Winning Hearts and Not Just Arguments – The Ministry of an Apologist-Evangelist
Max Jeganathan is an apologist-evangelist for RZIM - he previously was a lawyer who served in the Australian government. Max has debated on stages around the world and presents the Gospel in an intellectually-compelling way, realizing the need for the Holy Spirit to ultimately open the hearts of man.
How did Max Jeganathan find his way from an active and enjoyable time in Australian politics to become a full-time apologist-evangelist? We had a chance to sit down with Max and find out. In part one of our conversation, we discussed how Christians can interact with the political sphere, and how Max has been involved in both politics and apologetics.
Have you seen the Holy Spirit impact your work on the debate stage? What is it like to intellectually debate while also showing people that Jesus meets their individual needs?
When you’re doing Q&A, it’s always tough. In your mind, you’re on your knees asking for wisdom, asking the Holy Spirit to give you anointing for the right answer. During that time in South Africa, someone got up and asked a question about suffering. This person had quite clearly gone through immense suffering; she was a rape victim, and asked a very important question, “How do you explain your loving God? Where was He when I was getting raped two months ago?”
It was a tough moment; I was in a really tough spot. My opponents really drilled me on it. She had asked a very legitimate question. How do you respond to suffering in an intellectually credible way, to someone not really asking intellectual answers? We need to connect the head and the heart.
By God’s grace and by the move of the Holy Spirit, I managed to give an answer. I wasn’t happy with the answer I gave. I struggled with it afterwards, thinking, “What could I have said better?” I had pivoted to the cross and answered, “Unlike other worldviews around suffering, this is the God who came into our world, who took on our suffering. Jesus has scars. He’s willing to walk with you through this suffering if you are willing to give Him your hand and your heart. It’s not about what the men did to you (as tragic, atrocious and unspeakable as that was); the thing that can overpower that is what Jesus did for you two thousand years ago on the cross.”
“The way God uses broken servants like me, in broken contexts like human debates, struggling for the right answers is amazing. When we put Christ front and center, set aside Christ as Lord in our hearts, pretty much anything can happen.”
The story doesn’t end there. It was about ten months later when the organizer of the debate received an email from that girl. The email said that the answer I gave that night started her on her journey with the gospel, which eventually led to her giving her life to Jesus Christ! I recognized that even our standards of striving for excellence and evaluating ourselves are broken – what I wanted removed from the debate was probably the most valuable part of that whole night. Just for her, it was all worth it.
The way God uses broken servants like me, in broken contexts like human debates, struggling for the right answers is amazing. When we put Christ front and center, set aside Christ as Lord in our hearts, pretty much anything can happen.
Hearing that story gives me goosebumps.
It was a formative story for me to hear as part of my ministry too. Before that, even though I would say that “I’m in God’s hands” and “He’s in control”, I feel like I still took a lot of responsibility on myself. I thought that so much of what would happen was up to me. But now I know that very little of it is up to me. I’m just along for the ride.
How has your picture of God changed or expanded ever since you’ve been involved with RZIM?
It’s gotten much bigger. I didn’t realize how much he was actually active in the everyday world. I’ve never really questioned His sovereignty, but it was more of doubting His willingness to intervene. I’ve seen very clear intervention from God, wherein things that don’t make sense, end up working out. His willingness to intervene in day-to-day life, plus His faithfulness, are very personal for me. As I spent more time with Him and got to know Him better, what He’s done to my heart is help me to look back on my life, and seen all the instances in my life where He’s been active.
For the first fifteen years of my journey with Him, I underestimated His faithfulness. It’s difficult to be an apologist-evangelist—actually, it’s difficult to be a Christian if you’re doing it right. We should be getting ridiculed, mocked from time to time, we should be prepared for uncomfortable conversations. God’s faithfulness has been the biggest backdrop. He’s never failed me, that backdrop lets me do my best. I know I’ll continue to fail, but His faithfulness remains.
Can you share a story that shows this involvement that you speak of?
I call this story, the “Crispy Chip” story. It was the end of a mission trip at a university in the UK. I was leading a small team of speakers that had partnered with a the Christian student group at this particular university for a week of evangelism which included specific events, and follow up conversations with students. These could be on campus or in the pub wherever they were comfortable to meet us. We had reached the final day and I’d just given a talk on the topic, ‘Why Does God Care Whom I Sleep With?’
