Risen from the Dead? A Sample Sermon Manuscript for Apologetic Preaching

            Here is a sermon manuscript (albeit another brief one!) based on the STEPS model for apologetic preaching, as applied to positive apologetics, i.e., where the apologist focuses on reasons why someone might believe, rather than focusing on what is wrong some particular belief or religion. To help understand the “flow” of the message, the manuscript is in five parts based on the STEPS acrostic.

Specify the Apologetic Topic

            What reasons are there to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? That question may surprise some of you, since you already believe Jesus rose, and you have never felt the need to develop a list of reasons for your belief. If that describes you, then I invite you to simply listen and consider why you believe what you believe. Remember, faith involves evidence and certainty, so what you hear today can be a help in growing your faith. Plus, you never know when the Lord is going to give you the opportunity to talk with someone who is not as sure as you about Jesus’ resurrection, and you will be able to help them along after hearing this message.

            Maybe, though, you are new to the Christian faith and hunger to know more about your faith, or possibly someone has recently posed a question or objection about the resurrection that you would like to be able to answer with confidence. In either case, this message is for you, too. It’s also offered with the seeker in mind, the one who is looking for answers and thinks Christianity may be where to find them. Whoever you are and whatever your situation, let’s make a journey together and discover reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Tell the Topic’s Significance

            Before considering the biblical and rational basis for believing the resurrection occurred, consider a few of the theological and practical reasons the topic is significant. From a theological perspective the resurrection is an essential part of the gospel message. As Paul explains in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, “I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” In this passage we learn that the gospel is about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection—all three are fundamentals of the good news, but especially the resurrection. This is why Paul goes on in 15:14 and 17 to declare that “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty…. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” Clearly, the Christian faith depends upon the resurrection.

            Likewise, the resurrection is a practical help when considering our own mortality and the death of our loved one who are Christians. Jesus’ victory over death holds a promise of future things for all who believe, since every Christian, too, will one day rise from the dead if they die before Jesus returns. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:20, 52 and 54 are especially helpful in this regard: “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible…. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” What is the basis of this hope? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead! Death is not the final word. Resurrection is. Eternal joy is coming because Jesus rose from the dead.

Explain the Biblical and Rational Basis Concerning the Apologetic Topic

            The biblical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is plentiful. Paul’s testifies what Jesus “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that he was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also” (1 Cor. 15:4-7). Concerning the five hundred brethren Paul describes, he explains that “the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:6). Why is this significant? Only because Paul was making a public claim that many who saw Jesus after his resurrection were still alive at the time the letter to the Corinthians was written. Paul was appealing to eyewitness testimony writ large. Further, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all give accounts of the resurrection in their gospel narratives, each providing specific details about when the empty tomb was discovered, who was there, as well as accounts of the encounters they and others had with Jesus after he arose. These examples indicate there is strong biblical evidence to support Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

            What about other reasons to believe the resurrection account? Consider the historical testimony of leaders in the early church after the time of the apostles. Men like Origen, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr—sometimes referred to as Church Fathers—all testify to the resurrection of Jesus as both historical fact and having pastoral significance. Consider also the personal changes in the apostles after the resurrection, how Peter went from denying Jesus to boldly proclaiming him as the risen Lord, and how Paul went from persecutor of Christians to missionary for Jesus and defender of the resurrection. Finally, if the resurrection did not happen, they why didn’t the Jewish authorities simply produce the body of Jesus and end the early church’s growth and influence? They didn’t do so because the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. He rose from the dead, just as he promised. This isn’t all the biblical and rational evidence for the resurrection, but there is certainly much that is worthwhile in what we have considered. The evidence is in, and there is good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Practically Apply the Apologetic Topic for the Hearers

            Amid all this talk of biblical and rational evidence there are also particular practical benefits to the resurrection for each of your lives. Perhaps you are struggling with a sinful habit and you seem to always make one step forward but two steps back. As a Christian you can gain the victory because of the resurrection of Jesus. That’s right! According to Rom. 8:10-11, “if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Without the resurrection you are powerless, but with the resurrection comes power through the Spirit. You can overcome sin in your life because Jesus rose from the dead.

