Sean McDowell: A Model of Grace and Truth in Apologetic Dialogue

I had a great time interviewing Sean McDowell last week on my podcast/YouTube channel. Sean is a well known Christian apologist who has written 18+ books, travels the country speaking, and teaches apologetics at Biola.

We talked about his most recent dialogue with Hemant Mehta on Justin Brierley’s show, Unbelievable. The show was live in Portland and you should definitely watch it if you haven’t already (watch here).

Apart from the content of the dialogue, we also discussed the spirit of the dialogue. We both agreed that the spirit of the dialogue with skeptics may actually be just as important, if not, more important than the actual content. Here’s what I mean.

Grace and Truth

The Bible says that Jesus came into the world full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus embodied both grace and truth in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Specifically, I would like to focus on his dialogues.

Jesus’ ministry was relational. It was one full of conversations with people of all different varieties. He always knew what to say and how to say it. We can never be perfectly like Jesus, but we should aim for this model.

Jesus never strayed away from tough subjects or questions. Often, the religious leaders would try to put him in a dilemma with their questions. “Jesus, which of the commandments is the greatest?” But Jesus always knew how to see a “third way” around things.

He never shied away from sinners. He reached out a hand of grace, mercy, and love on those deemed “unlovable”. This show of grace is often what led to the religious leaders’ tough questions!

What I take away from the way in which Jesus spoke to people is this:

  1. Speak the truth boldly.
  2. Speak the truth gracefully.

In the public sphere, Christians can often be put “on the spot” with questions about homosexuality, abortion, you name it. There’s all kinds of “hot button” issues these days that people are super passionate about. The wrong answer could lead others to be very angry with us and label us “bigots”, “homophobes”, and whatever else.

We shouldn’t worry about what the world seeks to labels us, but we should always be mindful of showing grace to a world that rejects the gospel of Jesus. We shouldn’t seek to be labeled these things. We should seek to speak the truth in love.

In his dialogue with Hemant, Sean proved that a Christian can enter the public square confidently, defending the truth of the Gospel. But he also showed that a Christian can enter a dialogue with an atheist and come away with a friend. He showed that we don’t have to simply stuff truth down the throats of our “opponents”. We can joke, listen, and empathize with those who disagree with us. We can show respect for opinions that we disagree with.

Sean imitated his Master well, in my opinion. Jesus is our ultimate model for dialogue, but if you want to watch a YouTube video on how to do it, I highly recommend watching Sean McDowell.

Again, here is the dialogue.

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