I was recently listening to the Acts 29/Gospel Coalition podcast, Churches Planting Churches, where my brother Matt Chandler was sharing about his new book, Take Heart, Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief. You can listen to the episode here. What struck me was their conversation related to hospitality and its importance to engaging people with the gospel in our day. I could not agree more.
Throughout my evangelistic work on college campuses, planting churches, and helping Christians think through a thoughtfully engaged witness, I have been shocked by how little time followers of Jesus spend with non-Christians. Chandlers recommendation, along with others like Tim Chester’s A Meal with Jesus, is to open our home and dinner tables to be with those who need the gospel. Again, just a hearty amen for hearty meals with Jesus and non-Christian friends. I would even say we need to not simply invite folks to our homes but spend time other’s spaces as well.
Matt also commented on something that led me to ask a specific question. He made a mentioned in passing that presuppostional apologetics is perhaps a less useful methodology today for reaching out to others when compared to the practice of hospitality. I have no bone to pick with this, nor do I desire to discuss apologetic methodology in this post (I explain those here), but I did ask the question: What is the place of apologetics in the life of the church?
I am currently wrapping up an almost two-decade Master of Divinity degree in Applied Apologetics. I have engaged my course work here and there over many years while staying engaged in a full time ministry that seeks to engage lost people with the gospel. I think quite a bit about what myself and others might need to be effective witnesses in our current cultural milieu. What I have found fascinating is that the way that Apologetics can be practiced and the way it is taught academically are many times very different. Let me explain.
Apologetics As Often Taught
As an academic discipline, Apologetics, in many cases, is taught by beginning a deep dive engagement with the question of Faith and Reason. There are even books with this exact title. What can we know by faith? What can we know by reason and thinking? How do we relate philosophy and revelation/scripture? How does reasoning serve theology and confirming Christian truth claims? Or can it do so at all? etc. etc. The way one philosophically and theologically resolves all these Faith/Reason puzzles usually lands someone in a camp of apologetic methodology.
The classical apologist seeking to use reason to prove things about God and Christian truth and the presuppositionalist engaging with others to show them indirectly that their worldview makes no sense without God or even on its own terms. Once you land in a methodological camp, then you “do apologetics” either by making arguments, giving answers, building a case for faith, or helping someone else to see the truth of the Gospel in light of their own worldview bankruptcy. You then use apologetics as a tool in witness and evangelism. You might look at this whole enterprise in the following way:
In the Scripture, the primary text that calls us to give an apologetic is 1 Peter 3:15. I’ll give you the surrounding verses here for context:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
A very condensed, high level overview of the book of 1 Peter can help us to see several things about the context of this verse for God’s people and their calling:
- They are called “elect exiles” - they are chosen, saved, and called by God to belong to him and are therefore insider-outsiders in this world.
- They are to live in holiness and the fear of the Lord - they are to be a set apart people for God’s purposes.
- Their purpose is to “declare his excellencies” of the one who has called them out of darkness into light to rep God’s rule and reign to others as a community.
- They are to live in the world in a certain way even in suffering. We look to the example of Jesus as the suffering servant who trusts God and fulfills his mission.
- In their suffering they are to stand with Jesus, follow him under his Lordship. In our hearts the matter is settled. Christ is the one who calls me and leads my life.
- They are to be prepared to give a reason (an απολογία or apologetic) for the hope that is in them when anyone asks.
- They are do so with gentleness and respect.
Visually represented, this is the place of apologetics in the New Testament:
We live out the mission as God’s community with Christ as our Lord. We are to be prepared to give a reason/defense/apologetic for our hope when people ask! This requires us to be ready with good answers, biblical truth, and sound theology to share with others. The manner in which we do this should be with gentleness and respect (some good ole G&R) as we walk among the people of the world.
So let me return to Matt’s challenge for us to be hospitable in the context of our day to day lives. While people are coming to your home, or even better, you are in theirs, we should be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Notice 1 Peter 3 seems to assume people will ask! This is not uncommon for people getting to know one another in real friendship and hospitality.
Apologetics and thoughtful witness effectively takes place where there is real and loving presence with others. We love our neighbors, we love our enemies and we are with them up close and in person. Much like Jesus in the incarnation, who became flesh and dwelt among the people, we have a calling to do likewise. In this context we will also be answering peoples' actual questions. Answering our friends real questions in the context of hospitality and friendship can actually help them see the truth of the gospel flowing in the context of their life.
When Christians live like this, they will find a hunger and need for things like evangelism training and apologetics. As they begin to know and love real people, their desire to share more effectively will grow. Hospitality and thoughtful witness belong hand in hand. This is the way of Jesus. This is what Peter is conveying to us when he exhorts us to give an apologetic. This is also a way towards effective missional engagement with our friends.