Perhaps one of the most important things that I ever learned from my mother was how to have an honest, open, friendly debate. For years, I watched as she welcomed those of other faiths into our home and engaged them in dialogue, presenting her faith (often while enquiring about theirs) with a gentleness and finesse which left everyone feeling at ease. Everything I know about apologetics and the rules of debate began with her.
Before I start sharing what she taught me, however, we need to take a moment for some etymology. (“Etymology” is the study of word origins and should not be confused with “entomology” which is the study of all things creepy crawly.) Our English word “apology” comes from the Greek “apologia” and no, it doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry. Instead, to the Greek mind, an apology was a “defense for” something whether it be one’s actions, philosophy, cooking style, or faith. The best orators, those who held the attention of the masses in the public square were excellent “apologists”, reasoning for their own point of view in such a manner as to convince others to embrace it as well. It should come as no surprise then that “evangelism” and “apologetics” go hand in hand, helping us to present the Christian faith in a reasonable and ordered fashion for the purpose of bringing others “into the fold”.
In order to make a great defense, however, you’re going need to know the rules of informal debate. For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at these rules and how they apply in different evangelistic situations. This week, however, we’re going to present you with just one… and it may be the most important of them all:
Rule 1 – Always Bring it Back to Jesus and the Gospel
The core of Christianity is Christ. It is Christ Who created and it is Christ Who redeems. Not surprisingly, this is one doctrine upon which most religions differ. For this reason, my parents always used to emphasize the importance of keeping our focus on Jesus. You may wander off into a peripheral issue or take a quick trip down a rabbit trail, but the conversation must always come back to its Core.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree upon mode of baptism or the importance of enforcing laws against theft – according to traditional, Biblical Christianity, those things don’t save you. You and the Bible can be in perfect agreement upon every issue, but if you don’t stand in the same place regarding what is required to spend eternity in the presence of God, it simply doesn’t matter. If you want to present your faith clearly, you must present Christ as its center. Go ahead, answer the questions others have about your faith, but don’t lose sight of what really matters. If you’re going to be an effective apologist, you’ll need to take your cue from the Apostle Paul, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Next week, we’ll take a look at a few more “rules of debate”. In the meantime, take a moment to share your own experiences with conversations that did (or didn’t) follow “Rule 1” in the comment box below!