Incarnational Apologetics by Dr. David Wheeler

Definition:

“Incarnational” Apologetics is the representative public and private lifestyle of a Christian that validates to the world the absolute truths of the Bible.  It should be the natural result of a “born again” experience and is communicated to the world through both actions and attitudes of Christians as they consistently live out the tenants of their faith in community with both the redeemed and unredeemed.

Obvious Questions to Consider:

  • Is “Incarnational” apologetics a valid expression and study in light of more traditional “informational” forms of apologetics

From a traditional perspective apologetics is the study of internalizing and perfecting “informational” approaches and arguments to defend the absolute truths of the Bible especially in light of consistent attacks from a pluralistic culture.  Considering the fact that one’s Christian faith is totally dependant upon the validity of these truths relating to the biblical claims of Christ as Savior (i.e. Death and Physical Resurrection of Christ, Forgiveness of Sin, the Deity of Christ, etc.), this is obviously an essential issue to protect the integrity of historical Christianity.

Nevertheless, the “incarnational” expressions of one’s faith are equally as important, especially when the goal is to evangelize an unredeemed world.  While “informational” apologetics represents the explanation of essential biblical tenants to the Christian faith; “incarnational” apologetics represents the actualization of those same biblical belief systems into the authentic expressions of a believer’s life.  It is, in a sense, wrapping one’s faith in the flesh of daily living.

For instance, consider the apologetic claims related to biblical inerrancy.  Conservative Evangelicals consider this, rightfully so, imperative to a clear understanding of truth as it relates to all areas of one’s Christian faith.  After all, if the Bible is not shown to be trustworthy in every way as it relates to faith and life, how can one know for sure if what they believe is genuine?

The same is true when considering “incarnational” apologetics as it relates to the issue of biblical inerrancy and other equally important foundational beliefs.  If one claims to believe the Bible to be inerrant but exemplifies it in the expressions of their life as a contradictory code of ethics and behavior, what should the non-Christian world conclude about this same faith that supposedly came from the Bible?   Not that anyone is perfect, but shouldn’t an inerrant Bible that is espoused as the final authority for the Christian faith result in something close to an inerrant lifestyle from it’s proponents?

At some point the real issue of biblical inerrancy boils down to the question of authority.  For the Christian, the Bible is authoritative because of its author, the Holy Spirit who spoke the word into being.  On the other hand, for the non-Christian the issue of accepting biblical authority as an essential precursor to salvation is in part verified by the consistent “incarnational” expressions of Christians who claim to have experienced a “born again” conversion.  Since real authority is never assumed but earned when dealing with the unsaved world, it is imperative that one’s approach to biblical apologetics is validated by a life that exemplifies the person of Christ as found in the Bible.

The same argument can be applied to other areas of traditional apologetics.  Consider for a moment the important issues related to the resurrection of Christ.  While the historical and biblical aspects are imperative in validating the authenticity of the event, one must never ignore how that miraculous event transforms the individual expressions of a Christian’s daily life.

For instance, a Muslim friend who converted to Christianity communicated that it was not the great arguments of traditional “informational” apologetics that finally drew him to examine the claims of Christ.  On the contrary, it was the consistent caring actions of a high school friend who lived out a “resurrected” life before him.

It was not that his friend ever stopped verbally sharing the “informational” truths about Christ with him.   The truth is that he boldly shared the gospel on many occasions.   The bottom line was the simple undeniable fact that his friend’s life “incarnationally” validated the biblical truths he graciously espoused.

In fact, the former Muslim admitted that he regularly abused and embarrassed his schoolmate hoping that he would grow weary and leave him alone.  In the end, the former Muslim became a Christian because he could not argue with the evidences of a transformed life that ultimately became a tool of the Holy Spirit prompting his heart to further examine the directions of his faith.

It is here that both the “incarnational” and “informational” approaches combine to create an authentic message that obviously pierced the Muslim’s heart.  The holistic combination of a Christian who was well prepared “informationally” to defend his faith, combined with one who actually lived out his beliefs “incarnationally” as a transforming expression of Christ could not be denied.  In the end, the Muslim received Christ as personal Savior!

Still, the question begs to be asked; should this “incarnational” approach be considered as the other half of genuine apologetics?  It certainly appears to be an important aspect of fully communicating biblical truth.  The sad fact is that many people will never understand the reality of biblical ideals such as forgiveness, unconditional love, or even salvation, because they cannot move beyond the inconsistent ways in which Christians communicate their faith through daily living.  This must stop!  According to scripture, the only stumbling block for unbelievers should be the Cross, not the unbiblical actions of those claiming to have been redeemed through that same cross!

