Apologetics and Daily Experience

Almost immediately after my conversion to Christ, I was eager to tell people what had happened to me so they might have the same experience. I became a volunteer leader in an evangelistic ministry, and it was not long before I had the opportunity to communicate to others the joy and reality of my own conversion. I wanted both to commend and defend the Christian faith. One occasion from those early days sticks out in my memory—a conversation with a man who had become a good friend.

     I remember my almost desperate desire that this man be converted. I wanted to tell him all I had learned and to defend its truth if needed. I sat down with him one day and began to explain the gospel to him. I talked about God as our Creator. I explained how sin had entered our world through Adam. I gave him examples of sin's effects in almost every aspect of the world today.

     Then I recounted to him the story of Christmas and told him the good news of the cross of Christ, his resurrection, and ascension. I then told him that, like the Philippian jailer, all that was required on our part was to believe in Christ and we would be saved. I flooded him with as much information as I could muster.

     As a young and inexperienced Christian, I was greatly encouraged that throughout the discussion, he was nodding in agreement with everything I said. I was ready to defend it all, but he had no real objections. It all seemed to be so seamless and easy. I don't recall that he had even a single question for me.

     When I had said everything I knew to say, I asked him if he was ready to make a commitment and to believe in Christ. He answered with a single word: "No."

     I was stunned. I asked him, given what I had said, why he wasn't ready to make a commitment. His response still rings in my ears: "Nothing you have said indicates that I need this. I can't see the need for a commitment." His response devastated me, though I tried not to show it.

     This encounter has been embedded in my memory for a few decades now. One reason for that, surely, is that it was one of my first experiences attempting to convince someone of something I was so passionately committed to. I saw myself in those nascent days as a true apologist for Christianity.

     Another reason it has stuck with me is that, upon later reflection, it became clear to me that my only goal in that conversation was to impart as much information as I could. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with telling people the truth of the gospel, but through that entire conversation, I failed to connect what I was telling him to his own life, his own beliefs, his own needs, his own experiences. As a matter of fact, I don't think I was concerned about those aspects of his life at all. I don't remember asking him any questions about his own life.

     My only concern was to tell the truth, and I assumed that was all I needed to bring him to a commitment. But I was wrong. In my conversation with him about the gospel, I should have focused not only on the truth of the message I wanted to defend, as glorious as that truth is, but also on how I might connect that glorious message with his experiences, bridging the gap between his own life and his need for the gospel. I should have focused on commending those gospel truths to him persuasively.

"I should have focused not only on the truth of the message I wanted to defend but also on how I might connect that glorious message with his experiences, bridging the gap between his own life and his need for the gospel."

     We can define persuasion simply as our attempts to discern and initiate a connection between two or more people in order to defend and commend the gospel to them. Apologetics is concerned with defending the faith once and for al given to the saints (Jude 3). Persuasion is, at root, concerned with connecting that defense to those who might otherwise oppose it. By attempting to connect with them, abridge is built between us and them so that our defense of the gospel and its truth can cross over from us to them.

     Defending the faith comes to us under two primary topics: apologetics and persuasion. With both of these, we will focus on the relationship of Christianity to its opponents and detractors. As we consider these two topics, we want to think about how the Word of God can be communicated by us in order to defend the Christian faith in a persuasive manner.

     It might be that many will think of these two as opposites. Persuasion seeks and finds connections between two or more disparate viewpoints. Apologetics, on the other hand, tends to focus on confrontation as it seeks to meet objections against Christianity. We hope to make the case that these two are at their biblical and theological best when they merge together. We will also see that even as Christian apologetics seeks for connections between Christianity and those who would oppose it, so also can persuasion engage in confrontation between opposing views. The two topics, then, far from being mutually exclusive, sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron.

     As a matter of fact, as we will see, these two topics substantially and significantly overlap, or at least they should. As we consider some of the primary aspects of them both, we will be focused on and interested in their biblical and theological context. That context needs to be set firmly in place in our minds and hearts, since it is foundational in order for apologetics and persuasion to successfully engage any other context—cultural or otherwise.

Want to read more? Check out The Faithful Apologist by K. Scott Oliphint.

Taken from The Faithful Apologist: Rethinking the Role of Persuasion in Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint, Copyright © 2022 by K. Scott Oliphint. Used by permission of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. www.harpercollinschristian.com.

Other Resources from the Author

Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

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