Amy, Jon, Robby, and Tim share how our love of Christ can motivate and shape our apologetics.
Amy: The pattern in the culture is to be willing to fudge on the truth a little bit for the sake of a higher goal. That’s kind of the way our culture works. Truth is the lesser goal, and if it helps you get what your agenda wants, then it’s great. You can use it. If it doesn’t, then you adjust it a little bit. This is where we have to really fight what the culture is teaching us.
The truth has to be the highest thing. There is no adjusting the truth for a higher goal, because if God is truth, we can’t fudge on the truth. What we need to do is realize that we’re not going to persuade everyone, and so we can’t sacrifice other things for that sake. We need to put truth in its proper place. And one thing that really helps with that is to have the goal be clarity. So, your goal is to make your position as clear as possible. If they can understand—or at least if you’ve expressed truth clearly—then you have succeeded in speaking the truth, and there’s value in that, even if others aren’t persuaded, because we are glorifying God every time we speak the truth.
Jon: I think that this is a really good discussion. Truth is prominent. It goes back to, in my opinion, viewing people appropriately. We have to first defend truth. Right? So, we always defend truth. We speak our message clearly. And the words that we use will sometimes be offensive. I mean, Greg always says that the gospel is offensive enough. There’s no need to add any offense to it. I love that saying. We need to remain resolute, even in the face of offense, but at the same time, we don’t have license as Christians to be unloving or mean-spirited. It feels like a tightrope that we have to walk because we also can’t give in to the cultural pressures to compromise our message in any way. We have to stay salty in the process.
This is why I think it’s important to view people appropriately. it helps you remain levelheaded in all circumstances. It helps you understand that the world around us is going to be illogical. It’s going to be irrational. Sometimes, guys, it’s going to be the people around us that are in the world who are going to be incapable of having civil discourse. It’s just not part of who they are, because they’re living in darkness. They’re wandering around in darkness. Of course they’re going to start bumping into things. And I think, when we view people like that, it really helps us. I’m not saying we pity people, but it helps us to view people in that light, and then it allows us to defend truth in a way that’s loving and compassionate. Paul says that we correct people with gentleness, and then he says why—so that “God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25), and I think that’s really, really important for us to remember.
Robby: I think so. One of the verses that I have constantly battled to live up to—and I never will live up to this perfectly, but I think about it a lot—is John 1:14, where it says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The biggest mistakes I see people make with apologetics is when they’re all grace and no truth—and that’d be, for example, progressive Christianity—or they’re all truth with no grace—Christians who know doctrine, but then they adopt the tactics of the world, and they name-call back, and they own people back. I think, if we’re following Jesus, being full of grace and truth is a barometer for how we’re supposed to approach ministry and approach apologetics, and that is something that, man, I do not have the balance of. I want to, but I think that’s the goal—full of grace and truth. Those two things together. We’ve all seen mistakes made when you have one without the other, and I think it’s easy to have one without the other, to be honest. I think it’s difficult to have both of them balancing each other out.
Tim: When you were saying that, I thought back to Acts 17, where Paul is standing there amongst the people, and he says, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘to an unknown god.’” He doesn’t call them “idols.” He calls them “objects of worship.” “I perceive that you guys are very religious.” Not, “You guys are a bunch of pagans.” There’s this grace. He comes in there, and he doesn’t compromise the truth, and, you’re right, in our world there might be some that want to just lean heavy on the truth and neglect the gentleness and the respect and those other character components, and I know, for me, I’m drawn towards the truth aspect—that’s just the way God has made me—and then that other stuff sometimes gets left out. So, we all need to look inside and say, “Where do I need to change in order to better reflect Christ, who is full of grace and truth?”
Jon: Can I add something on top of that? You’re sparking so much in my mind as you’re speaking about this stuff because, oftentimes, I feel like, as apologists, we can get caught up in the arguments and the truth, and we forget about falling In love with Jesus. We love to debate. We love to argue. Well, I love to debate. I love to argue. I love to use reason. But without fostering a deep appreciation and love for Christ, I think it’s more difficult for us, as apologists, to approach the conversation in a right manner because when you start to love Christ, you start to love the things that Christ loves, and Christ’s love goes back to people. He doesn’t compromise on truth, ever, but I think, above all of what we’re talking about, it feels like we need a proper love and appreciation for Christ, and that’s our motivation. And when that’s our motivation, I think it helps us navigate conversation appropriately.
Amy: Jon, that is exactly where I was going to take this because the big question here is, how do we become that kind of person—this kind of person that we’re talking about? And here’s where I think I see the biggest problem happening among people who are into apologetics. They’re so into thinking about the arguments and the questions and the philosophy, they lose the balance of actually cultivating a relationship with a Person. That’s what this is all about. We’re supposed to know Jesus. We’re supposed to spend time with him, and that’s why we’re doing all of this. And being with him—and by that I mean praying and also reading about him—reading the Bible—that is what will shape us. The Holy Spirit will shape us through those things into becoming a person who’s more like Jesus. So, it’s so tempting to get caught up in all of the philosophy and then you leave that aside. I end up getting emails from people saying, “I’ve lost this desire for apologetics, and now I just have so many questions, and my relationship with Jesus has cooled.” Well, that’s going to happen with any relationship if you’re not spending time in it. And so, we need to be really careful that we are putting that first and keeping that in balance with these other ideas.