There are days when the troubles of this world can no doubt be overwhelming. Almost everyday it seems we are confronted with more glaring evidence of our cultural descent, a growing lack of civility, the celebration of licentiousness and immorality, the increasing indifference toward the weak and infirm or outright cruelty, and the growing disdain for religion and prudence. Admittedly these conditions can cause one to become angry toward those who willingly contribute to this current of contemporary thought and action.
In addition, there are the ever-expanding influences from every manner of philosophy and ideology opposing the Christian life and worldview while the Church seems to be less and less capable of defending itself against these encroaching enemies. I grieve as I read or hear about the endless personal suffering both here and around the world. Almost daily I meet someone who is personally struggling with serious trials or suffering from severe loss and devastating heartbreak. In general, the world is groaning, and I have to stop and reflect upon what I am doing. Does my work matter? Of course, when I ask this question I do so from a purely selfish standpoint, and this is when I have to pause and reflect upon precisely what it is that I am doing and for whom.
One of the unfortunate tendencies associated with being a “professional expert” on the Christian Worldview and apologetics is that you can begin think that the kingdom of God will advance on the weight of intellectual arguments. While Scripture clearly teaches that we are to “be prepared to give answer for the hope that lies within us” (see 1 Peter 3:15), I must continually be reminded of Christ’s commandment to love my neighbor. If this genuine love of neighbor is not at the heart of my apologetic efforts, then I am nothing more than a “clanging cymbal”—an animated noise maker!
I must remind myself to look beyond the opposing ideologies and see the person—a person made in the Image of God, a person for whom Christ died, a person, who is in bondage to sin and that liar of liars, Satan. I confess that I do not always do this well and I sometimes err on the side of argumentation rather than love.
In speaking to Christian audiences around the country I am often asked for “effective arguments” that may refute this particular philosophy or that moral position, which stands in opposition to biblical truth. These are well-intended Christians who are earnestly trying to equip themselves in order to present the most effective witness. However, I sometimes sense that we may be more interested in merely winning arguments and thus end up employing apologetics and Christian worldview as a form of martial arts, and this I do not want to contribute to.
The beginning of our apologetic arguments and philosophical discourse must include an equal, if not greater, commitment to forming a sincere and meaningful relationship with that person. Recall the great apologetic passage, 1 Peter 3:15 referenced above. Peter says to be prepared to give an answer or defense to anyone who asks you why you have hope. Clearly, Peter isn’t referring to a stranger you meet on the street but rather someone with whom you already have a relationship. For only a person who actually knows you would come to see this real, living “hope.” Here the apologetic approach is responsive, not assertive, and the response will generally only come at the invitation of a friend.
Granted this is not always easy; it can be very taxing to be in relationship with a person who opposes everything you believe in but this, nonetheless, is what we are called to do. This is the measure of one’s love for his or her neighbor; are we [am I] willing to endeavor through all of the challenges, disagreements and difficulties for the sake of another? Doesn’t this require that I stop thinking of myself and instead think of others, allowing Christ His proper position in my life as Lord and King? Aren’t we called to present our bodies—the entirety of our being—as living sacrifices? Yes, I am. Let’s face it. This is where it gets tough to follow Christ, when he leads us into relationships with those who refuse to submit to Christ.
Beyond every ideology, beyond every worldview is a person who ultimately desires the same thing that we all desire—to be loved. This is the terrible reality that flows from sin: broken fellowship—we have severed our relationship with God, ourselves, each other, and the rest of creation. In truth, every aspect of human suffering in the world is attributable to this broken fellowship. We suffer from our severed relationship with God, which has eternal consequences, but we also suffer in the present as a result of imperfect relationships with others because we either can’t shed our own emotional baggage and inhibitions or those of another. Sin has produced a formidable barrier to truly loving one another without fear.
It is this condition that Christ came to remedy and thus restore us to full fellowship with God, ourselves, and each other. It is the reconciliation of humanity to God and each other that Christians must demonstrate to the world. This means that we genuinely seek to love people unreservedly and without conditions. Unfortunately, I think too often many Christians confuse acceptance of the person with approval of either their mistaken religious notions or lifestyle and therefore justify avoiding them and their ideas altogether.
However, Jesus nullified this false notion by repeatedly “eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners,” a habit for which he was routinely criticized by the religious authorities. Jesus justifies his actions by condemning any sense of self-righteousness that would lead us to avoid “sinners” by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31).
I will continue to seek knowledge and understanding in an effort to grow in my relationship with the Lord and to be a compelling witness for the Gospel, but above all I pray that my desire to know never exceeds my desire to love. It is with the overwhelming love of Christ that we must engage the culture and look beyond ideologies to see the person that God in His providence has placed in our path. May we love those people in the way that Christ first loved us and let this be what motivates our desire to “give an answer.” This is the best and most biblical apologetic!
S. Michael Craven is the Associate Director for the Colson Fellows Program with the Colson Center for Christian Worldview