On one occasion, someone suggested to a friend that we have no need of ‘theology’; we should, instead, merely think and talk about God; my friend replied that ‘theology’ simply means ‘words about God’ – we are all theologians. Likewise, philosophy – we are all philosophers.
Francis Schaeffer put it this way:
“there is a second meaning [of philosophy] that we must not miss if we are going to understand the problem of preaching in the twentieth-century world. For philosophy also means a person’s worldview. In this sense all people are philosophers, for all people have a worldview.”
And Tim Keller wrote, in his book, The Reason for God, “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.” Whenever we doubt, whenever we question, we are philosophers.
This is also true of evangelism and apologetics – we are all evangelists, we are all apologists; although many wish to distinguish between the two, there is no distinction, for every time we clarify our beliefs to a sceptic, we are defending it from misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The Apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 3:
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Here evangelism, apologetics, righteous behaviour and worship are all woven together into one seamless whole – “if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake”; “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy”; “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone”; “the hope that is in you”; “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience”; it is how we are called to live.
This, indeed, is the role of the church, and we all have our part to play.
Unfortunately our time is often wasted: too many Evangelicals engage in endless debate about worship styles (or, more accurately, musical styles), because, we say, we must find ways of attracting people to church so that we might preach the gospel to them. We organise and promote endless programmes to the same end – fashionable attempts to catch the attention of a fashionable fickle world. Some, perhaps, have merit, and some, perhaps, are reached; but sooner or later we must explain what we believe, why we believe it and why unbelievers don’t; and, we must learn to do this on ‘their’ turf, in terms they understand.
Our Evangelical subculture stopped making sense to secularists some time ago. The typical secularist has an understanding of the church built up from snippets of Twitter, internet blogs, references in films, pop-songs and soap operas; to them Christianity is not merely irrelevant, it is unforgivably intolerant. And so we have the painstaking task of explaining and clarifying the Gospel to an alien culture.
We are, after all, pilgrims in a foreign land; we are, to put it one way, ‘on the wrong side of history’. We must struggle to be understood; we must argue if we are to be given fair hearing. We must be clear, coherent, patient and gracious.
And that is why have apologetics.