  • Is “incarnational” apologetics just another liberal expression of the social gospel?

For over a century many “Evangelicals” have been negative and reactionary to ministry expressions that exemplified a social conscience because of their fears that the “informational” message of the gospel was not being properly communicated.  In their defense, their fears were often justified as numerous ministries were developed to meet physical needs to the obvious neglect of the greatest need of unbelievers, which is to be redeemed.

As a result, over time the passionate pursuits of biblical conservatives to evangelize unbelievers often neglected the “incarnational” expressions of their faith to lovingly live out the commands of Christ by meeting simple needs and demonstrating authentic community.  Many well-meaning Christians unknowingly contributed to a negative know-it-all stereotype that continues to stifle real evangelism.  While this approach values much knowledge, it often misses the point of living out a transformed life and underestimates the impact of an inconsistent lifestyle upon unbelievers.

After all, isn’t the point of real apologetics to convince people in reference to the truths of scripture so as to result in changed lives.  For this to occur, one must model truth for the unbelieving world.  As the former staff member for Bill Hybels, Deiter Zander once said, “the contemporary world is interested in genuine Christianity, not our version of it” (from a conference in Napa Valley, CA, 2000).  He went on to say, “if it is more important to be right then to be in relationship with people, you will never relate to this generation” (ibid.).  The key here is the obvious need for the unredeemed world to “incarnationally” experience the truths of Christ being lived out in daily lives of committed believers.

Quite frankly, it does not make sense to espouse the powerful truths of Christ if they are not dynamic enough to impact the ways we manifest Him to the world.  In a sense this is what Jesus said in Matthew 9:17, “Nor do they put new wine in old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Even though this passage is referring to the old and new covenant, it is still relevant to the discussion.  Consider that one of the miracles of salvation is that one receives “new wine” through the power of the gospel message.  Unfortunately, without new “wineskins” the whole batch of wine is perverted and its purpose is never realized.  The same is true with many Christians who do not understand the connection between beliefs and behavior.

By understanding the biblical truth that it is impossible to divorce the saving message of Christ from the man he represented to the world then one can grasp the fact that “incarnational” apologetics does not compromise “informational” apologetics in reference to social liberalism.  On the contrary, it fully completes the expression of absolute truth and further validates the gospel message to the world.

In the end, this requires a balance between the realms of both “informational” and “incarnational” apologetics.  One must never consider it socially liberal to exemplify an authentic Christian lifestyle of servanthood and kindness that validates one’s faith to an unbelieving world.  At the same time, one must never remain silent concerning biblical truth and the significant issues relating to faith.  As the old saying goes, it represents both sides of the same coin.

  • Conclusion:  How does one live an “incarnational” life?

In his book, Safely Home, Randy Alcorn tells the story of a fervent Christian named Quan.  He was unjustly thrown into jail for publicly proclaiming his faith in China.

Alcorn unwittingly defines “incarnational” apologetics through one of Quan’s heart wrenching experiences with the unbelieving jailer who regularly abused and mocked him.  You will want to notice how Quan effectively combined both types of apologetics to achieve an unbelievable outcome to the glory of God!  Alcorn shares:

“Quan whispered into the darkness words hidden in his heart. “‘I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!'”

The guard peered into Quan’s cell through the little barred window, which was two handbreadths across. Long used to the darkness, Quan could see the contempt in his eyes.

“Stop smiling!” he yelled.

“I am not smiling,” Quan said.

“Yes, you are!” shouted the guard. He rattled the door, but moved on to the next cell.

Suddenly, Li Quan stood and pressed his face against the bars. “Guard!”

Quan called. When he didn’t come, he called louder. “Su Gan!”

The guard came back and rattled the door violently. “Who told you my name? Be silent or I will come in and make you silent!”

“Su Gan, sir, please, I have a request for you.”

“Unless you can pay me, I care nothing for your requests.”

“Can I do some labor for you?”

Quan saw in the jailer’s eyes surprise mixed with contempt.

