Speaking the truth in love and apologetics

Written by Dave Jenkins

Dave has become one of my favorite apologist with an excellent understanding of apologetics and gospel centered thinking.

The past decade or so has seen perhaps the greatest increase in information the world has ever known. The internet is loaded with good information and also information that isn’t helpful. Christians are thrust into this environment as we have been called by Jesus to be in the world, but not of the world. The Bible teaches Christians to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

The idea of full Christian maturity is characterized in verse 14 from its negative aspect; in verse 15 positively. In striving to reach the goal and in advancing in that direction believers are goaded by the desire that they may no longer be like children in a tempest-tossed boat which they cannot manage.

Error is never overcome by mere negation. Over and against the deceitfulness of the errorists, the Ephesians should adhere to the truth that is practice integrity. And what ministry (Ephesians 4:12) can be more noble than that which, while resolutely opposing deceit, sets forth the truthfulness of life and lip over against it and does all this in the spirit of love?

There are two great enemies of a successful ministry, whether carried on among believers or among unbelievers. One is a departure from truth, compromise with the lie, whether in word or deeds. The other is a chilling indifference with respect to the hearts and lives, the troubles and trials of the people whom one is ostensibly trying to persuade. Paul has the real solution, the truth must be practiced in love (3:18; 4:2; 5:1-2), which was exactly what he was constantly doing (2 Cor. 2:4Gal. 4:16191 Thess. 2:7-12); and telling others to do (1 Tim. 4:111-13).

In fact, love must mark all of life. By means of such behavior we will impart a blessing not only to others but to ourselves also, for we will “grow up in all things into him who is the head, even Christ.”(Ephesians 4:15). We must grow up into union with Him. The same intimacy of conscious oneness with Christ is stressed in Romans 6:5, where the idea is expressed that believers are “grown together” with him. Such statements do not in any way obliterate the infinite distinction between Christ and Christians. They do not indicate identity but intimacy. The distinction between believers and their Lord is clearly enunciated here, for the latter is called the head, while the former are designated “the entire body.” What is meant by growing up in to Christ is interpreted by the apostle Paul in Phil. 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words in the words of Horatius Bonar, “So shall no part of day or night from sacredness be free, but all my life, in every step, be fellowship with thee.”

In addition to speaking the Truth in love, Christians are to speak and always be ready to give a defense of the faith (1st Peter 3:15) The Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 3:15 gives the basis for Apologetics, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Christians must consecrate Christ Jesus in their hearts. The heart is the central part of man’s existence, “for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). When the heart is controlled by Jesus Christ, the believer dedicates his entire life to Him. Then the Christian is safe from fear and is able to defend himself against his opponents.

Peter adapted this quotation from Isaiah 8:13, which says, “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” In his day, Isaiah told the people not to fear the invading Assyrian armies but to revere God. In his epistle, Peter has the same encouraging message. However, he changes the wording by honoring Christ as the Lord Almighty, so that he is the Lord Christ. The position of the term Lord in the sentence creates two different translations: “sanctify the Lord Christ” or “sanctify Christ as Lord.” Although both versions make good sense the second translation is better because it imparts greater emphasis to the word Lord.

“Be prepared.” When Peter exhorts the readers to be ready to witness for the Lord at all times, does he mean that Christians should speak indiscriminately about their faith? No, not at all. Jesus says in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

Christians, then must be discreet, “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). They must know when and how far and to whom it is expedient to speak. Christians should respond to opportunities to speak boldly for the Lord Jesus Christ. When Peter tells the readers to be ready, he means that they not only should be willing but also should have the ability to speak for Christ. Therefore, they must know the teaching of the Bible and Christian doctrine so they are always ready to give an answer.

“Give an answer.” The admonition to “give an answer to everyone who asks you” is not limited to times when a Christian must take the stand in a courtroom. In some instances the Christian must defend himself against verbal attacks from hostile unbelievers. At other times he is asked to teach the gospel to a neighbor who shows genuine interest in understanding the Christian religion. The term everyone is inclusive and relates to all circumstances. When we revere Christ as Lord, we experience that “out of the overflow of the heart our mouth speaks’ (Matt. 12:34). Accordingly, our verbal expressions should be exemplary, and wholesome. We should demonstrate an ability to give an answer to everyone who asks us about our faith in Christ (Col. 4:6).

