Many a Christian apologist and evangelist can be seen standing above their opponent—either physically shouting down at people or intellectually snubbing one another in arrogance veiled in defending the truth. Too often, apologetics and evangelism are done in a tone and posture that is inconsistent with the Gospel and the God that they proclaim. Is this the only way to do evangelism? Is this the only way to engage a skeptical world with the good news of Jesus? What do I mean by this?
Apologetics, rather than being a place where we meet non-Christians in their doubts, is a place where we merely proclaim the truth of the Christian faith. Attached with this can be an attitude of, “We are right, you are wrong. Believe what we believe.” While objectively we can say, this is a true statement, it fails to capture the nuance and complexity of human life, especially viewed from the angle of common grace.
When I first walked into Apologetics & Outreach at Covenant Theological Seminary, I was expecting to find the same information from previous encounters with apologetics: defense-based argumentation for the faith, ways to debunk various modern and atheistic beliefs, and an attitude of superiority shrouded in a defense of the truth. Thankfully, I was met with none of that as the man who lectured (Jerram Barrs) showed us a different way: rather than simply defending the truth, you can build bridges of decency with non-Christians, so that their stories are engaged with the true story of God’s word.
Again, rather than truth bombs, Jerram taught me the importance of building bridges with non-Christians to minister the Gospel of grace. Where can we affirm various gifts, strengths, and blessings that this person has? Where do we see God at work in their life? Where can we see traces of the image of God? Where can we gentle press the inadequacies of what they value and praise? Where can we demonstrate that God has not fully abandoned them? How can we show them the Savior the longs to be in relationships with them?
How can we do evangelism and engagement with common grace in mind? In this regard, Herman Bavinck is so helpful noting that:
From this common grace proceeds all that is good and true that we still see in fallen man. The light still shines in the darkness. The Spirit of God lives and works in everything that has been created. Therefore there still remain in man certain traces of the image of God.
Even in a darkened world, there is still light; even in a corrupted world, there is still glimmers of hope. Common grace gives us the ability to engage in a graceless world in a way that honors the fact that every person we encounter has been made in the image of God. Engaging the skeptic’s doubts with gentleness, honor, and respect, acknowledges the fact that the “Spirit of God lives and works in everything that has been created.”
In other words, doing apologetics and evangelism in a way that seeks to minister rather than merely demonstrates the grace we have received and the grace that this person is living in now (via common grace). What then is your posture towards an unbelieving world? Judgment? Condemnation? Do they simply need to “believe” or “hear” the truth? Or do they also need your grace? Do they also need your understanding? Do they also need your respect?
Brothers and sisters, remember, that even when engaging with a world that does not honor God as it ought, our calling is to be a people marked by gentleness of spirit, humility of engagement, and kindness of words, for God calls us: “Be ye kind and tender-hearted…”