Get Them to Jesus

Hand_in_handWhat is the goal of evangelism and apologetics? It is not to argue endlessly, or to merely agree to disagree. The goal is very simple—get them to Jesus. In other words, the goal is to dismantle the unbeliever’s worldview so effectively, and present Jesus so compellingly, that his heart is led to repentance and faith in Christ. This truth should guide everything we do when in conversation with non-Christians.

As you ask and answer questions, clear away intellectual obstacles, and present the Christian alternative, the primary goal is to get them to consider the claims and work of Christ on the cross. This only makes sense. If what saves a person is trust in who Jesus is and what he said and did in his incarnation, then you want to try to talk about those topics as soon as the unbeliever is ready to listen and consider them. As soon as some of his objections are answered, you want to begin to introduce the gospel truths about Jesus—his divinity, his incarnation, his humanity, his life and death, and his resurrection. What a person does with Jesus determines his eternal state, so nothing else is as important.

This is the primary reason we don’t get involved in arguments about issues that don’t really matter. Paul warned Timothy to rebuke those in the church who spent time in pointless questions and speculations about matters of minor importance (1 Tim. 1:3-7). It is too easy to get off track in discussions about the age of the earth, the details of the end times, or a person’s views on cultural issues. While these may be important in other contexts, they have nothing to do with a person’s salvation. You want to focus on the central claims of Jesus to be God in the flesh, the only way to restoration with God, and the risen Savior.

Therefore, when engaging with unbelievers, focus on clearing away objections so that they can hear and consider the claims of Jesus in Scripture. What are the key claims of Jesus of which people are often unaware?

  1. Jesus claimed to be God

Many people have never considered what a radical claim this is. Jesus claimed to be God in human form. This means that Jesus could not have been simply a good teacher or a wise, wandering sage, as many people believe. C. S. Lewis addresses this dilemma in his famous “trilemma” discussion:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity, 55)

In other words, what people often believe about Jesus, that he was a good, moral teacher, cannot be true because of the claims he made to be God in the flesh. A good, moral person does not claim to be God. But Jesus did, in fact, claim to be God.

Sometimes critics argue this point by pointing out that Jesus never said the particular phrase, “I am God.” This is a false test of the deity of Christ, however, because the truth of a statement does not depend on particular wording if there are other ways to describe the truth. I don’t have to say, “I am a father” to establish that truth. I can talk about my children, and in doing so I state indirectly the obvious—that I am a father. In the same way, there are many different ways Jesus makes it clear that he is claiming to be God. In addition, the reactions of others when he used these various ways to state his deity demonstrate that those who heard him understood him to be claiming to be God.

  1. In John 3:13-15 Jesus claims to have come from heaven and to be the Son of Man. The term “Son of Man” does not speak primarily of Jesus’ humanity, but rather his deity. It is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man is equated with God himself. This term is used more than 80 times in the New Testament, many of them by Jesus referring to himself.
  2. In John 5:18-26 the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he was making himself equal to God. How was he doing that? He was comparing his miraculous works with God’s work (v. 17). This alone in the minds of the Jews was a claim to be God.
  3. In John 8:58 Jesus used the words of God in the Old Testament to describe himself. As God told Moses, “I AM who I AM,” Jesus claimed the same status for himself by saying that, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The very next verse shows that the Jews interpreted this as another claim to deity, because they picked up stones in order to stone him for his blasphemy.
  4. In John 10:30-33 Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” Again, the Jews pick up stones to stone Jesus. He asks them why they wanted to kill him, and their response shows that they interpreted his words as a claim to deity.
  5. Additional claims to deity can be found in the following passages: Mark 14:61-62; Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 26:63-65; Luke 22:67-70; John 16:28.

In the next post we will examine more claims of Jesus to fill out the picture of the biblical Jesus.

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Planting and Watering the Seeds of the Gospel

seed plantingAt the same time you are challenging the unbeliever’s worldview, you want to begin sharing the good news of Jesus. Many Christians are not aware of the powerful claims Jesus made while on earth. Many are also unaware that compared to every other religion and belief system, only the Christian faith has the ability to explain the human condition and answer the deepest questions of the human heart. This lesson focuses on some of Christianity’s strongest arguments and equips students to know the strength of the claims for the truth of Christianity.

