Evangelism and Apologetics in Post-modern Times

8:12 am | Emergent Church | Apologetics

The Smart Christian blog recently posted some discussion and links to free lectures by Jerram Barrs on the ministry of L’Abri and Francis Schaeffer. Several ideas from this post jumped out at me:

L’Abri was one of the first major outreaches to post-moderns or what we call today emergents, without compromising biblical propositional truth. L’Abri was truth expressed in love through relational community. L’Abri was not a ministry of accommodation that we see so often today by those who are attempting to be relevant to the postmodern culture.

I am forced to agree. The ministry of Francis Schaeffer - fully immersed in a Biblical Christianity and yet able to speak powerfully to the times in which it was in - should be revisited as a model for how we in the 21st century can more meaningfully speak to the people of our time.

Sadly however I find that many emerging Christians do not take the time to engage with Schaeffer’s thought, much less the thought of the people most profoundly influenced by him - such as Jerram Barrs and Nancy Pearcey. Jerram Barrs’ book ‘Being Human’ takes many of the ideas of Francis Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’ and brings something greater out of the whole. Likewise, Barrs’ ‘The Heart of Evangelism’ does the same for having a passion for evangelism. Nancy Pearcey’s contributions have also given us a sharper insight into our current culture, particularly her recent ‘Total Truth’. This brings me to my next observation:

Schaeffer saw himself primarily as an evangelist not as an apologist.

One of the problems that I see that saturates both Evangelical and emerging churches is the tendency of people to divorce evangelism and apologetics. Apologetics is seen as heady and unspiritual since it is allegedly disconnected from the realities of reaching out to culture. People don’t like to be hit over the head with the truth, we are told, they need to be loved into the Kingdom. These ideas serve to hamper those in the church who, with the gifting of evangelism, have pursued apologetics to improve their witness to the world. The reality is that Christians typically do not study apologetics as a dry exercise in intellectual superiority, or so that they can win debates and look good. Christians who study apologetics do so to be better able to respond to the real life opportunities for evangelism that do arise. Apologetics is the handmaiden of evangelism, yet it is looked down upon as a hindrance to evangelism. Francis Schaeffer’s ministry shows how a passion for evangelism that is aided by a powerful apologetic can be brought together, and that together the two work as a stunning pair.

Part of the difficulty that we have today in allowing the two to work synergistically is that Evangelicals and emergents are hampered by a lack of vision of how apologetics fits into the work of evangelism. For some Christians, apologetics is seen as ‘head knowledge’ rather than ‘heart knowledge’ of the gospel, and they have unwittingly bought into a Gnostic view of the intellectual mind against the feeling and perceptive spirit. More generally, however, I suspect that most Christians simply don’t see how to reconcile evangelism to apologetics. Apologetics involves study and intelligence, which is difficult and time consuming. It is left as the calling of a few in the body to pursue and excel at. The problem is that we cannot rely on a small handful of intellectual champions to be present at each and every intersection of daily life where the opportunities for evangelism and the need for an apologetic response arise. Each member of the body need some degree of apologetic training that is relevant to the cultural context in which they find themselves. At the same time, they need to understand how apologetics and evangelism work in tandem. For some people, the relationship of apologetics and evangelism is obvious and intuitive, but for many believers this is not the case. In no small part the task of training in apologetics involves showing people how evangelism and apologetics can work together.




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