At 6:00 a.m. this coming Monday morning, I will be on a plane headed for Guatemala.
Along with others from a few local churches, I’m going to Guatemala City in order to train local leaders about the basics of discipleship. Personally, I’ll be teaching about the characteristics of a disciple from 2 Timothy 2. Additionally, I’m teaching an easily-transferrable New Testament Overview that these leaders can use with their own disciples.
As I anticipate the trip, I’m reminded of a passage from Romans.
“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:14-15 ESV)
Paul starts out this passage with a very interesting phrase. He says that he is “under obligation” to all people. In the previous verse, he talks about desiring to “reap a harvest” of believers from the Romans as well as from other Gentiles. So his obligation has something to do with winning souls.
Paul’s next sentence helps us further understand the nature of this obligation: “So I am eager to preach the gospel….” This requirement can be fulfilled by sharing the gospel, because that is in fact the obligation: preach the gospel.
Pastor and author David Platt has some very helpful and challenging comments on this obligation:
“Did you hear that? Paul said he is obligated to preach the gospel to all peoples. Literally, he owes the gospel to all peoples — to Greeks, to barbarians, and to the people of Rome. What a remarkable statement. Apparently, Paul’s ownership of the gospel creates an obligation with the gospel. Because he knows this good news of what God has done in Christ, he must spread this good news of what God has done in Christ.” (David Platt)
Wow. That is challenging. As a middle-class American blessed with more gospel-centered Bible resources than I could ever read, listen to, or watch in a thousand lifetimes, I am not supposed to hunker down in my Bible bunker and stay safe until Jesus comes back.
No. Christ’s calling on my life is much bigger than that. I’m supposed to be a part of his Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 ESV)
That’s why I’m going to Guatemala. I’m going because I have been called to be part of the worldwide disciple-making mission of the church.
Is this one-week trip going to change the entire world? No. But might it change one person’s life? Yes. If the Holy Spirit blesses the words that my team and I speak, then when we leave there will hopefully be an entire group of Guatemalans who are fired up for the gospel and for making disciples. And if that happens, then every hour and every dollar spent will have been worth it.
I’m going to Guatemala because of how Paul continues that passage in Romans:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16 ESV)
I’m going because of the gospel. I have been saved by a magnificently glorious God, and I can’t help but want to share who he is with those around me and those around the world.
So what on earth does this have to do with Apologetics? After all, you didn’t start reading this article thinking, “Oh, I’m so glad that Caleb is going to tell us all about his personal travels.” You were expecting something about speech and debate!
Well, as I’ve said before, everything in theology is connected. Understanding missions rightly helps us to understand Apologetics rightly. So here are two quick thoughts about how you can apply this article in competitive Apologetics
1. Apologetics is not an end in itself. If you can defend the existence of God using seven different proofs and explain every multisyllabic theological word in the dictionary, but you can’t explain the gospel in a loving manner to an atheist, then you have failed as an Apologist. To quote a very wise adult friend of mine, “In Apologetics we are lovers, not fighters.” So if you get nothing else from this article, remember why we as Christians so often travel around the world. It’s to share the message about Jesus. And that’s why you do Apologetics: to learn how to share the message about Jesus more clearly and convincingly.
2. You can apply this sort of story (especially if you’ve been on a missions trip) to basically any topic in Category 4. “Salvation” is the focus of Category 4, and that means the gospel is central. After all, the gospel is the message of good news about Jesus Christ that a person must believe to be saved (Mark 1:15). Once you’ve explained propitiation or analyzed atheists’ statements or answered skeptics’ questions, consider impacting your speech by discussing why we go on missions trips. It’s because we have the message! We have this amazing message about an amazing God who did the amazing thing of sending his Son to die for us and rise again! And we want to share it with the world. That’s how important the gospel is.
I’m looking forward to my trip to Guatemala, and I hope that while on it I re-learn the very thing you and I both need to be re-learning every day: we have a glorious God who has given us a glorious gospel, and it is our obligation and our joy to share it.