By Marilyn Stewart
Sunday-morning church looks different than it did a generation ago. The style of dress, the furniture, and even the order of worship have changed.
But in the pews, another change may be taking place, one of which the pastor may not be aware.
Some evangelicals no longer believe what they used to.
“It is quite possible that on Sunday mornings a portion of our audience is at best neutral, and at worst, hostile, to the biblical message,” said Adam Hughes, director of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Adrian Rogers Center for Expository Preaching, and a pastor for 20 years.
The 2018 State of Theology Survey conducted by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research found that 6 out of 10 evangelical believers see religious belief as mere opinion and 32% view their religious beliefs as not objectively true.
When faith is unhinged from objective truth and religious belief is viewed as mere opinion, the result will be church members with incoherent worldviews and contradictory beliefs.
Apologetics can help.
Apologetics, from the Greek word “apologia,” means giving reasons for faith, as shown in 1 Peter 3:15.
Weaving apologetics into the sermon is biblical and necessary. Here are three reasons why.
1. Apologetics stops false ideas before they take root.
Detractors of the faith often gain an audience outside the church because of the culture’s general illiteracy regarding Scripture.
The same may be true inside the church.
“Don’t assume they understand the Christian story in the first place,” said Jamie Dew, NOBTS president and long-time pastor. “We’ve got to retell the story of who God is, and re-educate and remind the people that our God is a God of wisdom, goodness, and perfect knowledge, and that ultimately, we can trust Him.”
Providing evidence for belief and sound reasons for the faith from the pulpit will help counter false ideas before they damage faith.
“Pastors must understand that what at one time may not have been thought of as apologetic is in this climate, very much an apologetic task,” Dew said. “Doing sound biblical exposition, theological formation, and Christian worldview work is an apologetic itself.”
Helping believers apply biblical answers to the important worldview questions of What does it mean to be human? Why is the world here? Why is there so much wrong in the world? and What is the solution? can help give believers firm footing in a culture with shifting ideas on gender and other moral issues.
Apologetics will serve pastors well as they continue to preach sermons that are “text-driven,” Dew explained.
“If you’re preaching the text, you don’t have to go looking for ways to weave apologetics into the text,” Dew said. “It’s already there.”
2. Apologetics clears the path to the gospel.
Apologetics “clears the debris” that stands in the way of faith, apologists often claim.
In the case of one atheist in the church pew, apologetics did exactly that.
Rhyne Putman, NOBTS associate professor of theology and culture, and pastor of First Baptist Church, Kenner, Louisiana, spent long hours in conversation with a young man who thought evangelical pastors were charlatans hawking for money, or perhaps illiterate.
As Putman and the young man talked, more foundational objections came into view related to the reliability of Scripture, the Christian worldview, and even epistemology—the study of how knowledge is gained.
At times, Putman made apologetic points from the pulpit to move the conversation along. As each objection was cleared away, the light of the gospel shone through.
“His conversion was a powerful, emotional moment,” Putman said. “It was moving.”
Apologetics—providing reasons in order to persuade—is something every pastor already does, Putman pointed out.
“All preaching is persuasion,” Putman noted, pointing to a lesson he learned from philosopher J. P. Moreland. “All preaching to some degree or another is making a case for a particular position. So, you can preach apologetic sermons, but you can also preach sermons apologetically.”
3. A pastor’s calling demands apologetics.
Whether the questions come from the college student worried that science has disproved the Bible or a church member struggling to share the faith with an atheist neighbor, a pastor will be asked apologetic questions.
Robert Stewart, the B&H Christian Apologetics Series general editor, director of the NOBTS apologetics program, and a pastor for more than 30 years, noted the pastor’s task.
“Being a capable apologist both in and out of the pulpit is a requirement for today’s pastors,” Stewart said. “It’s not only a requirement to pastor ‘successfully,’ I believe it’s a requirement to pastor faithfully.”
A pastor is called to shepherd his flock, evangelize, and teach God’s Word—all tasks that require apologetics, Stewart explained.
“Peter, Paul, and John all preached apologetically, that is, they all were concerned to address the challenges of their day in order to lead people to Christ,” Stewart said.
“We must preach that way as well.”
MARILYN STEWART is assistant director for news and information, Communications Office, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and blogs and speaks on apologetics.
RESOURCES FOR CHURCH LEADERS
- The B&H Apologetics Series which includes:
- The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible: the Gospel and Acts.
- Truth in a Culture of Doubt by Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock and Joshua Chatraw
- Cultural Apologetics by Paul M. Gould
- Apologetics at the Cross by Joshua Chatraw and Mark Allen
- Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis