Strategies for Effective Apologetic Encounters

strategies

“But, what if the person asks me a question I can’t answer? How do I know where to go with the conversation? What if my mind goes blank?”

The woman who asked these questions had just sat through one of my weekend conferences, and yet felt at a loss as she contemplated sharing the truth of the gospel with her friends and co-workers in the coming week.

Her predicament is a common one. We can learn lots of things about apologetics, feel very confident in the middle of an apologetics conference, and yet seemingly forget everything we have learned the moment we come face-to-face with real people.

Part of the answer is to find reassurance that we know more than we think we do if we have been disciple under sound preaching in our local church, or if we have spent time studying how to give an answer. Very few people have the ability to spontaneously speak on any topic related to belief, unbelief, religion, and the like. Most of us need an occasion or a conversation to jog our memory of what we know.

This is where we need the reminders that Jesus gave his disciples before he ascended to the Father. What reminders?

 

  • We have the Spirit of truth living in us (John 14:17)
  • The Spirit brings to mind what we have previously learned (John 14:26)
  • The Spirit will declare the truth to us (John 16:13-15)
  • All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus (Matt. 28:18)
  • Jesus is with us at all times (Matt. 28:20)

 

We need to remember that the Holy Spirit who dwells in believers is the one who will bring to mind what we have forgotten in our short-term memory. The Spirit is the one who will give us words to say when we don’t know on our own. While we should prepare to engage all manners of unbelief, we can never remember everything, nor can we always be knowledgeable about every belief system.

Once we establish the Holy Spirit as the foundation for our apologetic, we can begin to talk about specific tactics that can be used to expose the unbeliever’s presuppositions and worldview. These strategies provide us with multiple ways to challenge unbelief and present the truth of the gospel. When to use which one is entirely dependent on the nature of the encounter with the unbeliever, the extent of the Christian’s knowledge and ability to recognize contradictions and irrationality, and the interest or antagonism of the unbeliever. These tactics can be used by the average Christian to make progress in a gospel conversation with any unbeliever she may encounter.

 

Strategies

First, look for erroneous ideas. Erroneous ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a person will quote a statistic that you don’t know whether is true or not. Other times someone may make an argument against God using theoretical physics or French philosophy. They may bring up a passage of Scripture that they find objectionable, when you have never studied that passage or heard a good explanation of it. The truth is you can never be so well versed in every area of human inquiry that you will have a specific answer for all the objections that get thrown at you in an apologetic encounter.

When unbelievers include “facts” in their argument that are new or unfamiliar to you, don’t panic. In reality, you don’t know whether these “facts” are really true or not, and if they are real facts, they may be taken out of context or misinterpreted. The Christian must automatically challenge any “fact” used to supposedly discredit the truth of the gospel.

Believers need to be reminded that all wisdom rests in Christ and his gospel, so whatever “facts” are wielded against Christianity are misused or mistaken. The Christian must start with the basic presupposition that this is God’s world and everything in it declares his glory (Psalm 19:1-2) and declares it so clearly that unbelievers are without excuse in God’s sight. So, although I may not know how to answer the objection raised, I know that there is an answer.

So, what should we do if someone argues an idea with which we are unfamiliar or unsure? As we learned in earlier lessons, we should challenge the “fact.” We can say something like:

  • I’ve never heard that before, but it doesn’t seem right to me. What is the source for your information?
  • I don’t know anything about that topic (or subject, issue, etc.). How exactly does that, if it is true, discredit the Christian faith?
  • I think what you are saying is inaccurate or just plain wrong. I don’t have proof or a strong argument right now, but I wouldn’t base my unbelief on that if I were you. I will find details or arguments and get back to you.
  • I am skeptical of that “fact.” That seems pretty far-fetched or contradicts what we know about real life. Maybe you ought to be more skeptical of your sources than you are.”

These may seem to be direct or even blunt responses, but when we are dealing with ignorance or willful rejection of the truth, sometimes we need to be somewhat forceful with the truth. We dare not let mistaken or erroneous ideas go unchallenged in a discussion, lest we undermine further conversation. For example, if I don’t correct mistaken notions about what the Bible is and how it was written and preserved, I undermine my appeal to the Scriptures later because I will have given the impression that I can’t answer challenges to my primary authority.

Second, look for logical fallacies. To be rational we must be logical. Logic keeps us from descending into irrationality. For example, everyone can recognize the irrationality of the following statement. “The sun rises in the east; therefore, you should buy me a new car today.” The second statement does not logically follow from the first, and the first provides no justification for the second. Logic means that we seek to provide reasons for the beliefs we hold. If our beliefs are not based on sound reasons, then we ought to find sound reasons on which to base them, or conversely, abandon those beliefs.

For the Christian, many of our beliefs are grounded in the revelation of God in his Word. The fact that the Bible says something is justification enough for us to believe it, because of our previous beliefs in its authority, reliability, and self-attestation as God’s revelation. We should always seek to believe only what we have good reasons to believe. That eliminates beliefs based on conspiracy theories, wishful thinking, fear, hatred, and a host of other faulty foundations. We dare not commit logical fallacies ourselves if we are going to critique the fallacies of those who reject the truth of the Christian faith.

Unbelievers often commit logical fallacies in their arguments against the gospel. One common fallacy is the disconnect between the evolutionary, materialist view of life and the supposed obligation to be good and love others. Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov summarizes it this way: “Man descended from apes, therefore we must love one another.”[1]Clearly the first claim in no way logically results in the second.

In the next post we will continue to look at strategies for effective apologetic encounters.

[1]Quoted in Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 596.

Doing Apologetics “within” the Church

wolf in sheepGuest Post by Jeff Mindler

[Jeff graduated from Lancaster Bible College in 2014 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies, as well as an M.A. in Counseling. He currently works as the Event Coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in Lancaster, PA. His wife, Joe’l, and he worship at Grace Baptist Church of Millersville in Millersville, PA where they both serve as members. He enjoys studying several different disciplines including Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Church History, and Practical Theology, while having a keen and passionate love for Apologetics and Systematic Theology in particular.]

“Doing apologetics within the Church” – this statement may sound strange at first, particularly to the reader who says, “I thought apologetics was done with unbelievers or those of differing religions?” While that is certainly true that we are called to practice apologetics to those of differing religions and unbelievers, there is another setting in which apologetics is to take place and that is within the Church. That’s right; apologetics is also to be done in the body of Christ. What do I mean by this? Read on, it’s in here.

To help us understand this topic, perhaps it is best to give a Biblical example of defending the faith within the Church, but before I do so, allow me to briefly define what apologetics is. Biblical apologetics is at its most basic level a defense of the Christian faith, giving a reason for the hope that is within us, just as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:15. This in its most basic form is what apologetics is. Now, let us consider the book of Jude, in which we see an example of defending the faith within the Church. Jude 1:3 states, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

This is one of the classic passages on practicing apologetics. Jude is directly commanding the Church to do apologetics, but to whom are we to contend for the faith in this passage? The very next verse Jude addresses the reason why we are to contend for the faith. Verse 4 states, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” It is interesting to note, then, that the purpose and intent of this book is an encouragement to do apologetics. Scott Oliphant makes an astute observation on this point when he writes, “Jude writes to a church, or group of churches, to help them defend themselves against a specific attack on the gospel, an attack that is taking place within the church itself.” [1]

While these people are not exactly identified, Jude does give us many useful descriptions of these people, saying that they have “crept in unnoticed.” This is something we should take seriously today and must recognize the deceptiveness of sin, we should be on high alert for those who are amongst us but nevertheless pervert the grace of God. Jude also describes these people as those who “pervert the grace of our God” and “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These people are false teachers to the core. This is why we must defend the faith within the Church, to protect the body of Christ from false teachers who would pervert the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jude’s exhortations to defend the faith against those inside the Church who would attempt to pervert the Gospel is an exhortation to believers everywhere to stand firm and to fight the good fight for the faith once for all delivered to us. With this exhortation, we are to wage a battle, to practice apologetics not only to unbelievers outside of the Church, but also to those inside the Church. In the process we seek to apply biblical truth to unbelief, including the unbelief within our own hearts. An example of this is found in Titus 1:9 where Titus outlines one of the duties of an elder. Titus writes, “9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sounddoctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

To rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine is to engage in apologetics, the defending of the faith against those who would seek to undermine it. Elders must be ready to engage in apologetics and to lead others in the defending of their faith as well, and by so doing, they will protect those in the congregation against others who would seek to teach what does not accord with sound doctrine.