Once it was finished, I was hoping to get some burgers and fries at the cafe nearby. But one of the students approached me and said, “There’s this guy who missed the talk, would you be able to spend five minutes with him?”
By this point, I was so exhausted, but agreed to spend five minutes with him. My marker of success for the conversation was to engage him well enough to get his contact details so I could connect him with someone else to follow up with him afterwards.
As I sat down with him, the waitress brought my burger out, and I saw it sitting on the table. I knew that sometimes these conversations can take hours, so I wrote off the possibility that I was going to be eating any time soon.
I started by asking if he had ever heard the gospel, and when he responded, ‘No’, I continued, “Would you mind if I explained it to you?” I went straight to Romans 3 and John 3.
I asked him, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and he said, “No, no questions.” I was kind of confused at this point, I mean, all my training assumed that he would have questions. I pressed on, “Is there anything stopping you from giving your life to Jesus right now?” He says “No, nothing’s stopping me.” “Would you like to give your life to Jesus right now?” “Yes.” So we prayed together and he prayed himself into the kingdom. I connected him to one of the Christian students from the university who would pick him up and bring him to church on Sunday.
I was astounded and gave him a hug. At the end of it all, I went and sat down to eat my burger. And to my surprise, my chips were still piping hot! I mean, he came to Christ so quickly that the chips were still crispy!
I thought I had all these skills. But that was a good reminder that it’s always the Holy Spirit working in people.
I never knew you could learn so much from some chips! What would you say are the key character traits needed to succeed in this ministry?
For me, what has helped me is understanding the need for two things: a heart focused on Jesus and a mind focused on excellence. The world today is demanding that of people. We need hearts that model Christ, intellectual credibility, engaging communication and academic excellence; and we have to be ready for all the attacks that are coming.
You also need a healthy sense of humour. These things are pretty key. If we take ourselves too seriously, we won’t make it. God has reminded me that evangelism is not our project. He calls us as a gift, it’s actually our gifted privilege to do this. His kingdom is just fine without us. But we are called as His followers to share Him with those who don’t know him yet.
Who are your spiritual fathers and mothers and how would you say they helped you become who you are now?
My Appa has been, and still continues to be, such a huge influence on me. As a leader in his family and a leader in his community, he serves constantly. I learned what true servant-leadership looks like from him, and he has great integrity and character. But even just by being a godly man, he gave me a wonderful example of biblical manhood. Alongside him, my Amma is the most devoted follower of Christ I’ve ever known. Her humility and selflessness have taught me more than I could express.
Ravi’s mentorship has given me the vision of what God wants to do with my life in a way that nobody else ever articulated or envisioned. Ravi showed me, “There are 5 billion people in Asia-Pacific, and around 1 billion know Jesus. We have work to do.” Ravi gave me the platform, the banner under which to speak. There I was, untried and untested, and he gave me the trust. I’m very honored.
If I could be one-tenth of the apologist-evangelist that Ravi is, one-tenth of the servant-leader my Father is and have one-tenth of my Mother’s devotion to Christ, I would be doing pretty well.
Thank you for sharing with us about those godly men and women who have influenced you. One more question – what would you advise younger believers who want to influence their friends and family for God?
I hate to sound cliché about it, but the key is RZIM’s anchoring scripture, 1 Peter 3:15 – all three pillars of it. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
We are called first of all to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. That’s about time with Him, time in scripture, personal purity. It’s not about perfect performance, but a heart that focuses not just on knowing more about Him but knowing Him more. As C.S. Lewis said, “God doesn’t want to be studied, He wants to be known.”
“If we’re not showing the love of Jesus, we’re wasting our time. Our apologetics has to be cross-centered, it also has to be cross-shaped. We’re not here to win an argument, we’re here to win hearts for Jesus.”
Second is to prepare and equip yourselves to give the reason for your faith. This includes listening to podcasts, reading widely, and continuous learning. Intellectual and emotional equipping is important.
The third thing, and remaining part of the verse, is to learn to give this reason for our faith with graciousness and respect. If we’re not showing the love of Jesus, we’re wasting our time. Our apologetics has to be cross-centered, it also has to be cross-shaped. We’re not here to win an argument, we’re here to win hearts for Jesus.
Max Jeganathan is the Asia-Pacific Regional Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He leads a team of pioneering apologist-evangelists and speaks around Asia on how the Christian faith answers the deepest questions of life.