Can you imagine apologizing for your Christian faith or behavior? I don’t mean saying “I’m sorry” when you speak or act as a Christian should. I mean did you ever have a chance to defend or explain your lifestyle as a Christian or your way of thinking?
Defending or explaining Christian thinking and acting is referred to as Christian Apologetics. It’s what Paul did in Athens and elsewhere. It’s what Peter had in mind when he urged us to be ready to give a gentle and respectful answer when folks ask us about our faith and practice as believers (1 Peter 3:15).
First-century Christians had many opportunities to explain their Christian behavior—what they did (or didn’t do) or believed. Do you think that this coming year you and I may have some similar opportunities? Do you think we might want and need to give gentle and respectful answers for our faith as we talk with family members, other Christians, neighbors, and folks the Spirit brings to us? We may have the opportunity to answer folks like these:
- Folks turned off by the church, seeing themselves as spiritual but not religious.
- People who are intolerant of Christian standards and ethics and think Christians are bigots.
- Those whose life-style is at cross-purposes with scripture.
- Hopeless, desperate, floundering people searching for a purpose in life.
- Christian friends and family members who need encouragement and help in being faithful and growing in the Lord.
How do we answer these folks? Will we gently and respectfully answer anger-filled accusations? Will we represent God’s love and mercy as well as His moral standards and justice? Will we serve others instead of demanding our own way?
Here are some thoughts on how to defend gently and respectfully.
- We begin by listening. We respect others by hearing them out. We listen as they tell us about their life experiences. This is more than a casual conversation. We give friends, co-workers, family members as much time as possible, listening to sorrows, questions, joys.
- When we have earned the right to speak by our listening, we refuse to use our words as clubs. Words can inflame, enrage or calm. We listen to and answer individuals, not members of this “tribe” or that, folks who do this or that. Respectful answers do not abuse the hearer or force them into a corner.
- Are our answers faithful to scripture’s revelation of God’s character, His authority and willingness to forgive the unforgiveable through Jesus’ sacrifice? Too many of us have our own set of Ten Commandments (or twenty or fifty “thou shalt not” demands).
- Are we encouraging “apologetic” conversations by our behavior as well as our words? Are we willing to let the hearers into our lives, to drive with us, to watch us in times of stress?
Many confusing spiritualities are whirling around us. Pagan, humanistic, Christian, atheistic, African, Asian, Islamic, Jewish spiritualities and more claim to be the best answer to humankind’s need for more than we see, more than we are. We are called to answer that need with the message of Christ, to answer gently and respectfully.