Almost Isn’t Good Enough: A Reason for the Defense Part 2

Principle #2:  Recognize Your Audience (Acts 26:2-5)

  I recently spoke with someone who declared “the battle for objective truth is lost.”  How sad. The person would probably side with Pilate when he asked the infamous question to Jesus “What is truth?” in order to justify the argument that truth is whatever you want it to be (John 18:38 NASB).  I wholeheartedly disagree. For Christians, the absence of objective truth leads to chaos, cultural relativism, and confusion. Jesus addresses this topic with a different audience in John 17:17.

In both cases, the makeup of the audience really matters because while the message of the Gospel never changes, the presenter and presentation method can.  Consequently, I will discuss how effective Christian apologetics relies on Principle #2:  Recognizing Your Audience.
Paul applies this principle during an apologetic defense to King Agrippa in Acts 26:2-5.  As a context, we see that Paul recognizes his audience (King Agrippa) in three ways: his title, his knowledge, and his memory.  We would be wise to follow this model.
First, Paul recognizes Agrippa’s political title in Acts 26:2.  Paul begins by defusing a potentially adversarial discussion by saying “King Agrippa.”  While some may view this as an attempt to evoke flattery in hopes of his release, this doesn’t hold true given the events recorded here.  King Agrippa is a visiting magistrate who doesn’t have the authority to punish or release Paul: Felix does (Acts 25). I agree with Cabel’s assertion that “perhaps Paul was simply addressing him in an honorable way befitting his position in order to get a fair hearing.” 1   In this case “a fair hearing” involves both Paul’s desire for a scandal-free trial and an opportunity to testify about his personal relationship with Christ.
Believers should recognize that how we address unbelievers can significantly impact their willingness to listen to our Gospel presentation.  In this case, I’m not suggesting that calling someone “Ms.” vs. “Mrs.” or “Sir” vs. “Mr.” are legitimate grounds for unbelievers shutting down conversation.  I contend, however, that we should always maintain a composure and pleasantry befitting common decency. This provides a wonderful foundation as we build rapport and credibility with unbelievers.

Second, notice how Paul recognizes King Agrippa’s knowledge (Acts 26:3).  Here, we must distinguish between presuppositional and evidential approaches to apologetics.  As the name implies, a presuppositional approach presupposes or presumes that at least two parties already agree with fundamental truths which support a premise.  In contrast, an evidential approach makes no assumption about the initial agreements two parties have and requires a systematic method of offering and affirming evidence that leads to true premises.    

Paul engages in a presuppositional approach when he tells King Agrippa “you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews.”  The key word here is “expert” or gnōstēs which speaks of someone who’s not only knowledgeable but a knower of knowledge. 2  That is to say, Paul publicly recognizes that King Agrippa has had opportunity to read, recall, and reinforce the social customs and theological issues of how Jews view God.  Unlike an evidentialist, Paul doesn’t have to convince King Agrippa of God’s existence; his task is to declare the implications of this truth by choosing to either accept or reject Christ as Saviour.
Admittedly, the methods Christians use to ascertain an unbeliever’s knowledge about the Gospel isn’t always easy.  Unbelievers may circumvent responses by questioning the premises about our Christian worldview by aking “Don’t we all believe in God?”  “How do I know you’re not in a cult?” This can be frustrating and exhausting but it’s a necessary process because we don’t want to falsely assume or delegitmize sincere conversation.  What matters is that we meet people where they are but take them where God wants them to be through the lens of presuppositional or evidential arguments depending on the circumstances.
Third, Paul addresses the importance of King Agrippa’s memory (Acts 26:4-5).  In these verses, Paul reminds King Agrippa about his Jewish heritage and life as a Pharisee.  Paul’s life and reputation were certainly well-known and he wanted to establish a foundation on certainty rather than speculation.  In short, everything King Agrippa heard about him was true.
Too often, Christians downplay or attempt to gloss over their reputation in the community.  Even if unbelievers don’t know about us personally, they already have some knowledge about our beliefs if we are Christians.  In other words, as Christians, we are followers and ambassadors of Christ so our reputation precedes us. Acts 22:1-5 records Paul’s confession that he “persecuted this Way” meaning he despised followers of the Christian way of life even without knowing many of them personally.
The principle of recognizing your audience is not just theoretical.  Paul provides a blueprint in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. His point is that an effective apologetic defense occurs when we recognize our audience’s title, knowledge, and memory and then adjust our approach without compromising the Gospel.   
1  Cabal, Ted et al. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007. Print.

2  Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible 2009 : 20. Print.

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