How do they work together? In the area of evangelism and missions there is a big discussion going on. Just what constitutes mission? What is evangelism? Should I be sharing reasons for believing before or after evangelism? And in our own lives many of us ask: “If I don’t tell someone the whole gospel in an evangelistic conversation, have I therefore failed?”
I want to introduce you to a model of evangelism and apologetics that Andrew Fellows (L’Abri) calls the “Apologetics Spectrum”. It is both practical and Biblical. Andrew says that there are three kinds of activity:
At the subversive stage, the believer is interested in loosening the chains. His aim is to ask questions or present reflections in the form of film, music, literature and art that will enable the sceptic to have the relational and social scaffolding to be able to doubt his or her underlying, yet opposing ideas and beliefs. The aim is to “shake the cage”. Try watching the news with a sceptical friend, and then catch their moral reaction to one of the stories of injustice, by asking, “Do you think that your sense of moral outrage points towards real right and real wrong?” Jesus used this kind of approach a great deal and his questions showed that he listened closely. Jesus’ questions were subversive because they opened up the issue, bringing it into the brightest of lights and getting to the heart of the matter. If you want to improve at this stage, then you’ll need to focus less on gospel outlines and more on developing an understanding of art, philosophy and contemporary culture.
Discussing films can be a good vehicle for introducing the gospel. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a favourite film of mine, because it has such a real view of love. This often prompts questions of what I mean by this, which allows me to explain that the whole film builds towards the corridor scene at the end, when two people agree to love each other even though they know they will get fed up sometimes. It’s a kind of warts and all view of love, which I like, because it points to what I think real love is all about; something that still wants us in spite of our faults. You may not always get all the way to the gospel, but that doesn’t matter. I will follow up the conservation with questions like, “Love must come from somewhere – Where do you think it comes from?” You don’t have to feel pressured to tell them everything about the gospel right away, because the idea is to nudge their worldview a little bit nearer, one idea at a time. If they can understand how God loves them, for example, then perhaps they might find it easier to be honest about their need for him?
The persuasion stage involves both listening and giving reasons for the truth and reliability of the Christian worldview. This involves defending your own position by sharing the reasons behind your belief. Perhaps this might take the form of presenting a sceptic with some of the excellent reasons we have for accepting the Bible as an accurate picture of the historical Jesus. Alternatively, it might be as simple as sharing how much difference having a relationship with God has made in your own life. Try to stick to facts rather than feelings. One of my favourite approaches is to present people with the evidence for Jesus himself. I often say something like this, “If Jesus really did and said the things that the Bible records him doing – raising people from the dead; knowing secret things about people; growing back limbs; teaching with incredible insight; predicting his own death; coming back from the dead; healing incurable diseases; demonstrating power over nature – then it seems to me that any reasonable person has to say, ‘I need to listen to what Jesus tells us about reality, and I probably need to re-orientate my life around his teaching better’.” Finally I say, “So the real question is this: Is the Bible an accurate and reliable picture of what Jesus said and did?” Since the answer to this, even after 200 years of sceptical criticism by the toughest scholars in the world, is that the Bible does present an accurate picture of Jesus, then that suggests to me that I should view Christianity as true and therefore I should try and follow Jesus myself to the best of my abilities.
Give this a try in a conversation with a sceptic sometime, as you will find this is a very engaging approach to take. To grow better at persuasion you’ll also need to delve deeper into the areas of apologetics, philosophy and critical thinking. Get an understanding of what a logical fallacy is and learn to be able to recognise a few (Straw person, personal attack, genetic fallacy). Jesus was a great persuader and he was excellent at appealing to the common sense of the people he met. When we try this approach it is inevitable that some people will take more persuading than others and we can sometimes misread situations. I’ve done that a few times and it is good to know that God is bigger than the mistakes that I have made.
Finally, the proclamation stage requires unpacking the core gospel message. We want to communicate the revealed message of Jesus and the golden theological truths of creation, fall, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, salvation and sanctification. Summaries of the gospels are useful for helping people to understand the central concepts of grace and truth that lie behind the ultimate price that Jesus paid for humankind on the cross. If you want to improve how you communicate this, then it is best to examine the theology in more depth and to apply this to your own life first. It requires careful handling of scripture to unpack the message of the Bible faithfully and it is helpful to ensure you really understand what the gospel actually is – you’ll find a summary of it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Jesus spoke to many different people, but he always got to the gospel message sooner or later. He conveyed the need for people to actually put their trust in the one who would die for them on the cross in order to rescue them from everything that their sins meant that they deserved. Proclamation can be extremely difficult and sometimes we feel let down when our evangelistic events disappoint. That doesn’t mean that we need to edit the battle plan, but sometimes we may need to make more of an effort.
So, the Apologetics Spectrum provides an understanding of mission that marries evangelism and apologetics together, but in all of the processes it is important that you also keep a conversation going with God, as the Holy Spirit may sometimes provide useful insights or may unlock the person from the inside. Social networking is also an important part of mission, although too often we just settle for this and never get to persuasion or proclamation. Likewise, sometimes we only focus on proclamation when other approaches maybe helpful too. Ideally, we want our mission work to be more friendly, more convincing, and more biblical and I think that the Apologetics Spectrum is an effective way of reaching the world for Christ. So get out there and be creative with how you reach people and always remember that God is so much bigger than your mistakes and he can always catch the ones you miss.
- Be a cinema-goer. Expect films, music and TV to communicate certain messages and be alert to what these are. See if you can work out what deeper questions are being asked (if you need help with this visit www.culturewatch.org).
- Ask people questions, such as:
- What are your biggest questions?
- Where do you think our sense of right and wrong comes from?
- Did you have a religious upbringing?
- Try to share facts rather than feelings.
- Avoid arguing and discuss instead (one topic, for example, would be to discuss Jesus as a person in history).
- Don’t preach, but be sensitive.
- Express your enjoyment and ask lots of questions.
- Know what the gospel message is (read 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
- Be down to earth and explain how the gospel affects you personally.