Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Best Defense is a Good Offense (As Long as You Have Steve Young at QB)

Charlie delivered today's sermon on the subject of Christian Apologetics (I understand, apologetics is not about saying you are sorry but rather about defending your position) at it's customary starting place in 1Peter with the "Always be ready to make your defense..." line and weaving in Paul's speech at the Aeropagus. It sounded to me like Paul was more on the offensive at the time as he was "proclaim"ing Christ's resurrection and averring that God "commands all people everywhere to repent." Why, because the world will be "judged in righteousness." Not exactly, "Believe or you are going to H...," but pretty close. If I get the gist of Charlie's theme, we should not be evangelical to the point of threatening people with damnation if they do not become confirmed Christians. Nor should we threaten our new confirmands with the eternal fires if they fall away from "organized religion." Charlie seemed to say that we should let our actions speak for themselves. Is that all there is to it?

This gets back to last week's theme of how to interact with the unchurched. Does anyone remember the "Decade of Evangelism?" I will be the first to admit that I did not stand on the street corner preaching or handing out "Be Episcopal or Burn" pamphlets. Like many Episcopalians, I felt ill equipped for evangelism despite a lifetime in the Church, arguing with my Sunday School teachers, being forced to attend as a teen, and punching my time card on Sundays. We do not train our young people to go out spread the Good News. It has taken years for me to develop my own apologetic to the point where I can even write this blog. Perhaps our religion has been too accepting of our scriptural illiteracy and passive Christianity.

While there is more than one approach to the issue of evangelism, Paul's approach worked, and logically it would seem a good approach to emulate. First, he knew his Bible. Second, he knew the Lord (the road to Damascus). Third, he was willing to "witness" and tell his personal story. Fourth, he was willing to spread the Gospel far and wide. Fifth, he was a good debater and had a strong apologetic. Sixth, he took on the burden of leadership, correcting and guiding the churches when they strayed. Last, he was ready to die as part of his apologetic. Now, I just don't see Paul as someone who would have been comfortable sitting back quietly making tents, leading a simple Christian life, and waiting for someone to come and challenge him on his faith. Rather, he was on the offensive. For this reason, I disagree with Charlie's thesis. I don't think we can sit on our Episcopal haunches and watch the decline of the Church.

Look around you, people are still acting as if they can walk the walk alone. I see plenty of people who could stand to hear the Good News, to walk the good walk, to live the good life, and to find eternal life, through Christ our Lord. Lord, give us the courage to throw the ball down field, but could you just send us the next Jerry Rice to run alongside Steve Smith?


  1. May I add that Paul knew his audience. His sermon on Mars Hill was tailored, indeed crafted, to address the philosophers steeped in the Greek ethos. When one reads his letters to the Greek Churches (I Corinthians 13 comes to mind with its references to "seeing through a glass darkly" reminiscent of Plato's Allegory of the Cave), one sees that he knew where his listeners were starting.

    When it comes to evangelism, I think that is the mistake me Christians make. We adopt a "one size fits all" mode of witnessing and refuse to listen to or heed the Holy Spirit's prompting in individual situations. This doesn't mean we ignore the message of the Gospel: Sin, Judgment, Grace, Blood Atonement, etc. Rather, we treat each situation as the Holy Spirit wills it.

    Christ himself employed different means and methods: From dealing with woman at the well to chastising the moneylenders.

    Bottom line: While we all may not be called to be Evangelists like Paul, we are all called to be witnesses for Christ crucified.


  2. Paul's knowledge of his audience makes a good point. He must have been a good listener. How do you get to know your audience? Not by going straight out and telling them your position. Instead, you have to be a good listener. Sometimes the key to being a good debater is to really listen to the other point of view instead of rehearsing your own presentation in your head while the opposition in speaking.