Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting with two forensic chemistry classes (one graduate and one undergraduate) at Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas. I was there for a public campus event last night, discussing the reliability of the New Testament gospels. Ratio Christi director, Darren Williams hosted the event, and at lunch time we met with Christian students to talk about how to better share the Gospel and minister to students on the campus. We discussed the apathy that sometimes permeates the Christian culture here and on campuses across America. Don’t get me wrong, there is a significant Christian community on the campus of SHU; lots of young Christians are active in their respective denominational groups. If you’re a Christian here at SHU, you can find a Christian activity nearly every night of the week. But it’s clear from talking to the Christian students I met that few Christians are willing to reach out and share what they believe with non-Christians on the campus. The Christian groups are internally active, if not externally focused. Most young Christians would rather hang out with fellow Christians in a safe environment than actively evangelize the campus for Christ. If you think back to your own college experience, you probably felt the same way. Why do we hesitate to share the Gospel with non-believers? I think it’s because we treat the gospel as a cookie rather than a cure.
I asked the Christian students if they would be willing to follow me into the streets of Huntsville to try to convince people that chocolate chip cookies are the best cookies in the world. The school cafeteria at SHU makes excellent chocolate chip cookies, so we could have taken some with us to convince the local populace. Unsurprisingly, none of the students were excited about going. When asked, they quickly admitted that it seemed pointless to try to convince people of something as subjective as a personal opinion about cookies. They recognized that cookie preference is a matter of subjective opinion, rather than objective truth, and none of them were willing to go out of their way to argue for an opinion. I then asked them if they would be willing to follow me into a region of Huntsville that was suffering from a Tuberculosis outbreak to convince those infected with TB to take the one known cure, Isoniazid. All of them found this to be a worthy effort and said they would be willing to help for a cause such as this. They recognized the difference between the cookie and the cure. Cookies are a matter of subjective opinion, but cures are a matter of objective truth. If the people suffering with TB didn’t know about the cure, they would die. Personal opinions about Isoniazid are irrelevant. Some TB sufferers might, for example, prefer to take Ibuprofen. But the objective truth about TB and Isoniazid overshadows any opinion someone might hold about their favorite treatment. Cures are like that. When we are objectively convinced that a particular treatment is the exclusive cure for what is ailing us, we ignore our preferences and act quickly to save ourselves and share the truth with others.
There is a relationship between our categorization of Christian claims and our desire to share them with the world around us. Some of us hesitate to share the Gospel because (whether we care to admit it or not) we’ve come to see religious truth as a matter of subjective opinion rather than objective truth. We treat the Gospel more as a cookie than a cure. That’s why I think it’s important to help young Christians understand how the evidence supports the claims of the New Testament authors. As college students grow in their confidence, their view of Christianity subtly shifts from opinion to objective conviction. When that happens, they are far more likely to share the Gospel with others, courageously defend what they believe and boldly represent Christ in our culture.
Third post in a series. Part one and part two.
In this post I want to deal with the third leg of my metaphor for evangelism, knowledge. Again from Stand To Reason’s article on the ambassador model, at a minimum an ambassador “…must know the character, mind, and purposes of his king.” The scope and depth of subjects one could study is, candidly, staggering. Thus in this post I want to look at the knowledge required of a Christian ambassador by looking at Christianity as a worldview in contrast to other worldviews we encounter today.
In this post, I want to describe the second leg of the stool of evangelism, wisdom. As I indicated in the previous post, I learned these concepts from Stand To Reason’s model of a Christian ambassador.
Regarding our knowledge Koukl suggests it “… must be deployed in a skillful way. There’s an element of wisdom, a tactical and artful diplomacy that makes his message persuasive.” This subject is handled in depth in Koukl’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.
As a Christian apologist I am haunted by the desire to share what I have learned about the Christian worldview. As someone immersed in this field I am also confronted with the observation of Solomon,
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
In other words everything worth saying about the Christian worldview has been said. I will never write like C.S. Lewis or have the intellectual depth of a William Lane Craig, so what fuels this obsession I have had for almost 20 years? The answer is to be a light to those around me. To put it another way, I believe the role of the apologist is to be a conduit to bring the intellectual depth of the Christian worldview back to the Church and society. A modest goal would be to encourage believers and give skeptics something to think about. Apologetics is not just about answers. It is not about refuting skeptics or detecting logical fallacies. Apologetics is a necessary tool for evangelism but it is not sufficient in and of itself.
These days, it seems proselytism (2) is such a touchy subject. I often hear skeptics and atheists complaining about religious people trying to convince others of their beliefs. But, is it really proselytism that is the problem, or is it the sharing of your religion (often called evangelism in Christianity) that is their concern? If we give it a moments thought – which most apparently do not – it is easy to see that it is the latter. This ‘must see’ video by atheist Penn (Penn Jillette) of “Penn & Teller” shows very clearly that it isn’t proselytism in general that should be of concern. It should actually be expected! Continue reading
Looking for a short read that’s insightful and practical? Check out a very accessible book called Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.
I almost put this on the required reading list for my “Practicing Apologetics and Evangelism” class at Western Seminary, but I ended up leaving it off, thinking the course load was already pretty tough. In hindsight, I should have gone ahead and assigned it. Or at least suggested it as a supplement. It’s a very easy read, but it’s got a lot of great questions you can use immediately when talking to your skeptical friends and family members about spiritual things.
I don’t know about you but when I’m chatting to someone about Christianity or Philosophy I always appreciate and enjoy the conversations where the person I’m speaking to seems to take a genuine interest in what I’m saying, listens to my points, doesn’t constantly interrupt me and takes my point of view seriously even if they disagree with what I’m saying. As human beings there seems that there’s an almost innate hostility to people who speak to/at us in the opposite way’s I described above, this is because it is not just having the truth but its communicating it in a manner that is both respectful and gentle as commanded in 1 Peter 3:15-16. Continue reading
Want more friends? Better conversations? Frequent, life-changing spiritual encounters? But wait, there’s more! What if you could also avoid dead-end discussions, pointless arguments, and go-nowhere debates? Then you should be interested in Tactics, a book by Greg Koukl, the president of Stand to Reason Ministries.
The fact is that many Christians feel intimidated by evangelism. Many atheists are frustrated with the same old cliches being read to them from the same pre-packaged scripts. We all need a new way forward if we’re going to have important but respectful conversations about what really matters.
Tactics is an outstanding book for three main reasons: Continue reading
Almost everybody has been visited at home by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and most people probably wouldn’t hesitate to call the group crazy. It’s difficult to reach any other conclusion when they start conversations with, “Do you think God punishes people with natural disasters?” Nonetheless, I’ve found that when given an opportunity to speak, they’re willing to discuss their beliefs, and they can do so quite thoughtfully. What I find even more interesting, however, is that this seemingly strange approach to evangelism actually works. There’s a valuable lesson here for Christians.