            Another benefit to believing the resurrection relates to the brokenness in our world. Do you ever find yourself thinking that the news is always bad, that things just seem to get worse and worse? You are not alone, and the world is a dark place in many ways. However, because of the resurrection of Jesus there is hope that one day the world will be put to right. Concerning this hope, Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:22-25 are comforting: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the  first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” These verses remind us that the resurrection of Jesus is more than a doctrine, more than a historical fact, it is the final hope for an end to suffering and the beginning of a better world.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            We started by asking about the reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. We have considered this question in several ways, including its theological and practical importance, the biblical and rational case for believing the resurrection, and how the resurrection matters in particular circumstances of our lives. I trust that you feel the weight of the evidence concerning Jesus’ resurrection, and that your faith is strengthened. If you are seeking answers, I pray you give sincere consideration to those offered here.

            As we conclude I would like to give this simple invitation. Christian, the resurrection is central to your faith. Perhaps it is time to give yourself to serious study of its reliability, asking God to give you opportunities to share the evidence for the resurrection with others. Will you do that today? Someone in your life needs to hear about the resurrection, and you are the one to tell them. What about you, the seeker who came today looking for answers? As I just stated, I pray you give sincere consideration to those offered here. Jesus died for you, and was buried and rose again, all for you. He offers to give you new life, resurrection life. Will you accept his offer today?


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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.

If God, Why Evil?: A Sample Sermon Manuscript for Apologetic Preaching

            Here is a sermon manuscript (albeit a brief one!) based on the STEPS model for apologetic preaching, as applied to negative apologetics, i.e., where the apologist is playing defense…seeking to remove obstacles to belief. To help understand the “flow” of the message, the manuscript is in five parts based on the STEPS acrostic.

Specify the Apologetic Challenge

            If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world? A tsunami destroys several coastal villages, sweeping entire families into the sea. A military dictator decides a neighboring people are a threat and orders his troops to kill them all in a merciless genocidal purge. A car spins out of control on a patch of black ice, crashing into a ravine and leaving a mother and her infant son dead. These are real examples of evil in the world around us, and each one brings heartache and brokenness in its wake. Such instances leave many unsure how to reconcile the existence of God and the existence of evil, and some even conclude that in a world of such pain God cannot exist.

            Maybe you agree with them and sit here today not believing in God, or at least you are not sure if God exists. You have experienced evil, and know of others who have, too, and now the idea of God seems more of a fairy tale than a reality. Surveys of religious beliefs, and specifically about whether God exists, show that you are not alone in your conclusion and questioning. Not everyone believes in God, and often the reason is related to so much evil in the world. Let’s think about this together. Does evil in the world prove that God does not exist?

Tell the Critic’s Best Argument

            Before I present what I think are good reasons to believe in the existence of God in spite of the evil in the world, I want to talk a bit more about what many atheists have argued in defense of the conclusion that evil rules out God’s existence. The atheist begins by acknowledging the presence of evil in the world. Consider, for example, what I discussed earlier. The tsunami that kills thousands; a tyrant who commits genocide by killing an entire neighboring people; the mother and child who die in a car crash—these are examples of evil in world. The tsunami and car crash represent what may be called natural evil, and the genocide is an example of moral evil.

            If God exists, the atheist continues, then surely he would be powerful enough to stop evil, both natural and moral. God is all-powerful, right? Further, if God exists, then surely he would want to stop evil. God is all-good, right? Yet, evil still exists, both in natural disasters and in the wicked choices people make. So, the atheist concludes that God is either not powerful enough to stop evil, or he is not really good, since he does not stop evil. Therefore, since evil exists, God must not exist, at least not an all-powerful and all-good God. This is especially challenging for the Christian conception of God, which considers God’s power and goodness as essential to his existence. Thus, if the atheist is right, and evil proves God is not all-power or all-good, then what of the Christian God?

Expose the Weakness of the Critic’s Argument

            But wait a minute. Before we conclude that the presence of evil in the world is proof that God does not exist, and if he does then he is weak, wicked, or both, I think there are some problems with the atheist’s argument. Let’s consider these as questions. What if God is all-powerful and all-good, but he refuses to override human free will? While we can certainly imagine a world without moral evil—without genocidal military dictators, without child molesters, without rapists—such a world would also be somehow less than human if free will were taken away and the only reason for no moral evil was because there was no human freedom. True freedom implies choices, the freedom to choose good or to choose evil.

