Helping people see Jesus
by Andy Bannister
In 1 Peter 3:15-16, Peter offers this advice to Christians who want to share the incredible news of what Jesus has done:
“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.”
The phrase “give an answer” is the English translation of the Greek word “apologia”, which means to give a reason or a defence. Peter here is saying that the gospel is not a piece of advice, or a warm fuzzy feeling, or just something we should believe because we should believe, but something for which reasons can be given.
From the word “apologia” we get the term “apologetics” – that branch of Christian theology concerned with answering questions or objections to the Christian faith, setting out to our friends why Jesus Christ is worth taking seriously.
Although a word like “apologetics” can sound pretentious and technical, it’s actually beautifully, simply and intricately connected to the heart of the gospel.
As I’ve listened to, engaged with, and wrestled with people’s questions about the Christian faith over the years, I have learned that there are a number of basic principles that work time and again. They’re easy to learn, simple to apply, and can be a game-changer in how you have conversations about the gospel with clarity, conviction and compassion.
Know what you believe and why
This is a challenge for those of us raised in the Church, or who have been Christians for decades. Too often we give how-shaped answers to why-shaped questions. If somebody asks us why we are a Christian, we often give a narrative of how we became one. But that isn’t always helpful: many of our friends want to know why you’re a Christian now, today, with all of the challenges to your faith that daily attack you. What’s your 20-second case for Christianity?
Rediscover the power of questions
We’ve often tried to reduce evangelism to formulas. But the most powerful form of sharing the Gospel is talking to people and asking good questions. Learn to ask your friends what they believe (or don’t believe). If a colleague at work is a Muslim, try saying, “I’ve never really talked to a Muslim before. What do you believe?”
Or if a friend self-describes as an atheist, respond, “‘Atheist’ tells me what you don’t believe. But what do you believe?” Questions are very powerful and if you read the gospels carefully, you’ll notice asking them was Jesus’ primary method of evangelism.
Engage people’s honest questions
Don’t ignore objections. A few months ago I met Alex, a young university student, who introduced himself to me as an agnostic. “I used to be a Christian,” he explained, “but I was raised in a fundamentalist family.” Questions about religion were forbidden in his family and church. Alex began to read atheist books and eventually abandoned his faith.
“But you introduced yourself as an ‘agnostic’,” I said gently. “What happened?”
Alex explained he attended a local atheist group, and discovered that they were, in his words, “fundamentalists too”. Questioning was not allowed there either. Alex told me he didn’t know what to believe or disbelieve any more. Then, he asked me if I thought he was lazy. I replied, “There are two types of agnostics. A lazy agnostic is somebody who can’t be bothered to find the answer to the God question. An active agnostic is genuinely searching for the answer, but just hasn’t found it yet.” We talked long into the evening and slowly began to deal with some of the questions Alex had buried for so long.
Know what the gospel really is
That sounds obvious, doesn’t it, but a good deal of our problems in the Church stem from forgetting. We’ve allowed the gospel to become tangled up with political positions, culture wars or moralism. As an atheist friend once put it to me, “I know what you Christians are against, but I have no idea what you’re for.” A brilliant, if tragic, observation.
The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word “euangelion”, which means, quite literally, “good news”. The good news of what God has done in and through Jesus Christ, his Son. It’s not a piece of advice, or a moral system, or a philosophy. The gospel is the radical claim something has happened as a result of which the world is a different place. That’s the good news that it’s our privilege to share through evangelism.
Conclusion: clearing the ground
Ultimately, the task of apologetics is largely one of debris clearing: removing the obstacles so people can see Jesus clearly. Arguments can’t bring somebody to faith, but they can help create a climate in which faith is possible. Ultimately, what people need is not a clever argument, but to see the greatness and attractiveness of Jesus. Our task, and the task of apologetics, is simply to present Him as clearly as we can. And then get out of the way.
Dr Andy Bannister is the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and an Adjunct Speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He is the author of the best-selling book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments). Also check out the popular Solas video series, SHORT/ANSWERS, at www.solas-cpc.org/shortanswers. He will be speaking at the Apologetics Canada conference Mar 2-3. apologeticscanada.com
– reprinted with permission from Inspire Magazine, UK