The first time I talked with somebody who didn’t agree with me about who Jesus was, hands-down, I was right and they were wrong! But in my “rightness,” I was obnoxious—and wrong.
I won the argument but lost an opportunity to make a friend, and more important, lost an opportunity to use apologetics in order to have a continuing discussion with that person about what Jesus wanted to do in their life.
A worldview is the lens through which somebody perceives the world. It’s been said that perception is reality and is crucial for us to understand, because we can’t truly evangelize the world until we understand how others perceive it.
Think about it this way: Jesus said that He came to make us fishers of men (Matt. 4:19), and as fishers we must seek to understand what we’re trying to catch. So understanding someone’s worldview is like understanding the types of things that attract certain fish. Evangelism is the appropriate baiting of the hook. But, apologetics is the marrying of worldview and evangelism, and it represents efforts to reel them in!
Don’t Be So Condescending!
People need the love and peace that only a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus can give them. But we need to present it to them in a way that they can understand. In order to do that, we have to learn what makes them tick--their culture, if you will. We have to make a real effort to enter their world and attempt to see it through their eyes.
After we rebelled through our sin, Jesus came to this earth and was born dirt poor to an unwed teenage mom from the wrong side of the tracks. Jesus was a blue-collar worker. The Bible says that Jesus condescended and became one of us in order to understand us and ultimately win us back to Him (John 1:1-4; Hebrews 4:15 & Philippians 2:6-8).
Unapologetic About Apologetics
In seeking the lost, we don't have to be like non-Christians, act like them, talk like them, or dress like them; but we do have to enter their world and attempt to see it through their eyes. The term “apologetic” is a fancy name for the legitimate arguments we make about Jesus and His gospel in order to defend them. We not only inform others of the good news of the gospel (evangelism) but also defend it in a way that is true, correct, kind, respectful, intelligent and logical.
As Christians, we are to be prepared to give this defense of our faith in any situation. The most obvious command for an apologetic is: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (New International Version, 1 Pet. 3:15, 16).
In every case, when we begin the process of arguing our position, it is God and only God who ultimately brings around the heart of the hardened person to Him, working through us (1 Cor. 3:4-9). In the study of apologetics we confirm our faith--both for ourselves and for others who are truly searching for the truth.
Okay…let’s be honest: the Apostle Paul was a Jesus Freak! His life and exploits were incredible—to say the least—and somewhat intimidating to the average Christian.
Paul spent some time in Athens, Greece. How he responded to the Athenians’ needs within their own context is something that we all need to investigate and learn from. He effectively used the understanding of their worldview and most importantly, apologetics, to effectively evangelize people in that city.
In Acts 17:16-34 we find the story of his experiences, and we can learn six principles that can help us be more effective in how we reach others for Jesus, but before we get into them, you need to read the entire chapter (go on…I promise, I’ll wait right here).
1. We need to care enough about people to be concerned that they will die without a love relationship with Jesus Christ (v. 16). Paul was really bothered by what he was seeing in Athens. Everywhere he looked he saw idols, and that wasn’t cool! How about you? Do you get really upset by all the sin, death, disease, and dysfunction you see in the world? How about in your work, church, community, school? How about with your friends or your family? It’s easy to just unplug in front of the latest media and say to yourself, “Hey, it’s all good. It’s none of my business as long as I’m good!” Aren’t you glad that God didn’t say that about the sin problem in this world? Or that He doesn’t say that about you or me or your family or friends?
2. We should be ready with a defense of our faith anywhere and anytime (v. 17). Don’t miss it: Paul was hanging out, waiting for his evangelistic team to arrive when he was thrust before a group of people and asked to speak about his faith. Paul didn’t take Jesus’ command to spread the gospel and limit it to one day a week—and neither should we. Paul was always sharing Jesus, whether he was standing in front of a group of people or speaking to one person. It didn’t matter to him whether he was free or in jail; he always focused on evangelism; this wasn’t just his job, it was who he was!
3. There will always be people who disagree with you (v. 18). Have you ever heard the saying “Don’t shoot the messenger”? Remember this when you attempt to defend your faith. People sometimes get crazy mad at you and will even threaten you with physical violence. I find it interesting that in today’s culture of “tolerance,” people want the freedom to express themselves in any way, shape, or form, but you just can’t talk about Jesus! Jesus told His followers that they shouldn’t be surprised that the world will treat them like garbage (John 15:18-22).
4. The Holy Spirit will open incredible opportunities for you to share your faith in an even greater way (vv. 19-21). Paul engaged the Athenians about life and BOOM: the greatest minds of that day and the most influential thought leaders in that society invited Paul to come and talk to them--at the meeting of the Areopagus no less! The Areopagus was a kind of council or court and the place where all the smart people in the city came together. This was the local Starbucks, if you will. Jesus said in Matthew 10:18, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles” (NIV). Incredible things will happen when you obey God.
5. When we share and defend the gospel, we should always do it within a context that is familiar to our listeners (vv. 22-31). Did you notice that Paul not only understood why the Greeks worshipped all the idols they did (their world views and religion), but he also understood their literature, and more specifically, their poetry—all things that constitute a specific culture; so that he could seamlessly weave all of it into an effective gospel presentation?
The Bible shows that Paul was no dummy and was an extremely well-educated man. And let’s be honest—most people aren’t going to be as intelligent and well-read as Paul, but we still don’t have to worry about that for two reasons:
a. We can ask God for wisdom, and He will give it to us (James 1:5).
b. God promises that when the time is right, He will tell us what to say (Matt. 10:19, 20).
The apostle Paul simply—but effectively--explained this concept of sharing and defending the gospel in the letter he wrote to the Christians in the city of Corinth by saying, or writing rather: when it comes to the gospel, we must be all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Ellen G. White, in Counsels to Writers and Editors, when discussing the kind of books needed relating to the importance of reaching people using things they could understand, wrote the following about the publishing work in the then heavily African-American populated, Southern United States giving this relevant counsel:
Special literature should be prepared expressly for the Southern field. Publishing is to be done in the South, to prepare the style of books essential for this field. . .
I understand that you intend that the colored work in the South will be your first interest. Well, work away. But you must get out a class of books with many object lessons, for the colored people must see a thing before they understand it. Small books must be distributed freely....
The publishing at Nashville will have to be done in a way to meet the needs of the very ones for whom you are laboring. Everything must be plain, simple, and illustrated. Inexpensive illustrations are as good for this field as the more expensive work. Cheap, simple books must be issued....
The South is a world of its own, and publishing should be done in the field. Without proper books to put into the hands of the people, talking and preaching will lose the hold on the mind. But if proper reading matter can be placed in their hands, so that they can read the truth and see the pictures accompanying the reading matter, it will stay in the mind and have convincing power. Then other and larger books should be issued to meet the needs of the better educated classes (White 146, 147).
It might do us well to brush up on worldviews and apologetics. At the end of our time together I’ll give you several resources that I’ve found to be invaluable in my own preparation.
6. God will always reward our step of faith and obedience with people won to Him (vv. 32-34). Paul’s apologetic received mixed reactions. Some made fun of him, some kept searching for more information, but a few believed. Don’t ever hesitate to tell others about Christ because you fear that some will not believe you. God’s word is never wasted and will always pay off in the end (Isaiah 55:10, 11). It may or may not happen immediately, but rest assured that through your obedience, you are planting seeds that will be germinated by God’s Holy Spirit.
Now more than ever, people need the good news of Jesus! God has placed us on this earth with one purpose: to spread Jesus’ love to as many people as we possibly can, but many will never see or hear about Jesus unless we share Him. It’s not only our responsibility but our privilege to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20, 21).
People need the love and peace that only a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus can give them. But we need to present it to them in a way that they can understand. We have to get to know all about what makes them tick--their culture, if you will. We have to make a real effort to enter their world and attempt to see it through their eyes.
Jesus is coming soon, and I want to bring with me as many people as I possibly can. I think it’s incredible that God loved me enough to die for me, but it’s even more incredible that He loves me enough to trust me to share His story with others.
Now that we’ve learned how to more effectively share, let’s get to it. Jesus is coming back, and we can help Him get here sooner (2 Pet. 3:10-12)!
Omar has been married for seventeen years and he and his wife have two children. He is the Editor/Director of Insight Ministries at Pacific Press Publishing; a free-lance writer; the author of Searching: It's Not What. It's Who. He enjoys bird watching, writing, reading, and—much to his family's dismay—watching documentaries. They live in very unplain Plainville, Georgia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his blog.