Many associate apologetics with debates, arguments, and rebuttals. Apologetics conjures ideas of presuppositions, degrees of probability, rationalistic proofs, and the impossibility of the contrary. We relegate apologetics to academia, where philosopher-theologians do battle royale in university lecture halls and philosophical journals.
We need bright minds to help us obey the mandate to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15). The historicity of the Scriptures and the reliability of the Gospels is important. Archaeological finds are immensely corroborative and helpful. Indeed, we should seek to surface the weaknesses of competing worldviews.
But another apologetic method draws much less press. As Jesus was giving some final instructions to his disciples before he went to the cross, John’s Gospel records these words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). At first glance, it might appear that Jesus is talking about mere identification. That is, this quality of love is to be our burqa or orange robe—-our identity marker as adherents of a particular faith.
But what Jesus advocates here has a greater purpose. He intended his disciples to display a living, breathing, embodied apologetic for who he claimed to be. Jesus wanted the conduct of his followers to be persuasive. Francis Schaeffer gets at this in his little essay “The Mark of a Christian” when he writes, “We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”
This apologetic is accessible to all Christians. Few of us have the time or—-let’s be honest—-the ability to master every dimension of Christian apologetics. We are too busy changing diapers or working to examine pottery shards or quest for the historical Jesus. But we all have the opportunity to embody the most powerful apologetic argument—-a life so characterized by love that the only explanation is that Christianity is true or, at least, something to be seriously considered. Just as an unbelieving husband may be “won without a word” due to the godly conduct of his wife (1 Pet. 3:1-2), and just as people can see our good works and glorify our father in heaven (Matt. 5:16), so too may those around us be drawn to follow a living Jesus by the way we love one another.
Unfortunately, this sort of love isn’t always the hallmark of our relationships. Instead of genuine affection, our love is superficial. Instead of loving one another unconditionally as Jesus did, our love for others is conditioned by their performance for us.
Furthermore, even when our relationships are characterized by love, we have often so insulated ourselves from the world that no bystanders can observe that love. Jesus’ directive implies that this love has a public nature. The apologetic does little good without an audience. We know they cannot hear without a preacher. But how shall they see if we’re not around? In short, we must be in the world—-not of it, but also not isolated from it.
But if, before friends and neighbors, Christians will love like the One whose name we bear, that way of life will be a powerful apologetic testifying to the truth of Jesus. May those who know us echo what was said of believers in Tertullian’s day—-“See how they love each other,” and may they be drawn to Jesus, the source of all love.