In the context of youth ministry, apologetics has an important place considering the pluralistic world views so prevalent in our world today. As Christians, we should be able to give a defense of why we believe what we believe. Peter emphasizes this in 1 Peter 3:15a: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
Should we be prepared? Absolutely. But… is it imperative that it be an argument? How many have been converted by an argument? Is this the best way? Can we be prepared to give an answer without being argumentative? Peter continues his encouragement when defending the faith, “yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15b-17).
What is at risk here? Paul gets specific with his direction of approaching others with agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We don’t need to put pressure on ourselves to convert a nonbeliever — this is the work of the Holy Spirit. And, besides, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any argument we could come up with and more compelling than even the most persuasive speaker or personality.
What, then, should precede our apologetic or defense? Building relationships with unbelievers, atheists, agnostics, people who are unsure. It’s cliché, but it still applies: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. We do have to earn the right to be heard by getting to know and listening to them. How did Jesus do this? He established a relationship with those He encountered, He showed His love to them, He pointed them in the way they should go as people changed by the Gospel.
Apologists? Maybe… There is no doubt that we need to be in God’s Word on a daily basis and know what our Lutheran Christian faith is all about. But I would suggest that ambassador is a more effective lens to look through when sharing the saving Gospel with a dying world. Paul captures this thought in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”