Let me say first that we want you all to know that those of us who write things for this site are real people, and our contributions are often reflections both on our experiences in seminary and on the path of faith. With that said, I want to lead off with a bit of a personal story to give a bit of context as to where I’m going with this post.
Apologetics has been something of a theme for me in the past few months. It began when we taught through Tim Keller’s excellent book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, in our adult Sunday School class at church. Now I have the privilege of taking John Frame’s apologetics course this semester here at RTS. As a result, I’ve been digesting a lot of information and gradually have felt more prepared to interact with those who have questions or objections to our faith.
Or so I thought.
Last week, I was sitting in the cafe area of a local bookstore and I was doing some reading for the apologetics course. There were a couple of people at other tables within close proximity of me. Sometimes when I am on my own in a situation like that, I try to disguise what I am reading so as to avoid confrontation or any sort of conversation that might make me uncomfortable, and somewhat ashamedly I admit that this was one of those times. I felt concerned that, should someone want to talk with me, my witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be entirely inadequate. When the bookstore closed, I left and drove home feeling the weight on my conscience for my hypocritical actions.
That night, I had a dream. I was sitting in a coffee shop or bar of some sort with my brother. It was a pleasant environment, peaceful and relaxing, when suddenly out of the blue a young man in the corner started loudly criticizing Christianity in the way that many people in our culture often do. The attention of the crowd turned to him. My brother and I became increasingly bothered by his sentiments, and after a few minutes of listening to him, I mustered the courage to walk over to him and talk with him. I cannot recall exactly what I said in that dream, but I do remember finding out that the generalizations of his views of Christianity were not influenced by interaction or contact with Christians, but instead by the media and popular culture. I encouraged him to sit down and talk with Christians, to find out about their faith and why they follow Jesus and other important questions. He calmed down, thought about the idea, and then told me that he would do so and that he had unfairly judged a group of people he had little familiarity with. We exchanged phone numbers and he said he would call me so we could sit down and talk.
When I woke up in the morning, I felt greatly comforted. God used that dream to show to me that my cowardly actions that evening in the bookstore were unnecessary, and I felt more assured than ever that if such a situation presented itself in real life, His Spirit would be with me to grant me the words to say.
The Greatest Apologetic
I have found that seminary has a sort of double-effect: on the one hand, it gives us a lot of solid answers to a lot of questions. But on the other hand, it can raise a whole host of other questions we never previously considered. Again, it comes down to realizing that the more we grow in knowledge, the more we realize we do not know. This realization crosses my mind whenever I think about engaging with those who do not know Christ. I have been educated enough that I can give pat doctrinal answers to a lot of questions, but that may not be what people are looking for. Talking about the reality of faith and grace can be a lot more difficult than talking about theological concepts like justification. Everyone is different, and every approach will require a different nuance.
If you have read Keller’s book, you would be familiar with the great answers he provides to some of the major questions skeptics of Christianity have. Yet he admits that these answers may not always satisfy, and that sometimes you will need to, in essence, “play it by ear” and simply love them in the hopes that as they witness your testimony to the Gospel in how you live your life, they will be led towards faith. Our faith is not a disinterested confession of a number of doctrinal points, but it is a lived life. It transforms our entire being, and our radical difference from this world should be so blatantly obvious that people are drawn to us to find out what makes us different. While we certainly must know the basics of this faith, that knowledge has to inform how we live, or it is meaningless.We would also do well to remember the words of Francis Schaeffer, who said that the greatest and final apologetic, more effective than words, is the observable love of Christ between Christians. Actions always speak louder than words.
The words are 1 Peter 3:15 are familiar to many of us-“always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” God has given us His Word and His Spirit so that we can confidently, graciously, and lovingly bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to immerse ourselves in that Word, and to draw from that deep well. In seminary we find ourselves with a wealth of resources from which to learn from, such as Kari mentioned recently with her post on the un-mined treasure that is the seminary faculty. We have the community of believers to strengthen and uphold us. We have teachers like Keller and Frame who are willing to share their wisdom and insight with us. We have a responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities given to us, and in doing so we can go forward with confidence in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus’ promise to His disciples is no less a promise to us: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). What comfort and what joy.
Let us proclaim the love and grace of our most precious Savior.