Monday, March 28, 2011

the power of your story

Apologetics is important.

If you’re new to this Christian-thing, apologetics is a genre of writing and speaking that has to do with defending the claims of Christianity. From day one of the launch of the Church in Acts 2, Christians have proclaimed the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and why He deserves our attention. In Peter’s breathtaking speech to his fellow Jews in Acts 2 following the otherworldly outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter appeals to recent events that everyone was aware of:

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.” (Acts 2:22–24 NLT)

Peter was appealing to their remembrance of the events of the past few weeks, months and three years. Christianity is rooted in an historical occurrence, mainly, the resurrection of an itinerant preacher, prophet and miracle-worker who behaved as if he were God. Just on one point, think about how absurd it is to go around forgiving people unless it’s a personal affront to you. Otherwise, it’s none of your business, let alone no moral authority to do so. That’s like me forgiving Muammar Gaddafi for the greedy, cruel and self-serving ways he’s treated his own people. I don’t have that right; only the abused do.

Apologetics became even more critical as the resurrection was relegated to a point in history and less of “you all were witnesses to this” (Acts 2:32). And so we have to use a little detective-like, deductive reasoning on what we know as the facts. For instance, what caused the apostles to live their lives in painful loss and eventual martyrdom for what they knew was a cover-up or lie? Or to appeal to a resurrection story which could have easily been proven false? It’s true people have given their lives for what is exposed as a lie, but who gives their life for what they know is a lie? It at least deserves some thought, but I’ve been surprised over the years why Christians appeal so little to reason as a way of understanding and communicating the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Yet over the years, the classic apologetical approach became the way of talking to people about Jesus. Winning the argument was synonymous with “sharing Christ.” For a culture sliding toward a religion-less spirituality and a “your-truth-is-not-my-truth” post-absolutism, the arguments were moot. And even more, the internet created niched cyber-ghettoes that coalesce around particular points of view, often poorly, and without a rational discussion beyond 140-character comments.

My own tribe developed an approach called “power evangelism”. It was a long-lost idea and desperately needed: how can we read the gospels and Acts without a longing for this supernatural apologetic? Something was clearly missing in postmodern evangelicalism. And yet, it quickly shifted from the streets to “circle-the-wagons” conferences and revival meetings resembling sideshow events with sensationalistic healers and prophets attracting burned-out Christians who lost their missional hearts and charismatic groupies traveling from one experience to the next for their Pentecostal fix. No name calling here: I’ve traveled in those groups from time-to-time myself.

Along the way, I myself helped trumpet what we at Vineyard Cincinnati called The New Apologetic: servanthood. Part of that was reactionary. More and more the Church seemed more known for what it was against rather than what it was for. What’s more, in reaction to cultural shifts, it became theologically dangerous and evangelistically naïve to slip into the back pocket of any particular political party because they aligned with “our” values. We Christians are, if anything, “wise as doves and innocent as serpents”, to turn a phrase.

The fact is: we need all these approaches. Different personalities need different methodologies. And there are seasons of life when the people we want to share our faith with become self-aware of their spiritual void. What’s more, none of our approaches work in terms of “sealing the deal” until a person is really ready to hear. He who has ears to hear, let them hear. That’s the business of God.

But there is one more apologetic we’re specifically exploring in this current series called OPEN—it’s your story. Specifically, how did your story and God’s story intersect? That’s an apologetic that can’t be argued with…because your story is simply your story. No one can deny that. They can believe you’re deluded. They can believe you’re confused. They can disbelieve your truthfulness. But they can’t discount that it’s the story you know and you tell because, well, it’s your story.

Can you tell that story with deep personal affection, without embellishment and with reflective humility? Can you healthily describe your current need of Jesus without cliché? Is there a recent time of soul-healing you can communicate that exposes a dependency on Jesus to surprise those who assume you’re a fairly together person? Is there a simple delineation between light and darkness in your life that makes you want to gratefully express how accessible Jesus is?

If not, perhaps it’s time for a tune-up. And that begins on our knees. I’ll join you.

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, Poems (1964)

1 comment:

  1. So exactly what I needed right now, and it's going in the mail to someone who REALLY needs it right now. Thanks Dave.