In the last post we looked at specific ways to take a conversation with an unbeliever to a place of effective engagement about the gospel. In this post we continue to examine those strategies.
The third strategy is to look for implicit bias. Implicit bias is another way of describing subconscious assumptions or unexamined presuppositions. That is, everyone assumes certain things to be true, obvious, and unable to be challenged. Yet, many of these biases cannot be shown to be true, and in fact, can be shown to be false. For example, some people have a reactive bias that makes them want to do the opposite of what someone else is trying to get them to do, or alternately believe the opposite of what someone is telling them. This bias springs from many sources, but one obvious is the dislike of being proven wrong. This is one of the reasons the waywe engage people is so important. If they sense we enjoy proving them to be wrong rather than helping them find truth, we might inflame the reactive bias unnecessarily. The apostle John mentions that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” What a great reminder that our manner is as important as our message.
Another bias that influences our thinking is known as “sunk cost fallacy.” If a friend has invested time, money, or reputation in a particular belief, he is less likely to admit the belief is wrong. To do so would be to lose all he has invested in that belief. For example, if someone establishes their reputation as a skeptic, becomes known for his skepticism, and has written a book on it, to admit that he is wrong comes at a high price, and his investment in skepticism has to be considered a waste. This is one of the reasons why the Holy Spirit’s conviction is necessary in conversion. Without the Spirit reassuring a person’s heart that loss for the sake of Christ is good, no one would ever be willing to do as Paul did—counting everything but the knowledge of Christ as loss.
Fourth, look for positions that would be embarrassing to maintain. Every worldview besides the Christian faith results in logical conclusions that are an embarrassment in a civilized society. For example, an agnostic acquaintance of mine is an avid participant in state politics. He frequently spends time in the state capitol trying to forbid reference to any religious basis in legislation. In other words, he does not want religion to play a part in any laws that are passed. He is a typical example of a secular humanist.
When I bring up the explicitly Christian foundation of Martin Luther King’s legacy in the Civil Rights movement or William Wilberforce’s battle to end the slave trade in England, however, he becomes uncomfortable. He knows that if he is to be consistent with his principle, he would have to condemn the Christian foundations for these movements. But to do so would be to say that it would have been better to wait for secular activists to resist slavery. This is a claim no one wants to make, because it smacks of racism—a racism that is condemned in Scripture, but not consistently so from a secular humanist standpoint.
Fifth, capitalize on universally held values (justice, opposition to trafficking, abuse, etc.). Many people today who deny the existence of objective morality feel very passionately about certain moral and social issues without realizing the contradiction. They may believe that any sexual choice is perfectly acceptable (as long as there is consent), but become animated about issues of justice, equality, racism, human trafficking, and more (as they should!).
Whenever someone criticizes Christianity for its call to sexual purity, I often ask questions that get to the heart of their morality. The conversation will develop something like this:
Mark: So, you believe that everyone should be able to enjoy whatever sexual practices that make them happy?
Unbeliever: Yes, every person should be able to have their own morality and do as they please.
M: Is that because there is no absolute morality?
U: Yes, that is correct. Morality is relative to each person’s conscience.
M: So, if someone wants to traffic people as sex slaves, they have the right to do that?
U: No! Of course not!
M: But why not? Didn’t you say morality is relative?
U: Yes, but human trafficking is obviously wrong. No one gets to make that choice.
M: But how do you exclude that activity from your rule?
U: Because an act that involves others must be by consent.
M: But where do you get consent? It seems you have pulled that moral rule out of thin air. You have provided no basis for requiring that people consent to what involves them. That makes sense in a Christian worldview where each person is made in the image of God and is afforded dignity as a result. But how do you argue for that in your worldview? And besides, don’t those who traffic other human beings often beat, bully, and threaten them into consent? Don’t they get their slaves to say they are choosing this life when they are questioned by authorities? If we reduce consent to merely verbally-affirmed non-resistance, we have no way to resist someone who is exploiting another person.
You can see in this fictional exchange that there are certain topics related to justice and human dignity that not many people want to oppose publicly because of the near-universal agreement that such things are wrong. It is rather easy to show that these issues only make sense in a Christian worldview.
In the next post we will examine still more strategies for effectively engaging unbelievers with the gospel. To see the first post in this series, click here: Strategies for Effective Apologetic Encounters.