I appeared today on “Calling for Truth” with Paul Dean on Christian Talk 660. The topic of the show was the Church as an apologetic. In other words, the idea that the church, in its existence and in its essence ought to be a very powerful argument for the truth of the Gospel. Our springboard for the show was something I wrote many months ago in this space, which was actually a broad introduction to a major research paper I wrote on the subject last year. Because Paul mentioned this site on the air, in case anybody happens along, I’m reprinting it below:
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 two-fold,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.” The goal of this paper is to move towards recapturing 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 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. 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. The role of the Church as an apologetic is in dire need of recovery.