According to the Pew Research Center, mainline Christianity is in decline in the US. With those interviewed over the phone between 2018-2019, the research center came away with 65% of American adults claiming Christianity as their religion. That percentage is down 12 percentage points from the last decade. What we are seeing as a culture could be described as attrition of cultural Christianity. People who would normally claim allegiance to a faith community are no longer going through the motions. They are open and honest about what they feel, think, and believe. There are no hidden topics for conversation, and all truths are counted as equal. The shift in culture and perspective has sent many churches to take steps back to reorganize and re-evaluate their approach in the community. How can the church thoughtfully share the gospel to the surrounding community and across the world?
We must adopt a gospel-centered apologetic; equipping us to engage the culture that we live in.
So, what exactly is a “gospel-centered apologetic?” Succinctly, it is, “a defense [as in a court of law] based in and through the good news of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:15 unpacks this idea for the church and draws a pattern to apply and follow.
Search our hearts
When I began investigating the reasons for my faith, the first thing I did was hoard as much information as I could to be prepared for any objection or question I might encounter. I tried to start my defense in my head instead of my heart. If we as Christians are to explain why Jesus is the answer, our defense must start in our hearts rather than our heads. Christian apologetics stagnated in the early 20th century because it settled for being only an academic exercise. It left the pursuit of Christ and replaced it with a pursuit of knowledge. The defense of the gospel must also be understood as a spiritual battle and discipline. As such before we give an answer, we must be in a right standing of holiness before we enter that spiritual battle. Paul explains how in verse 15, “In your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as holy.” The gospel must start inside of us and work its supernatural power through us. It will change us from the inside-out; leading our peers, friends, or family to ask us what is different about us. The gospel will be used by the Spirit of God to change us into the image of Christ so that we can be used to give effective answers and ask insightful questions as we share the gospel.
Prepare our minds
Now, with our hearts in the right place, we must “always be prepared to make a defense.”
Basic level, it means that we have rehearsed to ourselves how we came to believe in the gospel and are ready to share with others when the Spirit leads us.
Paul exemplifies this in Acts 26. Read through the chapter, and see for yourself how Paul gave his defense: First, he was relevant to what King Agrippa knew. Second, he was thoughtful in the presentation of the facts. Third, he was confident in the truth and rationality of his testimony. These are just a few characteristics that Christians can take and integrate into their own testimony. The church is called to present and defend the gospel in a truthful, and rational way. It all starts with preparation.
Aim towards the Cross
In presenting a gospel-centered apologetic, Christians must make the aim of their testimony and defense to show the world Christ, and him crucified. Peter finishes verse 15 with, “for the hope that lies within you.” Hope, as a biblical term, is a confident expectation based on the person and promises of Christ. This confidence is only found in Christ, to whom our answers must be pointed toward. It’s because of Jesus that we have any hope at all in this world that we live in! It’s because of Jesus we have confidence in our future! It’s because of Jesus we are not spiritually dead but alive!
One of my favorite quips about Christianity is: “You cannot take Christ out of Christian, and -ian cannot help you.” Within other formal religious structures, you can take away the religious leaders and nothing substantial will change. However, the Christian faith rises or falls on the person of Christ. Tying all of these thoughts together, the end goal of giving a defense of the Christian faith is to bring others to Christ. Any apologetic that does not flow to and from the cross is a bankrupt apologetic. The truth and meaning that people need today can only be found in Him.
Attitude is everything
Imagine you are at a high-end restaurant. The atmosphere is perfect, the experience has been top-notch, and your highly anticipated meal is on its way. What would your reaction be if the waiter served your rather expensive meal on a recently used, unwashed plate? If you are like me, you would get up from the table and take your patronage somewhere else! In the same way, if we are to point others to Jesus we must not push them away by the way we present Jesus. We are to give our answers in a spirit of gentleness and respect. Literally, we should display a spirit of gentleness and reverential fear or terror. We are to recognize when our speech becomes tainted with pride and abrasiveness. This is not the attitude of, ‘Some of you who think that you know everything are beginning to annoy those of us who do.’ It’s an attitude of humility and grace. It’s an attitude that will shame anyone that slanders us. It’s the attitude of Jesus; when he was slandered, he did not return slander.
The world needs Jesus, and Christians are His representatives. As we live in our communities and interact with people in them, we must be continuously thinking and praying about how we can answer their questions about Christianity and the hope that we display in our lives. In applying these four principles based in 1Peter 3:15, I trust that they will be helpful and you will be able to use them in forming your gospel-centered apologetic.