Apologetics, Evangelism, and a Three-Verse Gospel

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I wonder if Christian apologetics is dead.

OK, so maybe not dead, but not in great shape either.

Many will be quick to launch into verses about the Last Days and people not enduring sound doctrine, but I think something else is going on with the way we promote the faith.

We live in an age when you can’t persuade/argue/enlighten anyone through rhetoric. People are dug in because what they believe is always being assaulted by someone with a bigger bullhorn. evangelismI think the biggest bullhorn of all may be the Internet, as it levels the playing field of truth and untruth. Now the deranged can have their loud voice too. Where it got weird for us is that some of the deranged rants proved to be correct, so now we’re not sure we want to believe anything immediately outside our sphere of understanding, if only to keep our sanity.

For this reason, I look at some of the books in my library such as Strobel’s The Case for Christ or McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, and they almost seem quaint, a bygone of a forgotten era.

I think people are different too. We’re more scattered mentally, without time and patience for nuanced arguments. Bad for us, certainly, but it is what it is.

Evangelism suffers for all these cultural and societal changes. In some ways, we no longer know how to tell the story of Jesus to others. We’re not sure what parts are essential. Even though we know that faith is critical, we’re unclear on how we go about telling a lost person about Jesus.

I think part of the problem is that we’ve let belief in Jesus get too complex. We feel like we have to have a bulletproof apologetic, which disqualifies most of us from ever talking about Jesus because we simply can’t dredge up at a moment’s notice a counter to every question a contemporary denizen of these here United States of 2015 is likely to ask. So we stay quiet.

Let me propose the following.

The fundamental question of life:

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
—Luke 9:20a

Which is followed by this:

And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
—Luke 9:20b

Everyone who has ever lived must answer that question. Some will do it right. Most will not. But everyone will answer.

Along with that question, we Christians must answer this: What Is the Gospel? Many of us stumble at that point.

May I suggest we strip the Gospel question down to its bare essence. Perhaps we need to simplify. Maybe we need to encapsulate the Gospel in just three verses.

A set of three to consider:

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
—Romans 5:8

…[Jesus] said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
—John 19:30b

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

OR, consider these three:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
—Romans 3:23

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me….”
—John 14:6

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

Many good combinations of three verses (OK, so the short Ephesians passage is two verses—you get the point) exist. What three do you know well that capture the essence of the Gospel?

Most Christians should be able to start with their three verses and unpack them a little if necessary. No oratory, just a short explanation for people if needed. Then ask the question that Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” with the understanding that everyone at some stage in his or her existence will have to answer that question.

As simple as that may be, people will still struggle with raising the topic of Jesus at all. I think it may be easier than we think, because a lot of people are concerned about the crazy times we live in. If that’s not an opportunity to talk about what really matters, I don’t know what is.

Beyond this, I think we try too hard to close the conversation with a convert. We have to stop thinking it’s on us. If anything, I would steer someone toward reading the Gospel of John and let the Holy Spirit work and convict through the Scriptures. The Jesus People movement grew in part due to the publication and later distribution of self-contained Gospels of John at concerts and events. In lieu of that, the whole Bible is available online. John is a good start, especially when the “I AM” passages are emphasized for what Jesus is really saying about Himself.

We as a Church can’t keep the Light for ourselves. Jesus is who we have, and lost people still need Him.

7 thoughts on “Apologetics, Evangelism, and a Three-Verse Gospel

  1. Milton Stanley

    This is four, but they’re all in one place (1 Cor. 15:1-4):

    “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ”

    If you want only three, then skip verse 2. Any three or four verses we choose will require a little explaining. But these are the heart of the gospel.

  2. Meredith

    Very helpful, and very true.

    Any thoughts on how to respond when you ask a Mormon the question of who do you think Jesus is? They will reply “the son of God.” Sounds good on the surface, but there’s more to it than that in their distorted theology, and I don’t know how to dialoge with that answer. Any thoughts?

    PS – no fair that there’s math involved to post a comment here. I had to ask my kids the answer to the question! (and sadly I have a college degree) I guess it confirms your post…

    • Meredith,

      Every pseudo-Christian religion falls down when it comes to the Trinity. That’s where you start. Have them explain the Trinity and its nature. Mormons consider themselves monotheists, but their theology of the attainment of godhood by men (including the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who all started out as flesh-and-blood men) makes them functional polytheists.

      If you regularly talk with Mormons, I would recommend tracking down a copy of this excellent book: Everything You Wanted to Know about Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. That said, the LDS Church is trying to distance itself from some of the more heterodox statements made by its founders, with more theology beginning to sound like Evangelicalism. Where that takes them in the future is unclear, but it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch.

      • Meredith

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. I am in a heavily populated Mormon community, and so I have many Mormon friends. I will take a peek at the book. Thanks for the resource.

        They are a head-scratcher for me in terms of evangelism!

        I’ve been told by my friend (who lived in Utah for a while and knows quite a bit) that they are even told its okay to lie about their theology if they feel like they are backed into a corner.

        I just can’t get over the fact they call themselves Christians. But I guess I just have to pray and trust God with their soul as with any other person that I share the gospel with!

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