By S. Michael Craven
There are days when the troubles of this world can no doubt be
overwhelming. Almost everyday it seems we are confronted with more
glaring evidence of our cultural descent: an increasing lack of
civility, the celebration of licentiousness and immorality, the
expanding indifference toward the weak and infirmed (or outright
cruelty), and the growing disdain for religion and prudence. Admittedly
these conditions can cause one to become angry toward those who
willingly contribute to this current of contemporary thought and action.
In addition, there are the ever-strengthening influences from every
manner of philosophy and ideology opposing the Christian life and
worldview, while the church seems to be less and less capable of
defending itself against these encroaching enemies. I grieve as I read
or hear about the endless personal suffering both here and around the
world. Almost daily I meet someone who is personally struggling with
serious trials or suffering from severe loss and devastating heartbreak.
In general the world is groaning. This makes me stop and reflect upon
what I am doing. Does my work matter? Of course, when I ask this
question, I do so from a purely selfish standpoint; this is when I have
to pause and reflect upon precisely what it is that I am doing and for
One of the unfortunate tendencies associated with speaking
apologetically is that you can begin think that the kingdom of God will
advance on the weight of intellectual arguments. While scripture clearly
teaches that we are to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that
lies within us (see 1 Peter 3:15), I must continually be reminded of
Christ’s commandment to love my neighbor. If this genuine love of
neighbor is not at the heart of my apologetic efforts, then I am nothing
more than a “clanging cymbal”-an animated noisemaker!
I must remind myself to look beyond the opposing ideologies and see
the person-a person made in the image of God, a person for whom Christ
died, a person who is in bondage to sin and that liar of liars, Satan. I
confess that I do not always do this well and I sometimes err on the
side of argumentation rather than love.
As I speak to Christian audiences around the country, I am often
asked for “effective arguments” to refute this particular philosophy or
that mind-set that stands in opposition to the reception of the gospel.
These are well-intended Christians who are earnestly trying to equip
themselves in order to present the most effective witness. However, I
sometimes sense that we may be more interested in merely winning
arguments; thus we may wield apologetics as martial arts-and this I do
not want to contribute to.
The beginning of our apologetic arguments and philosophical discourse
must include an equal, if not greater, commitment to forming a sincere
and meaningful relationship with that person. Recall the great
apologetic passage referenced above. Peter says to be prepared to give
an answer or defense to anyone who asks you why you have hope. Clearly,
Peter isn’t referring to a stranger you meet on the street but rather
someone with whom you already have a relationship. For only a person who
actually knows you would come to see this real, living “hope.” Here the
apologetic approach is responsive, not assertive, and the response will
generally only come at the invitation of a friend.
Granted this is not always easy; it can be very taxing to be in
relationship with a person who opposes everything you believe in but
this, nonetheless, is what we are called to do. This is the measure of
one’s love for one’s neighbor; are we [am I] willing to endeavor through
all of the challenges, disagreements, and difficulties for the sake of
another? Doesn’t this require that I stop thinking of myself and instead
think of others, allowing Christ his proper position in my life as Lord
and King? Aren’t we called to present our bodies-the entirety of our
being-as living sacrifices? Yes, I am. Let’s face it, this is where it
gets tough to follow Christ, when he leads us into relationships with
those who do not submit to Christ.
Beyond every ideology, beyond every worldview, is a person who
ultimately desires the same thing that we all desire-to be loved. This
is the terrible reality that flows from sin: broken fellowship-we have
severed our relationship with God, ourselves, each other, and the rest
of creation. In truth, every aspect of human suffering in the world is
attributable to this broken fellowship. We suffer from our severed
relationship with God, which has eternal consequences, but we also
suffer in the present as a result of imperfect relationships with others
because either we can’t shed our own emotional baggage and inhibitions
or they can’t shed theirs. Sin has produced a formidable barrier to
truly loving one another without fear.
It is this condition that Christ came to remedy-and thus restore us
to full fellowship with God, ourselves, and each other. It is the
reconciliation of humanity to God and each other that Christians must
demonstrate to the world. This means that we genuinely seek to love
people unreservedly and without conditions. Unfortunately, too often
many Christians confuse acceptance of the person with approval of either
their mistaken religious notions or lifestyle, and therefore justify
avoiding these altogether.
However, Jesus attacked this false notion in the parable of the Good
Samaritan. In speaking to the Pharisees-who were very conservative in
both their doctrinal beliefs and practices-Jesus exposed their hypocrisy
for passing by the dying man without getting involved, lest they
approve his lifestyle and religion. The problem with the Pharisees is
one all too common among many conservative Christians today. The desire
to stand for the truth, to reject ungodliness in both religious doctrine
and practice, leads them to confuse the acceptance of people with the
approval of their beliefs and actions. How tragic.
I will continue to seek knowledge and understanding in an effort to
grow in my relationship with the Lord and to be a compelling witness for
the gospel, but above all, I pray that my desire to know never exceeds
my desire to love my neighbor. It is with the overwhelming love of
Christ that we must engage the culture
and look beyond ideologies to see the person that God in his providence
has placed in our path. May we love those people in the way that Christ
first loved us; let this be what motivates our desire to “give an
answer.” This is the best and most biblical apologetic!
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ &
Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our
Culturalized Christianity (Navpress). Michael's ministry is dedicated to
renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an
intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in
order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For
more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, visit:
www.battlefortruth.org. Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife
Carol and their three children.