Sean McDowell | July 18, 2016

Forgiveness: The Most Powerful Apologetic

We apologists love to offer evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, and the resurrection of Jesus. These are powerful truths that have convinced many to personally trust Christ. Yet amidst our desire to defend the truth of Christianity, let us not forget the power of forgiveness, which, in my view, is perhaps our greatest apologetic today.

Our world seems to be falling apart at the seams. Each week the news is filled with increasing awareness that our world is profoundly broken and that humanity’s problems—whether racial, economic, political, moral, or religious—run deeper than we can imagine.

In light of the current state of the world, and given how many outsiders increasingly have a negative view of Bible-believing Christians, here is a question we must contemplate: How can we demonstrate the unique power of Christ in a world in which everyone has a microphone?

We certainly need to keep proclaiming the truth of the Christian message. In fact, as I show in A New Kind of Apologist, we need apologetics in the church today as urgently today as ever before. Jesus, Paul, the apostles, and the early church fathers were all apologists. And yet there is something we must not forget: our willingness to offer forgiveness to people who have wronged us, and especially our enemies, demonstrates the unique power of the cross more robustly than arguments alone. Genuinely offering forgiveness often breaks down barriers and invites people to consider reasons for our faith.

Why is this so? For one, there is always a way to avoid truth (2 Peter 3:15-16). It is our human nature to suppress it (Romans 1:18-20). We naturally get defensive when people challenge our cherished beliefs. But unexpected, grace-filled acts of forgiveness are harder to dismiss. They subvert our defensiveness. In fact, they often catch us off guard and invite us to consider the deeper reasons motivating people to act with such kindness. And it is uniquely the Christian worldview that can provide both the moral basis and motivation for forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32).

This was clearly on display a decade ago in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. A man stormed into an Amish schoolhouse, shooting ten girls and killing five. Although clearly grieved, shocked, and heart-broken, the Amish community responded in a manner that the world had trouble comprehending—they offered forgiveness to the man, and reached out lovingly to his family. Some members of the Amish community went to the cemetery for the killer's burial and others donated money to the widow and her kids.

Why did they respond in this manner? First, the Amish believe that God is sovereign, even when things appear to be spiraling out of control. Second, they have experienced God’s love and grace, and believe He has called them to extend His grace to other people. They hold no grudges and willingly offer the same forgiveness to other people that God has extended to them.

The world was watching when the Amish forgave the man who committed this horrific act. Many people were inspired, and others simply in wonder, just as some people were at the death of Jesus. After seeing the calm and gracious manner in which Jesus faced execution, the Roman centurion professed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

Few things invite people to consider the power of Christianity more than the genuine offer of forgiveness in the face of wretched evil. This is what Jesus did, and if we care about the proclaiming and defending the gospel, we must be willing to do no less.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: