By Ben Swift
‘A person who speaks to this hour’s need will always be skirting on the edge of heresy, but only the person who risks those heresies can gain the truth.’ (Helmut Thielicke)
Recently when presenting a devotion to a group of school students, our conversation diverted towards what could be defined as questioning the need for Christian apologetics. We discussed Peter’s well-known command to us in 1 Peter 3:15 where he writes, “Remain always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you – yet with humility and fear.” The question that still remained however was, “What can or should we say to defend or give reason for our faith?”
What’s interesting if you scroll through the vast web of apologetics articles and quotes floating around in cyberspace, is that there exists a mountain of well-reasoned arguments, focusing on the scientific and philosophical reasoning supporting the validity of the Christian Faith. It’s easy to become caught up in these fascinating, deep contemplations and as I have done, dedicate time to writing related arguments from a personal perspective.
I wonder however, do apologists focus too much energy on arguments that reside in the arena of logic and reason, rather than in the realm of human needs and grace? Do we unknowingly avoid addressing the issues that unavoidably matter to all of humanity?
Australian writer, Nicole Conner, makes the following observation on her blog, ‘Reflections of a Mugwump.’ She reflects, “Looking back it also seems rather strange to me that for the many years I spent in church I only ever heard one whole sermon dedicated to death and preparation for dying. I know not all faith traditions avoid the subject, but in the Pentecostal/Charismatic scene a sound theology of suffering and death still remains fairly undeveloped.”
How could those of us living with the challenge of giving a reason for our faith, avoid sharing the peace that surpasses all understanding, when it comes to topics such as death, topics of unavoidable struggle for all of humanity?
Christian author, Peter Rollins, suggests that if we are to truly defend the truth of God’s Word, we must do more than provide logical arguments to support it. He writes, “It is impossible to affirm God’s Word apart from becoming that Word, apart from being the place where that Word becomes a living, breathing act. This divine Word cannot then be rendered into an object that is somehow separate from the subject who hears it or reads it, for the Word of God is an incarnated Word that is lived.”
So the question follows, “How is it that we are to be effective witnesses within the culture in which we find ourselves?” Perhaps another way of asking this question is, “How can we ‘pass the salt’ to others?”
Consider Paul’s words, “Let your speech at all times be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may never be at a loss to know how you ought to answer anyone who puts a question to you.” (Colossians 4:6)
When Jesus referred to his people as the ‘salt of the earth,’ what did He mean? Interestingly ‘salt’ was used in early Jewish teachings as metaphor for wisdom. So, by referring to His people as ‘the salt of the earth’, Christ was also suggesting that his followers were ‘fearers of God’.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom,” (Proverbs 8:13)
While many historians have discussed salt as being an immensely valuable commodity during the days that Christ roamed the earth, it is important to recognise that salt remains a vital component to our lives today. Currently the world produces more than 200 million tons of salt per annum. Clearly the value of salt has stood the test of time and is not looking like weakening any time soon. Perhaps we should view Christ’s truth in the same light.
Graeme Goldsworthy, in his book, ‘Gospel and Wisdom’, suggests that the source of true wisdom can be found exclusively in the person and work of Christ. ‘He who is the way, the truth and the life, remains the beginning and the goal of every man’s search for order and meaning in the universe….God’s highest wisdom was himself to become one with them [Israel] and us as the God-man.’
Surely, if we are to be effective apologists for the Christian Faith, we must ‘pass the salt’ to those who’s paths we cross each day. We cannot rely solely on elaborate, logically formed arguments to convince humanity of the truth about what God has achieved through Christ. We are called to do more than that. We need to become a place in which the Word is alive through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Passing the salt means living in a way that reflects God’s Grace and points people to His truth and the peace that it brings.
‘Then God’s shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with the Messiah Yeshua.’ (Philippians 4:7)