May we as the Church be strengthened daily, may we continue to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day, and may we engage in battle against unbelief while doing so with gentleness and respect. And finally, may our prayer continue to be “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

 

1.         Oliphint, K.S., The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith. 2003: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company

The Importance of Questions when Sharing the Gospel

Two beautiful young women holding cup of coffee and talking to eApologetics is too often taught as an approach of confrontation–which it is–but a confrontation of monologue, instead of socratic dialogue. This rarely works with an unconcerned or uninterested unbeliever. Start giving your spiel, your pre-packaged sales pitch of “Have you ever lied, stolen, or coveted,” and watch their eyes glaze over. Maybe not every person, but increasingly the norm.

The problem with this approach is that it does not begin where your conversation partner is, because you haven’t taken the time to discover what his opposition to the gospel is yet. There are a thousand ways to suppress the truth, so we don’t know how a particular person is doing that until we take the time to ask questions in a way that encourages conversation. This is especially true of unbelievers that show no concern or interest in the gospel.

Os Guinness speaks to the importance of questions when engaging unbelievers with the gospel:

[I]n our age most people are untroubled rather than unreached, unconcerned rather than unconvinced, and they need questions as much as answers–or questions that raise questions that require answers that prompt people to become genuine seekers…The goal is to use questions to raise questions, and so to puncture whatever are the walls of indifference, and to do so in a style and language that speaks to the person we are engaging with.

By asking questions we move from having to create interest by force of personality or some gimmick to showing genuine interest in the person and engaging the root of their resistance to God.

Christians have won an insufferable  reputation as always dispensing answers, even when no one has a question. Raise questions well, and we will be known for the searching questions we raise, to which the good news can be looked to for the only satisfactory answers.

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP, 2015), 124-5.

How to Answer a Fool

Guest Post by Jeff Mindler

Proverbs 26:4-5 reads, “4Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

This, in its simplest form, is the two step procedure of the apologetic task. While engaging in dialogue with someone and defending the faith, it is always helpful to have this verse in mind and to carry out this procedure with the unbeliever. To help us understand what this means and what it looks like, Greg Bahnsen states,

“Here he [Solomon] is instructing you to temporarily stand on the presuppositions of the unbeliever, not as a matter of neutrality and compromise, not as endorsing his worldview procedures. Rather, he does so in order for you to show the unbeliever the vanity of attempting to explain the world and life from his own perspective. You must let him know that you are taking his position only momentarily, just “for the sake of argument.”

This is a critical element to remember at this point, we are not surrendering our ultimate authority of Scripture in this step, but merely answering the unbeliever according to their own worldview temporarily. We do not assume neutrality at this point but we do want to show the unbeliever where his own worldview leads according to its own tenets. Bahnsen continues,

“In this step you will be showing the unbeliever that on his own autonomous presuppositions he cannot justify reality, knowledge, logic, morality, value, meaning, purpose – or anything. You want to show him the outcome of his worldview when his principles are fully followed out. Thus, Solomon allows that you may, “answer a fool according to his folly” – so that the fool will see the error of his being “wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:5b). If you adopt the unbelievers procedures as your actual apologetic, he will suppose himself to have the correct position. Whereas, if you only theoretically adopt his presuppositions in order to demonstrate his error, then you are being faithful to the biblical model of apologetics.” [1]

Thus, this is our apologetic task and our procedure in answering objections to the christian faith and we do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). If we keep this two step procedure in mind while engaging with unbelievers, we will be well on our way in giving a defense for the hope that is within us and by so doing, God will be glorified, and this after all, is our goal in faithful apologetics. Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Bahnsen, Greg. Pushing the Antithesis. 163

Asking Worldview Questions

Guest post by Jeff Mindler

 

 

 

 

 

Worldviews are everywhere; we simply cannot avoid them. James Anderson states this regarding worldviews, “Your worldview represents your most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe you inhabit. It reflects how you would answer all the “big questions” of human existence, the fundamental questions we ask about life, the universe, and everything.” When one considers what a worldview is, the importance of knowing and identifying them in the apologetic encounter becomes clear, but the question arises: how do we identify a worldview?