“Reason.” What does a Christian have? He has hope, says Peter. Although hope is one of the three Christian virtues (1 Cor. 13:13), faith and love seem to overshadow it. In sermons and discussions we often neglect to talk about hope. Nevertheless, in his epistle Peter mentions hope frequently. In the Greek, the verb occurs in 1:13 and 3:5, and the noun in 1:3, 21, and 3:15. What is the hope that a Christian possesses in his heart? Hope is patient, disciplined, confident waiting for and expectation of the Lord as our Savior. The write of Hebrews exhorts in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

1st Peter 3:15b-16, “yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

“Yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Peter instructs the readers to exercise gentleness, and this he echoes with the words for Jesus (“I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt.. 11:29), whose example the believer should adopt.

When we sanctify Christ in our hearts, we should exercise gentleness and respect toward all men. In our behavior we exert ourselves to demonstrate gentleness toward persons who are spiritually weak (rom. 15:1-2). In our conduct we make every effort to show honor and respect toward God and toward those whom God has placed over us (2:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7). We strive to be living models of the example Christ has set.

“Having a good conscience.” Christians who have a clear conscience are readily motivated to show their respect and obedience to God. When as a prisoner in Jerusalem Paul defended himself before the Jewish Sanhedrin, he exclaimed in Acts 23:1, “And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” that is, before God he had done his missionary work in all sincerity and truth; his conscience was clear.

“Those who revile your good behavior.” To opponents of the Christina faith, a Christian who professes his faith in Christ has already provided sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. Moreover, numerous accusations can be leveled at an innocent Christian.

Notice the similarity with a preceding verse in this epistle. There Peter writes, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (2:12).

“May be put to shame.” When unbelievers maliciously direct falsehoods against Christians who seek to live by the example Christ has set, truth eventually triumphs. When the evidence shows that the conduct of Christians is blameless, the unbelievers themselves are put to shame by their own slander.

The writer of Hebrews tells the readers to leave behind the elementary doctrines about Christ and to move on to maturity (6:1). A Christian must be able to formulate his faith in elementary propositions so that when he/she is asked about his/her faith, he/she is able to speak about Christianity. He/she must be able to lead others to Christ and refute the charges of unbelievers. In evangelizing neighbors, a Christian should have the elementary qualifications to teach others the way of salvation. When hhe/she confronts the attacks of the humanist and the atheist, a Christian should have a basic working knowledge of the Scripture to be able to substantiate the phrase the Bible says. And when members of sects ring the doorbell, the well-informed Christian should become the teacher to lead these visitors to the Lord Jesus Christ.



Is Testimony a real Apologetic?


I’ve been told by successful apologists that testimony is a weak and subjective method to offer the skeptic reasons to believe. Further, it’s devoid of a good argument used to prove God, Jesus Christ or the validity of Christianity. It seems obvious to the apologist that because the skeptic dis-believes all religions equally and holds human testimony as personal preference that method has no reward.  So, the apologist abandons testimony because of the skeptic and of course other apologists are using the logic-track as their method, the intuitive thing to do is presume testimony is off the table. Relational Apologetic is poo-pooed and testimony has become irrelevant. The more I look at this subject the more interesting it becomes.  Things do not progress with the skeptic and agnostic like we believe they should…seeing the apologist has accommodated himself to the mindset of the skeptic. As I look deeper into the needs of the skeptic and unbeliever I find all the signs that they need relationship, they need a human-story to relate to that opens the door to inviting in another person. Not just any person, but a person of faith.

Well, it seems the apologist should take a tip from Joshua, for the walls to come down we must circle the city. I’ve been on a circular journey of leaving testimony to prove apologetically the things of God by taking the path of logic, evidence, philosophy, argument and theories; after lengthy study, I am striving to master these, or at least attempt to gain a solid grasp of these methods of delivering truth and reason, I’m trying to get in the zone so to speak. Yet the biblical apologist now sits down and begins to read the scriptures and listen to Christ speak in the gospels; the astute apologist recommends that we look carefully at the apologetics of Christ that offered no syllogism and no advanced philosophical jargon; instead, narrative and ontological challenges to their preconceived ideas. Christ speaks from the authority of scripture paired with the existence and watchful eye of his Heavenly Father.

