The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics
Applicable Texts Typically Ignored by the Evangelistic Apologist
I realized the need for this chapter after completing the previous chapter (“texts misused”) when I noticed that the true working definition of biblical apologetics (that should have been formed from the pages of the NT by the evangelistic apologists!) included additional Bible references beyond those typically cited. I believe the reason for that omission is that these verses effectively obliterate that which comprises most of the foundation of what has come to be called evangelistic apologetics.
In this chapter, I showed from abundant biblical evidence that the lost is incapable of any spiritual understanding (because they are spiritually dead!), with the result that any evangelistic “technique” that tends to emphasize the intellect of the lost as the point of “gospel” contact is doomed to fail (or, worse yet, produce a false convert).
Therefore, we must review these as well!
The Apostle has laid out the biblical foundation of the origin and results of sin, the results of the birth from above, of being freed from slavery to sin by the death and resurrection of the Lord Christ, the majestic declaration of the wisdom and power of a sovereign God who "has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires" (Rom 9.18), and this very simple and direct declaration:
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
The evangelistic apologist actually misses this very clear message with their incessant dronings of "pre-evanglism", "preparing the lost to receive", "providing rational warrant for Christianity's truth claims" and many other nonsense and anti-biblical expressions. All of that inane refuse would fall away if they merely paid attention to and obeyed this great summary passage:
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
That Word of Christ alone is the power to save the lost; it needs no assistance from the evangelistic apologist.
1 Cor 1.17
Look at the stark contrast that the (faithful!) Apostle Paul makes in the context of his presentation of the gospel to the lost:
1 Cor 1.17
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
And just what would this cleverness of speech be, relative to our socially, culturally and intellectually advanced country in the 21st century? Well, without doubt, it is any approach that tends to downplay the stark call of the gospel to simple faith and repentance. It also would be comprised of such strategies as:
- any attempt to show the “relevance of the Bible to modern man” (which implies that it might not naturally be relevant, or that its relevance is obscure);
- any attempt to side-step the spiritual deadness of the lost and appeal mainly to his/her intellect;
- any attempt to “modernize” the old-fashioned gospel;
- thinking it necessary to prove God’s existence/the Bible’s authenticity, authority, reliability, etc./biblical consistency/ad nauseum before any mention of the gospel is made;
and so on.
In a word, this perfectly describes modern evangelistic apologetics. The result of these, and any strategy like these, renders the cross of Christ void!
Evangelistic apologist: do you really want to risk this by continuing your humanistic approach to the lost? Are you prepared to accept the massive responsibility for making the cross of Christ void by your “cleverness of speech”? Do you really think that you'll be safe through the judgment of The Day?
1 Cor 1.18-31
This is one of the clearest insights of the superlative perspective that the Apostle Paul held of the gospel. In it you see, without ambiguity, that nothing was more important to Paul and his message to the lost than the gospel of the cross of Christ:
1 Cor 1.18-31
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
What a text! It is one of my favorites in the Pauline epistles. We have a glimpse into the heart of the Apostle and his reverence for that message which is regarded by lost men as “foolishness”, “weak” and a “stumbling block” but which is in reality the very power of God!
And we never get far from the election of grace, either! (“But God has chosen …”, "by His doing ...") Why? “… so that no man may boast before God.”
So, where does this majestic passage leave the evangelistic apologist, who mistakenly thinks he/she must “set the stage” or “prepare the lost” or “pre-evangelize” for the message of the gospel?
Evangelistic apologist! The Lord certainly doesn’t need—or sanction—your practical sidestepping of the natural offense of the gospel. Your humanistic approach demonstrates your open and active contempt for the Lord and His Word.
1 Cor 2.1-5
The faithful Apostle continues the thought of the end of chapter 1:
1 Cor 2.1-5
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
This is how Paul would respond to the musings of the typical, modern evangelistic apologist! No message is more important to the salvation of the lost than the gospel of Christ, presented in all its foolishness and weakness (as defined by the lost). But, if the Lord is pleased to call them out of darkness, then that foolish, weak message of truth is all that is needed to save! The lost are saved by the power of God through that message.
1 Cor 2.14-16
I introduced this text in the chapter regarding the spiritual deadness of the lost. Sadly, though, it is a text that is nearly always omitted in articles on evangelistic apologetics:
1 Cor 2.14-16
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
From 1 Cor 1.18 through to the end of chapter 2, Paul has one message regarding the vitality of the gospel: it is the power of God to those who are to be saved. Anything, anything at all, which side-steps that true gospel can’t and won’t save because the lost have no natural capacity to receive or understand it. This text is one of the clearest on the subject of the spiritual deadness of the lost, yet the evangelistic apologist presses ahead with his/her mostly-intellectual approach to “winning the lost.”
You, evangelistic apologist, must understand this error or you risk “making the cross of Christ void” and misleading the lost into a false profession. As I’ve shown in another chapter, any “cleverness of speech” is nothing less than the presentation of “another gospel”. If you actually took the time to reflect on it you'd recognize that you will stand before the Lord Christ in the judgment and have no excuse for your typical "improvement" on the gospel—to the eternal expense of the lost.
Luk 12.11-12 and Luk 21.12-15
One of the typical characteristics of the activity of the evangelistic apologist is that the notion of studying all manner of extra-biblical information is required/strongly recommended in order to be ready to “defend the faith” (a “defense”, that is, which is according to their own definition rather than a biblical one). “After all,” the apologist claims, “the unbeliever likely has a number of intellectual obstacles that he/she needs to dispel before the lost is ready to receive the gospel. That preparation is the purpose of the requisite pre-evangelism.”
Apparently, the Lord Christ was ignorant of this requirement:
When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves [ἀπολογέομαι]; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.
The context is the Lord’s instruction given to His disciples in the eschatological chapters of the synoptic Gospels (Luk 21)—and they deal with the opportunity for witness, so the context also is evangelistic. There will be serious trials and imprisonments, the Lord said, and those trials will bring the opportunity for an effective witness. (Sounds very similar to 1 Pet 3.15, doesn’t it?)
By harmonizing Peter and the Lord we are able to infer that the “being ready” of Peter and the “make up your minds not to prepare beforehand” by the Lord are—and must be—the same preparation. What do you need? Nothing, except a readiness “to give an account for the hope that is in you”!
That’s all, that’s it, nothing more is needed for those divinely-opened opportunities!
And if that is your true disposition, then the Lord will grant to you an unrehearsed utterance and unassailable wisdom that the opponents of the Lord won’t be able "to resist or refute".
Am I aiming to eliminate any and all debate of extra-biblical issues and question the lost may raise? No, not by any means; as I’ve mentioned in other places in this series, there are venues and times where that is appropriate.
[Again, I think of the excellent work of James White and the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas. And, yes, I know that both have evangelistic overtones occasionally.]
But, that doesn’t change the fact that the Lord’s command is to be ready with the word of the gospel and its hope, not some series of canned responses to possible questions or an arsenal of extra-biblical facts and figures. For every hour you spend learning facts about the Bible, plan to spend 10 or 20 (or more!) hours learning the Bible itself! Concentrate your time on that which is true power: the Word of God, not your pathetic, humanistic “pre-evangelism” tactics.