James Anderson provides an excellent resource on just this very issue, knowing what questions to ask in order to discover a person’s worldview, in his work What’s Your Worldview? What is unique about this work is that it follows a type of “choose your own adventure” format wherein the reader is provided with several questions and based upon how they answer are prompted to advance to a certain page until they reach a conclusion, that being a particular worldview. The worldview they reach is the logical conclusion to how they have answered various questions about knowledge, reality, truth, goodness, religion, and God. By asking these types of questions we can quickly uncover what a particular person believes about the world and thus what they believe about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the gospel and can thus focus on specific areas where the gospel and the claims of Christ need to be brought to bear.

Anderson also provides a brief analysis of each worldview and then proceeds to critique and expose the weakness’ of any worldview opposed to Christianity. For example, if a person reaches the relativistic worldview they will be met with a brief overview of what the worldview is and then challenged to reconsider a few things in light of its flaws, namely that relativism is self-defeating. It is impossible to be a consistent relativist, just consider the statement, “There is no objective truth.” Is that claim itself objectively true? If so, one can see how the position collapses upon itself based upon the contradiction of saying there is no objective truth but stating it as if it was an objective statement of truth. I believe Anderson’s work provides a helpful tool and resource for any level of apologist as a means to think about careful questions to ask unbelievers and to get them to reconsider what they believe and why they believe it.

A Complexity is Not a Contradiction: Jonah and the Whale as an Example

“When dealing with skeptics’ claim of Bible contradictions it seems one can never be reminded enough of what exactly is a contradiction.  A contradiction occurs when two or more claims conflict with one another so that they cannot simultaneously be true in the same sense and at the same time.  To put it another way, a Bible contradiction exists when there are claims within the Bible that are mutually exclusive in the same sense and at the same time.”

Read the full article here: Bible Contradiction Resolved: Who Cast Jonah Into the Sea?.

Not All Atheists Were Hurt; Most Are Simply Suppressing the Truth in Rebellion

skeptic

A common response among Christians who encounter atheists or skeptics is to ask, “I wonder who hurt them that they would reject God?” This thought reveals a basic assumption that only trauma could possibly be the cause of unbelief. And certainly, some people who have experienced trauma have forsaken belief in God because they felt abandoned by God, or could not reconcile their suffering with an all-powerful, all-loving God.

The root cause of atheism and skepticism, however, is rebellion, not hurt. Romans 1:18 reminds us that the unbeliever knows God’s holiness and his own guilt, and in response chooses to suppress the truth of God he knows. Trauma may play a part in rejection of God, but it also drives many people to God, not away.

Many people, having encountered signifiant trauma, have sought explanations for what they have experienced. They try to make sense of the evil or pain they have experienced, and find in Jesus Christ one who was innocent, yet voluntarily suffered the greatest evil and suffered the righteous wrath of God against sin on our behalf. They find in Christ one who can comfort them in their suffering, and who gives them hope of restoration of all that has been broken.

Those who turn to God in suffering often intuitively know that if God does not exist there can be no meaning in their suffering, there will be no justice brought to evildoers, and sorting out their lives in light of the suffering is entirely up to them. What a hopeless state!

When encountering skeptics and atheists, therefore, ask questions to discover how she is suppressing truth, not why. The why has been explained for us in Scripture as rebellion–not wanting God to be real, Christianity to be true, their sin to render them guilty, Christ to be the only way, and future judgment just around the corner. The how happens in a thousand ways and is the key to challenging them with the truths of the gospel.

The Bias of Skeptics

Black-Swan-900

Most skeptics I talk to think they operate completely without bias in their skepticism and agnosticism. They often demonstrate a startling lack of self-awareness of their assumptions. One hundred years ago, the British essayist G. K. Chesterton noted the frustrating contradiction of the skeptics arguments:

“I remember once arguing with an honest young atheist, who was very much shocked at my disputing some of the assumptions which were absolute sanctities to him (such as the quite unproved proposition of the independence of matter and the quite improbable proposition of its power to originate mind), and he at length fell back upon this question, which he delivered with an honourable heat of defiance and indignation: “Well, can you tell me any man of intellect, great in science or philosophy, who accepted the miraculous?” I said, “With pleasure. Descartes, Dr. Johnson, Newton, Faraday, Newman, Gladstone, Pasteur, Browning, Brunetiere—as many more as you please.” To which that quite admirable and idealistic young man made this astonishing reply—’Oh, but of course they had to say that; they were Christians.’

