There are a few voices out there that say my work is misguided because I care about apologetics more than the Gospel. I shouldn’t be teaching on subjects like Islam, homosexuality, and abortion. They say if I start talking to a non-Christian, I shouldn’t bring up apologetics, but rather tell them about the Gospel.
I agree. That is, I agree the first thing we should focus on is the Gospel. I don’t agree that I care more about apologetics or that my work is misguided. Let me explain.
Yes, the Gospel is of utmost importance. We are commanded to proclaim the message of reconciliation to all people (2 Cor. 5:18–19). That should be our primary goal.
Many times, however, people don’t accept Christ and express doubts, objections, or concerns with Christianity. That’s when apologetics comes in. The purpose at that point is to listen carefully to the person’s concern and ask God to help you clarify the truth. Apologetics, therefore, is about removing obstacles people have to the Gospel. That’s why being acquainted with various objections (like the ones I teach about and many others) is helpful.
Notice, then, that I believe everything is secondary to the Gospel. All apologetics is secondary, albeit still important, to the message of reconciliation we’re called to communicate to non-Christians. How does this work out in my teaching? Here are some examples using three topics I often teach on.
Islam: Christians often ask me how to cleverly discuss jihad, problems with the Quran, or Mohammed’s moral character with Muslims they know. I discourage that, however. If they can start a conversation with a Muslim, I want them to present the Gospel. That’s the more fundamental concern. Even if you convinced a Muslim to abandon his view of jihad or the Quran, his eternal destiny would still be in jeopardy. That’s why focusing on the Gospel is the best approach. If the Muslim accepts Christ, then all his other views about Islam will subsequently change as well.
Having said that, if a conversation comes up on the Quran, Mohammed, or other Islamic topics, I still want believers to be trained to navigate that discussion well. So, apologetics is still critical, but it’s secondary to the Gospel.
Homosexuality: I also train believers on apologetics pertaining to the subject of homosexuality. But my take-home message is this: Our hope for homosexuals is not heterosexuality but holiness. We’re not trying to make them straight but to lead them straight to Jesus. The point of my training is not so that Christians bring up the morality of homosexuality or the wrongness of same-sex marriage in every conversation with a person who identifies as gay or lesbian. Rather, I want them to present the Gospel. Every person on the planet, including those in the LGBT community, are guilty before God and desperately need a pardon. That’s what God is offering, and as ambassadors for Christ, that should be our primary message.
Having knowledge of apologetic topics surrounding the subject of homosexuality is still important. Many men and women who identify as gay or lesbian reject the Gospel for various reasons, and having the ability to graciously address those reasons is essential.
Abortion: The same is true with abortion. If you’re talking to someone who you know is pro-choice, and you have the chance to take the conversation anywhere, I don’t recommend you bring up abortion. Although what a person thinks about abortion is important, what she thinks about Jesus is more fundamental. Even if you persuade her to be pro-life, her eternal destiny would still be in jeopardy if she hasn’t accepted Christ. That’s why the Gospel conversation should be primary. Besides, if she accepts Christ and becomes a believer, then it will often naturally follow that she’ll believe protecting unborn children is important.
If the topic of abortion does come up, I’m not suggesting you avoid it. Engage the person’s ideas in a gracious manner. Remember, I’m a pro-life advocate and am deeply disturbed by abortion. I train believers in the art of pro-life persuasion all the time. My point is that people’s views on abortion are secondary to what they do with Jesus. How you dialogue with them should reflect that priority and order.
My point is not to downplay the importance of apologetics; it’s to elevate the significance of the Gospel and tie apologetics to evangelism. Skillful ambassadors for Christ should know how to present the Gospel and remove obstacles that get in the way of non-Christians accepting it.