Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Is Apologetics?

1 Peter 3:15-16 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

This message was given to MMU Cuberjaya CF last nite. Wanna acknowledge materials from Stand To Reason. Imagine if the President of MMU comes into this CF meeting and says, “I need someone to represent CF and tell me more about what you are and what you do. Who would you send?” Would you send one of these guys to represent the CF? Why? (Mystery prize)

We don’t want our representatives to be rude, blur, offensive, obnoxious, fumbling clowns basically because they reflect badly on us.

Whether we know it or not, we are already representatives for Christ in our family, in our classroom, amongst our friends… We are ambassadors of Christ. We represent the King and His Kingdom in a fallen world to share the good news and show good works. People will hear our words and see our behavior and conclude, “Oh he’s a follower of Jesus so His Master must be like that also”. As ambassadors for Christ we either attract people to see God or distract people from seeing God. I’m not saying you have to be perfect, but I think we need to be real (honest).

The topic today is “Apologetics” – it doesn’t mean saying sorry or apologize all the time. It doesn’t mean trying to defend God because God doesn’t need our puny defense, thank you very much. No, Apologetics is the art of giving our friends (seekers or critics) a reason for the hope we have in Christ. It is an important part of being an ambassador for Christ in MMU. So what does it do? Why should I learn to give a reason for our faith?

Firstly, it helps us to remove some obstacles that prevent people from coming to faith (“I think Christians are so nice but how can you believe that Jesus is the only way? Isn’t that narrow minded?”

Apologetic helps us to compare and evaluate other religious claims. Especially in Malaysia where we live in a multi-religious society, there are many ways of answering the big questions in life – Where do we come from? Who am I? Why on earth am I here for? Where am I going? These are big questions that every thinking person asks. Apologetic helps us to find good answers for our origin, identity, meaning in life and destiny after we die…

It may also helps us give our friends positive clues or evidences for why we believe God exists, Jesus resurrected and the Bible is God’s word. Some people are Christians because it makes them happy, it looks cool, the music sounds great, because a boy or girl in CF is cute and so on. But it won’t last. The kind of faith that endures and transforms is faith that is based on conviction… not because it is feels cool, but because it is true… And because it is true, it radically changes our lives and priorities… Apostle Peter says: In your heart set apart Christ as Lord. He’s Lord of all or not Lord at all.

Some may ask, “If there are reasons or evidence, where is the room for faith? If I already have faith, why need reasons?” But biblical faith is not wishful thinking, but based on facts. God invites us to “Come let us reason together” in the book of Isaiah. In New Testament, we find that the apostle Paul reasoned with people in the synagogues and some of them are persuaded.

Although faith is beyond reason, it is not against reason. It is not blind faith or intellectual suicide. Faith involves knowledge (objective: This chair is strong enough to support me), agreement (Yes, it can support me) and personal trust or choice/commitment (subjective).

Ok, so how do we do it?

Here are three key characteristics of a good ambassador for Christ. We need to have
Knowledge (informed mind), Character (attractive, winsome manner) and Wisdom (artful method)

A) Informed mind: The Bible passage we read just now tells us to be ready, be prepared to give us an answer or reason for our faith. To do that, we obviously need to know something about what we really believe and why we believe the things we believe.

For example, you may play Counterstrike with your friends one day and he asks, “Eh, what is the meaning in life, ar? Bible got answer or not?” How would you answer? If you don’t know, never mind, go home, look it up in books, ask your pastor, do some research and get back to him. But if he asks same question 2-3 times, and your answer is always “I dunno” then it just shows that this is not important even to you so why should I bother?

The best part is this: Equipping yourself with biblical truth is not as hard as you may think. There are so many excellent and free resources available online these days and with Google, it is at your finger tips. (You are IT savvy people, see below). So be transformed by the renewal of your mind. The bible didn’t say be transformed by the removal of your mind. If not, you’d become conformed to the patterns of this world. Do you know how do bank workers recognize counterfeit notes?

