By Brian Tubbs
Marcus Antonius Felix, the Roman procurator of Iudaea Province, had a problem. And it was
standing right in front of him. Felix was the governor of Iudaea — or Judaea or Judea, as we know it.
His time in office had been marked by unrest and, at times, violence, and he was facing
yet more trouble. Now, under pressure from Jewish leaders in the province he oversaw, Felix faced the joyless task of determining the fate of the Jewish Pharisee turned Christian preacher
standing before him – a man named Paul.
Paul’s accusers, including Jewish High Priest Ananias, turned to a man named Tertullus, a professional orator, basically a legal and political advocate for hire, to present their case against Paul.
In a display of sophistry and slander, Tertellus grovels before Felix while tossing out passive-aggressive criticism of Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune in Jerusalem (and, by implied extension, Rome itself), for interfering in Jewish affairs. He describes Paul as “a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). He adds that Paul “even tried to profane the temple,” prompting them to “seize” him (Acts 24:6).
Paul’s defense before Felix can be found in Acts 24:10-21, and it is an excellent model for any Christian or church today since our world is, in some respects, quite similar to Paul’s.
He addresses Felix politely, lays out the facts, explains how he was improperly treated by his accusers, and presents the Gospel in a manner his audience will understand. Luke tells us that, at the conclusion of Paul’s statement, Felix had “a more accurate knowledge of the Way.” It’s a masterful presentation and the perfect example of what Christian apologetics should look like.
Though we in America don’t (yet) face the degree of persecution Paul and the first-century church did, we can still glean some important lessons from Paul’s example.
The cultural and demographic landscape in the United States has dramatically changed in the last 50 years (radically so in the last 20). While some of those changes have been positive, this cannot be said for all of them. Most of us would agree that the United States today is, morally speaking, not well. We live in an unhealthy society that largely views Christians with apathy, ignorance, or suspicion. In some cases, like Paul’s accusers in Acts 24, the world can view us with scorn and contempt.
Accordingly, Paul’s defense – his apologia – before Felix and his accusers in Acts 24, and later before Festus and Agrippa in Acts 25-26, has much value for us today. Apologetics is frankly no longer optional. If we want to be relevant and effective, we must engage our culture the way Paul did his.
Unfortunately, when those outside the Christian faith are exposed to Christian preaching or teaching today, they’re liable to find one of three extremes: a) feel-good messages from pastors who sound more like motivational speakers than Bible teachers, b) in-depth lectures on the finer points of theological matters that they (the non-Christians) are completely unfamiliar with and thus have no context within which to process such teaching, or c) pulpit-pounding, finger-pointing denunciations of the culture in which they (the unchurched) live.
Accordingly, non-Christians are likely to see the Christian church as either unnecessary, out-of-touch, irrelevant, or judgmental and hateful.
What’s worse, when these non-Christians sometimes approach church leaders with honest questions, they often walk away disappointed and their apprehensions or preconceived negative notions further reinforced.
Steven Garofalo, founder and president of the apologetics ministry, Reason For Truth, explains the disconnect this way, “I am hearing from pastors that they used to be able to answer most of the questions asked of them. As of the past 5-10 years, that has all changed.” According to Garofalo, author of several books including “Equipped: Basic Training for Apologetics in Evangelism,” few Christians and churches leaders are able to answer the moral, theological, and philosophical questions or objections emanating from our culture today. “If we don’t carry out, or are unable to carry out, 1 Peter 3:15,” explains Garofalo, “we will not be able to shore up the faith of Christ followers, inoculate our youth, and give a persuasive account of the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world.”
The Apostle Paul would most certainly agree.
Every church should have leaders, including one or more pastors, who are able and willing to utilize evidence and reason (as Paul did) to show that belief in God, Jesus, and the Bible is both reasonable and compelling. Every church should also have leaders, including one or more pastors, able and willing to make a compelling case (even to professing Christians) for a Biblical worldview.
We must teach and preach God’s Word, but we must do so in a way that is relevant and effective. We can’t just proclaim; we must explain. We can’t simply denounce; we must appeal and persuade. We can’t just talk; we must listen. And learn.
Only then will those who listen to us come away, as Felix did, with a “more accurate knowledge of the Way.”
Brian Tubbs is the senior pastor of Olney Baptist Church in Montgomery County, MD, and also serves on the General Mission Board for the BCM/D. He is also a speaker with Reason For Truth. For more information on Reason For Truth, visit ReasonForTruth.bible
This article was printed in our BaptistLIFE Spring 2019 magazine.