“First he challenged me to find a black swan, and then he ruled out all my swans because they were black. The fact that all these great intellects had come to the Christian view was somehow or other a proof either that they were not great intellects or that they had not really come to that view. The argument thus stood in a charmingly convenient form: ‘All men that count have come to my conclusion; for if they come to your conclusion they do not count.’

Is the Best Defense a Good Offense in Apologetic Encounters?

Offense_DefenseGuest Post by Jeff Mindler

[Jeff graduated from Lancaster Bible College in 2014 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies, as well as an M.A. in Counseling. He currently works as the Event Coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in Lancaster, PA. His wife, Joe’l, and he worship at Grace Baptist Church of Millersville in Millersville, PA where they both serve as members. He enjoys studying several different disciplines including Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Church History, and Practical Theology, while having a keen and passionate love for Apologetics and Systematic Theology in particular.]

Biblical apologetics is at its most basic level a defense of the Christian faith, giving a reason for the hope that is within us, just as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:15. While knowing what we believe and why we believe it and being able to defend it is critical to our apologetic, it is also important to go on the offensive while engaging in apologetics, challenging the unbeliever to explain what he believes and why. We don’t often think of apologetics as an offensive enterprise, mainly due to the very meaning of the word apologetics, to give a defense but going on the offensive is simply the flip side of the coin of apologetic defense. This does not mean we attack the person we are dialoguing with directly, rather it is challenging them to make sense of the world around us according to their own worldview. We must press the unbeliever to rationally account for things such as logic, morality, and the scientific principle according to what their own worldview says about reality and help them to see how their own worldview and any worldview aside from the Christian worldview cannot account for such things. Jeffrey Johnson helpfully explains this further when he writes,

“Because the Christian worldview is the only system of thought that is cohesively consistent with itself, all other possible worldviews are inherently incoherent. It is not sufficient for an atheist or any other skeptic to simply attack the walls of the Christian worldview. They must also defend their own ground. They must protect their own presuppositions and belief systems.”[1]

One of the best ways to go on the offensive is to ask questions of the unbeliever. By listening carefully and asking good questions to the unbeliever our goal is to help them see that their own worldview cannot give them the very things they want in a worldview. Ask them to show you where human dignity arises from their worldview and press them to be consistent with their own presuppositions and you will quickly find that apart from the God of the Bible, they will not be able to account for such things and will actually borrow from the Christian worldview in order to hold theirs up. For example, when talking with someone who holds to a naturalistic worldview, that all that exists is matter in motion, ask them on their own worldview how things like the immaterial laws of logic can exist. I personally have heard all sorts of answers to this question but at bottom they cannot account for laws of logic in their worldview. Only the Christian worldview can account for these.

This is where the apologetic task becomes so critical, once we have pressed the unbeliever to account for these things and have shown that they cannot in their own worldview, we must not leave them there. How cruel it would be of us if we simply tore down the unbeliever’s worldview and then left them in their despair! We must never leave them in that state but must always give them the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Apologetics and evangelism go hand in hand and must never be separated. We must call the unbeliever to repentance and faith in Christ as that is the only hope for their salvation as well as accounting for logic, morality, and science in this life.

By defending our own position and going on the offensive with the unbeliever, showing them how their own worldview leads to futility, we call people to turn from their sin and trust in Christ as their only means of salvation, trusting that God will call His people to Himself and use His people along the way. May God be glorified in our apologetic!

 

[1] Johnson, Jeffrey, The Absurdity of Unbelief, 11.

Atheism Cannot Logically Argue for Morality

Image result for good samaritan

Atheists insist that they can have morality without God. The standard for right and wrong, they tell us, is human flourishing, or empathy, or usefulness, or some other such vague idea. But then they are faced with the problem of defining those concepts, and applying them to real, difficult, sticky human situations. People judge ideas and actions quite differently, so expecting consensus about much is unrealistic. Argument then turns to force, for someone must enforce this morality. Political power is needed to enforce the judgments of some people over others for the good of all. So, might makes right, and we are right back where we started.

C. S. Lewis opined on something similar 65 years ago:

If we ask: “Why ought I to be unselfish?” and you reply “Because it is good for society,” we may then ask, “Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?” and then you will have to say, “Because you ought to be unselfish”–which simply brings us back to where we started.

I am not saying that atheists are not or cannot be moral. There is just no compelling reason to be moral rather than immoral.