“. . . but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”
1 Corinthians 1:23 (ESV)
Behind and beyond all our cultural critique, political commentary, and textual analysis there lies a splinter ridden wooden T-bar staked in the cold ground, bloodied and punctured, a symbol of death if there ever was one. Only through Christ on the cross was that symbol of death transformed into the icon of life. We Christian apologists must never forget that that cross displays in red fading shades of living color what our sin actually looks like. Our sin is deadly real. It’s ugly. It’s painful. It’s senseless and cruel. Our sin is bloody hell. In our effort to win the war of ideas we perpetually risk (1) abstraction and (2) distraction. We conveniently forget to tie our talk back to the reality behind these safe theoretical debates. We risk abstracting truth into neat tidy mental categories so we don’t have to face the brutal truth, the real-world facts–where fallen man finally faces the bleeding and dying Christ. In the presence of epic injustice we find whether we are the centurion admitting what wrong we’ve done, or Judas betraying him with feigned affection, or Peter in denying Him to save our skin, or the high priests and Romans enjoying the show. Christ is the only hero on Galgotha. The Gospel isn’t complete without the empty tomb, but neither is it possible without the cross. Our apologetics should always have that red thread woven throughout. We comment and argue, think and discuss, illustrate and demonstrate, and we live out our Christ-fortifying influence in the world in everpresent awareness of how sin is real, sin is death, we’re all sinners, and Christ died because of us.
Practically what does this point mean? For one thing, it means don’t get too big for your britches, slipping into Gospel-compromising heresy for the sake of defending your narrow sliver of apologetic ground. Second, keep vigilant submission to Christ, letting your sin and the sins of the world break your heart and keep you humble trusting in Christ. Third, be willing, ready, and even eager to connect the many different domains of apologetic discourse back to the Gospel. But please do so tactfully. Artless heavy handed evangelism, forcing every apologetic conversation into a Gospel invitation, demeans those other domains, as if Christ has no redemptive interest in culture, politics, economics, or society. Those are not just sermon illustrations and gospel segues. They matter to God, and should matter to us too, even if the Gospel of Jesus Christ is more important than any of it. In fact, they matter more, and make more sense, in light of the cross.