My Approach to Evangelism and Apologetics, part 1
Editor’s note: This week Dr. Metzger has been teaching a course on Relational-Incarnational Apologetics. His Teaching Assistant Joe Enlet will be weighing in on these themes from his own vantage point in a series of posts. Please consider Joe’s perspective and engage with him in the comments section.
Whenever I am engaging in any type of activity that may be considered evangelism or apologetics, I believe there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to such engagements. Each unique context calls for a unique approach that addresses both the particular context and particular person(s) involved. It is always an engagement that considers the Word of Scripture, the “other,” and myself as the Word takes root in my own life. Hence the message of the Gospel must be contextualized to the particular person and situation. Nevertheless, though every situation is unique there are a few basic realities that undergird my overall engagement.
First is the reality that activity is driven by ‘identity’ and not the other way around. What I mean by this is that the identity of persons is what is essential and is what must shape our engagement. We must value who people are and not assign to them values that are based on what they can or cannot do. To be identity driven is to value each and every individual as a child of God, created in the image of God, and with unique personal stories that matter greatly to God.
Following the identity-driven aspect, the second aspect of meaningful engagement is that of being relational. That means that I treat people not only as persons but also with dignity and relationally as God has come to me personally and relationally. This means that people are not numbers or obligations that I need to check off on a list. I build relationships by treating people with dignity, respect, and most importantly with the love that is poured into our hearts by the Triune God. In this paradigm I invest in people’s lives and allow them to speak into my life. Such a relational dynamic is mutual and not a one-way street where I the evangelist am somehow superior or that the other person somehow is dependent on me for access to God.
Another undergirding reality is the idea of participation. Just as our relationship to God is framed in participational reality in which we are in union with Christ, so our ministry is not “for” or “apart from” God but “in” God. We participate in his mission and in his ministry. So it is God who is on a mission and we are brought into the reality of his mission so that our ministries participate in his already ongoing ministry.
In a more apologetic engagement where I am asked to give a reason for my faith, what is most essential is that I bear faithful witness to Christ in word and in deed. Not only must the content of the message bear witness to Christ, but the context of the message (that is, how I communicate and live out the message) must also bear witness to Christ. A truthful reason for my faith is one that truly reflects the truth of Christ but also reflects the heart of Christ. So when I engage I must give sound arguments for my faith and be able to critically engage arguments logically and rationally. But I don’t use that as a platform to ridicule the other or to prove that I am right and they are wrong, but to allow space for the other to come to Christ in a non-threatening way. Even though the message of Christ inevitably becomes a stumbling block to some, I am not to be the stumbling block myself. I should always have a charitable spirit that is willing to dialogue and ultimately love others as I bear witness to the love of Christ. The apologetic for my faith is not just the reason for my faith but the Person of my faith. Ultimately it is a personal encounter with Christ.