            Further, if God does not exist, then where does the atheist get the ideas of good and evil, of right and wrong? If the atheist responds that each person must decide what is right and wrong, then possibly what the rapist does is actually right in his own way of thinking. Even if the atheist refuses to go along with such relativism, insisting that there are actual moral facts, a real and objective right and wrong, they have no ultimate standard from which to make this conclusion. Moral laws require a moral lawgiver, but the atheist does not think one exists. There are other questions to ask the atheist who believes evil and God cannot coexist, but these represent what I think are the ones especially important for now.

Present the Answer to the Apologetic Challenge

            What does the Christian faith teach about God’s existence, especially considering the presence natural and moral evil in the world? For starters, the Bible explains that God made the world and everything and everyone in it, and that when he did this he made humans as his special representatives. Genesis 1:1 declares that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and in 1:27 that, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” However, as the Bible goes on to reveal, the first humans chose to disobey God in the very area we are discussing—in the area of good and evil. Genesis 2:15-17 describes how “the LORD God took the man and put in in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

            Perhaps you have heard how this all turned out, how the man and woman chose to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and how that resulted in several far-reaching consequences. These include a breakdown in human relationships and, eventually, the first murder. Likewise, the natural world became a difficult place for the man to work and live. What are we to make of this? It seems reasonable to me that the misuse of human freedom goes a long way in explaining the presence of evil in the world that God created. The account doesn’t stop here, though. No, far from abandoning the world to evil, God began redeeming it, promising one day that he “will wipe away every tear…there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). Thus, it also seems reasonable to me that God will one day bring an end to all evil and, though I am not immune from its effects, that God’s existence is a key to understanding evil in the world.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            I don’t pretend that this brief message answers every question related to the presence of evil in the world and whether God exists. There are other aspects of the topic to discuss, and you may have even deeper, more personal questions. However, what we have heard does offer a possible solution to the dilemma created by evil. Yes, evil exists. There have been and will likely be more terrible natural disasters, more evil regimes, and more fatal crashes. Natural and moral evil are part of the world we live in, and they touch all of our lives. Does the Christian faith offer a solution? Absolutely, though it is not a simple, quick fix. The Christian faith not only explains the presence of evil related to human freedom and the promise that evil will one day be fully dealt with; the Christian message is also one that includes God’s own struggle with evil. Jesus Christ was the victim of moral evil. He was murdered in a most ruthless, painful manner, even though he had done no wrong. Jesus took evil personally, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross, centuries ago. The Christian faith does not teach that it ended on the cross, though. Rather, as an example of how God will eventually overcome evil, Jesus rose from the dead and will return to earth someday.

            What does all this mean to you as you struggle with evil and God’s existence? Maybe it means that you have begun to consider that evil is not all there is, that God really does exist. If that is you, I hope you will continue to wrestle with these matters and let the evidence build. Talk with the person who invited you here today or talk with me after the service. There is more to know about evil and God and the hope of the Christian message. Maybe you are that person here who has decided it is time to stop doubting and start believing. The evidence makes sense. You’ve heard this message and others like it, maybe even read books and talked with others, and now you are ready to follow the evidence where it leads. It leads to Jesus, and in just a moment we will offer you an opportunity to talk with someone about taking the next step in your journey of faith.

(Next week’s article will give another sample apologetic sermon outline, one that focuses on positive apologetics.)


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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.

A Model for Apologetic Preaching

            Most preachers I talk to about apologetics and preaching agree that the two can and should go together, but few have a workable model for developing apologetic sermons. Thus, I developed an approach to preparing apologetic messages that utilizes the acrostic STEPS. Before I share the details of the STEPS model, a word about two types of apologetics: negative and positive. Nash’s definition of the two is helpful:

In negative apologetics, the major objective is producing answers to challenges to religious faith. The proper task of negative apologetics is removing obstacles to belief…. In negative apologetics, the apologist is playing defense. In positive apologetics, the apologist begins to play offense. It is one thing to show (or attempt to show) that assorted arguments against religious faith are weak or unsound; it is a rather different task to offer people reasons why they should believe. The latter is the task of positive apologetics.

Given the difference between negative and positive apologetics, I adapted the STEPS model to address each approach. Here is how STEPS works for negative apologetics.

