Recently, I had the opportunity to judge at a speech and debate tournament. I always enjoy being able to judge, coming back and seeing speech and debate from “the other side of the table.” Plus, Judges’ Hospitality isn’t bad at all. 🙂
As I always like to do at tournaments, I judged one round of Apologetics. Viewing and judging these rounds always helps me clarify my perspective on Apologetics. I learned and relearned several things during the round, and I will be sharing some of those in upcoming weeks. For today, I want to focus in on the most significant lesson I was reminded of during the round: you have to care.
When you watch eight different speakers, you experience some very different speaking styles. Some students were smooth and polished, while others were rough and inexperienced. Some spoke quickly while others spoke slowly. Some spoke clearly while others slurred their words. Some moved around the room and some stayed planted in one location. Some used introductions and some did not. Some organized well and some did not. And some really cared and some did not.
Now, I’m not saying that the Apologetics speakers who “didn’t care” really had no interest in the event, the Bible, Christianity, or God. I am merely making a comparative evaluation. Several of the competitors presented good, solid speeches, but delivered them rather quickly in a monotone without much passion or inflection.
Apologetics should not be so.
I understand that content is ultimately more important than delivery. Heresy spoken well is abhorrent, while truth delivered poorly is still immeasurably valuable. However, those who take it upon themselves to speak the truth should give heed to how they speak it.
Truth is not cold, dead, abstract doctrine. The truth contained in the Bible is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). When we communicate living truth, our voices should be alive as well.
I’m sure you can remember occasions when you have been around someone who is speaking of something they truly care about: maybe about sports, or video games, or clothes, or cooking, or toys. No matter the topic, you could tell that they really cared about it.
We should present Apologetics speeches the same way. In fact, whenever we speak of God and his truth, we should present in this same way. We have the best news in all the universe!
We get to speak of an immeasurably vast and matchless God, stunning in his holiness, amazing in his love. When we rebelled against him and attempted to seize his throne for ourselves, he warned us of coming judgment but also sent his Son to provide a way of escape. This Son, Jesus the Messiah, lived a spotless life and died a gruesome death in our place for our sin. Then he rose from the dead, victoriously triumphant over all his enemies. He now stands at the Father’s right hand in heaven, interceding for his own. One day he will return, conquer all of his enemies once and for all, and then take his elect to rule with him for all eternity.
This is the message we proclaim.
It’s true that this entire message should not be sandwiched into every Apologetics speech. But any topic from the Bible should be understood in context, not divorced from the narrative whole of Scripture. That means that any truth relates to this glorious gospel message and to the glorious God behind it. Thus, no matter what Apologetics topic we draw, we have plenty of reason to proclaim it with passion. For example:
In what ways has God revealed Himself to man? Even before we discuss specific ways, pause to meditate upon this! God has chosen to reveal himself—to us!
Explain the meaning and significance of Biblical canon. God has given us a book! And this book is actually 66 books full of his love and grace and truth and righteousness and judgment and mercy.
Why would a loving God create hell? Our God is so amazing, so surpassingly valuable, and so supremely worthy that to rebel against him is a crime so heinous it is deserving of eternal punishment. But “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV).
Analyze and respond to the statement, “Every charitable act is a stepping stone to heaven.” –Henry Ward Beecher. No. All our righteous deep are as filthy rags. But there is one who came and lived for 33 years, whose every act was righteous and loving. In the great exchange, our sinful actions are charged to his account and his righteous actions are credited to our account. The path to heaven is not an endless staircase that we must mount one charitable act at a time—it is a hypersonic elevator that brings us straight into the presence of God!
Analyze and respond to the statement, “I don’t need Jesus, I can just relate to God myself.” –Anonymous. None of us can relate to God on our own. But when we are united to his beloved Son, we can come before him without fear, knowing that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). We cannot relate to God on our own but we can’t relate and in Jesus Christ.
See? Just picking five random topics, I’ve been able to identify something worthy of heartfelt proclamation in each one. No matter the topic you draw, there is always something to get excited about. (For a full example on a seemingly uninteresting topic, see this post about Higher and Lower Criticism.)
Pastor John Piper explains in this video clip that the word “preaching” in the New Testament means “heralding.” The demonstration that he presents of heralding is one of my favorite sermon excerpts of all time. While I understand that giving an Apologetics speech is not the same as preaching a sermon, I think you can apply the general concept.
Passion is contagious! Aren’t you at least little bit excited now?
One particular girl in the Apologetics round that I judged really cared. Her content wasn’t the best in the room, and overall I couldn’t rank her first. However, she still had solid content, and the combination of that content with her visibly genuine passion for her topic earned her a fairly high ranking.
You have to care. As an Apologist, you herald God’s own truth. Ensure that your presentation of the truth adequately reflects that life-transforming reality.