I had the opportunity this week to present the idea of an apologetics training and outreach group to my adult Sunday school class. In preparing to do so and while presenting the idea to them, some interesting cognitive dissonances were brought to the forefront of my consciousness. Many in the class agreed that the training would be good but far less were willing to commit themselves to go out and interact with people about spiritual things. I heard that they already do that regularly in their lives, and while I was happy to hear that and am grateful for every opportunity they get to share the gospel, I also heard some things that disturbed me slightly. I heard that we shouldn’t dispute with people. Well, I agree with that statement, but do believe we should strongly reason with people.
Now, how is strongly reasoning different than disputing? I’m not sure that everybody in the room understood the difference between the two. I think Christians often have a desire to avoid uncomfortable situations and manage to do so by simply saying they “got training that said we shouldn’t really argue.” However, one can honestly disagree and present one’s case strongly without necessarily engaging in disputing. This exchange of ideas is called conversation. You had better be sure that Muslims have no trouble getting in people’s faces and encouraging them to embrace Islam, particularly in countries with a high Islamic population. Yet, the average North American Christian does not want to face opposition to his or her presentation of the gospel and will back away from confrontation thinking that they are following Jesus’s directions to wipe the dust off their feet when they leave the conversation. I contend that Jesus did not intend for us to be so milquetoast.
What struck me like a Mack Truck was the total disconnect between the need for training and the need to go out and use that training. In other words, folks say, “I think the training would be great, but don’t ask me to go out and use it.” I was struck by the disconnect in what I would call the apologetic circle, which I will present with a little diagram:
Training is the beginning of the cycle but is not the end of our activity. The next step is often neglected. Many of the comments I heard indicated that because people engaged in life evangelism and friendship evangelism, they had met their quota. Now, it’s true that not everyone is called to go out and do street outreach and that people who are living their lives and raising their families do have limited time. But it doesn’t mean that regular, intentional opportunities shouldn’t be offered, and that individuals from all walks of life should not participate in those activities in engagement with the local church. Intentional opportunities lead to actual encounters with human beings who may not necessarily interact with Christians under any other circumstances.
When it comes to spiritual interactions, many North American Christians will opt out at the first sign of objections without considering the reason the Lord allows them to experience those objections. Often, the Lord allows objections as an opportunity for the believer to sharpen his or her knowledge of what they believe and why. After learning those answers, they are then able to use them in further encounters for the kingdom’s sake. Of course, the objections will come. Every unbeliever alive has an objection to Christ. Every believer needs be able to give some preliminary answers to the best of his or her ability which allows the believer to articulate what they understand and to uncover what they don’t yet understand and therefore must learn. The cycle repeats itself as the believer gets further training to better handle future encounters. This ongoing cycle with training and opportunity also gives more experienced apologists a chance to sharpen their skills as they help train less experienced believers and allows them to be used in the body of Christ in an ongoing way, either in the resources they create or in the direct training of believers. Please consider where you fit in the cycle of evangelism and apologetics.