Specify the Apologetic Challenge

            Given the concern in negative apologetics to defend the faith against attacks, the starting point in developing an apologetic sermon outline for negative apologetics is to specify the apologetic challenge the sermon intends to address. The preacher’s goal at this point is to initiate a connection with the audience based on the topic under consideration. While there is not necessarily one “right” way to do this, it may prove useful to quote an opponent of the Christian faith, followed by a question.

Tell the Critic’s Best Argument

            Having identified the apologetic challenge, the negative apologetic sermon now includes the best example of an argument in favor of the position stated in the challenge. At this point the preacher must take the time to learn and accurately represent the views of those he is engaging. God is not honored nor are the saints helped when strawmen are built and attacked. Always present the opposing view’s best argument.

Present the Answer to the Apologetic Challenge

            At this point the preacher will present what the Bible and other sources say about the apologetic challenge. The focus of the preacher turns from answering the critic to offering reasons to believe the Christian faith despite the apologetic challenge being discussed. When sharing the answer to the apologetic challenge the preacher is helping the hearer understand that the Christian faith is both reasonable and based in divine revelation.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            It is possible to present the first four parts of the STEPS model within a sermon that is broader than just the apologetics (e.g., a message about foolishness could include a discussion of the fool’s denial of God’s existence). However, if the message is wholly apologetic, then the preacher’s last responsibility is to summarize and offer a gospel invitation relevant to the audience (i.e., if evangelism, then the gospel portion is an invitation to believe and repent, but if discipleship, then the gospel portion is an invitation to trust God more deeply; if both, then both).

 

And here is how STEPS works for positive apologetics.

Specify the Apologetic Topic

            In a positive apologetic message, where the goal is to present a positive case for belief, the preacher begins by specifying the apologetic topic. This approach sets the expectation with the hearer that the sermon will provide reasons to believe. It will help the preacher connect with his audience if, when introducing the apologetic topic, he avoids the language of doubt (though such language may prove helpful with negative apologetics), focusing instead on inviting the hearer into a deeper consideration of the positive case for believing.

Tell the Topic’s Significance

            After specifying the topic, the preacher gives the hearers a few key reasons why the topic is important. It will help the preacher to think in terms of doctrine and practice at this point. Help the listener understand the doctrinal significance of the topic, how it relates to overall Christian theology. Likewise, discuss how the topic generally relates to living the Christian life, to the practice of faith.

Explain the Biblical and Rational Basis Concerning the Apologetic Topic

            The topic has been presented and its significance considered, so the preacher turns to a presentation of the biblical and rational basis for believing whatever is under consideration. This is the central apologetic content of the message, where the argument in favor of the belief is put forth in clear and compelling terms. While the preacher’s goal is not to harangue his hearers and browbeat them concerning the topic, he should make an impassioned case for “the hope that is in [him]” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Practically Apply the Apologetic Topic for the Hearers

            This is where the preacher transitions from apologetic case-making to practical application. How does the apologetic topic relate to the hearers? The emphasis at this point in making apologetic realities fit real life needs.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            As with the STEPS model applied to negative apologetics, so it is possible for the positive model to be a part of a message dealing with something not exclusively apologetic. If so, there is not necessarily a transition to a related invitation. However, if the positive apologetic message is stand-alone, then the preacher will conclude by summarizing and making a transition appropriate to the topic and audience—unbeliever, believer, or both.

Conclusion

            I realize it is probably easier to understand STEPS in an actual sermon. At this point, however, what is most important is the basic structure. In the next two weekly installments I will present actual sermon manuscripts, one for negative apologetics and one for positive apologetics.


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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.

Making the Case: Apologetic Preaching and Abductive Argumentation

            Doing apologetics requires some level of logical argumentation. Groothuis explains that “apologetics means philosophical engagement, and philosophy trades in logic.” Though logic and argumentation may be difficult for some Christians, apologetics without arguments quickly reduces to assertions and becomes a denial of Peter’s command to “be ready to give a defense” (1 Pet. 3:15). Is there, though, a preferred style of argumentation for apologetics, especially apologetic preaching? While I think that all forms of valid argumentation could have a place in apologetics at some point, it is in abductive argumentation that apologetic preaching may find its greatest ally.

What is Abductive Argumentation?

