By Ian McKerracher
Why should the average Christian, sitting in the pew, study apologetics? Are there not “experts” in that field, just as there are theologians and youth leaders and other graduates of theological seminaries and colleges, all working in their area of interest for the betterment of the body of Christ? Why should I become a Christian apologist?
The question reveals a very significant shift in the way Christianity is done in recent renditions of the Church. It denotes a subtle error in the thinking, the worldview, of Church leadership in the last hundred years or so. The error is the equating of the term “believer” and the term “disciple.” It is the latter that we are to go into all the world to make. It is the former that we are making. What is the difference between these two entities? That question reveals the reason we need apologetics!
As I look around the North American Christian church, I see the pews filled with believers. They believe a vast spectrum of things, some of which are Christian, some not so much. I remember watching a person, sitting in the pew, kissing and fondling her Bible. What doctrine would lead to such a behaviour, I wonder? I have heard of believers making animal noises as worship to God. I am sure that others could bring up memories of all sorts of behaviours that have little connection to historical or biblical Christianity. Christian research companies like the Barna Group and Pew Research have sounded a very concerned trumpet of imminent danger based on the horrific level of biblical illiteracy in the modern church, and have been answered with a collective image of church leadership with their fingers in their ears, all yelling “LA LA LA LA.” Why that is so is anybody’s guess, and I would suggest that it is for a spectrum of reasons, including the enormous amount of work it would take to reverse the trend, the unflattering reflection in the Church of anti-intellectualism gleaned from the surrounding culture, and, perhaps, a little bit of rationalization about how easy illiterate people are to lead.
What does it take to make a believer? Basically, it is mostly an appeal to the emotional side of a person’s soul. “Jesus is extending his nail-scarred hand towards you, right now! Won’t you respond to his love and let him make you whole?”; “If you were the only person on earth, Jesus would still die for you.” You, you, you . . . The hearers of these triggers feel something stir inside of themselves and mistake it for God. While most of us are hard-wired to feel emotions, and I am not trying to dismiss the full, holistic experience of salvation, one based only on emotion will become difficult to live in a sinful world, and impossible to uphold for a lifetime. This sort of evangelism has at least two likely outcomes. One is a lifelong search for the emotional high experienced at salvation and witnessed by going from church to church to attend meetings, conferences, or special speakers. The other is a dismissal of church or even salvation itself as a sham, and Christians as fakers when they fail to measure up. These are not things upon which God can build the infrastructure of discipleship, individually or collectively.
How do you make disciples? This is the question of the hour. It requires Christians to be inconvenienced, to be called upon to pay a cost, and to sacrifice their comfort. These are not things that our culture or our school system or even, in many cases, our families or churches teach us to do. Making disciples will get in the way of your stuff, cost you your money, and interrupt your life. But it is the calling of us all. No more can we handle the new people coming into our churches as if they are fragile or fickle. The new people who are just learning what spirituality should look like will have a myriad of questions, and they need their friends to answer them. Those friends will need the undergirding of apologetics to do their jobs. It is not the job of church leadership to provide the close fellowship of disciple-making. It is the mandate of the people in the pew!
That is the fundamental change looked for between making believers and making disciples. The first is psychology; the second is biblical spirituality. Once the disciples populate the pews again, the Church can expect to return to the healthy transfer of godly wisdom from the more mature to the less, effectively making them both disciples. It is very true that we all “become what we behold,” and the new saint in the church who has responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit will be easily and quickly brought to their own maturity, being surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” from whom they can glean what a Christian looks like.
It will all start with the church leaders being confident in the workings of that same Holy Spirit. The members in the pews will all feel the confidence to pursue their own well of knowledge. They will not be afraid to be transparent and open to questioning. They are fully engaged in the pursuit, not only of God, but also of excellence in their lives and in the lives of those they lead. The things that they do, their disciples will do, and the disciples will turn around and will demonstrate the walk in the Spirit to those who come after them (2 Timothy 2:2). That’s why the saints in the pew need apologetics.