faith and family
Apologizing for Apologetics
by Marcus J. Carlson
I make it a habit of apologizing. When I say apologizing, I mean sharing remorse, offering an apology. This is slightly different from the often glib and overused, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry no longer carries the deep meaning it used to; it is simply a passing phrase. That is part of the reason why I make it a point to try to apologize instead of saying I am sorry.
Apologizing is a function of life. It is a part of the practice of forgiveness. It is a reality that comes with being an imperfect, fallen, sinful person. Sometimes the apology is for something intentional; often it is for something unintentional or a simple misunderstanding. Apologizing is a function of relationship, especially marriage and parenting. Living together is not easy stuff, and it is in our homes and with our families that we o er both our best and our worst.
Now what exactly does the word apology have to do with Christian apologetics? While they have the same root word and have some similarities, they are also two very di erent things. In Christian apologetics we are not apologizing for Jesus, the Bible or the Christian faith. Now we often need to apologize for our behavior as Christians, other Christians and the church, but there is never a need to apologize for Jesus. The word apologetics means to give a defense of the Christian faith, of Jesus. It means presenting a rational and reasonable argument for the Christian faith. I will come back to this later.
The truth is, we often confuse giving a defense for our faith with being defensive about our faith. Defensiveness has never produced any good fruit, is often a symptom of an unhealthy ego and rarely leads to healthy relationships. It limits growth and an honest assessment of the issues at hand. So often, we as Christians are defensive of our faith, Jesus, our views and our behavior when really we need not be defensive. It is a fruitless effort.
The best defense of our faith is not in our rational, reasonable arguments, defensiveness or guilt. The best defense of our faith is how we live, how we love, how we treat others. Christianity, like all good movements, was meant to be contagious. Do people look at our lives and the way that we live and love and say, “I want some of that!”? Unfortunately, our defensiveness, our inability to apologize and our judgement of others make others want anything but Christianity.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I have heard it said that perhaps we need a reformation every 500 years. We are truly a church that is reformed and always reforming because while God never changes, we need continual transformation. While the message of the Gospel never changes, the way we communicate it must change as the world around us changes. How we talk to our children and youth as well as others when it comes to Christian apologetics matters. In some ways, apologetics is much easier with this population (our youth) as they tend to be more open and honest. In other ways, it is more complicated as they are still maturing, are unsure and are in uenced by many more forces in their lives compared to adults.
When it comes to our children and youth, the single most important aspect of apologetics is to give them Jesus. It seems like an oversimplification, but it is the truth. Jesus is enough. Jesus is more than enough. Our children and youth are built for connections, for relationships. While they cannot always retain the complexities of the faith, they can embrace Jesus.
Pointing our children and youth to Jesus shows them exactly what God is like. It teaches them the person, message and lifestyle of the Christian faith. Jesus is the ultimate apologetic for us all. As the song goes, “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” Jesus is always what we need, is the source of truth and life, and is the one true Christian apologetic.
What our children and youth need the most is Jesus. Not facts and figures. Not arguments and defenses. Not Scripture memorization and indoctrination. They need Jesus. They need to know Jesus. They need to know that they are children of God. They need to know that life as a Christian is about being a disciple, one who imitates Jesus. We can give them all the information in the world, but if there is no transformation, it is not Christianity. Jesus came for more than information. Jesus came to transform us, to make us new.
Our children and youth are still developing. Development is most profound from birth until age 25, with constant physical, emotional, social and spiritual changes happening. At these various stages they can only grasp so much of an argument and a defense. They are full of questions, faith and doubt. This is normal and healthy. We could learn a thing or two from them in this way (faith like a child). Jesus is relevant to every culture, every person, every generation, every race, every person in every corner of the earth.
While a full defense of the Christian faith may not be best for children and youth, that does not mean we do not teach the faith. We must teach the faith and the Scriptures, and point our children and youth to the stories of the Bible. Again, we let these things speak for themselves and allow doubt, doing our best to answer all their questions.
On a more practical note, the best tool for apologetics that I have ever seen in the past two years of my life in ministry is ALPHA. ALPHA is a program that was born out of a church in London, England, more than two decades ago. I have had the privilege of being a participant in ALPHA, leading it and bringing it to a church. I have been able to see its impact on people, from long-time Lutherans to unbelievers. I have been able to attend ALPHA live in London where it started and meet the humble man who started it. It is the most fantastic, Biblically solid, theologically sound course on the Christian faith I have ever seen. Its teaching is deep and meaningful, and yet approachable to all.
We use ALPHA for part of our con rmation teaching and we have had more than a quarter of our members go through it. It is a key part of our ministry as we seek to reach the lost, unchurched and dechurched. It is honest, authentic and gracious in its strong approach to apologetics. I strongly recommend it for youth, adults and any church serious about reaching people outside the church.
We can give a defense for our faith with our lives and with our words. We can give a defense of our faith in logical arguments, living a life of love and service and in our relationships with others. Yet, the truth remains that Jesus and the Christian faith speak for themselves in so many ways.
Just give them Jesus. There is no more powerful apologetic than a person living like Jesus, loving and serving others, bringing transformation in Jesus Christ.
For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website at:www.revdrorange.com