Prepared to Give a Defense

Acts 17:1-9 When Paul and Silas had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went to the Jews, and on three Sabbath days he led them in a discussion from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He also said, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great number of God-fearing Greeks and more than a few of the prominent women.

But the Jews became jealous and gathered from the marketplace some wicked men, who formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house and searched for Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the mob. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men, who have stirred up trouble all over the world, have come here too, and Jason has welcomed them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, Jesus!” The crowd and the city officials were stirred up when they heard these things. They took a security bond from Jason and the others and then let them go.

My daughter, Miriam, is a freshman at UW River Falls. She has only been on campus for two months, but she has already had numerous opportunities to give a witness to and present a defense of her faith.

When we were receiving a tour of the campus, one of our tour guides was an outgoing, pleasant young lady. But on her backpack that she carried with her on the tour, she had little buttons declaring, “I’m a lesbian.” “I’m gay.” And, “I’m asexual.”

Miriam has had many long discussions about religion with her friend, Emma. According to Miriam, Emma is technically non-denominational. She believes things that aren’t in the Bible and doesn’t accept as truth everything that is in the Bible.

Miriam also went on a date with a young man named Sean from her cross country team. She was rightly bothered by the fact that he’s agnostic. Miriam is 5’ 3”. Sean is 6’ 6”. I was bothered by the fact that he’s 15 inches taller than her. She says that Sean grew up Catholic, but now he says he’s more of an agnostic. She says that he seems scared of religion and closes himself off when she brings up anything religious.

Miriam is an apologist. An apologist is not someone who apologizes and says they are sorry all the time. Apology here means explanation or defense, as in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, one of our Lutheran confessional writings in the Book of Concord. It wasn’t that the Lutheran Reformers were sorry for what they said in our confession at Augsburg. They wanted to explain more fully and defend what they said against attacks by Roman Catholic and liberal theologians.

The apostle Paul was an apologist. In his missionary travels, his first stop in a new city was the Jewish synagogue. There, Paul unpacked the Old Testament Scriptures and taught how they were fulfilled in the New Testament Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Paul explained and proved from the Scriptures they believed in that Jesus Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:3).

Paul also moved from the synagogue into the marketplace, like in Athens. With the Athenians, Paul noted how religious the people were since their city was full of idols to their Greek gods. He noticed that they even had an altar to an unknown god. Paul proclaimed to them, “Now what you worship as unknown – this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Paul preached to them about Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.

St. Luke writes about Paul’s experiences in the synagogue in Thessalonica and the Areopagus in Athens. Different English translations render the wording differently. The KJV and NIV say, “[Paul] reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” The EHV says, “he led them in a discussion from the Scriptures.” Dialegomai in the Greek means “to discuss, to converse, to argue or reason.”

We are living in a time and culture that is very similar to what Paul encountered in Thessalonica and Athens. We live in a time when people will accept only certain parts of the Bible that agree with their lifestyle choices, and vehemently disregard the rest of the Bible. When mobs are formed for feminism and LGBTQ causes or to shout down any type of confessional Christianity. Where people are naturally skeptical and pick and choose what they want to believe or disbelieve. You don’t have to go to the synagogue or marketplace or Areopagus. You find it on any public university campus. Religion in all its various flavors. Angry atheists. Sarcastic skeptics.

St. Peter taught, “Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter directs us to be apologists – defenders of the faith. Always be a ready apologist, ready to defend the faith, ready to give a clear answer to anyone who asks you why you believe what you believe. To reason in the synagogue. To discuss the Scriptures in the marketplace.

How are we doing on training our young people on being apologists? Have we given them to tools to be successful in defending their faith? Are they prepared to give a clear answer of what they believe and why they believe it? Can they lead a discussion from the Scriptures? Can they use both reason and Scripture to talk to their classmates and professors?

Honestly, I don’t think we have done a good job of teaching apologetics to our young people. They view Bible passages as merely memory work. They experience Catechism as just another grade in the school day. They consider confirmation as a graduation from all that work and classes.

Our young people are going into public high schools, colleges, and workplaces unprepared for apologetics.

As pastors and parents, we need to reexamine what we are doing. We need to see where we are failing. We need to teach them the faith, and then the tools to defend that faith.  

This is a portion of a news story about a lack of apologetics for our young people:

Graduating high school senior Sarah Henson was invited to stand in front of her church on Sunday while other members surrounded her, laid hands on her, and prayed that she would miraculously stand firm in her beliefs when hit with basic secular arguments the church had never once attempted to prepare her to face.