B) Winsome Character: Peter says “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”

Do you know of people who win arguments and lose the soul? They can debate like champions but offend everybody with a proud, know-it-all attitude. People are just put off. But good ambassadors for Christ are humble, gentle or respectable to others. They speak the truth but they speak the truth in LOVE. There is a patient, attractive and winsome character because the ultimate apologetics is love.

When people see in our lives compassion for the weak and needy, show forgiveness to those who persecute and slander us, it will raise profound questions for our friends “Why are they so different?”

Be sensitive to the real concern behind the question. Sometimes when people ask “How can God be fair when there is so much suffering in the world?” they may or may not want a philosophical answer that God gave us freewill or has a greater purpose for suffering. There may be underlying reason behind the question: Because they are suffering personally and the question is really asking for our understanding, presence and practical help. Be a good listener and try to find out the question behind the question.

And when people don’t agree with us, relek la… No need to be defensive or angry because only the Holy Spirit could touch a person’s heart to believe, it is not up to how good we are in debating. We are called to be witnesses, not judges of people’s hearts. Allow room for God to work in them. Sometimes all we are called to do is to plant a seed and that’s ok… just leave him with something to ponder and think about… don’t feel pressured that you must get to the sinner’s prayer every single time… bcos somewhere down the road another person will water it… another person will plow the ground… another person will reap… It’s a community project, dun be pressured to do everything

C) Artful Method: Sometimes we may have the facts, and our motive is good (we mean well) but we don’t say it in a way that people can understand. Or we say it in a way that people easily misunderstands. There is a saying: “It is not what you say, but HOW you say it that makes or breaks the case”.

This is not just about packaging or tricks. It is about effective communication. The gospel message is eternal, unchanging but the ambassador learns how to adjust his method depending on the person/situation so the gospel is heard in clear and compelling way. For example, for some people who are ready, you can flip out the Four Spiritual Laws or a tract and share with them the gospel. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life… But other people turn off the moment they see a tract, looks like you are trying to sell them something, so you may want to change your method a bit…

And we need to be careful of Christian jargons or lingo that we use. It makes perfect sense to believers but doesn’t mean anything or worse, it means the wrong thing to someone who is not a believer. Like, “Jesus is the answer!” But what is the question? “You need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb”? Huh? Sounds scary… “You need to be justified and sanctified before you can be glorified”. Is there a way to rephrase that in a lingo your friends understand?

Last but not least, don’t be an answering machine. Sometimes we think we must always be the one giving all the answers. But if you look at Jesus, He very often answers a question with another question.

Question: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Response: Why do you call me good?

Question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
Response: Whose picture is on the coin?

Question: On what ground shall divorce be permitted?
Response: What did Moses command you?

Question: By what authority do you do these things?
Response: Answer me this – by what authority did John the Baptist do what he did?

Questions and more questions… But why did Jesus do that? Is it because he doesn’t know the answer? No. Questions are very powerful…

Because question opens up hidden assumptions: “I can’t believe in Jesus without being 100% sure first” So I asked, “But what decision have you made in life based on 100% certainty? Unreasonable criteria”

Questions can expose the heart issues or logical problems in a person’s views
“There is no truth.” “Really? Is that true? Is that absolutely true?”
“You can’t be sure of anything when it comes to God”. “Are you sure about that?”

Questions help us gather more information and clarify someone’s beliefs (ie Hinduism). Then, if he is polite, you get to share your own views later. Conversation: Not so preachy.

Questions get you out of the hot seat and reverse the burden of proof.
“There is no God.” “What do you mean by ‘God’?”
All religions are basically the same.” “In what way are religions all basically the same”?

Learn the right answers but also learn to ask right questions.

Final thought: The Gospel is offensive enough because it deals with idols/sins of people. Don’t add any more offense to it. But we dare not water down the Gospel.

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