An apologist is someone who makes a case—a compelling argument—for something. For example, “You should try restaurant ABC…because they serve fresh seafood daily.” Fresh seafood is the apologetic, the compelling reason for eating a meal at ABC.
But that’s seafood. This is evangelism. So what is the single best apologetic for the Christian faith? What draws people to Christ more than anything else?
My friend Tom found out firsthand when his spiritual journey took an unexpected twist.
From Early Doubts to Outright Atheism
Tom grew up in the church, but found himself doubting God’s existence. Didn’t war, crime, corruption, racism, and natural disasters count against there being a good god? And why was God so silent in the face of evil and suffering?
Carrying his doubts with him to college, Tom majored in philosophy and used it to wrestle long and hard with the classical arguments for God’s existence.
By graduation, he was officially an atheist.
Tom met my friend Kathe in law school, married her, and spent the next 20 years continuing his spiritual search while becoming a successful lawyer. He was smart, competent, and skeptical as ever.
But this god whose existence Tom tried so hard to argue against was working overtime in Tom’s life. As a courtesy to his wife, Tom began attending their neighborhood church. It was there at Calvary Lutheran that Tom encountered the “ultimate apologetic,” the most compelling argument for Christian faith. The knockout punch for God’s existence—from a source he’d never expected—was the people.
Maybe you’re thinking that a change of heart wasn’t quite that simple for Tom. Isn’t it pretty unlikely, after all, that an atheist of 20-plus years simply looked around at a bunch of Lutherans sitting in wooden pews and miraculously came to the realization that God was no poser?
You’d be right.
What’s true, however, is that the stunning environment of quality Christian community sent him back to his intellectual pursuits with a new openness to the possibilities in the universe. He reengaged his philosophical pursuits and his personal quest for the historical Jesus. He read books, listened to arguments with new ears, pondered, even prayed. Then, one day, he simply believed.
Community Is Designed to Work
The idea of unity among the people of God is more than a trendy manifesto of the contemporary church. Jesus taught it, as follows:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35a)
Jesus was essentially saying, “The quality of your relationships is the most powerful apologetic for the reality of the Son of God. If you really want a compelling argument for the presence of God, love one another. Be unified.”
It was this love, this sense of togetherness among the people of God, that Tom found so convincing. How different the church was from the world! Not because it isolated itself and lived in a bubble, but because it embodied the very presence of God.
In a very real sense, Calvary Lutheran served as a metaphysical declaration that there is a God in heaven who has visited earth. Want proof? Look at the community. See how they love one another.
Your Chapter = Compelling Community
These days, I have the great privilege of traveling the country, doing apologetics work for InterVarsity. (35 campuses in the past two years. Yeah, it’s a sweet life.) What I find in my travels is that the InterVarsity chapters that are thriving in evangelism have a community vibe that is off the charts.
You want to attract non-Christians to your group and convince them that God is real? That God has come to earth in the person of Jesus? Love one another. Unify.
Provide an experience of Christian community to seekers and skeptics that is so radically different than the secular alternatives that their hearts naturally open to the possibility of a divine presence in the universe—namely, Jesus Christ.
In "The Fun Apologetic: How One Chapter Does Community Well," you’ll hear about a small, humble—but very compelling—community that has experienced amazing results in evangelism the past couple years. And you’ll learn a few ways to create a compelling community on your campus as well.
Until then, share your comments, questions, or even a story about compelling Christian community below.