Planting and Watering

One of the reasons we hesitate to begin a gospel conversation with unbelievers is that we don’t know where to go with it. Or even if we do know how to lead someone to Christ, we may hesitate if we don’t think that person would become a Christian on the spot. Some people feel that if sharing the gospel doesn’t result in conversion right then and there, the whole effort is a failure.

One liberating truth of evangelism and apologetics is that God has not called us to convert people to the gospel, but simply to share, in a persuasive fashion, the good news of the gospel. Any progress that is made in sharing the truth of the gospel is a success. If the Holy Spirit is the one who convinces and convicts, then any progress made in talking about the unbeliever’s worldview and beliefs, or about Jesus and the Christian faith is a successful encounter.

The Apostle Paul used the image of planting and watering seeds when he spoke of the contributions that he and Apollos made in sharing the gospel and planting churches (1 Cor. 3:5-9). He acknowledges that we are not the difference makers in someone’s salvation, God is. We do, however, have an important part to play in the process of someone coming to faith in Christ. God often works through secondary means to accomplish his work. When a Christian shares the gospel, destroys intellectual strongholds, or challenges unbelief, he is planting and watering seeds in the heart and mind of unbelievers.

This truth should relieve the pressure from us when we think about sharing our faith. God the Holy Spirit is the one doing the great work of reaching the unbeliever, not us. We are those who simply share the truth to the degree that God opens the door for conversation. We can, without pressure or anxiety speak as much of the truth as we can, and we leave the result with God. For many people this simple truth removes the element of fear, because they know they can trust God to His part. The Christian can walk away from every encounter rejoicing that no matter how far the conversation progressed, it was a divine success.

#apologetics #evangelism

Destroying False Arguments and Pulling Down Intellectual Strongholds

Tearing Down Strongholds

 

As you ask questions and challenge the unbeliever’s worldview indirectly, you will now begin to weave into the conversation more direct confrontation of his beliefs. By this time you have already debunked some of his cherished beliefs, and if the conversation continues, he will be more open to hearing alternative explanations of the issues for which he no longer has answers. There are several ways to begin to present the Christian faith more directly.

  1. Challenge his errors and misconceptions about Christianity

While you are interacting with the unbeliever, pay attention to any “facts” he proposes about Christianity. Many times unbelievers will make accusations about the Bible or the Christian faith that are simply wrong. In such a case you must correct that error before proceeding in the conversation.

For example, if the unbeliever says, “I just can’t believe in a God who toys with people’s lives and punishes them for no reason whatsoever.” If you are not listening carefully, you might try to defend this view of God, when in fact, Christians don’t believe in this type of God. This description is a distortion of the biblical concepts of God’s sovereignty and justice. So a proper response would be something like, “Oh, I don’t believe in that type of God either. Can I tell you about the God I do believe in?” In other words, don’t let misconceptions about the Christian faith to stand without correction.

Similarly, if someone says, “I believe in Jesus! I believe he was a wise teacher who taught people to love one another and be at peace. I just don’t believe that Jesus would ever condemn people or only make one way to God.” A good response would be, “Jesus was a wise teacher and he did teach us to love one another, but he also spoke of judgment. He did claim to be the only way to God. If you are going to be fair with the evidence and not make up a Jesus of your own liking, then you have to consider everything he did and said, not just the parts you like.” By doing this you are making sure that the unbeliever understands the Christian faith accurately. This point will be expanded in the next lesson.

  1. Contrast the irrationality and contradiction of unbelief with the wisdom and rationality of the Christian faith.

As you help the unbeliever realize that his worldview is inconsistent, irrational, and contradictory by asking questions, you also want to interject the aspects of the Christian faith that provide real answers to those very questions. This is the aspect of apologetics that seeks to commend the Christian faith for its beauty and wisdom. I want to help the unbeliever see that the Christian faith meets all the intellectual tests that it encounters. The Christian faith can answer every legitimate challenge raised against it.

But there’s more. The gospel of Jesus Christ answers the deepest longings of the human heart. The reason this is so is because Christianity is about a relationship with a person—the God-man, Jesus Christ. What the unbeliever really wants in his soul, as one who was made to be in relationship with God, is to be restored to Him. Therefore, you want to present the gospel clearly and in a compelling fashion. The truth should be attractive. Even as you are removing the bricks in the wall of his worldview, you are presenting the alternative of Christ as the real answer to his longings.

