From my (very limited) vantage point, American churches seem to be cultivating a growing interest in apologetics (that is, defending the faith and answering objections). In a pluralistic culture that grows ever diverse, it’s important for the church to formulate answers to the challenges. This is commendable and biblical (1 Peter 3:15).
But along with this new emphasis on apologetics runs a concurrent temptation for churches to confuse evangelism and apologetics, to confuse defending and proclaiming.
Examples of this are not hard to find. In an interview with Christianity Today, Brian McLaren blurs traditional evangelism and apologetics to the point where they are really indistinguishable. I think this reflects a broader confusion.
This blurring of lines and even an apologetics-for-evangelism replacement is especially dangerous because it relocates the ultimate goal of the Gospel. In apologetics we seek the intellectual assent of others by overcoming their questions and engaging their obstacles. But the goal of evangelism is to proclaim the message of the Cross and see God (by His sovereign grace) produce personal brokenness, humility, and repentance.
By replacing evangelism with apologetics, we may unwittingly replace weeping hearts for nodding heads. Carried out ecclesiastically, everyday evangelism gets replaced by group meetings led by experts.
So I was especially encouraged by these comments in Mark Dever’s new book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Crossway: 2007):
“… practicing apologetics is a good thing, but it’s not evangelism. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism … By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection” (pp. 77-78).
And with this shift from evangelism to apologetics comes a subversive shift in agenda. Dever writes,
“Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ’s agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him” (p. 78).
This is a great point to stop for personal reflection. Does what I call evangelism look more like apologetics? Is the ultimate goal of my evangelism aimed towards mere agreement? Or am I lovingly and gently calling sinners to see sin as personal sin, and see wrath as wrath directed towards them? Am I calling for repentance, encouraging “godly grief,” seeking repentance from “dead works,” and a clinging to the Cross (Acts 26:20; 2 Cor. 7:10; Heb. 6:1)? In short, is my evangelism marked as defending or proclaiming?
These are good things to consider.