“All truth is God’s truth.”
-Augustine of Hippo
I want to ask you to stop introducing people to Jesus. This claim may be heresy to some, I want to assure you it’s not what you think. I’ve heard a few messages on at churches about “evangelism” and I am always left frustrated and disappointed. The messages are filled with terms like “boldness” and “confidence”, but often the message leaves you with everything but feeling bold and confident. The call is to share our story with others, deal wholly with the relational side of Christianity. While I do think that there is a place for this in our conversations with those we deal with on a daily basis, it should be one part of our evangelistic method, not the whole. I had a discussion once with someone within a church about why a message about evangelism had no mention of apologetics at all. The response was “Well, the Holy Spirit does all the work anyways…” This reply is baffling to me. If we were to follow this line of thinking logically, why do any evangelism at all? It makes no sense to rule out intellectual, reasoned dialogue as a part of our method. It side steps, and ignores the real problem with evangelism today. It shows the anti-intellectualism that has plagued our churches for a century, and is an enormous part of why we are losing the youth in and outside of the church. Francis Schaeffer puts it eloquently;
“I do not ask for answers, I just believe.” This sounds spiritual, and it deceives many fine people. These are often young men and women who are not content only to repeat the phrases of the intellectual or spiritual status quo. They have become rightly dissatisfied with a dull, dusty, introverted orthodoxy given only to pounding out the well-known clichés. The new theology sound spiritual and vibrant, and they are trapped. But the price they pay for what seems to be spiritual is high, for to operate in the upper story using undefined religious terms is to fail to know and function on the level of the whole man. The answer is not to ask these people to return to the poorness of the status quo, but to a living orthodoxy which is concerned with the whole man, including the rational and the intellectual, in his relationship to God.” (1)
We live in an age where modernity and scientism rule the minds of the skeptic. Even some within the church have accepted post-modernism as a viable form of philosophy in approaching the external world. As those who fought against the invasion of liberalism into interpreting Scripture and Christianity in the early part of the 20th century, we must deal with this problem in modern evangelism.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ makes this declaration to His disciples;
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20 NIV)
Our mission as Christians is first and foremost to make disciples of all nations. How are we to do this? Not just relaying the relational side of Christianity, but with a methodology. Evangelism, apologetics and apostolic ministry often go hand in hand. Take the Apostle Paul as our example. In Acts 17, Paul is provoked in his spirit, recognizing the idol worship within the city of Athens:
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to mthe Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” (Acts 17:16-20 ESV)
We see here that Paul had first dealt with the Jews and devout persons in the synagogue. He knew how to answer them, and in the following passage, Paul knows how to answer the Stoic philosophers, and those who aren’t Jewish.
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being sLord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live yon all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:22-26)
Paul met these people where they were. To a Jew he became a Jew, and so on. (1 Corinthians 9:20) I propose we take on what Paul had begun. Learn all that we can about what those around us believe, finding the truth of God in things we never thought we would. Philosophy plays a much bigger role in our thinking than we realize. Let us pursue proper thinking, argumentation, and expound it all with grace and kindness towards those who are opposed or questioning the faith (1 Peter 3:15). As followers of Christ, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. There needs to be a balance. Extremes either way do harm of properly presenting the Gospel message. Christ knew how to answer each person, as did Paul (Colossians 4:5,6). JP Moreland sums it up for us:
“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”
(1) Schaeffer, Francis “The God Who Is There”, IVP Books 1968