As a speaker, there are days when you feel as if you just hit a game-winning shot in overtime. There might be 100 people in attendance, but more than 200 receive salvation. After one of these slam-dunk messages, I stepped off the stage to shake some hands and kiss a few babies before I was approached by a teenager in the crowd.
“Wade, can I ask you a question?” the student asked.
“Sure,” I replied. Wow, already checking into the mission field. My sermon must have been better than I thought.
“Do you believe God knows everything there is to know, including the past, present and future?”
“I do.” My section on the omniscience of God really struck a chord.
“Do you also believe God is completely good and can do no wrong?”
“Yes.” OK, now I think I hear Admiral Ackbar yelling, “It’s a trap!”
“Then why did God allow evil to enter the world through Adam’s first sin?” he was grinning now. “Why did God create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”
I thought about the question for a moment before offering a reply. Normally I’m not so quick on my feet, but I had just finished preaching one of my best sermons ever. I turned, looked this student squarely in the face and said: “Hey look! It’s a monkey riding on a unicycle!”
Unicycle-riding monkeys work every time.
That day, I made an all too easy mistake in what I thought was a perfect message. I assumed everyone in the audience was on the same page as me. I personally had worked through questions such as, “Why would a good, all-powerful God allowing suffering in the world?” “Does evil prove God is either not completely good or not all-powerful?” What I didn’t realize is that some of the people in the crowd hadn’t answered these questions yet. That’s when it hit me how important it is for me to include apologetics in my weekly messages.
Although it’s an extremely important subject, apologetics (a reasoned defense of the Christian faith), often is overlooked. Good preaching however, utilizes the field of apologetics to inform and enlighten outsiders examining Christianity, as well as insiders seeking to understand their faith in a deeper way.
Here are six ways speakers can include apologetics in their weekly messages:
1. Imagine how those with doubts will approach your message. This week you’re finishing a month-long series on the ministry of Jesus. You’ve finally gotten to the sermon you’ve been waiting to preach forever (partly because you want to start that new series on superheroes). You’re telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection—pretty straightforward stuff, right?
What about the guest who isn’t so sure she can believe someone died and then came back to life a few days later? What about the teenager who grew up in church, yet still secretly wonders if his faith is just an overblown fairytale? These individuals desire something more than a regurgitation of events. They need a talk that will help them explore their doubts and engage their intellect.
This is a perfect place to discuss briefly the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. “Secular history tells us Christianity began in Jerusalem shortly after the death of Jesus. How could the disciples preach the resurrection if Jesus’ body was still in the tomb?”
“In a period when some women weren’t allowed to testify in court, why would the disciples make up their role as the first witnesses to the resurrection?”
By approaching your topic from the perspective of those with doubts, you will be more prepared to lead your audience to reasoned belief.
2. Season your messages with apologetics. When pastors think about apologetics, most of the time they imagine a stuffy symposium or conference, at least an entire series on the topic. While those events are beneficial and definitely needed, I’ve found that apologetics is best absorbed when sprinkled throughout my messages.
For instance, when talking about the importance of studying the Bible, mention reasons why we can trust Scripture. “Did you know researchers have more than 25,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, with one fragment from the Gospel of John dating close to within 30 to 50 years of the passage being written? With this type of documentation, it would have been nearly impossible for the church to change the message of the Jesus.”
It can be difficult to walk your congregation through the cosmological, moral and teleological arguments for the existence of God in one sitting; but sprinkling simplified versions of these subjects into your messages not only is possible, but vital.
3. Use arguments from desire. In his classic book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Inside all of us are desires that nothing in this world can appease. We’ve all heard of individuals who have everything they could wish for—money, sex, popularity—yet their lives are complete messes. They still feel something is missing. There is a God-shaped hole in all of us.
Appeal to these desires. “At one time or another, we’ve all felt a yearning deep inside of us, whispering that this life isn’t all there is. Christianity best explains this desire.”
4. Image a world without God. During a recent sermon, I encouraged our congregation to imagine a world without God. In a godless world, I told them, our planet is just a speck of dust floating through the universe. At a certain point in the past, we accidentally came into existence, and at a certain point in the future, our planet will die and humanity will cease to exist. No one will remember the good things we have done. No one will remember the evils we have committed. Life has no meaning or purpose.
That can’t be true can it? Our very ideas about life, law and love tells us that a godless world does not exist. Our desires scream for something more. Let the futility of life without God push your audience to consider the importance and necessity of a personal Creator.
5. Understand how to properly use archeology. One of my college professors once told me that archeology doesn’t prove the Bible is true, but it does show the Bible could be true. While the existence of King David and evidence proving the practice of first century crucifixion are incredible archeological finds, they don’t necessarily prove that biblical accounts actually happened, but they show us they could have happened.
For Christians who believe the Bible is inspired, these finds only confirm what we by faith already believe. Tell people that. Talk about the inscription unearthed in 1993 that references King David or the discovery of circular rolling stones used to cover tombs during the time of Jesus. Let people know the Bible isn’t just a book full of interesting stories, but that they are historical events. Archeology continually is affirming this.
6. Teach people it’s OK to doubt. Often, Christians view doubt as a negative emotion. Doubters sometimes are treated as if they’re contagious. Teach those within your congregation that it’s OK to doubt. Doubt actually can push us to deepen our faith. It can encourage us to discover Jesus for ourselves instead of just strolling along for the ride.
Let people know it’s alright to doubt. Then help them learn to doubt correctly.
Because ministers have hung around the church world for a while, it’s easy to take our chiseled and matured beliefs for granted. This often overflows into our messages. While unprepared and tongue-tied when I was first confronted by that student a few years ago, the interaction ended up being great for my preaching ministry.
When you think about it, the whole monkey riding on a unicycle thing gets predictable after a while.
Wade Bearden writes, teaches, produces videos and performs comedy on the side. He likes short walks on the beach because long walks make him tired and sweaty. Check out Wade’s blog and follow him on Twitter.