Leaders at Hope Life Baptist Church are always careful to pray for their graduating seniors, that the Lord would miraculously stop them from deconverting, even though the church doesn’t spend a single second addressing even basic secular arguments against the faith.

“You’re about to leave us and enter the belly of the secular beast,” said youth pastor Wilbur Coburn. “Your deeply held beliefs that you have never had questioned and are mostly professed out of obedience to your parents will be challenged like never before. We haven’t prepared you for this onslaught, but we are going to remedy that right now with sixty seconds of ceremonial prayer.”

Admittedly, that story is from the Babylon Bee, the most reliable source in fake Christian news. However, like with all the Babylon Bee stories, there is a lot of truth in this story. And the truth stings.

We often wall off our children from the secular world, so their first experience in high school or college is a complete shock to their faith. Or, we allow them to absorb everything the world has to offer so their faith is a dim light in the darkness. We are sending out generations of young people from our churches without any Christian armor, in a day when such armor has never been more necessary. We must equip our young Christians with the apologetical tools they need in the Church Militant. Failure to do so, can result in either our young people leaving the faith once poured over their heads and hearts or they will fashion a faith of their own that is unrecognizable to confessional Lutheranism.  

I am certainly no expert on teaching apologetics. But, I had a heart-to-heart talk with Miriam before she went away to college and many discussions with her since she’s been there. We talked about offering more apologetics in our Lutheran grade school and high school. She felt she would have been better served to have her faith challenged in the Lutheran classroom, because it is certainly being challenged in her university classroom.

I’ve changed my teaching in 8th grade Catechism class to include more apologetics. Every class period, my students not only memorize their Bible verses and Catechism portions, but they need to use them to defend their faith. Sometimes they write their answers as part of a quiz. For example: “Your friend, Lisa, thinks it’s OK to move in with her fiancé. Use the 6th Commandment and/or Hebrews 13:4 to teach her what’s sinful with that thinking.” Sometimes they must debate with a classmate. “Using the accounts of the Flood and the Tower of Babel, did we evolve from monkeys or do we share the same ancestry and DNA?” Sometimes they go home and discuss the topic with their parents. “Discuss with your parents how the evil the Fifth Commandment describes is often carried out, and even justified and legalized in our nation.”

Teach them that the Bible verses they memorized are in their heads and in their hearts, so at the right time, they can recall them, and the Holy Spirit will give them the right words to defend their faith (Luke 12:12).

Train them to put their faith into action right now as grade schoolers and high schoolers. If they are involved in some aspects of outreach now, they are not going to be afraid of sharing their faith later.

Teach apologetics Bible studies to your teens and adults.

Remind them that everything that they are learning, witnessing, and defending is about Jesus.

Too often, we, and our young people, can be distracted and diverted from our main goal – talking to others about Jesus. We can get sucked into conversations about creation vs. evolution, homosexuality, roles of men and women, biblical interpretation, or whatever. Those are fine to discuss and debate. But, we need to train ourselves and our young people to always bring the conversation back to Jesus.

Paul led them in a discussion from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He also said, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” 

When [the people of Athens] heard about the resurrection from the dead [from Paul], some of them started to scoff. But others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17: 32).

Let’s give our children Jesus. Let’s give our teenagers Jesus. Let’s give our college students Jesus. Then, our young people will be able to give Jesus to others.

Because Jesus is all about freedom. Freedom from sins. Freedom from hell. Freedom from the devil and his demons. Freedom to speak. Freedom to worship. Freedom from our failures as pastors and parents. Freedom from keeping our mouth shut. Freedom to stand before the scoffers and sceptics, as well as the genuinely curious, and tell them the reason for the hope we have in this life. A hope that is founded upon the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ who allows us to stand justified before God. Jesus Christ who covers us with His perfect righteousness. Jesus Christ who gives power to our words and the Spirit to our speech.

This week, Miriam forwarded me an email conversation she has been having with her campus pastor. Miriam mentioned three friends that she has been bringing with her to church, campus Bible studies, and the church’s bonfires. Two of those three friends are Emma and Sean. Miriam said that she doesn’t always know what to say, but she just invites people to church and talks to them about Jesus. She is excited to see how people react.

Pastor Welch’s response is exactly what Miriam and all of our young apologists need to hear: “I love that you let your light shine in all these situations.  Please don't burden yourself with the expectation that it's your job to make people into believers.  What you're already doing is great: sharing Jesus with them!  The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.”

As pastors and parents, let’s train our young people so they are always prepared to give a defense. To give people Jesus. Apologetics. Amen.