An often overlooked aspect of the Church’s witness to the world is that its very existence is a testimony to the truth of the gospel.
The Church’s apologetic is twofold, consisting in its presentation and defense of the truth claims of the gospel along with its embodied demonstration of the fruit of the gospel before the world.
In recent decades evangelicals have tended to emphasize the presentation of truth and doctrine, often as a reaction to theological liberalism or philosophical naturalism. Generally they have not, however, placed an equal emphasis on the lived apologetic of Christian community in the Church.
Yet both emphases are necessary. Francis Schaeffer argued, “Christian apologetics must be able to show intellectually that Christianity speaks of true truth; but it must also exhibit that it is not just a theory.”
The primary means of exhibiting the truth of Christianity is through love.
Schaeffer described Christian love, along with the unity it produces, as “the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”
We need to recapture the idea that the Church itself, and individual local churches, should be in its very essence and being a powerful apologetic for the truth of the gospel.
Such an apologetic does not replace the reasoned presentation of Christian truth claims, but underscores and reinforces them, and often paves the way for a non-believer to consider them.
In a sense, the Church embodies an apologetic that transcends reason. Some have termed such an apologetic as an “incarnational” apologetic for the gospel. The term is used by Schaeffer to argue that “the church is the continuation of the incarnation… a witness to the presence of Jesus in the world as it embodies and lives out the faith.”
We must quickly follow Schaeffer in noting that the apologetic of Christian community does not rule out a reasoned presentation of the gospel. We do not check our minds at the church door. Christianity is a reasonable and rational worldview. In fact, we’d argue it is the worldview that best accounts for what we know about the world.
With that said, however, it is too often the case that such rational apologetics are not undergirded by the incarnational apologetic of a church that reflects the presence and love of Christ. Too often we are more interested in winning arguments and fighting culture wars. Such a combative spirit can come across as the antithesis of the winsome witness we are called to have as the body of Christ.
The role of the Church as an apologetic is in dire need of recovery.