“This prison is so filthy,” Quan said. “There is waste everywhere. The rats and roaches feed on it. You are not a prisoner, but you must feel like you are. Su Gan has to breathe this foul air, to walk carefully because of what oozes out of the cells. Li Quan can help you. Let me go into the cells one by one and clean up this filthy place. Give me water and a brush and soap, and I will show you what I can do! My father, Li Tong, was a street sweeper, a great cleaner of the ground. The finest in China. And I am my father’s son!” (in Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn, Tyndale House, 2001, 273-274)

From this point, Alcorn picks up the story after several weeks in which Quan chooses to serve the jailer by cleaning the nasty cells.  Again, you will want to notice how God used his Christlike service.  The story picks up with Quan addressing a Christian visitor to the jail named Ben.  Alcorn continues:

Ben stood in the chilly winter air. As usual, he waited nervously, trying to keep warm and to will Li Quan out of the black hole. Someone was being led out of the building now, a frail, older man with a pronounced limp and yellow skin, as if he had jaundice or hepatitis.

Ben watched the man, who for some reason was walking toward him. He felt his heart freeze. “Quan?” He tried to disguise his horror. They touched right index fingers through the fence. “You smell like … soap.”

“Yes.” Quan beamed, his face and voice surprisingly animated. “This is better than I smelled last time, yes? I have wonderful news! You must tell my family and house church. God has answered prayer. He has given me a ministry!”

“What?”

“I go from cell to cell, bringing Yesu’s message.” “But I thought you were in an isolated cell.”

“God opened the door. I go to the other men. Most have never had anyone else come into their cell except to beat them. I help and serve them as I clean their cells. I bring them the love of Yesu. Twelve men I have visited. When I left their cells, six I did not leave alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I left, Yesu was with them. Three were already believers, one of them a pastor. He had known my father, Li Tong! Three more bowed their knees to Yesu, who promises never to leave or forsake them. When I walk by their cells on ‘the way to clean others, I sing to them, ‘Heaven is my fatherland.’ When I finish cleaning all the cells I will start over. Then I can teach Shengjing to each of them. I will teach as I wash.”

“The guards let you do this?”

“The smell that used to cling to the guards is now almost gone. Their shoes are not ruined. The prisoners are excited to no longer be alone. Excited to realize that even if they die here, they will have etemal life . Excited that God has not forgotten them, that this world is not their home, that they will find release.”

“Sounds more like a revival meeting than a prison.”

“Those in prison are not so distracted as those outside. They think about death more. They ask, ‘Is this the day?’ They do not put so much hope in their plans and successes in this world. I tell them about Yesu and his heaven, and they listen eagerly, much more intently than most free men I speak to in the locksmith’s shop. Please, tell Ming and Shen and Zhou Jin about Li Quan’s ministry.” (ibid., 276-277)

The story of Quan is an amazing picture representing the balance of both “informational” and “incarnational” apologetics.  As he served and lived out the life of Christ, his actions validated his faith thus opening a door to share the truths of Christ.

Think about it, “informational” apologetics without “incarnational” validation will often lead to hypocrisy.  On the other hand, “incarnational” apologetics without an “informational” foundation of biblical truth will often lead to heresy.

So . . . how does one live an “incarnational” life?  It begins by understanding the words of Christ in Mark 10: 43-45, “ . . . whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  An “incarnational” life demands surrender, not only to the words of Christ, but His actions as well.  Christians must become servants first!

It is kind of like the way Jesus treated the woman at the well in John 4.  He didn’t embarrass or condemn her.  On the contrary, he did the unthinkable for a Jew, he actually spoke to her thus acknowledging her basic value as a human soul.  In doing so, he gained her confidence and peaked her curiosity.  Ultimately, the woman was drawn to spiritual water where according to Christ, she “would never thirst again.”

With this in mind, it is worth noting that Christ was always a perfect blend of both types of apologetics.  The simple truth is that the “incarnational” life is merely living as Jesus lived by balancing beliefs with behavior.  In the end, Christians must understand that an unbelieving world will not believe what we say about Christ and our faith, until they first see the truth manifested through us.  In short, this is “incarnational” apologetics at its best!

EM:

Having read this article my dear friends where do you sit with reference to its contents?  Are you living an Incarnational lifestyle for Christ?

We cannot be on mission for him if we are not.

Contact us and let us know how we can help you.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bueller
    Apr 21, 2015 @ 11:07:55

    There is a lot I still am not certain about, but the article is indeed an interesting one and gives one reason to contemplate exactly where we are in our mission for God. I had not heard of this before so you know I will have to do more “investigating” for myself. But, that is the purpose of all your stories and comments.

    Reply

  2. Joyce
    Apr 21, 2015 @ 13:34:42

    🙂

    Reply

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