Principles in Reformed Apologetics/Evangelism
by John Hendryx

Human reasoning is never free from the effects of sin, and people deny God, not because they lack evidence, but because their hearts are rebellious. The propositions, Christ is Lord and Christ is Savior are obviously understood intellectually by anyone who reads or hears Scripture. The words are written down on the page of the Bible making it an item of knowledge that is objective. Prior to conversion a person is incapable of perceiving spiritual knowledge (1 Cor 2:14, 1 John 4:2, 14, 5:20). Instead, humanity willfully attempts to suppress and pervert true knowledge (Romans 1:18). Thus we can see there is no lack of intellectual capacity to believe, nor are humans intellectually ignorant, rather it is because sinful rebellion rules their hearts that men refuse to believe. So the difference between the regenerate and unregenerate is the relationship each has with the Holy Spirit. In the book of Romans it teaches that the unbeliever already knows God:"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Both know God, one as an enemy and the other as friend. Jesus says to some unbelieving Jews, "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word."(John 8:43) The nature of their heart determined their rejection of him. For, Jesus also says, "men love darkness...and hate the light ... and will not come into the light" (John 3:19,20).

So the unbelievers' problem is ethical first and then intellectual and thus he/she requires a supernatural work of God to understand and apprehend spiritual truth as revealed in Scripture. Those who know facts, therefore, are not the same as those who forsake sin and come to love Jesus Christ. We must therefore , as believers who embrace these biblical truths, appeal to the whole person and not merely their intellect alone. Unregenerate men may understand the facts presented to them in Scripture but God is hidden from him because he loves sin and remains in hostile rebellion against God. This antagonism for the gospel is seated in the affections, not because we lack data or are not smart enough. So while we must use reason and intellect to unseat the unbeliever from the idol of self, equally important is that we appeal to the heart because God is not just a precept or an axiom as found in mathematics. To come to faith in Christ one must first perceive and take delight in Christ's unmatched beauty, and have a love for Him that is greater than a love of sin. We only choose that which we most desire. But to be sure, the Scriptures teach that these holy affections are not produced by our unregenerate human nature (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14). And since the root of faith cannot be indifferent or neutral, a full orbed gospel is not merely a list of impersonal propositions for our intellectual assent, but it is proclaiming the full person of Christ in His love for sinners shown in His life, death and resurrection. Words are not enough, however, to persuade those bent on rebellion because spiritual knowledge, which- is relational, requires a new sense of God's unsurpassed excellence ... and this is possessed only by the regenerate. Hence spiritual knowledge is communicated by the Spirit via revelation which is the only way one can be enabled to see the beauty, harmony, truth and excellence of the Scriptural Text.

So what does this mean practically when communicating this gospel to others? Some of these are points I picked up from evengelistic encounters while living overseas for 10 years:

1) It means we must be patient in suffering, both at the hands of our condition and at the hand of other people, especially our persecutors. This reveals that we trust in a sovereign God who controls all events. If we get upset at conditions or people who annoy us, then it will be more difficult for people to witness the work of the Spirit within us.

2) It means that you must "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:12 (ESV)

3) It means that we are to "Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution ... For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." 1 Peter 2:13, 15 & to "be subject ... with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly." 1 Pet 2:18 (ESV)

4) It means you should be willing to silently suffer for righteousness sake and have no fear of them nor be troubled, but to honor Christ as lord in your heart always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks 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 slanderedm those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Interestingly, we should note that these passages in 1 Peter speak much of our conduct as being paramount in exemplifying Christ so people will ask about it. Regarding this important truth. the late slandered Lloyd Jones said,

" commends the gospel and helps to win other people and take them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. This has happened often. As I was thinking about all this, an illustration came to my mind of a young lady I once saw as a candidate before a certain missionary society. She was eventually accepted and went out to work in the Far East, and this, in a nutshell, was her story. She had been a student in Cambridge where she was the secretary of the Communist Party. She happened to be in Cambridge during that very severe winter of 1946 to 1947 when everything was frozen up, in Cambridge and in most other parts of the country. She lived in a room off one of the staircases in the college, and, of course, there was a terrible shortage of water. You could only have a bath once a week and there was always a queue. There was one other girl on that staircase, a Christian, the only Christian on the staircase. The Communist girl noticed that instead of asserting her rights and always going to the front and always complaining, as the others were, the Christian girl bore with it all. She allowed people to be assertive and selfish while she just went on quietly. This shook the Communist. She said, 'Here's someone who really is practicing and living what I claim to believe but do not do.' The attitude of the Christian not only opened her eyes and made her think, it led to conviction, to repentance, and to conversion, and she went out as a missionary. The simple action of this Christian girl led to that great result (MLJ Exposition of Romans 12 p.510).

