Os Guinness told a tale of an earnest young apologist trying to convince a sceptic that Jesus rose from the dead. After hours of argument about bodies and empty tombs, the sceptic caved in. “OK, you’ve persuaded me,” he said. “Jesus rose from the dead. So what?”
Apologetics is about much more than arguments over empty tombs and big bangs. But I don’t think we’ve moved on from that into other issues instead. Postmodernity doesn’t mean people don’t ask the truth questions; it means they ask other ones as well. Actually, I reckon they’ve always asked them but our Apologetics has only been tooled up to answer one. That’s why it needs a refresh. There are, I reckon there, three questions that any audience has of any of our sermons. These apply to Christians as well as non-Christians:
1. Is it true? Does what this person is saying check out with the evidence and cohere with what scientists and historians are saying? Can it handle intellectual probing? This what we have traditionally called Apologetics.
2. Is it real? Is this person some kind of charlatan, offering some psychological equivalent of snake oil, or am I actually going to encounter God here? What would meeting this God feel like, compared to what art, music or other religions say?
3. Is it viable? Will what this person is telling me, make a difference in my world, such that I can see how I can put it into practice? What kind of world would it be if we all did this?
If you read my previous post, Easy as 1,2,3, you’ll see how these fit with the three aims of a sermon
The truth people want to know stuff, and you tell them what to know and why they need know it
The reality people want to encounter God, and you need to describe to them what actually knowing him is like, and what the marks of genuine godliness are.
The viability people want to know what they are supposed to do, and why. They want to see if the gospel put to work, works.
The young sceptic who caved in over the resurrection actually needed more information about the truth area, so perhaps something on the reason for death and the significance of Christ’s resurrection might have helped. But Jesus’ present and future victory, and the defeat of sin and death for the believer would be a start as well.
In the next few posts I want to see how we handle those three questions theologically, and as I hinted last time, I reckon they hang together around Christ’s offices of Prophet, Priest and King.
Think about your last sermon:
- Did you answer the ‘Is it true’ question? What evidence did you offer to your sceptical listener? Would what you said have answered your own questions convincingly?
- Did you answer the ‘Is it real’ question? Did you promise an encounter with the living God? Did what you said match with your experienced reality?
- Did you answer the ‘Is it viable’ question? Did you show how obedience to Christ would play out as a better series of choices than any alternative? Did what you said work in your own life?