The other type of Christian apologetic that we’ve seen in the modern era is this: some Christians felt that, as individuals, we are called to tell people about our personal experience with Christ.
Instead of reacting to the modern infatuation with Reason by trying to provide a Christian counter-argument based also on Reason, these Christians relied instead on proclaiming a personal relationship with Jesus. For these Christians, religious experience is their apologetic. Each individual is to be a light for Christ to their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances, telling them about how they too can have that personal relationship with Christ. The stand of these Christians is, “You can’t argue anybody into the Kingdom!"
Since evangelicals had allowed the Gospel to become very individualistic, we can understand the emphasis on personal religious experience as the thrust of their testimony. Evangelism focused on the invitation to an individual to invite Jesus into his or her heart. Not much was said about community life, except that once you have that personal relationship with Christ, you need to worship and serve in a Bible-believing church body.
Since there was such an emphasis on individual piety and personal religious experience, the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15 (“always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you”), had to do with how I explain my personal, individual experience with Christ. The only apologetic needed is our personal testimony. Apologetics was individual-on-individual, as we sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine."
However, an Emmanuel Apologetic is an apologetic of “God with Us.” Our “light” is not meant to be simply individualistic, but as a community of believers shining light in a dark world through our good deeds in order to bring the goodness of God’s Kingdom into the lives of those around us.
Jesus tells his disciples,
“You (plural) are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your (plural) light shine before men, that they may see your (plural) good deeds and praise your (plural) Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
The plural pronouns say it all.
Reading that passage in light of John 8:12, where Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world” gives us great insight into an Emmanuel Apologetic. You see, when God is with us, light shines in the darkness.
It was true at the incarnation, and it is true when we are living as the incarnate body of Christ—as the apologetic community shining light in the darkness of this present world.
Next: Emmanuel: The God Who Is Increasingly With Us
technorati: emerging church, spiritual formation, apologetics