So while we all know that the Holy Spirit utilizes our preaching of the word, let us not forget that we are preaching with our lives as well. Remember in all apologetical encounters, that we are Jesus' representatives and so focus on abiding in Him. Jesus was a good listener and his obvious real interest in others made them feel at ease. People REALLY appreciate that you have taken the time to listen to their concerns.

4) It means we should be committed to praying before every encounter with people. This reveals our dependence on God for the encounter and outcome and God will honor this.

5) It means you and everyone in your church should be trained to articulate the gospel clearly. Likewise spend serious time training yourself in how others think and then you will be more able to answer friends' questions. Read books on, and encourage the elders at your local church to hold training on apologetics. In the class raise potential objections from non-Christian friends. Have the elders recommend good resources. Perhaps a course which mixes theory and practice.

6) It means you need to have several significant non-Christian friends. You probably spend plenty of time with your Christian friends. This might mean cutting some church activities to open up room for some relationships to be built with non-Christians. When living overseas I made it a point to speak as little English as possible and so went out each day to meet people in the culture rather than stay around the others I came with.

7) Don't forget hospitality but also take advantage when people invite you to their homes. Honor them thus leaving a good impression.

8) It means that when you discuss important matters that you be at ease and self-controlled. Effective communication starts when people see you are not overly eager to bring them to your side. Be patient for God's timing in bringing them to Himself. Again, be eager to listen and less eager to prove your point. I had an employee that was not a Calvinist and so I did not force the issue, just demonstrated it in my life. Eventually he came around to ask me questions and embraced the doctrines of grace himself. I felt if I had made an issue of it too early it would have rubbed him the wrong way.

9) It means "A soft answer turns away wrath." If they are angry, deliberately go easy and be prepared to change your mind on something you have said if you need to be corrected. You will be amazed how much this helps people be open to what you say.

10) It means when you talk about spiritual things give them every benefit of the doubt. Pray that God would give you wisdom to see and understand what is really going on in their hearts. Be kind and gracious and don't be arrogant when there is a disagreement.

11) "In humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3) Remember you are trying to minister to this person, not win an argument. God will prevail in their heart if and when He sees fit (2 Cor. 4:6-12). Remember that you are no better than the unbeliever. The grace of God, and nothing else, makes you to differ. But for the grace of God you would be lost. "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

On what grounds do the children of light defend their faith against the children of this age? The answer is their creation in the image of God ... By his life of faith the Christian reflects the glory of God. Thus, the most compelling apologetic argument the believer can make is his godliness. It is our godliness that most clearly demonstrates our other-worldliness ... Unfortunately, the practice of apologetics has become an academic enterprise. The Kingdom of God is not advanced by winning a debate, but by losing your life. This is the foolishness of the cross. An apology of the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15) is a witness to the truthfulness of the gospel-event. It is not a defense of our subjective feelings of hopefulness, but a defense of the objective hope into which we were broght, the living hope which is Christ resurrected from the dead (1 Pet 1:3). If we investigate this text in 1 Peter we are brought to realize that the subject of apologetics arises in the midst of our suffering for righteousness' sake (3:14) and the apologetic of godliness (3:13). It is specifically our patience in suffering for righteousness' sake which bears witness to our eschatological hope (not-yet other-worldliness) as it demonstrates our union with our Saviour (other-worldliness already) who alone truly suffered for righteousness' sake and that with perfect patience. As it is written, "As a lamb led to slaughter He did not open His mouth." And lest we should grow triumphalistic in our apology the imperative is modified by "with gentleness and fear." -Two Age Press

12) It means building a relationship first before forcing them to hear your viewpoint. This demonstrates that we care enough to spend time with a person. Jesus left his heavenly glory, condescended to us becoming flesh and took the time to eat meals with sinners like you and me.

More to come....