Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:22-23, NIV)
Does the Apostle Paul’s refusal to give the Greeks “wisdom” in his gospel presentation (verses above) mean that we shouldn’t engage in apologetics, the evidence-based defence of the Christian faith? Would Paul have approved of talks covering the evidence for the resurrection, arguments for the existence of God, etc? Here are eight preliminary headline answers:
1) In the book of Acts, we read about Paul’s own practice. In both Athens and Corinth he reasoned in the synagogue (Acts 17:17, 18:4). In Ephesus he spoke boldly, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8). The verbs alone prove decisively that in his preaching Paul never by-passed the mind.
2) John’s Gospel is famous for its law-court language, as if presenting a case. The verb see comes over a hundred times, stressing the eye-witness nature of his material. John also uses words like witness, testimony, verdict. To him, Christianity is evidence-based. I am a Christian because Christianity is true.
3) Apologetics is a largely Christian interest; there is little of it in the other world faiths (because, in the end, they don’t have any evidence to show).
4) And yet, despite this distinctive evidence-based approach, the Bible also insists that presenting evidence alone does not make a person a Christian. There needs to be a radical inward change - what Jesus called being born again (John 3:3). In John’s Gospel we meet people who are presented with tons of evidence, yet refuse to believe - like the authorities who questioned the man to whom Jesus had given sight in John 9. They, themselves, needed to be given sight.
5) The Christian message is not a vague statement about God, but specifically about the Kingly person and saving work of Jesus Christ. A person may be brought to believe in God in a general sense, but saving faith is a specific response to Jesus Christ. It is essential that the momentous news about Him, the gospel, is communicated.
6) There is a danger, as we seek to persuade, that we try to be respectable: to show the world how in-touch, how powerful, how clever we are. This danger is potentially fatal, because the message of the gospel, concerning the crucified Saviour, seems foolish to some and offensive to others. If we try to be respectable, we end up losing the cross. It is this danger, in particular, which Paul is mindful of in the verses from 1 Corinthians quoted above. I have heard apologetics-type talks that have lots about world-views but very little to take us to the gospel.
7) The gospel is its own apologetic. So much about God and the world only make sense when the gospel is explained. How can we begin to account for the problem of suffering, without explaining the gospel? Or, in Luke 24, not only did the disciples need to see Jesus eat fish to realise that He wasn’t a ghost, but they also needed to have it explained to them from the scriptures why He’d died in the first place.
8) People who aren’t yet Christians don’t know what they’re rejecting. So I think it generally best to seek in conversation to get to the gospel quickly, dealing with the big things, and then to try to answer specific questions arising from it.
You will see that many of the points above involve opening the Bible. We don’t need to put it to one side to deal with the world’s questions! Our friends at UCCF are to be thanked and congratulated with their recent launch of Uncover Mark, encouraging us to read Mark’s Gospel with a friend.
We continue our own series in 1 Corinthians this Sunday.
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