            Simply stated, abductive argumentation hopes to arrive at an inference to the best explanation without claiming a standard of certainty usually associated with other types of logical arguments (e.g., deduction or induction). This is not to deny any Christian’s testimony and the certainty they possess based on the coming together of reason and faith in their minds and heart. Rather, abduction seeks to point toward certainty without “demanding it” based on the outcome of a particular logical construct. Admittedly, discussions of argumentation can quickly get to a pretty heady level, and that is certainly not the goal of using abduction in apologetic preaching. However, preachers will make some type of argument, so the matter is really how they will argue, not if they will. Here’s an example of how abduction might be stated in the form of premises and conclusion related to a moral argument for God’s existence.

            P1: Most of us recognize that some things are morally good, and some are bad.

            P2: We applaud the child on the playground who stands up to the bully. We boo the bully    for picking on others.

            P3: If the bully changes his ways, we praise him for becoming a better boy. If the bully         reverts to his bullying, we consider him to have started acting badly again.

            P4: Why do we conclude that standing up to the bully is good, or that bullying another is       bad? We do so because we have a standard of what is good and bad by which to assess what    we and others do.

            P5: The Christian claims that this standard is based on who God is, and that our sense of good and evil relates to our being made in God’s image.

            C: Thus, Christianity provides a reasonable explanation—possibly the best explanation—for     the human experience of good and evil.

The goal of making an abductive case like this is to let it build in a cumulative manner that moves intentionally toward the goal of offering—not necessarily demanding—that the Christian conclusion is reasonable and may be the best answer. In preaching particularly this type of abductive approach provides a couple of important benefits.

A Couple of Reasons Abduction Helps in Apologetic Preaching

            First, because it claims to come to an inference to the best explanation, abduction offers a manner of apologetic reasoning in preaching that avoids being overly dogmatic. As Baggett and Baggett explain, “the procedure of abduction goes like this: we come across something that needs to be explained, then we identify a range of possible explanations, and then we narrow the list down to the best one.” Some apologists might chafe at this approach, claiming that the apologetic enterprise should insist on certainty, and that apologetic preaching, especially, should prefer more than an inference to the best explanation as an outcome. However, there is a sense in which claims to absolute certainty may lack explanatory power when it comes to how faith forms around what is “hoped for...[and] unseen” (Heb. 11:1-2). Is the Christian worldview compelling? Absolutely. Is there evidence worthy of consideration? Of course. However, the ideas of certainty associated with argumentation are not something found in the pages of the Bible, but in the later developments of modern thought, which has a decided bias against the idea of biblical faith. Abduction is a way to keep the apologist in check against the temptation to overconfidence in the power of his arguments, and to help him remember that there is more involved in coming to faith than syllogisms and rationality.

            Second, abduction can help preachers avoid oversimplification. This is an error that apologists fall into when they think a simple syllogism is all that is needed to make the case for some aspect of Christian truth. Rather than accepting that one cannot with absolute epistemic certainty prove the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, apologists may assume that their personal convictions are equivalent to philosophical standards of truth and certainty. They assume that belief is simply a matter of following the premises to the logical conclusion and expect that their hearers only need to follow the logic of an argument to come to belief in God or some other Christian claim. Yet, conversion is ordinarily a process that takes time and possibly numerous conversations, and it is only the exception that finds a person coming to Christ after hearing only one argument. Like Paul in Athens sharing the gospel on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-34), the abductive argument in the hands of the apologetic preacher offers a reasonable explanation of the audience’s circumstances while presenting the Christian worldview. Some may scoff, some may decide to hear more, and some may believe—whatever the outcome may be, the cumulative abductive case for faith has been made.

Conclusion

There is certainly much more that could be said about abduction in apologetic preaching, but I trust its conduciveness to humility and avoiding oversimplification are somewhat clear. In the next installment I will present a model for developing apologetic messages.


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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.

Equipping the Saints: Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship

              I’ve been preaching for over thirty years. I’ve preached a lot of sermons in that time, and most were directed to believers. I consider preaching to be my primary means of equipping disciples. It’s not that I don’t engage in other activities to aid the flock—I also counsel and mentor and provide general pastoral care. However, preaching is my main disciple-making practice. Apologetics has a role in this, but I confess that I have not always appreciated its importance nor have I (until recently) carefully considered why apologetic preaching as discipleship is fundamental to my calling as a preacher. Yet, in God’s kindness He has broadened my vision for preaching, and here are few of the things I am learning about the rationale for apologetic preaching as discipleship.

Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship Helps Remove Obstacles to Christian Growth

              Growing, active Christians will inevitably experience doubts about the content of their faith or the surety of their relationship with the Lord as they grow and are tested. To paraphrase Luther, the Christian cannot keep all doubts away any more than a man can control the birds that fly around the trees in his yard. Also, if Christians are engaging their culture and sharing their faith, they will eventually encounter someone who is hostile to the faith and armed with one or more substantive arguments.

              When Christians experience these challenges, apologetic preaching for discipleship can help address the doubts and provide answers to challenges to the faith. Sometimes, as Habermas explains, doubt is intellectual, sometimes it is emotional, and sometimes is it a matter of refusing to believe out of rebellion. Regardless of its source, apologetics through preaching can help the Christian move past doubt to faith and obedience. Apologetics is like a coin with two-sides: one side focuses on those who are not yet Christians, and the other side focuses on those who already believe. Both are legitimate roles for apologetics, and when a pastor knows this and takes seriously his responsibility to preach sermons that include apologetics, he helps his congregation grow in spiritual maturity.

Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship Aids in Teaching the “How” of Apologetics

              Like it or not, a preacher’s congregation will learn how to do certain things by the way the preacher does them. For instance, how a preacher regularly explains the gospel at the time of invitation will have a pedagogical effect on the congregation over time, and they will likely explain the gospel in terms similar to their preacher. This is not necessarily a problem if the preacher is careful of his method and cognizant that he is teaching by doing, especially in the pulpit. The upside to this phenomenon is that when it comes to apologetic preaching as discipleship, a preacher can both equip the saints with apologetic content and with apologetic presentation skills.

              While the congregation may not acquire the precision and polish of their pastor, they can learn the basics from his delivery method. This is, in part, how Augustine taught his mentees to preach and teach during his years of ministry as pastor and bishop in North Africa. Smither explains that, “the daily disciplines of prayer, scriptural study, and reading, as well as regular interaction with Augustine’s teaching, prepared many monks for a possible future in church ministry.” Smither also reports that much of Augustine’s apologetic material (e.g., against the Donatists, against Pelagius, against the Manicheans) was developed and presented in the context of training his mentees. Thus, Augustine provides an excellent example of how what is said in a sermon or teaching conveys both content and method to the hearers. Apologetic preaching for discipleship is one of the means to convey such content and methods to the people of God.

Apologetic Preaching as Discipleship Serves as a Means to Guarding the Flock

              When pastors commit to apologetic preaching as discipleship, whether for a specific series of messages or as an ongoing practice in all messages, they are helping maintain the right and left limits of orthodoxy within the congregation. This aspect of apologetic preaching is sometimes easily overlooked, yet faithful and regular apologetics in the pulpit sets a certain tone in the congregation, making clear that false teaching and attacks on the faith will be addressed, and biblical orthodoxy will be maintained in the spirit of speaking the truth in love for the sake of edifying and protecting the body. Though this practice cannot guarantee false teaching will never find a place among the brethren, it is true that through regular preaching that explains and defends the Christian message, a congregation can and will gravitate toward consistent orthodoxy. Taylor offers historical support for this in his exploration of the role of apologetics in the first three centuries of the church, explaining that through the use of apologetics the early church stood firm against encroaching heresy by offering “justification for belief in and commendation of Christianity.” When faced with attempts by heretics to alter “one or more aspects of the deity, death, and resurrection reports as they related to Jesus,” these early apologists helped “establish the credibility of Christianity.”  Likewise, when pastors commit to apologetic preaching today they help believers live within a hostile culture without sacrificing their distinctive beliefs. Perhaps one of the greatest though underutilized weapons in the preacher’s arsenal when it comes to doctrinal purity is the practice of regular apologetic preaching for discipleship.

Conclusion

              Apologetic preaching as discipleship has much to commend itself to preachers, as does apologetic preaching as evangelism. What about the type of arguments used in apologetic preaching? In the next installment in this series we will consider why abductive argumentation is well-suited to apologetic preaching.


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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.

Three Ways that Apologetics Helps Preaching

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              In the first article I made a plea for pastors to include apologetics in their preaching ministry. In this article I share three ways that apologetics helps preaching. As a lead in, remember that there are two general types of preaching that pastor do—preaching for evangelism and preaching for discipleship. As the three ways I present will discuss, apologetics can help with both types.

