Bruce Winter’s tips for apologetics

We’re doing a bit of a mini-subject on apologetics this semester as part of a weekly “preparations for ministry” session.

Yesterday’s session featured Bruce Winter sharing some insights on the important discipline of apologetics garnered from his extensive studies on Paul and his culture, and from his experience as an apologist in Singapore and while working as an academic in England (Cambridge).

Here are my notes:

Every Christian is required to be ready to give a reason to the hope that lies within them.

It’s interesting that the word there – apologia – goes beyond the idea of giving some answer. Stoic philosophers used apologia to argue their case while interacting in a substantial way with the mindset of the people they’re addressing.

How are we going to engage in apologia with people in the 21st century? Two Ways To Live isn’t going to work for everybody. We see from the way that Paul tackles apologetics that he engages the culture around him.

We need to engage the audience and move around their world – Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great apologia that removes objections to the gospel – objections that come from the mindset of people living in first century Rome.

Paul argues that we need to pull down every argument against God both within and outside the church – he talks about demolishing the stronghold of people’s ideas contrary to God, he distinguishes between the argument and the person. Paul demolishes and reconstructs these arguments “captive to Christ.

Acts 17 is a good example, and a good paradigm, of Paul connecting with the audience and their expectations and producing converts. This is the parliament of Athens.

Five things to learn from Paul to connect and engage with people’s world. This message needs to engage the thought world of the people around it.

  1. We have to connect our message with the audience we’re speaking to – Paul connects – he makes the connections the audience required (in introducing a new God to the council – eg the building of a temple, holy days/sacrifices), he also uses their culture (eg the statue of the unknown god) to engage.
  2. We have to structure our message in a way that provides a hearing for the gospel – The framework we present the gospel in changes based on the audience – talking to sciency people requires a different presentation to talking to people from different religious backgrounds. The main aim is that people hear the gospel connected to their world.
  3. Know how to connect the message, and know what it needs to correct – Paul knows that people need the gospel, but he also knows what the objections to it are, and he addresses them with the correction of the gospel.
  4. Converse with their world – it’s remarkable when you read historical sources talking about the nature of God and compare it to the way Paul quotes their arguments and poets/philosophers in his apologia. He understands their world, their language, and their issues. Paul is even able to point out inconsistencies in their current thinking and actions (they talk about the nature of Gods not living in temples made by man, but visit temples – Paul points out they aren’t living up to their basic beliefs and teachings.) He’s read the literature. He knows their teaching. He is well able to bring them to that point through the quotations of their poets.
  5. He confronts his audience – Paul doesn’t steer clear of the topic of God’s judgment and the predicament that places his audience in. God’s judgment coupled with God’s amnesty (he calls on all people, everywhere, to repent). Paul doesn’t compromise. He’s not prepared to negotiate on the fixed points that his audience was bound to be opposed to. It’s a different worldview.  Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 converts people from those opposing points of view and philosophy.

Some questions to ask regarding our approach:

  • How are we going to talk to different audiences?
  • How do we talk to those dealing with the certain uncertainty of death?
  • How do we connect with their views and preconceptions about Christianity and the world?
  • How can we talk to them about their world?
  • How do we talk to affluent people who think they have everything? Their question is different – “what’s missing?” – “what is it?” How do we raise the issue of the gospel in a way that articulates this need in a way they might never have considered?

A question to prompt thought in others is: If you had your life over again how would you do things differently? Everybody is fundamentally aware that they do the wrong thing at least occasionally.

We’re not dealing with blanks slates but people who have spent their lives deliberately ignoring (and justifying ignoring) general revelation. Romans 2 suggests that it’s our conscience that judges us as we face God at judgment day – so the question “how can God…” is irrelevant.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.