What then? Why the very idea of testimony becomes more relevant than ever and suddenly the apologist has recovered its value because it’s relational to the hearer. So after a long dutiful journey into discovering apologetics, all of the above logic, evidence, philosophy and argument really only prepare the apologist to speak confidently in relational terms to the unbeliever. In short all of the acquired knowledge is needed to shore up the in-confident speaker; the unbelieving listener need not know or understand the depth of knowledge the apologist has.  It’s credibility not credential where grace is given. Fortunately the grace of God brings wisdom, having been instilled by the Holy Spirit to equip the apologist to engage relationally a person who is as far away from you logically, philosophically and biblically as one can get. The sinner is dead spiritually, the Apologist is alive in Christ.

This I believe is a good insight; equipped to engage relationally instead of engaging academically alone. It’s the constant pitfall of the apologist to be argument-centered in his thinking. Now in all fairness remember many times the apologist is engaging someone who is antagonistic to him and has no interest in befriending the apologist. I think we apologists understand this because the undercurrent of dis-similar worldviews denote opposition and mentally causes the drawing of the proverbial line in the sand and dares each other to step over.

So, where do relational apologetics begin to come into play? It comes into play when the apologist determines how he is going to engage the skeptic. Either from the outset of the discussion or at some point later, the apologist makes the move to care for the person, not just for the ‘truth’ that he is attempting to express; now there is much written on this subject so I won’t digress into it. But my input along these lines considers the human interaction.

I believe Christ considered the human interaction because His Father considers all things, the depth of God’s understanding is beyond our comprehension, yet within that consideration is care for the human condition. Jesus knows humanly and divinely the depth of sins destruction within the psyche of people. Jesus engaged argument and excuses because behind it is a person using those things to hide from God. He was after them, the victory of divine truth over human confusion is so vast it’s not worthy of debate. But to the Christian apologist coming out of a world of lies and deceptions it’s not bare fact it’s an increase of faith. The Christian apologist is escaping the lies of the world and learning to tell the truth in a myriad of new ways. The central focus of the Christian worldview can get lost in philosophy, truth, evidence and more; but I am seeking to remember Christ is the central focus. My apologetics must not be compartmentalized into a specialized format where it morphs into high-resolution explanation of all things apologetic. My Christianity is my apologetic to everyone listening and watching.

So I end up coming full circle, I am back to a starting point where I was as a young Christian with no apologetic knowledge at all. All I had was a testimony and short list of scripture I knew. But now after all this time I have arrived at testimony again; I am back with a full arsenal of academics, wisdom, knowledge and I’ve picked up along the way patience, long-suffering, love, kindness, gentleness, perseverance and compassion. But what is the real improvement? Is it academic knowledge? Yes I have that. Is it maturity in the faith? Yes I have a small piece of that. But more than all of that I have the ability to forget myself, to concentrate upon the person I’m engaged in discussion. I need not concern myself with winning; I’ve already won in faith and prayer and stand an overcomer in Christ. Now I come to do battle, for the souls of men I resist deceptions, because of compassion I patiently endure abuse, for loves sake I attempt to represent Christ to those who cannot see him in anything.

My prayer is that God opens their eyes to see Him. It’s not about me and my apologetics, it’s not about the war of words, it’s not about the terrible things the Atheist would do to Christians or the bible; it’s about being Spirit-led as a man of God who for the sake of Jesus Christ employs apologetics to win to him more worshippers.  Are these grandiose words? Yes they are and more than I can do alone, I count upon Christ to work in me these things I’ve stated. By faith I am a usable apologist to Jesus Christ.

It must be remembered as well that to do what I am suggesting is to become far too Christian for some Christians to endure. For the Atheist, agnostic and skeptic I cannot be too Christian. It may be that for the first time they get to see one in the flesh, not just hear about a hero of faith who died a martyr.

The final fine-tuning must be done by the Spirit of God, whereby the fruits of the Spirit manifest along with academic knowledge. The pairing of this apologetic knowledge and spiritual fruit delivers truth and love together the way Jesus did it. May the Spirit of God lead us into Christ-likeness being conformed into his image and bearing his fruit for the glory and praise of God.

Marvin Torgeson