seriously consider the good news of God’s offer of salvation. Winning a soul, not an argument, is the goal of apologetic preaching as evangelism. Now to a consideration of distinctives of this type of preaching.
Apologetic Preaching as Evangelism Engages the Unbeliever’s Worldview
Keller explains that the evangelistic preacher’s calling is to identify and apply the gospel to the “baseline cultural narratives” of an audience. Doing this requires that the preacher know how the Christian worldview answers the surface level and deeper questions the audience is likely wrestling with, remembering that the hearers are usually unaware of the problems with their worldview, or that Christianity has anything substantive to say to them. Keller laments that, “religion is now almost the enemy. That is why for many today religious faith seems so unimaginable as to be crazy…Science and objective reason, it is said, have subtracted God from the imagination of modern people and left behind secularity.” Preachers are called to enter into this context and offer the Christian message in the form of apologetic preaching for evangelism but doing so requires preparation and a persisting consciousness of the importance of worldview.
Apologetic Preaching as Evangelism Employs a Word-and-Deed Approach
The old adage that the gospel needs hands and feet as well as a voice is certainly apropos when it comes to apologetic preaching as evangelism. To be sure, nothing replaces the preached word—no commitment to social justice, or humanitarian efforts, or benevolent sacrifices will ever replace the gospel as “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:17). However, as Wytsma and Gerhardt’s insights reveal, the biblical approach to apologetics includes an element of servanthood and practicality that goes beyond making claims and presenting arguments. “For most people,” they write, “the truth of any worldview is logically linked to practical applications. If Christianity is—as its apologists claim—the accurate understanding of reality, then it ought to result in practices that offer hope and solutions to the obvious brokenness of our world.” Such was the conviction that infused the actions of the first believers in the Jerusalem church, which Luke depicts as having “all things in common, [selling] their possessions and goods, and divid[ing] them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45), and “breaking bread from house to house, [eating] their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). What was the result of such benevolent giving to meet the needs of others and simple living in community? Luke describes the results as follows, “having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). So today, the church that preaches the gospel with evangelistic and apologetic zeal—one must recall that the primary audience to the preaching of the Jerusalem church was Jews who required a clear and convincing apologetic regarding Jesus as Messiah—will support that preaching with practical acts of service and social concern.
Apologetic Preaching as Evangelism Utilizes Multiple Mediums to Communicate
How should the one engaged in apologetic preaching for evangelism choose to communicate the gospel message? This is not a question of whether preaching should be replaced with some other medium such as drama or movies or song. Rather, this is a question of what types of content provide the best mediums to convey the gospel in an apologetic evangelistic sermon. Before considering a few possibilities, it will help to clarify why the discussion of mediums is important. Mediums relate to the broader question of how people best receive information, especially information that makes claims about absolute truth in the contemporary post-modern milieu. Commenting on the challenge of doing apologetics within this context, Markos states that “postmoderns yearn to break out of the box in search of mystery, wonder, and awe. As a result, they tend to privilege intuition, imagination, and synthesis over logic, reason, and analysis.” The challenge the apologist faces is how to appreciate and tap into these ways of relating while still holding true to the core message of the gospel. Yet there must be a way to reach a culture where it is and how it thinks and while relating the ageless message of the gospel. This is where preachers can benefit from the works of such luminaries as Chesterton and Lewis, who both captured the imagination and heart of their respective generations by using mediums like fiction to present the core teachings of Christianity. Who will forget Aslan as a type of Christ in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, or the impish man who was transformed when the angel killed the creature depicting lust in The Great Divorce? Any reader of Chesterton’s fiction will recognize that he masterfully wove themes of good and evil, mercy and forgiveness, and reason and faith into his Father Brown Mysteries. Does this mean that the one engaged in apologetic preaching for evangelism must become a master writer? No, but it will likely help his preaching if he learns to pair imaginative mediums with the gospel presentation.
Apologetic preaching as evangelism is the privilege of every preacher, and those who would do it effectively will give attention to worldview, word-and-deed, and proper mediums. In the next article in this series I consider distinctives of apologetic preaching as discipleship.
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.