s I meet Christians in a variety of settings, I sense a shift in motivations for evangelism. And I’m greatly encouraged by it. For a long time, I think Christians flocked to apologetics seminars and evangelism trainings because they felt guilty. They knew they were supposed to speak up, not be ashamed, make the most of every opportunity, and preach the word in season and out of season. But they didn’t. And they felt guilty for their evangelistic lockjaw. So they hoped some training would alleviate the pain. In some cases, that worked. But for most, it exacerbated the problem. Then came a tidal wave of apologetics research that emboldened believers to make a defense, demolish strongholds, answer objections, and win arguments. Their motivations shifted from guilt to pride. The results were less than wonderful. We won a lot of debates but lost a lot of hearers. We won but we lost.
But today I hear a different motivation for reaching out—concern. We’re burdened for our friends who don’t know the joy of the gospel. We’re disturbed to see them messing up their lives and families as they follow the hedonistic ways of our culture. We love them and hate what the devil is doing to them. We may not know how to reach people or what to say, but we want to learn—not to alleviate guilt or win a fight but to see people rescued.
Evidence for this change—and perhaps a stimulus to accelerate it—can be seen by Christianity Today magazine’s selection of two books for their 2016 Book of the Year Awards in the category of Apologetics and Evangelism. Os Guinness’s Fool’s Talk and the late Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness call for “defending the faith in the manner of Jesus” (Willard’s book’s subtitle) and apologetics “shaped by the distinctiveness of the truth it proclaims.”1 These tones sound different from that of many other apologetics books I’ve read. They point the spotlight more on “winning people than winning arguments.”2 Willard calls apologetics “a loving service” and comments, “It is the finding of answers to strengthen faith. It should be done in the spirit of Christ and with his kind of intelligence, which, by the way, is made available to us.”3
Readers familiar with Dallas Willard’s profound writings will not be surprised by his recurring theme of our need to be shaped through spiritual disciplines. He made that case in The Spirit of the Disciplines and The Divine Conspiracy. He was working on The Allure of Gentleness to apply his thinking to the task of evangelism but was unable to complete it before his death in 2013. His daughter, Rebecca Willard Heatley, compiled his many notes and drafts to present us with this fine book to help us reach out with gospel-shaped apologetics.
Next page »