Over the years I’ve had the privilege of training university students, church members and leaders in several countries regarding the role of Christian Apologetics in the life of a gospel community on mission. Over the years I have studied Apologetics to strengthen my faith, love God with my mind and thoughtfully engage people in culture. The driving force for my interest in Apologetics has been evangelism, the Great Commission and helping people understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Recently I was working on some training materials and came up with an acrostic that I first thought was useless but then realized was pretty enjoyable. Here it is: ASSLDAR. I wondered whether or not it would be helpful or memorable and it turned out to be a fun and useful tool in our training.
Just what is ASSLDAR you may ask? Well it may sound like a city in Middle Earth or perhaps one of the realms below Asgard. In fact, it is just such a magical place. ASSDLDAR is the place we arrive to see the gospel go forth with clarity and grace. It is the place where darkness is illuminated by the light of truth and the cross of Christ opened for all to clearly see. Really? Yeah, really.
The following is but a brief articulation of things I have found helpful in engaging non-Christians with the Gospel of grace.
In order to thoughtfully engage people in culture we must live AMONG them. We mustn’t become like them but we must like them enough to really know them. Love compels us to be witnesses and to be witnesses to Jesus we must live up close with people. The incarnation and the missionary work of Paul are the models. We see that Jesus did not stay far away from the humanity he was called to redeem. He became one of us. Living among the lost takes humility and love and this is exactly what we see in our Lord Jesus (Phil 2:1-12). Furthermore, the apostle became all things to all people and did so for the sake of the gospel. He did this to relate to people with a gospel end in mind. (1 Corinthians 9) The church must simply learn to overlap parts of her life with people outside of her walls. We must engage thoughtfully among the people.
Living among our friends in our communities allows us to SHARE real life with people. We can share meals, share rides to our kids sporting events, share civic and educational experiences, enjoy cultural festivals in our communities together. There are certain things and activities that Christian and non-Christian can share in common that allows real life and real talk and real knowledge of one another. We should seek to share our life and love with non-Christians. We need to know people and they need to know our way of life, our faith, our families and our gospel community.
Lest you think I am suggesting we should just hang out with non-Christians and overlapping life with them, let me repeat myself and give you the third realm of ASSLDAR…SHARE. We must share the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. The falleness and sinfulness of human beings, God’s gracious covenant promises to redeem a people for himself, his sending of Jesus to die on a bloody cross as a substitute for sin, his resurrection for our justification and the coming Kingdom and redemption of all things must be shared. We simply cannot live faithfully without sharing the actual gospel with people we are among. Share your life, but always share the gospel. For it is the gospel alone that is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (Romans 1:16).
As we pause for a moment let me show you that this is precisely what the apostolic church was about. Listen again to Paul’s description of his ministry among the ancient Thessalonians.
 So, being affectionately desirous of you [he loved them], we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (emphasis added)
Usually in life we don't want to be a donkey, but in this case it’s OK to be one. We must live among the peoples of this world sharing life and sharing good news with our friends.
Many times those who get geeked into Apologetics learn some philosophical or historical argument and then go out to “defeat the atheists” on campuses or the internet. We must remind ourselves that our goal isn’t to win the internet but to care for others and share good news. 1 Peter 3:15 is the apologetics verse and it talks about giving a reason for the hope that we have. The verse ends with the manner in which we should do this “gentleness and respect.” I’ve found that we must LISTEN to people in order to do this well. What makes this person tick? What ticks them off? An artful witness will listen to their friends’ actual beliefs, longings, desires, objects of worship (idols) and questions before giving his 10 point outline to defeat “the atheists.” Loving means listening…Ya hear?
Now not everything people believe is true, not even what they believe the gospel or Christian faith to believe. There is a lot of fogginess out there about faith and it is our role to make that clear. At times, a person may believe some things or have some issues with “Christianity” that we need to DECONSTRUCT and help them bring down so that they can look to the Cross of Jesus Christ and believe (or not). Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias speaks of clearing the bushes for our friends so they can get a view of the cross for what it is. Sometimes this means we have to take down some things gently and respectfully for our friends. The sociologist Peter Berger wrote about various people and cultures having “plausibility structures” or sets of beliefs or assumptions that make certain ideas more or less plausible. For example, if a friend is a person plagued by empiricism she may not find believing in Gods and demons plausible. In such cases we need to help them see that what we are sharing with them is at least possible. Please remember the gospel is the power of God for salvation not our deconstruction of our friends worldviews. Yet as we share the gospel we may see that our friend needs help removing certain barriers and taking down that stronghold may be a means that God uses in order to help them actually “hear” good news.
Wait, where is the Apologetics, the giving of reasons and answering questions and objections. It is here my friend. ANSWER. But we start with the great commission, the body of Christ among the people sharing life and gospel. We listen well and help pull down strongholds so that Jesus is in view. Then yes, we answer people’s specific questions and objections. If they have problems with miracles or the resurrection this is some wonderful philosophical and historical reasons to share. If they have read the Da Vinci code are have the goofy idea that popular fiction or even “biblical” scholars discount the narrative of the Bible then we can share a strong apologetic for the trustworthiness of Scripture. We simply don’t want to start with answers and not with real people and their actual questions.
Finally, ASSLDAR is not complete without the word REPEAT. We must live lives among the lost people of the world over time. We don’t have to give our pearls to pigs or take abuse from the same people who disdain the Lord and his gospel. But we do have to love our neighbors and travel with them through the journey of life. I’ve found in our work in the Northeast that I have many gospel conversations with people over time. They also watch our lives, our family and our church with some interest. And you know what. They also ask for the reason for the hope that we have…and we want to be prepared with wise, seasoned gospel speech as our answer.
Much more could be said along all the walls and parapets of ASSLDAR but I hope you at least want to start visiting her halls.