In the 21st century, there has been a growth in the population of Christians who value apologetics and pursue the knowledge required to be an apologist. Consequently, that growth has also led to a decline in Christians who tell the story of their deliverance. Before going forward let’s dive into what apologetics is and where it comes from. The Word “Apologetics” comes from the Greek word “apologian” which is found in 1st Peter 3:15 where Peter charges the Christian to be ready to “give a defense.” Many believers today believe that this passage is encouraging the pursuit of knowledge, for the sake of defending the gospel. I am not necessarily saying that this is wrong; more so that this is short-sighted. Giving a defense for the Gospel also means that we are expected to help others see the validity in what we believe, not fight them off. The only way we can get someone to see the validity of our faith is by telling the story of our faith and journey. What modern day apologetics has bred is a debating Christian mentality that involves throwing spiritual punches instead of a calming embrace. When we are discussing our faith with someone and our words tend to point out how “wrong” they are, we are just debating our faith not sharing it. Now debating has its place and it can do very well for certain communities of skeptics but for the focus of the Christian emphasis to evolve into a battle of words, it takes away from a crucial part of the Christian walk, and that is our testimony. A perfect example of this is a favored passage found in John 4 and that is the woman at the well.
The woman at the well did something that is very interesting. During her conversation with Jesus she put up her walls and there are 3 ways she did that. She defended herself with culture, with theology, and with knowledge. Let’s look at each one and examine Jesus’ response. In John 4:12 the woman uses culture to fend Jesus off, she says “Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock” (ESV) She immediately tried to draw a dividing line between Jesus and herself by claiming that Jacob was her ancestor and that he specifically gave them, the Samaritans, that well. How we know she is specifically talking about the Samaritans, when she says us, is found in verse 20 “our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people out to worship”. (ESV) Now, Jesus had every right to say “I am from Jacob and this well is just as much my well,” Jesus could have started talking about his direct genealogical ancestry and how he came from the tribe of Judah but he didn’t. Instead of debating with her he stuck to his message of eternal life. The second wall we see the woman at the well put up was that of theology. In verse 20, which I quoted earlier, we see the woman at the well discuss the “right” place to worship. After putting up her wall for the second time Jesus leveled the playing field. He immediately said that a time is coming where people who worship God will not be worshipping God in the mountain they were talking on nor in Jerusalem. Again, Jesus had every right to rebuttal her by saying the temple of God is in Jerusalem and the “holy of holies” is within that temple but he didn’t, instead, he made it clear that there is no “right place” to worship. The third and final wall the woman at the well put up was knowledge and we see that in verse 25 where she says she knows that the Messiah is coming and will explain everything when he arrives. She put her guard up by essentially saying “you’re not telling me anything new” and how does Jesus end this discourse? He reveals who he really is to the woman; he points her to himself.
This is the primary issue I see with Apologetics. If a person is indeed stumped by the information a Christian has, the person who is not a Christian at best looks at that Christian as really smart. That is a problem; because what saves is not our intelligence it is Jesus Christ our Savior. When a person sees Jesus then they have found something amazing, yet apologetics usually creates an academic image for Christians that lead people to think they are smart instead of thinking they must have an amazing Savior. If we see the woman at the well use culture, theology and knowledge to try to fend Jesus off we can expect people to do the same thing to us. Nevertheless, we also see an example of how to deal with this and that example is pointing people directly to Jesus. The question still stands, how do we do that? The way we do that is tell our story, the story of our conversion.
A perfect example of this is a short debate I had with an atheist on the train when I was new to Christianity. We peacefully shared ideas for about 40 minutes and before he got off the train he left me saying, “You know you are a very intelligent young man, you know how to articulate what you believe very well.” Nothing about Jesus sunk in. None of what I said, as smart as it sounded, left a lasting impression about Christ and that is a problem because remembering me will not bring anyone to heaven.
What’s even more amazing about the idea of giving a testimony is the fact that Jesus gives his testimony as well. In John 3: 32, John the Apostle quotes John the Baptist saying, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.” John is saying that Jesus is telling everyone what he has seen and experienced in Heaven. If Jesus gave his testimony to those people who were not believers then, what should we as Christians be doing? Yes, Jesus hit the Pharisee with facts, that is undeniable but they were a minority when considering the large number of people Jesus spoke to. Even then Jesus still pointed everything back to eternal life through himself after hitting them with the facts. If we want to be relevant, even in this information age, we need to stick to our story, tell people how great Christ has been to us, and point people to Jesus for eternal life.
~~ Don’t get caught up in the facts, let’s be storytellers