The Greatest Christian Apologetic

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March 27 2020
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

I’m sure you’ve heard it said before that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In other words, biblical love is the greatest Christian apologetic. Christian apologetics is a branch of theology that zeroes in on defending Christianity against objections. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this world so unfair? And how could a loving God cause or permit a global pandemic like COVID-19? These are worthwhile questions that deserve thoughtful answers and to which Christian thinkers have rationally responded over the centuries. The reasonable defense of our faith is not a luxury or vanity but an appointed task from God according to Peter: “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

However, with that said, even more importantly, it is biblical love, namely, Christ-like love, that is, selfless, sacrificial, no-strings-attached, no-kick-backs-expected, need-meeting love that brilliantly showcases God’s gospel of free grace. Getting God’s truth out through the logic of verbal or written apologetics is legit, but greater still are concrete, self-giving expressions of love in Jesus’ name.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
Jesus said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

We may be the only advertisement and argument for God that some people see and read. So how can we take the distancing out of “social distancing”? Physical distancing, yes, but social distancing, no. True Christian love, the queen of virtues, is always in season and it must find ways of expression – even during times of plague and global pandemic.

A few years ago, I enjoyed Simon Ponsonby’s book entitled Loving Mercy. In it he draws from the history of Rome to make our point:

"In 165 A.D. a plague swept through the mighty Roman Empire, wiping out one in three of the population. It happened again in 251 A.D. when 5,000 people per day were dying in the city of Rome alone. Those infected were abandoned by their families to die in the streets. The government was helpless and the Emperor himself succumbed to the plague. Pagan priests fled their temples where people had flocked for comfort and explanation. People were too weak to help themselves. If the smallpox did not kill you, hunger, thirst and loneliness would. The effect on wider society was catastrophic. Yet following the plagues the good reputation of Christianity was confirmed, and its population grew exponentially. Why is this? Christians did not come armed with intellectual answers to the problem of evil. They did not enjoy a supernatural ability to avoid pain and suffering. What they did have was water and food and their presence. In short, if you knew a Christian you were statistically more likely to survive, and if you survived it was the church that offered you the most loving, stable and social environment. It was not clever apologetics, strategic political organisation or the witness of martyrdom which converted an Empire, so much as it was the simple conviction of normal women and men that what they did for the least of their neighbours they did for Christ."

In a post-Christian, skeptical age, neighbourly love on display speaks volumes as the most convincing apologetic.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

HT: Simon Ponsonby’s Loving Mercy: How to Serve a Tender-Hearted Saviour (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2012), 155.

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