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'Apologetics sermons rarely work' - True or False?

Glen Scrivener from Revival Media and Tom Price from The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics debate the claim that 'apologetics sermons rarely work'.

True - By Glen Scrivener

Being 'anti-apologetics' is like being 'anti-good works'. Who could possibly be against good works? Well, every Protestant is – if those good works are placed on the wrong side of the line. Good works are great. But their proper place is on the far side of knowing Jesus.

Revelation is exactly parallel to salvation (John 17:3) – to know God is to be saved by him and vice versa. Therefore, just as we don’t work our way towards God (and get topped up by grace), so we don’t think our way towards God (and get topped up by revelation). The arrow must come all the way down. Gospel preaching  is not bottom-up philosophizing, it's top-down proclamation.

Paul says "the world in its wisdom" does not know God, therefore he doesn't play 'the philosopher of this age' (see 1 Corinthians 1-2). Instead Paul preaches a weak and foolish message – 'Christ and Him crucified' – trusting that God's Spirit will vindicate God's word in the context of God's people. The Corinthians wanted to appear wise but it turns out that a cruciform church of 'nobodies' best authenticates the 'word of the cross'!

Such preaching is wise (2:6). God's gospel is supremely rational – the trouble is we're not! The 'truth-suppressing' minds of Adam's race are 'hostile to God', 'alienated', 'enemies' and 'blinded' by Satan (Romans 1:20; 8:7; Colossians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4; cf. Ephesians 4:17-19). The Greeks considered the mind our least faulty faculty, in Scripture it's the most. Our catastrophic fall from the heights of Genesis 1 has meant not only badness but also madness!

What should preachers do? Ignore all intellectual objections and just shout Scriptures? No – though we would do well to follow Jesus and be the ones asking the questions. Am I recommending a flight from truth into an internal realm of subjectivity? Please no! Peter urges us to be prepared with answering words (apologia, 1 Peter 3:15). Paul tells us to "persuade" and "reason". The issue is how and on what basis? The apostles did so from the assumption that Jesus is Lord, He rose from the dead, the Scriptures are true, etc, etc. If we begin by doubting these foundations we saw off the limb on which we sit.  

But if we preach the weak and foolish-looking Lamb then, by the Spirit, the world will see a mighty Lion. And the Lion can defend Himself.

False - By Tom Price

I agree with Glen that we should point people towards Jesus Christ. I think we also agree that reason cannot build a bridge to God. We cannot go to God. God comes to us.

But here are 5 reasons why we can do apologetics with preaching:

1. In the bible, apologetics and preaching go together. 1 Peter 3:15 calls us to ‘make defence’ for the hope that is in us. Biblical preachers also adapt to the group they engage with. Jesus uses apologetics (Luke 10/Matthew 27), and Paul’s evangelism is probably best described as ‘reasoning’ with Jews and Gentiles. Preaching to Gentiles in Acts 17, Paul starts bottom-up, engaging apologetically with Greek culture, quoting and alluding to their literature.

2. Worldviews matter: you can be the most gifted communicator, but people can still misunderstand you. We may need to help them to clear away some of the barriers and blockages (2 Cor 10:3-5) in their worldview. Apologetics can help people to see Jesus as he really is. It isn’t about distraction, or diversion, its about engagement and clarification.  

3. Apologetics can be relational because honest, heartfelt questions are relational open doors. Done well, apologetics can lead people towards thinking about Jesus. Good apologetics invites us to transcend ideology. I want to invite people to discover not a new set of beliefs or ideas, nor simply a new vision for life, but rather the living man: Jesus Christ. I want to help them start a loving friendship with him.

4. Minds matter to God. We can fall into two errors here. Saying that the mind is everything, or that the mind is nothing. The mind was damaged in the fall but not so that God can’t use it or appeal to it. This is part of what God is doing when he reveals himself in language, community and relationship – binding himself to communication, reason and history. That is how seriously he takes us.

5. Finally, it works. I have personally seen – encouragingly numerous - people making serious and heartfelt decisions to follow Jesus through preaching and apologetics combined. It’s exciting and real. God came from the top, down to us at the bottom, and he alone lifts us up. I speak from personal experience too: my own story is discovering God through philosophy and movies.

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