Earlier this week a friend sent me the following excellent observation based on 1 Corinthians 10:32-33, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” I thought some of you might like to ponder our interchange on the subject of graciously speaking for Christ.
His words: The standard is: give no offense to Jews, Greeks or to the church. For Paul there will be no public attacks on the faith of others. Critical analysis, yes, attacks–no! While writing to Christians he does not hide the fact that the gods of the “Gentiles” do not exist and that their worship brings them into fellowship with demons. When lecturing on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31) Paul found common ground between his message and respected Greek authors.
In Paul’s ministry, tolerance, open-mindedness and respect flowed together with critical analysis and non-apologetic evangelism. To update Paul’s directive into the twenty-first century we could say, “Give no offense to Jews or to Muslims or to the church of God. Do not seek your own advantage, but theirs–and at the appropriate time, in a respectful and culturally sensitive way, bear witness to the Christian story without apology.”
My reply: From what you wrote, I would heartily agree with at least the spirit of the idea. If you take apologetics for what the word actually means–a defense– then I also believe strongly in apologetics, but not used aggressively. As far as defending the Faith, I think we do need to offer reasons for why we believe and live as we do, using whatever means fit with genuine Christian faith and resonate with the culture. But never aggression. It is counter-gospel to defame, accuse or incite controversy. I believe the core of the gospel is grace flowing from the great love and goodness of God as manifested in Christ. How can we do other than approach people graciously? If we simply offer standards and truth claims, how are we different than all the other competing ideologies? No, for me its grace every time!