This step is crucial; otherwise you may seem like nothing more than someone who likes to deconstruct the views of others. If you can present the logic and beauty of the Christian faith, you show the unbeliever that there is somewhere to go once he has rejected his former views. In order to do this the Christian needs to know his faith as thoroughly as possible. The more you understand all that the Christian faith teaches, the more thoroughly you will be able to describe the merits of the Christian faith. Second Corinthians 4:6 tells us that everything humans seek—knowledge, light, and glory—are all found in knowing Christ.

  1. If you don’t know, say so

Just as we should call the bluff of unbelievers who try to present phony evidence and unsubstantiated arguments against Christianity, we ourselves should always avoid bluffing. Unbelievers are keen to sense when a Christian is making up evidence or arguments for the faith. One of the most powerful things you can do when encountering a question or challenge to which you don’t know the answer is to say three little words: “I don’t know.”

Many people think that doing this is to admit defeat, but in reality, not knowing the answer to an unbeliever’s question shows that you are a real person. No one can know the answer to every question or objection that may be raised against the Christian faith. Doing this will give you credibility as a humble, genuine person who doesn’t try to bluff his way through a defense of the faith.

As a follow up to admitting you don’t have an answer you can say, “I don’t know, but I will get an answer and get back to you. Can we plan to meet soon so you can hear my answer?” An honest unbeliever won’t expect you to know the answer to every question and will usually respect an honest admission.

Conclusion

Learning to incorporate this method of engaging unbelievers takes considerable practice. The best way to learn, however, is not to keep reading and studying until you feel super-confident, with no doubts regarding your ability. That day will simply never come. No, the way to grow in your ability is to remind yourself of these truths and then to just go do it. Engage non-Christians in conversation. Start by asking questions about their worldview and then begin to incorporate these ideas little by little. No amount of study will replace actual encounters with unbelievers. By doing apologetics to the best of your ability, you will build up your skill in answering questions and pointing people to the gospel of Christ.

One thing that is especially important is to remember that conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit. God is the one who saves; you are merely the messenger of the truth. Be sensitive to how much the unbeliever can take at one time. If he shows interest in the Christian faith, keep going! If after awhile he seems to want to stop the conversation, model the gentleness and respect commanded in 1 Peter 3:16, and end the conversation graciously. Trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to use your words to convict and draw the unbeliever long after you are done speaking with him.

This lesson has shown that anyone can do apologetics. Anyone can learn to ask good questions. Anyone can learn to share the truth of the gospel in a clear and compelling fashion. May your efforts in this venture yield abundant fruit in the lives of the unbelievers that God brings across your path!

Asking Questions and Calling Bluffs

clarify-expectationAsking questions in an apologetics encounter is not always a straightforward venture. There are several keys to making progress in your questions with the unbeliever:

  1. Ask clarifying questions

As you ask questions and the unbeliever explains what he believes, ask questions from time to time to make sure you understand his position. If he says something unclear, such as that he couldn’t believe in such a complex God as Christianity presents, ask, “What do you mean by complex in this situation?” Sometimes people make vague or confusing arguments that are not clear at all. Be sure to ask for clarification so you don’t talk past one another. You may also ask him to define his terms, because if you both have a different understanding of an issue or concept, you will not be able to effectively communicate. Other clarifying questions include:

  • Am I understanding you correctly?
  • Are you saying that…?
  • Is it fair to say that you are arguing X position?
  1. Restate his position

Once you understand what the non-Christian believes, restate his position in simple terms. This is an important step, because once he affirms that you properly understand him, you can move on to the next step. For example, if he says that he believes that evolution explains everything in the universe, clarify by saying something like, “So you are saying that everything comes about randomly through time and chance?” This helps him see that if he wants to hold to Darwin’s theory of evolution, there are intellectual consequences. This is an important step, because once he affirms that you properly understand him, you can move on to the next step.

