Sunday, September 19, 2010

Witness or apologist?

Last week, in our small group Bible study on the book of Romans, the conversation veered off to a discussion about truth and other faiths. The discussion involved how one might talk with someone of a differing faith about the truth of scripture and God's plan for man.  That got me to thinking . . . do Christians sometimes confuse our call to be a Christian witness with a call to be a Christian apologist, a skilled defender of the faith?

What is a witness?  In a courtroom setting, a witness is someone who gives a first-hand account of something that they saw, heard or experienced.  A witness tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth that we are to tell is our own personal experience with Jesus.  My personal experience is just that  . . . it's personal, it's mine, it happened to me, and it's irrefutable.  I'm not arguing with anyone about this point of theology or that point of theology, I'm just telling my story.   Telling your story is not nearly as intimidating as being called to be a Christian apologist, is it? 

When I shared this point in our small group Bible study last week, another person responded that scripture also calls us to be prepared to explain the hope that we have within us as Christians.  He was correct.  In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter does call us to be ready to explain our Christian hope.  My wife, Julia, then pointed to John 9:25, where Jesus healed a man blind from birth at the pool of Siloam. When the Pharisees repeatedly questioned the previously blind man, he simply told the story of his personal encounter with Jesus.  His response was, "This I know, I was blind and now I see."   He told his story.  He didn't argue with them about whether Jesus had sinned in healing him on the Sabbath.  He told his story.  He didn't debate some point of the Jewish law with them.  He simply told his story.  I think that what I'm doing when I recount my personal experience with Jesus is answering Peter's call for us to be prepared to explain our Christian hope.  My personal experience with Jesus is the reason for my hope.

Continuing with the courtroom analogy, an apologist might be compared to an attorney.  A defense attorney presents the case that most favors his client.  A prosecutor argues the other side of the case, the side that points to the guilt of the defendant.  An apologist argues one side of the case or another.  Is that what Christians are called to?  Are we to be attorneys as well as witnesses?  Certainly, I would agree that Peter calls us to be able to explain our hope.  Likewise, I have great respect for skilled Christian apologists.  But the bottom line is that my faith is based on a personal encounter and relationship with the Living God, Jesus Christ.  I'm not a Christian because some Christian apologist offered a better argument than the Hindu apologist or the Muslim apologist or the Buddhist apologist. I am a Christian because I had a personal encounter with Christ that changed my life forever.  That's my story.  That's what I'm called to tell.

How do your thoughts differ from mine on this?  How do you feel about knowing that your call to be a witness is just a call to tell the personal story of your relationship with Christ? 

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