Evangel-less Christianity in the Public Square

Today’s culture offers countless religious options, but none of them offer persuasive, factual evidence. See why our Christian faith offers the answers.

by Craig A. Parton

America is a product of three centuries of secular culture. The roots of that culture are found in the earliest at-tempts to engage in what was thought to be a “safe,” biblical criticism aimed at the first books of the Old Testament. Radical surgery on the Old Testament was soon performed on the New, and untethered man quickly concluded that he did not need any Word from God to give him either morals (found so obviously in nature and her laws) or an explanation for the origin of the species. The Bible was dead. God was dead. Man was free and had in hand a self-diagnosis of perfect health. This brief moment of delusional peace came to a decisive end with World War I. Man was now dead too.

Culture went from a total optimism in man’s ability to create his own meaning to utter pessimism and a retreat into despair. Painting, music and literature, unleashed from any concept of being gifts from God, degenerated into narcissistic efforts to shock the conscience. Good or bad did not matter because it was all about accepting the mantra recited in the public square that all views (save for biblical Christianity) are equally valuable. Rushing into the vacuum came Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, pointing out that Christianity (with its handmaidens of logic and rationality) had kept man from discovering inner divinity and his essential oneness with the cosmos.

Christians were defenseless against the inroads of Eastern and New Age religious positions. Instead of proclaiming the faith once delivered to the saints and defending it with the factual arguments honed over the centuries by apologists from Cyprian to Chesterton, Christians defaulted from defending the Gospel to being the Gospel. The casualties in our culture have been the loss of apologetics, the loss of evangelism and the loss of the Gospel.

Ignore Apologetics and You Get a Defense-less Christianity

The word apologetics comes from the Greek text of 1 Peter 3:15: “Be ready always to give a defense (apologia) for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Two broadsides are delivered from this passage.

First, apologetics, or defending the faith, is biblically commanded. It is not optional to give a reason for the hope that is within us, nor is it relegated to the pastoral office or to a special class of “intellectual” Christians with a university degree. Second, sharing you (whether it is your heart or your testimony) is not biblical apologetics. Instead, we are to give reasons for believing in Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death and resurrection from the dead and are to persuasively present the evidence that demands a verdict.

Apologetics is about giving reasons. It is not a form of philosophy, a species of systematic theology or simply a subset of preaching, meant only for those in the pastoral office.

There is something to learn from the fact that the most effective apologists in the last century were not trained in formal theology at all (C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien). One need not have a seminary education to be effective in the defense of the faith within culture.

Defense-less Lutherans and Christ-less Liberals

Just when Christians had every reason to provide factually based responses to the challenges of speculative worldviews, certain Lutheran teaching presented theological reasons not to do effective apologetics. Lutherans happily folded what might be left of apologetics into the office of preaching. Preaching was done solely by the trained clergy. Defending the faith was for those who had no trust in the preached Word. Preaching is not defending. Defending means assembling arguments and evidence.

Today, a multiplicity of religious options are being presented, all claiming to change one’s life, but none of them offer anything resembling persuasive factual evidence. The Christian has the answers. In fact, offering evidence for belief is unique to Christian truth claims. Apologetics that focuses on the case for Christ is not antithetical to evangelism. In fact, such a defense of the faith is evangelism.

Apologetics as Evangelism

It is not apologetics instead of evangelism. It is not apologetics versus evangelism. It is not apologetics without evangelism. Apologetics that centers on the facticity and centrality of the death and resurrection of our Lord for the forgiveness of sins is apologetics as evangelism.

It is high time that, like Paul in Acts 17, we defend the Gospel in the public square since the current brand of evangel-less Christianity being offered is really no Christianity at all.

> A version of this article also appeared recently in Higher Things.

> Go to www.cph.org to order Parton’s The Defense Never Rests, a Lutheran approach to apologetics.

About the Author: Craig A. Parton is a trial lawyer in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the author of three books on Christian apologetics.


Lose Apologetics and You Get A Christ-less Christianity

In the past, Christians ignored apologetics and lost what apologetics was defending: the Gospel. But this is exactly where so many well-meaning Christians miss the 3:10 train to Yuma. Because the Gospel is not the center and circumference of their theology (it is just one of many equally important doctrines), they end up with what is secondary in Scripture becoming primary while what is primary becomes secondary.

So if apologetics is about the defense of the faith, and specifically of the Gospel, what then is the Gospel? Just this: Christ died for sinners, and you qualify. The Gospel is all about what was done for you and in spite of you. We are the problem, not the solution. Any apologetic that is about your anything (except your sin) is not defending the Gospel.

When defending the faith in the public square or anywhere else, stop and ask: Is what I just talked about in the Apostles’ Creed or not? If not, a flare should go up.

Christians in culture thought they could ignore apologetics with no harm to evangelism or the Gospel. Christians stopped contending, then stopped evangelizing, then stopped believing there was anything worth contending for or evangelizing about. It’s time we change that.

–C.A.P.

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