  1. Force him to hold his position consistently with all its implications

Once you understand what the non-Christian believes, the next step is to take his position for the sake of argument and show him the implications. For example, he may argue that everything came about by time and chance, but we should still do good to people and not harm. Show him that if this is so, we can’t say that anything is necessarily right or wrong. Anything that develops randomly is just that—random. A sense of right or wrong that everyone ought to obey cannot come from a universe that is random. In doing this you are demonstrating that his beliefs are irrational or a contradiction.

By taking his position and holding it consistently, you are showing him that beliefs should be coherent; they should be related to one another. Some beliefs are the basis of other beliefs. Other beliefs are the necessary consequences of those basic beliefs. For example, if someone is a nihilist (someone who believes that life has no meaning), then a logical consequence of that belief is that there is nothing worth living for, no action is better than another, and suicide makes sense. If the unbeliever is a nihilist, yet wants to use his life in service of humanity, you want to point out that doing so is no better than living only for yourself, because he as already started with the idea that life has no meaning.

This step is often a moment of awakening for unbelievers as they realize that their beliefs contradict each other. By asking good questions and playing along with their worldview with all its implications, you help them see for themselves the error of their thinking.

  1. Call his bluff

Sometimes in his opposition to the Christian faith the unbeliever will spout “facts” and “statistics” that seem to strengthen his case for unbelief. Often these arguments will pertain to topics you may not be familiar with. This can make you feel like you have lost the case for Christianity because you don’t know how to answer him. The truth is, however, that many times the unbeliever is bluffing. He may be making up his information, or may be quoting someone else in error. This happens more often than you might think.

For example, someone who has heard a skeptic on the radio, or read an internet article that attacks Christianity will often use those “facts” in a discussion with a Christian. Many times, however, he will get the facts wrong, misquote the source, or even misunderstand the source all together. The truth is that the average Christian knows much more about the ancient Near Eastern world of the Old Testament and the first century world of the New Testament than the average unbeliever. So when the unbeliever tries to attack some aspect of the Bible or the Christian faith, he often has no idea what he is talking about.

In these cases the Christian should “call the bluff” of the unbeliever. In other words, if you hear a “fact” that supposedly proves Christianity wrong, or challenges the truth, question it. Going back to our questions above, ask, “Where did you hear that?” or “What is your source for that fact?” or “Can you prove that statistic reliably?” Often you will find that the unbeliever has no idea where his argument came from and no way to substantiate his claim. By calling his bluff you are pulling him back to real facts. And the Christian faith deals in real, historically verified facts (1 Cor. 15:1-20).

In the next post we will address the ways to carry out 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, where we are called to destroy false arguments and pull down intellectual strongholds.

The Advantages of Asking Questions in Apologetics and Evangelism

QuestionThe key to making progress with unbelievers is asking questions. This has several advantages over a full frontal assault on the ideas opposing the Christian faith. First, as mentioned previously, asking questions encourages the conversation to continue, as opposed to expressing disagreement bluntly. In our increasingly secular society people are easily put off by disagreement.

Second, asking questions prevents the Christian from having to possess extensive knowledge of philosophy, science, history, and other academic fields. The truth is, the average Christian will never become conversant in these areas. Asking questions, however, removes the burden of having to know so much. It allows the Christian to place the burden of knowledge on the unbeliever who is rejecting Christianity.

The third advantage of asking questions is that it allows the unbeliever to arrive at conclusions about his worldview and belief system on his own without you telling him he is wrong. The goal is to ask the right kind of questions so he comes to see for himself that his beliefs are a problem. Self-discovery is powerful when it comes to belief systems. This is what is known as the subversive power of the gospel. To subvert something means to undermine it and overthrow it. The gospel destabilizes, disrupts, and sabotages belief systems constructed out of suppression of the truth. They key to doing this well and bringing the unbeliever closer to Christ is, to repeat, asking good questions.

Christian thinker, Os Guinness, explains this well:

Questions are always more subversive than statements. For one thing, they are indirect. Whereas it should be crystal clear what a statement is saying and where it is leading, a good question is not so obvious, and where it leads to is hidden. For another thing, questions are involving. Whereas a statement always has a “take it or leave it” quality, and we may or may not be interested in what it tells us, there is no standing back from a well-asked question. It invites us, challenges us or intrigues us to get into it and follow it to see where it leads. In short, even a simple question can be a soft form of subversion.[1]

As mentioned earlier, questions invite further conversation. This makes the encounter with the unbeliever more natural and less strained. The unbeliever does not feel like he has encountered a salesman, but a satisfied customer (to put it crassly). Instead of being awkward, the conversation feels more like a person who has been healed of a deadly disease telling another sick person where to find healing.

