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Rethinking Apologetics for the 21st Century, Part 1

From the series Why I Believe

Are you concerned about your kids and grand kids as the world becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity? Did you know a high percentage of youth who grow up in the Church are leaving the faith after high school? And do you increasingly wonder: What do we do? In this program, Chip brings real hope and real answers for anyone concerned about these disturbing trends.

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Message Transcript

We are living in a day of a tectonic shift in our culture that has greatly impacted the Church. I don’t know about you, but we are living in a day where evil is called good, where good is called evil. We are living in a day where bitter is called sweet and sweet is called bitter, darkness is called light and light is called darkness. And according to the ancient prophet Isaiah, twenty-seven hundred years ago, he said, “When this happens, it brings great, great sorrow.

I know many of you have to be deeply, deeply concerned of what you are seeing happen in the culture and also happening in the Church. We are seeing young people that don’t walk with God anymore, we are seeing the moral values in the culture and outside the Church rapidly, rapidly change.

And we are in a series here called Why I Believe, and I believe we are in a day where we have to rethink our apologetics. Apologetics is that big word that it’s about making a defense for our faith. It’s giving a reasoned verbal explanation for why we believe and we can explain this great hope that we have within us.

But as you can see and I observe as I go around the country, I meet parents and I meet grandparents who say to me, “You know, we went to church regularly. We sent our children even to a Christian school.” Or, “We sent them to a Christian university or a good secular university that had a good, Christian group and it’s now five or seven years later. They don’t share our morals. They don’t share our values. They currently are living with someone.”

The world is topsy-turvy and here’s what I want to tell you: our approach to apologetics, that this is why I believe, this is what I believe, it has got to change, because honestly, what we have passed on to our children and what is being passed on through the Church at large with some really wonderful exceptions, it’s currently not working.

Let me tell you what the classic approach to apologetics is because it had a very powerful and good impact in my life. I did not grow up as a Christian, I had never opened the Bible in my life, I came to Christ right before I went away to college, and then I had a wonderful experience. It was a campus ministry that grew, I got in the Bible. My life changed; I had deep, loving relationships; I had peace and joy. My life changed so much, my dad, who was a hardcore alcoholic ask me, “What in the world happened to you?”

And I told him about this new relationship with Jesus and I was reading the New Testament and my father trusted Christ. Our whole family, it was a revolution. It was awesome!

And I graduated and I was a really good student and the chairman of my department, I really admired him and I think he really liked and kind of admired me. And I was ready to graduate and I graduated with honors and good things like that. And he had white hair and he was really bright and I really admired what he thought and his opinion.

And I could tell that he waited until I graduated because he wanted to ask me a question that might put our relationship at stake. And so, I was ready to walk across the stage, like, in a day or so. And all the coursework is done. And I’ll never forget this, this was like one of those pictures in my mind, Dr. P with his snow-white hair and his arms crossed and the light was coming. It was a brick building that had ivy. And he tilted his head and he said, “Chip, can I ask you a question.” I said, “Sure, Dr. P.”

He said, “I just don’t understand how someone who appears to be as intellectually astute as you are could actually believe in a literal Jesus and this born again stuff and that the Bible is really God’s Word.” And then he followed that by asking me three or four rather challenging questions about my faith. How could I trust the Bible and could Jesus be the only way and isn’t that narrow? Etcetera, etcetera.

And it shook me. In fact, I am going to go on record to say that it’s not bad to have some doubts as a follower of Christ. It’s not bad to get shaken now and then and realize, I need to really think through what I believe and why.

And I came away from that experience with three convictions. Number one is I was not going to throw my brains in the trash to follow Christ. This is a man I respected and you know what? It wasn’t just: I have this emotional experience and I had this great college experience. If that was just a little window of being idealistic, then it’s got to measure up to the truth.

Second, I’m not going to let someone I admire who is very, very smart intimidate me to give up my faith. And third, I made a commitment that I am going to dig in. And whatever it takes, I am going to learn the questions he asked me about the Bible, about the uniqueness of Christ, archaeology, science – I am going to focus and do whatever it takes and I am going to do the research. And then I’ll let the chips fall where they may.

If God’s Word and my faith can’t hold up to scientific, archaeological, philosophic research, then I’ll give up my faith. But if it does, then I will know this is really true.