1.       Apologetics Helps Overcome Obstacles to Faith in Evangelistic Preaching

In evangelistic preaching, obstacles to belief can be based on rational and passional barriers formed when a person is ignorant of the coherence and defensibility of the Christian message. Apologetic content in evangelistic preaching can help overcome such barriers to belief by addressing common objections to the Christian faith. For example, the central doctrine of the Christian faith is arguably the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:12-19). However, since the first reports of the resurrection were made to Jewish and Roman authorities there have been attempts to disprove the claim (Matt. 28:11-15). Each generation of Christians since Christ resurrected has also encountered detractors from the resurrection, and this generation of believers is no different. A recent survey in Great Britain concerning beliefs about the resurrection reveals that, of the 2,010 adults surveyed, 50 percent do not believe the resurrection happened, and of the respondents identified as active Christians, 43 percent do not accept the biblical account of the resurrection as accurate. Thus, when preaching a gospel message that is dependent upon the doctrine of the resurrection, the evangelistic preacher should anticipate that many in his audience likely reject the doctrine, and proactively defend is as part of a cumulative case supporting the Christian gospel.

2.       Apologetics Helps Overcome Doubt and Equips Believers in Discipleship Preaching

              In discipleship preaching, besetting doubts and answers to attacks on the faith of Christians by an unbelieving world can be addressed by including apologetic content in sermons. Through apologetic preaching for discipleship, believers are able to better overcome their own doubts (cf. Heb. 11:1-2), and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). For example, as the barrage of writing from the New Atheists demonstrate—including the frequently vitriolic and one-sided attacks upon Christianity by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett—Christians are often susceptible to challenges based on a lack of preparation to answer apologetically-oriented questions. Believers might be harangued by opponents of the faith with questions such as: How could a loving God command the genocide of the Canaanites? or How could anyone believe a Bible that was assembled in the early third century by misogynistic, power-hungry men in league with Constantine and bent on controlling people? The researcher knows from personal experience with his own congregation that an accessible series of apologetic-infused messages targeting believers and addressing such concerns can provide great strength and resources to a struggling congregation. Such messages can also buoy the pastor’s spirit amid the persistent concerns and doubts raised by those he shepherds.

3.       Apologetics Adds Overall Depth to the Pastor’s Ministry Abilities

              In both apologetic preaching for evangelism and discipleship, the preacher will spend considerable time learning apologetic content and preparing it in such a way to make it accessible through his preaching. As this happens, the preacher’s apologetic knowledge and abilities increase and will usually overflow into his broader pastoral ministry. For example, learning apologetics concerning which theodicies are most helpful in addressing the problem of evil provides a pastor with greater ability to offer pastoral counsel when someone is looking for answers to personal or societal tragedies. Likewise, when a pastor becomes better equipped with apologetics in his preaching, he is likely to show an increase in confidence related to evangelism, and, in turn, become more intentional about evangelizing and encouraging his congregation to do the same. As he does so, it is reasonable to think that the same apologetics that helped his confidence rise will also become a focal point in teaching others to evangelize.

Conclusion

              Other reasons attain regarding why preaching benefits from apologetics, but these three get the conversation started. In next week’s article I will present three ways that preaching specifically relates to moral apologetics. Until then, keep defending the faith in the pulpit.

 

Preaching and Apologetics?

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Series Introduction:

What does a pastor’s preaching have to do with apologetics, if anything at all? Some conclude that the two are separate activities, that preaching is preaching, and apologetics is apologetics. However, as T. J. Gentry’s forthcoming series “Pulpit Apologetics” will argue, preaching and apologetics not only can go together, but should, and every pastor has an obligation to learn to bring apologetics into the pulpit. In this series the general relationship between preaching and apologetics is considered, as well as the special connection between preaching, moral apologetics, and abductive argumentation. Further, as a practical offering to those seeking to better unite preaching and apologetics, a model of sermon preparation will be developed for both negative and positive apologetic concerns. The series will feature a new installment every Friday. Don’t miss it!

