Phillip Jensen on Apologetics & Evangelism

by J. Matthew Pinson

Recently I listened to a podcast by Phillip Jensen, the evangelical Anglican pastor from Sydney, Australia. Despite the obvious doctrinal differences between Free Will Baptists and Reformed Anglicans, Jensen and the Matthias Media folks down in Sydney are interesting people to watch. They demonstrate what it means to have aggressive, growing, evangelistic churches in the highly urban, post-Christian setting of Sydney. Yet at the same time they show how to do this by relying on the sufficiency of Scripture and not giving in to gimmicks and depending on attractional, market-driven, or seeker-driven approaches to get churches to grow.

I want to commend to our readers a podcast Jensen did on “Apologetics and Evangelism” that my son Matthew and I listened to recently. It piqued my interest for two reasons: First, Jensen emphasizes the importance of apologetics for ministry to people in urban, secularized settings. Answering life’s inescapable questions—not trendiness and niche-marketing to “felt needs”—is so important in ministering the gospel to meet true needs of modern people.

Second, Jensen’s approach to apologetics and evangelism reminded me a lot of Leroy Forlines’s. For example, he says we don’t need to meet objections that people don’t have. In other words, many people’s objections to Christianity aren’t really rational in nature; so apologetics doesn’t need to be introduced in an evangelistic encounter unless it becomes necessary.

He also says, like Forlines, that churches need to be more zealous about evangelism. Jensen believes (rightly, I think) that our main problem in evangelical churches today is the lack of zeal for apologetics and evangelism, not the fact that we aren’t culturally relevant enough or don’t understand demographics and marketing well enough.

Jensen says,

“Evangelism is something that both Christians and non-Christians agree upon. That is, they don’t like it. The non-Christians don’t want to be evangelized, and we’re, very simply, terrified of doing it. . . . By nature, we never will evangelize (unless you have a very unusual personality). . . . We can talk about evangelism till the cows come home, but in half an hour of doing it, we’ll learn more than merely talking about it and reading yet another book on the subject.”

Also, like Forlines, Jensen believes that apologetics is more about answering life’s existential questions and showing people what their true spiritual needs are than providing logical proofs, “evidence that demands a verdict,” etc. Now, apologetics and evangelism are both what Jensen calls “rational” activities. They’re about reasoning with people. But we need to get away from the idea that we can somehow “prove” Christianity to be true beyond reasonable doubt, and so on.

At the same time, like Forlines, he believes that some presuppositionalists go too far in the direction of “fideism” (not relying enough on rationality in apologetics). So, in the vein of Forlines, and people as diverse as Edward Carnell, Ronald Nash, Francis Schaeffer, and Alvin Plantinga, Jensen leans toward presuppositionalism but acknowledges the importance what I call the “chastened” use of evidences (e.g., discussion about the reliability of the New Testament text) in apologetics.

We need to be more concerned these days about apologetics and evangelism than most evangelical churches are. I encourage the readers of this blog to listen to this podcast from Phillip Jensen and forward the link to as many pastors, youth and family pastors, and Christian leaders as you can.