And really, the teaching in this series and the book that I wrote called Why I Believe is the culmination of that journey. And what I can tell you is is that I have defended my faith in front of four PhDs. I have had the privilege of going around the world and different religions and philosophies.

And here is my joy and here is my desire for you: you can trust God’s Word, you can trust the person of Christ, but we have to rethink how we communicate this and what our apologetic is.

But now I have to tell you an experience that I had not too long ago. I was teaching on controversial subjects because, I mean, the morals have changed in America and the lifestyles – LGBTQ and marriage and all these things are up for grabs.

And I was teaching at our church about what the Bible says about homosexuality and what it says about marriage and I remember a little fifteen-year-old girl came up to me and she’s a sweet girl. She loves God. I think she even went to our Christian school. I know her parents. Very, very good people.

But she is growing up in a completely different culture. And she came up to me and she said, “Pastor Chip? I heard what you said, I know what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, I know you believe in the authority of Scripture and all those things. I want you to know I love Jesus with all my heart. But I want to tell you something. If you are asking me to tell my friend who is gay that she is wrong or give up my faith, I’m going to give up my faith.”

And I mean, literally, my mind was going, “What? What?” In other words, I grew up and many of you have grown up in a world that there’s logic, there’s authority, there’s the Bible, this is what it says. But she is growing up in a world when she has to choose between relationship and truth. Absolute truth.

She lives in a world where you don’t validate things by what the Bible says. You don’t validate things by a person in authority like myself. You validate it out of relationship and your experience.

So, here’s what I want to tell you. The apologetics of the past have to be completely revised. We don’t give up on all those reasons. I’m going to share some of those reasons. I’m going to help you understand why you can trust the Bible, why you can believe in the resurrection, why the God of the Bible is the most logical, clear – I mean, it answers the biggest questions of life. But I am going to tell you, we can’t keep doing it the way we are doing it because look at the evidence.

Just ask yourself, How is it going? The culture is changing, the world is changing – how is the Church doing? Let me give you some of the bad news. And I don’t mean to be negative, but if you need awakened, then let’s get awakened.

Our rational answering of questions simply isn’t working in our day. What is the public view of Christians right now? Hypocrites, sexual scandals in the Catholic Church for decades followed by cover up. Sexual scandals in evangelical Bible churches, Southern Baptist churches. Major mega-church pastors after decades of “effective ministry,” now found out to have private lives.

People are looking at Christianity and saying, “We think you’re bigoted, we think you are prejudiced, we think you are irrelevant, we think you’re intolerant, we think you’re the problem.” The LGBTQ has very effectively reframed the entire argument, not around we have a sexual preference, but as a civil rights issue. And now Christians in our day are viewed as bigoted and prejudiced and so, there is this anti-Christian bias. And it is popping up everywhere.

A businessman in the Silicon Valley who was one of the founders of a major organization gave one thousand dollars to a cause, not putting anyone down, simply saying that, “I believe, historically, that marriage is between a man and a woman.” That went viral on social media and he was ousted in his company.

Companies like Chick-fil-a that close on Sundays who are loving and kind and care about people, but who basically just hold to a traditional concept of marriage have now been moved off and outlawed in major cities like San Antonio or in universities.

We are living in a world where giving logical answers to our kids and to our neighbors and to our friends no longer holds water. Christians are viewed in a very negative light.

In the Church, here are the changes. Currently, church attendance is down; Bible engagement is down; the moral decline – sixty percent of evangelical, Bible-believing believers between the ages of eighteen and thirty, are currently in casual sex or sleeping together; giving is at an all-time low, financially; per capita, actually, those during the Depression gave more generously than today and that tells us something has happened to Christians’ hearts.

Families are fractured, divorce is about the same in the Christian community as the non-Christian community, we find that sixty-eight percent of our children five years after they leave high school are abandoning the faith.

I could go on and on and on. We have the highest level of people who have no religious affiliation. Of those under thirty-five, it’s like twenty-five, thirty percent of them have no religious affiliation and Generation Z, those coming up, literally, they don’t know God, they don’t know the Bible, and Christianity is currently to them, irrelevant.

These are big, big issues. It’s going to take more than opening the Bible and telling your kids or sitting down with a friend over a coffee and telling them, “Here’s the five or six intellectual reasons why I believe in God’s Word or why I believe Jesus is the Savior of the world.”

