Wednesday, November 4, 2015

By Dr. Joshua Chatraw

The past few weeks, we have highlighted a series of posts, inspired by Jonathan Edwards, on the subject of posture in engaging the culture. Edwards encouraged believers to allow the Gospel to set the course for living out their message. What might it look like if we allow the Gospel to set the course for our engagement?  The rules that we have seen so far include truly listening to others, avoiding falsely representing the arguments of others, and fighting the urge to judge the motives of others. Today, we have reached the fourth rule of the Gospel for engaging with others.

Rule #4: Find points of agreement to affirm.

If the goal of apologetics was simply to win over an audience in a debate, this point might not matter. After all, “Who cares what we agree on,” one might think, “we are here to wrestle over what we disagree on. Let the best arguments win!” Yet, because the goal is to win the other person over for the sake of the gospel (although it is truly the Spirit who wins someone over)—and not to simply demonstrate that the other person is wrong—it is important to find something that we can build on or affirm about the other person’s position.

Paul was “provoked” by the idolatry in Athens, and though we know from his other writings (see Romans 1) that he passionately detested idolatry, Acts 17 describes how he sought and found ways he could affirm and then build upon their beliefs. He finds doctrines they affirm and then goes on to challenge their idolatry on his way to present Jesus.

The Bible teaches that while humans suppress the truth, all people have certain intuitions about life, God, and meaning that are implanted deep within them (Ecc. 3:11). In other words, an implication of God’s grace for humans is that people worship—that is, they seek to find meaning and identity in something—and have an intuition (even if they deny it!) that there is a right way to live which should be followed, and a wrong way to live which should be avoided. Often these, or other related points, are common ground that we build on for the sake of the gospel. By finding points of agreement, we can challenge others while at the same time living out the wisdom of the proverb: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).