Towards a Jesus-Centered Apologetic
I don’t know why I’m always so surprised to see how widely Jesus is respected. Christianity may be out of vogue for many, but its founder continues to universally inspire awe. Just consider Christmas, an event celebrated around the world.
Several years ago my wife and I spent a couple weeks one December in a communist country where we helped to lead English groups and distribute Christian literature. Though atheism was clearly the predominant worldview there, the streets were decorated with Christmas fare and people were preparing for the holiday. The college students we met there seemed very open to talk about the life and influence of Jesus.
Many times, our apologetics, our defense and articulation of Christian beliefs, neglects our founder. We can focus on arguments and reasons and leave out the most important and powerful part of our faith. A friend of mine when speaking on controversial topics will always try to frame his talk with a story about Jesus. Our apologetics would benefit from following this example. Here’s some reasons why:
#1: A Jesus-Centered Apologetic is Personal
Rooting our apologetic in Jesus’s life allows us to situate the truth claims of the Christian faith in a person. Of course, this is not just any person, but the perfect Son of God. As we share our faith, we aren’t only talking to other persons, we are talking about a person. In a world that mass markets humanism, Jesus-Centered apologetics focuses on the only human who perfectly embodied the highest of human values. Instead of exclusively focusing on what can seem to be cold and cerebral arguments, a Jesus focused apologetic keeps in mind that we are ultimately trying to introduce others to a person and not merely a philosophy.
#2: A Jesus-Centered Apologetic Invites People Into a True Story
Many apologetic arguments, particularly philosophical ones, can come off as some sort intellectual sleight of hand to those who aren’t well versed in logic. Even those who are more philosophically minded can grow weary in the exchange of syllogisms. While not everyone loves to listen to a tightly manufactured argument, most love to hear to a good story. The Christian faith centers on those most powerful aspects that characterize the most popular of all our stories, things like love, sacrifice, risk, redemption, new starts, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Instead of asking people to consider a set of propositions, we are inviting them into a story that is begin to explain the world and their place in it.
#3: A Jesus-Centered Apologetic Builds on the Influence of Jesus’s Life
I think it was Tim Keller who once said something to the effect that it is intellectual irresponsible for anyone to ignore Jesus. His influence is too pronounced for us to simply neglect him. Even if someone is dead set against the idea of the supernatural, they still have to account for why Jesus left such a massive mark on the world. A Jesus centered apologetic can appeal to this curiosity.
#4: A Jesus-Centered Apologetic Confronts the Ugly Side of Religion
If you talk to many people who reject Christianity, you will hear a lot of the same reasons: Hypocrisy. Legalism. Unloving. Judgmental. Detached. Cold. If you study the life of Jesus, however, in particular the parables he told, you will often find him repudiating the very same problems. By sharing the stories of Jesus we can help them see that Jesus is repulsed by many of the disturbing religious abuses they rightly reject.
#5: A Jesus-Centered Apologetic Points to the One, True God
Not long ago someone on social media said something to the effect that if God is like Jesus, then they are all in. If we were to summarize what we deep down hope God is like, our lists would likely include things like a God who is kind, powerful, loving, caring, personal, invested, et cetera. Jesus ticks the boxes of what we hope God might be like. Jesus’s life is so powerful because his love was so sacrificial. When our apologetics point to Jesus, it underscores the reality that Jesus is God. When you look at Jesus, you are looking at God. Everything we hope God might be like is pointing us to the life of Jesus.
I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t utilize philosophical arguments. There are many and they are really good. I’m also not saying we ditch historical evidence. There’s plenty to explore. But let’s not neglect Jesus as we share and defend the faith. Woe to us if we merely present a cold, intellectual, system and not the sacrificial person who stands at the center of our faith. So, the next time someone asks you a reason for your hope—instead of reaching for another argument—tell them a true story about Jesus.