 

Preaching and Apologetics

Sheila’s friend, Mary, invited her to a special Sunday evening service at her church designed to answer questions about the Christian faith for skeptics and seekers. As a curious non-Christian, Sheila was intrigued by the invitation and decided to attend one of the services. Mary’s pastor began each message at these services with a question about Christianity, and the night Sheila attended the question was, does God really exist? As Sheila listened to the message, the pastor explained that each person has an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong, and that this innate sense of morality is a clue to God’s existence. Sheila was challenged by the message and, though she did not respond to the brief gospel invitation offered at the end of the service, she did promise to attend again with Mary. The preaching Sheila heard offered answers to questions about God, and she began to seriously consider the claims of Christianity.

Raised in a Christian home, John regularly attended church and other activities, including participating in his youth group and actively sharing his faith in Jesus. Upon graduating high school John enrolled as a commuter student at the local state university and, as part of his course of general studies, took a course in cultural anthropology. His professor was an atheist and an outspoken critic of religion in general, especially Christianity, and soon the professor’s challenges led John to wrestle with profound and persistent doubts about the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible. Thus, when John’s pastor began a series of sermons on why the Christian worldview makes sense and the Bible can be trusted, John found answers to his doubts and his faith was strengthened. The preaching John heard helped him find reasons to believe, and he grew as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What do these examples of preaching have in common? Though the primary purpose of the preaching in Sheila’s instance was to make a compelling case for Christianity to skeptics and seekers, and the primary purpose in John’s instance was to strengthen a disciple’s faith, both messages involved apologetics. However, is this a legitimate role for preaching, whether to those who are already Christians or to seekers and skeptics? Is there a nexus—a central link or connection—between apologetics and preaching for discipleship and evangelism or are these separate activities?

Preaching is a fundamental and regularly occurring expression of a pastor’s work within most congregations, both in terms of evangelism and discipleship. Wayne McDill concludes that “of all the tasks to be done in ministry, preaching is surely one of the most important.” Paul the apostle admonished his young protégé, Timothy, who was also a pastor and mentor to other pastors, to “give attention to…exhortation” (1 Tim. 4:13), to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2), and to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). In these directives to Timothy, Paul describes the centrality of the pastor’s role as preacher—to exhort, teach, and evangelize. Haddon Robinson explains that the pastor’s call to preaching is so significant because “through the preaching of the Scriptures, God encounters men and women to bring them to salvation…and to richness and ripeness of Christian character.”

Yet, amid the prevailing post-modern and post-Christian milieu in much of the world, the audience to which the pastor delivers his message is increasingly ignorant of and unsure of the veracity of even its most basic elements. According to J. E. White, 23% of adults in the United States consider themselves as having no religious affiliation, and nearly 19% of adults claim to be former Christians. Add to these statistics the widespread veneration of philosophical and religious pluralism and one begins to recognize the challenge today’s pastor faces when standing in the pulpit and proclaiming the Christian message. As White aptly states, “It’s simply a cultural reality that people in a post-Christian world are genuinely incredulous that anyone would think like…well, a Christian—or at least, what it means in their minds to think like a Christian.”

Further, it is not difficult to see that God’s greatness and goodness are under attack directly and indirectly in various challenges presented by antagonists of the Christian faith. If God is great, the skeptic asks, then why are there so many examples of slavery in the Bible, and why would He order the slaughter of Canaanite women and children? If God is good, the struggling Christian wonders, then why did individuals kill thousands of innocent people in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and why did an earthquake kill thousands in India? These are challenging questions that strike at the very heart of God’s character, and the Christian message offers answers that reflect sensitivity to the issues and assurance regarding God’s greatness and goodness. Preaching can and should help with these challenges to God’s character.

Thus, it seems reasonable and practical to conclude that preachers should expect to engage in various forms of apologetic encounters—helping answer challenges to belief posed by unbelievers while also helping strengthen the faith of believers. What a pastor should do and what a pastor can do, though, are not necessarily the same when it comes to apologetics, and this reveals a fundamental problem: Pastors may have little knowledge of apologetics in general, and less in how apologetics relates to preaching. For those pastors who do have knowledge of apologetics, they may not know how to integrate apologetics into their ministry of preaching in a holistic manner that avoids turning sermons into dense apologetics lectures or trite and simplistic messages lacking relevant depth and substance.

What, then, is a pastor to do concerning apologetics and preaching? The answer to this question provides the impetus for future articles in this series. In the next installment we will consider further the general rationale for the nexus of preaching and apologetics. Until then, remember that Peter’s command to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15) applies to everyone, including those who preach.