It’s going to take a bit of a different apologetic. We are much more like the first century than we are the last century. And what I mean by that is that many of us have grown up for quite a while where the culture agreed with what we believed. It supported it. The major institutions supported it. And now, we are living in a world that is more and more and more anti-Christian.

So, here’s what I want to suggest. I want to suggest that we rethink, because of the change in the culture, our apologetic. Yesterday, apologetics were about what we believe and why. And it was aimed at answering the skeptic and his questions or her questions. Today, ready for this? I believe we need to aim apologetics first and foremost toward believers, especially young people, aimed at answering the questions that equip them to keep their faith.

Second, yesterday, we needed to master facts and data and history to intellectually prove what we believe is true. Today, we need to model concern and compassionate and a lifestyle that proves that what we actually believe is even relevant.

Third, yesterday, we needed to win the debate. In fact, remember the day when evangelicals and atheists would debate? No one even wants to hear a debate. Today, we need to win an audience. We need to live in such a way where people are asking us, “How do you have a marriage like that?” And, “How do your kids turn out like that?” And, “How do you handle the adversity coming your way with such an amazing, kind, and loving attitude?”

Fourth, yesterday, we communicated on a level playing field that presumed that truth was objective reality. Today, we communicate on the shifting sands of truth as a subjective reality.

I told you that story of that high school girl. What I want you to know is that this whole next generation and Millennials, they look at life through different glasses. They don’t look at facts and say, “Well, these are three facts and these are logical and therefore, this is right and that is wrong.” They are evaluating truth not as an absolute, but something that is relative.

And it’s why the experience of the collective group, it’s what they feel. That’s your truth; that’s my truth. And so, now, as you begin to talk to people, I can give them five or six good reasons or scientific facts and the response is: “That’s your truth. That’s not my truth.”

Recently, a lady who I really admire, her name is Rosaria Butterfield.

And she was a teacher in an elite, school, she was a lesbian and she made friends with a pastor. And he invited her over for dinner. I don’t mean just a few dinners, but it was months and months and then a couple years.

And she often left and she said, “It disturbed me. We disagreed about the homosexual lifestyle, we disagreed about truth and epistemology and how you come at truth.” And she was a literature professor and very, very, very bright. But she says, “As they loved me and loved me and loved me and I began to examine what I believed and why, I began to understand. God began to move in my heart.”

And so, she goes to this prestigious university and she shares her testimony. And if I gave you the name of it, most of you would say, “Wow, are you kidding?” It’s one of the elite, sort of the Harvards of Christianity. And when she got done, students protested. And here’s what you need to get. They protested and the signs said, “That’s just your story.”

So, what I want you to understand is that it’s a whole different world and just facts, the shifting sand of relative truth means our apologetic and our way to do our apologetic has to change.

Fifth, yesterday, the Church and the culture shared a general knowledge of the Bible. You could talk about Adam and Eve or Noah or Jonah or Jesus or a few of His stories and people would go, “Yeah. I got you.” Today, both the Church and the world is biblically illiterate. I’ve had the privilege of teaching, literally, all across America and multiple places around the world.

And I can’t start anymore and assume that people know even the general idea of Scripture. It causes us to start at a different starting point.

Six, a committed Christian man or woman in the past, in yesterday, was admired. She’s a woman of integrity. He’s a man who loves God. He’s a man who leads his family well. That’s the kind of person you want to be.

Today, a strongly committed man or woman has actually been called “dangerous.” Recently, they were doing some appointments for court positions, of very significant roles. And they had Senate hearings and a couple senators came out, there was a lady who was a strong candidate. And she happened to be a devout Catholic and she had very clear views on the life of the unborn.

And it was just that, “No, I believe life begins at conception. The science is in.” Even Planned Parenthood, they don’t talk about a fetus anymore. They talk about a baby. And two senators in our country, in America, said, “This lady cannot be a judge in our court system because of her dangerous ideas.” It’s a dangerous idea in America in our day to believe that an unborn child’s life should be protected? Think of how much has changed in our world.

Seventh, we used to be able to begin with the truth and then express grace. I mean, people believed that truth was absolute and we would say, “This is right and this is wrong.” Today, we must begin with grace in order to share the truth.

What I want you to know is that the apologetic has to start with how you live and how you treat people and that we actually make an impact and we actually demonstrate that we deeply, deeply care. It’s not about a competing philosophy anymore. No one wants to hear what the Bible says or anything about Jesus until they see a life that is attractive, that is loving, that is caring.