Imagine the unbeliever’s worldview as a wall of bricks that he has constructed around himself to keep the truth from pressing in on his heart and mind. Every brick in the wall is a different belief, experience, and opinion that he has built up to make him feel justified in rejecting the truth. By asking questions and showing that his beliefs are contradictory or irrational, you are removing these bricks one by one. The more you can cause him to doubt his own beliefs, the less protection he has in his unbelief and the fewer reasons he has to keep rejecting the truth. Therefore, no matter how far the conversation goes as long as some bricks are dislodged or removed, the encounter is a victory.

In the next post we will look at several keys to effective apologetics with unbelievers.

[1] Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 53.

The Role of Questions in Apologetics

keep-calm-and-ask-questions-159The key to engaging unbelievers in a non-threatening way is to ask questions. This approach has several advantages. First, asking questions encourages the conversation to continue. This is a basic principle of human relationships. By asking questions about the other person, conversation is encouraged.

It is easy to see that this approach to evangelism is different than others that are often practiced. Some people who evangelize focus their efforts primarily on distributing literature such as tracts. This approach often aims for quantity—give out as many tracts as possible with minimal interaction as possible with those who take them. While tracts can be helpful as a summary of the gospel to be read at a later time, those who use them sometimes do so to avoid real conversations with unbelievers. Another approach to evangelism is what one author calls “the gospel burp.” This amounts to a monologue with the unbeliever, in which the Christian tries to blurt out as much of the gospel as possible before the unbeliever cuts him off. This is called the gospel burp because the gospel is blurted out as fast as possible, the Christian feels good afterward, and the unbeliever feels assaulted.

The approach we are advocating here, however, is a genuine engagement in conversation with the unbeliever. It starts by showing interest in the person, and asking questions that get to the heart of the unbeliever’s worldview and belief system. After beginning a conversation, the Christian may steer the conversation toward spiritual matters any number of ways. An effective segue may be something like, “So, what is your religious background?” Or equally effective would be something like, “So, what do you value most in life?” The key here is to move the conversation as naturally as you can into questions of ultimate meaning. Cornelius Van Til described this is carrying the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. In other words, almost anything, including current events, cultural events (such as music, film, literature, etc.), or common interests, can be used to transition to spiritual matters.

Once the conversation turns toward spiritual matters, the questions continue. If an unbeliever has a religious background, you can then ask something like, “Tell me about how that affected your beliefs,” or “I don’t know much about that religion/denomination. Tell me more about it.” This is a genuine request, as you should be interested in discovering as much as you can about the person, so that when you begin to share the gospel, you know how to target your presentation to the non-Christian’s actual beliefs. If the unbeliever has no religious background or has rejected belief in God, you can ask a question such as, “Why don’t you believe in God?” or “What made you lose your faith?”

The key here is to listen. To avoid the offense of the gospel burp, we must take the time to listen to unbelievers explain why they don’t believe. We must listen to the stories of how they lost their faith. Remember, evangelism and apologetics should flow out of a genuine interest in and love for that person. Listening and asking follow-up questions demonstrates respect and gentleness, and often opens the door for you to challenge their unbelief and present the gospel.

Once the non-Christian begins to tell about what he believes, you can begin to ask questions that push below the surface to the reason why he believes what he does. These are seemingly safe questions that force him to justify his own belief system. Some common questions include:

  • Why do you believe that?
  • What do you base that on?
  • Where did you get that idea?
  • What makes you think that?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • Can you give me an example of that?

These are all variations on a theme, and they make him think about the grounds for believing what he believes. The truth is, many people have not thought too deeply about why they believe what they believe. His answer to these questions will begin to reveal the authorities in which he trusts. For example, if he says, “I believe we all just evolved and that fate rules the universe.” That kind of statement is nearly impossible to answer directly, because it is so vague and involves such complicated ideas as evolution and fate. Rather than answering or arguing against this statement, you will ask one of the questions above.

In the next post we will look at the advantage of asking questions in an apologetic encounter.