Apologetics in the Manner of Jesus

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Truth is the point of reference we share with all human beings. No one can live without truth. Though we may disagree about which particular things are true or false, allegiance to the truth–whatever the truth may be–permits us to stand alongside every person as honest fellow inquirers. Our attitude is therefore not one of ‘us and them,’ but of ‘we.’ And we are forever here to learn and not only to teach.

Dallas Willard, “Apologetics in the Manner of Jesus” in Renewing the Christian Mind

Apologetics is the Christian discipline of theological argumentation concerned with the defense of particular doctrines, beliefs, or practices. The Latin term apologia translates “defense.” Christian apologists often cite 1 Peter 3:15, which in part reads, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Cast out of your mind the notion that argument can only be conducted in anger, or that arguments are always and only about power. Calm, reasoned arguments can be made. And they are often made. If willingly entered into by parties who are share a common objective of arriving at what is true, good, and beautiful, arguments can be decided on the merits. Arguments can be helpful. I wrote yesterday about arguments, not for the sake of argument, but toward wisdom, or the maturation and development of the human soul.

In that same essay cited above, Willard writes:

So, if at all possible–sometimes it is not, due to others–we ‘give our account’ in an atmosphere of mutual inquiry animated by generous love. However firm we may be in our convictions, we do not become overbearing, contemptuous, hostile, or defensive. For we know that Jesus himself would not do so because we cannot help people in that way. He had no need of it, nor do we. And in apologetics as elsewhere, he is our model and our master. Our confidence is totally in him. That is the ‘special place’ we give him in our hearts–how we ‘sanctify Christ in our hearts as Lord’–in the crucial service of apologetics.

I’ve always been struck by Willard’s contention that “Love of those we deal with will help us to observe them accurately and to stay entirely away from manipulating them–meanwhile intensely longing for them to recognize that Jesus Christ is master of the cosmos in which they live.” Willard understood apologetics to be a helping ministry, and as such, it must be conducted in a spirit of neighborly love.

Thus, to be an effective apologist requires undergoing a spiritual formation, not only a disciplining of the mind but of the body, wherein one is free to love one’s neighbor as oneself, to reason freely and without fear, to seek the good of the other, to put self aside, from a place of security derivative of one’s position as a child and servant of God.

Discern, then Respond

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