To overgeneralize grossly, there are two respectable approaches to apologetics.
(I say "respectable," because dodging, avoiding, feigning a stroke, pretending not to speak English, copping out, or simply trading insults or slogans don't really count.)
One approach is that of the Triablogue guys, God love 'em. These brothers apparently never met a pagan blurt, no matter how cut-'n'-pasted and hackneyed, that they didn't have the time, patience, energy and smarts to respond to -- line by line, syllable by syllable, punctuation-mark by punctuation-mark. There's a real need for that sort of approach. It's in the same continent as J. Gresham Machen's still-classic Virgin Birth of Christ and John Owen's... well, Owen's anything. ("What time is it? Well, sonny, first men mine ore from the mountains, then they smelt the ore, and from it they form tiny working parts by....")
Another approach is called for on other occasions, for which one might coin the phrase "leaning-on-Jesus" apologetics. It goes something like this.
Bob Unbeliever makes some billowy assertion. It could be any of a million. It's been heard and dealt with a thousand times before lunch last Tuesday. It's always announced with the air of a fresh word from Sinai.
- "I just can't believe that God would send anyone to Hell simply because he doesn't believe this or that dogma"
- "I have a very personal relationship with God, and don't need any books, churches, or saviors"
- "Genesis is a myth borrowed from Chaldean legends"
- "All religions are basically the same"
- "The Bible is a storybook"
- "Jesus was a good man, a moral teacher. No more"
- "You should worship God. Not Jesus"
- "It doesn't matter what anyone believes, so long as he's sincere"
- "The most important thing is how people treat people, not what their doctrine is"
- "There are many paths to God"
- "God speaks in every religion"
Now, there's a real point to going Triablogue on these chestnuts. But the thing is, every one of them has been decisively Triablogued (or the equivalent) a hundred times already. More. And that's good. But sometimes, another approach might be more effective.
Here is my suggestion for that other approach. It can be put in eight words. Are you ready for them? Here they are:
(Alternate nine-word form: "How did you get so much smarter than Jesus?")
"Why should I believe you instead of Jesus?"
Why do I suggest this?
First, it is true that sometimes a fool has to be given a long, complex, wise, devastating tour de force response (Proverbs 26:4). But other times he just has to be set back on his heels (Proverbs 26:5). And anyone who doesn't believe Jesus is some kind of fool (Proverbs 1:7; Romans 1:22; Titus 3:3).
Second, because we should never forget that Jesus is our real focus, and holding Him forth is our real burden. We want (or should want) to preach Christ to our unbelieving friends, relatives, acquaintances (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:3; Colossians 1:27-28).
Our real primary goal isn't to convince everyone that evolution is folly, homosexuality is a sin, paganism is false, there is a god, abortion is murder, or even that the Bible is unique and inspired. There will be a lot of people in Hell who have right opinions on all those subjects. Nobody ever went to Heaven simply because he held a correct view about any or all of them. The correct answer to the question, "What can wash away my sin?" is not "Nothing but the accurate dating of the Pauline corpus."
The correct opinion about human origins, or world religions, or homosexuality, or private property, does not save. Jesus saves. Therefore, we want to preach Jesus.
So why not cut straight to Him? Why not make The issue the issue? After all, isn't it the truth that all these other errors are best addressed, once the matter of Jesus' Lordship is addressed?
Third, because Jesus can carry the weight. I'm convinced of that. You could say that I am a Christian because I am convinced of that fact; you could equally say that I am convinced of that fact because I am a Christian. It goes both ways.
My apologetic point is not that I'm smarter than Wellhausen or Winfrey, Hick or Hawking, Crossan or Campbell, Darwin or Donahue. My apologetic point is that Jesus is literally infinitely smarter than any of them -- or than I, for that matter. I don't primarily want to convince them that Chopra is wrong. I primarily want to convince them (God doing His miraculous work above, beyond, through, and in spite of me) that Jesus is right.
Now, I hasten to add two caveats:
First, though I've tried with my usual pathological obsessiveness to word myself carefully, I know someone is going to say I'm putting the thoroughgoing-type guys down. (Frank Turk: "Food fight! Phillips and Triablogue!") Or someone will suggest that I don't think the issues I've mentioned matter. Neither is even remotely the case. That approach to apologetics is needed, and those issues need to be dealt with. I am only saying that it is neither the only approach, nor always the most effective. And I'm saying, one thing at a time -- and at least sometimes let's start with the linch-pin issue.
Second, let me warn anyone away from thinking, "Oh, Cool! I love that! I just play the Jesus-card, and I'm done! Whew! I don't have to study or think or...." Wrong.
To do this right, you've got to know your Jesus, if I may put it that way. You had better be prepared to give a reasoned defense for the hope you have in Jesus (1 Peter 3;15). You had better be ready to explain what Jesus has to do with the subject at hand. You had better be ready to explain why you place unhesitating and absolutely confidence in Jesus.
In other words, you had better be ready to preach Jesus.
Above all, it will take a knowledge of Jesus as it is gained from Scripture alone. You'll need to know what He said, Himself, about Himself; and what the Holy Spirit said about Him through the prophets; and what He told the Holy Spirit to say about Him through the apostles. It's the word of Christ that brings saving faith (Romans 10:17). Above all, know that word.
But to some degree you should know at least some of the reasons why it is only rational to place confidence in the Gospels. Here's where a book like Reinventing Jesus can be very helpful.
The most important reasoned conviction an apologist/evangelist needs to have is that Jesus is the answer. The suggestion here is simply that it may often be wisest to cut straight to Him, rather than be drawn into a seventeen-movement ballet on the way there.
Because the trouble with these seventeen-movement verbal ballets is that they often break down on the first movement.
And what's the point of that?
AFTERWORD: my little Why I Am (Still) a Christian is one attempt to implement this approach at greater length, apologetically.