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apologetic preaching – jonathan robinson


In the preacher’s task of equipping the church and helping it grow towards maturity in Christ one of the things we must not neglect is the work of apology – defending the faith. Two scriptures clearly instruct the church to be prepared to respond to any question or opportunity to share the gospel with unbelievers (1 Pet 3:13, Col 4:2-6). What are the topics that are most likely to come up for our people in their everyday conversations? For an initial incomplete list I would suggest,


Reliability of the Bible

Christian hypocrisy

Church History

The Resurrection

The divinity of Christ

Truth vs pluralism

Sexual morality (esp. homosexuality)

Church divisions

The Trinity (especially if you know any Muslims)

I do not think the apologetic task should be limited to those occasions when we know we are speaking to those who don’t yet believe. These topics should appear regularly in our preaching to the church. As I wrote that list I realised I have done a better job in some areas than others. I don’t think it is necessary to have dedicated sermons or a series on these topics, although it could be helpful. However, if these issues don’t get mentioned and explained from time to time in your preaching how is the congregation supposed to know how to respond when these issue come up in their everyday life?

John Dickson, in his excellent book The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, points out that the emphasis in these scriptures is not on what the believer’s say (although that is important) but on how they say it. He writes, “Church preachers have a special role here. They set the model for the congregation in a way that occasional courses cannot. Sometimes I hear preachers (in the safe environment of church) thundering against this or that moral departure in society or some outrageous argument from Richard Dawkins & Co., and I worry that the average Christian in the pew might try to take this mode of speech into their world. This is potentially disastrous. Just as bad, other believers know full well that such an approach will never work in their work, family or university environment and so they just keep quiet, unsure of the best way to speak up for Christ. But if congregations consistently hear in the weekly exposition a thoughtful, gracious engagement with the moral and intellectual viewpoints of society, they will be receiving the best kind of training possible for their daily conversations about Christianity. Preachers: please arm your people not just with what to say but how to say it.” (p186, 2010, emphasis original)

We preachers actually have it easy, we get to say this stuff to an audience that wants to hear it and it (by and large) is likely to agree with what we say. The temptation to sound off and lambast an absent critic of Christianity is a very real one. It makes us look good and feel good. Dickson is surely right that this needs to be avoided as a bad example of what defending the faith should look like. After all if we cannot present a reasoned, clear, gracious, gentle and respectful defence of the faith (1 Pet 3:13, Col 4:2-6) when preaching to the converted how can we expect the church to do so when they share their faith with an unbelieving world?

Let me know what you think.

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