4 Easy Ways to Start Gospel Conversations with Health Care Providers

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The hardest part of a gospel conversation for me is the transition from small talk or general conversation to spiritual matters. Once the conversation gets spiritual, I feel comfortable. I have known people with the opposite skills. Some make the transition seem easy, but then stumble and fumble when the objections to Christianity come.

As I have been going through my battle with cancer over the last six months, I have felt burdened about the doctors, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and patient assistants that I have encountered. I have felt moments of defeat when I could not think of any way to naturally turn conversations to spiritual matters. I have also experienced opened doors through a few simple questions that encouraged surprising conversations. You can read more about the power of questions in my book, Every Believer Confident: Apologetics for the Ordinary Christian.

#1 Ask, “How Has Suffering Affected Your Beliefs?”

If you are talking to a Health Care Provider (HCP) who sees suffering up close, you can ask a question like, “Has your experience caring for suffering people moved you toward a belief in God or away from belief in God?” Now, not all HCP see suffering up close. Others, however, see it every day. My daughter is an ICU nurse and sees intense suffering every shift. I have found, however, that even those HCP who do not see suffering up close can be challenged with this question. I asked a top oncologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania this question, and he admitted he had never really thought about it. However, the question sparked a fruitful conversation about spiritual matters for ten minutes.

#2 Ask, “How Can I Pray for You?”

You can ask, “How can I pray for you while I am laying here in this hospital bed?” My mother-in-law suggested this one and I have found it is a good, non-threatening way to bring up spiritual issues when you don’t know what else to say. Some surprising conversations can arise from this simple question.

#3 Bring a Book with an Interesting Title

Bring a book with you that has a provocative title. Most HCP are used to seeing patients glued to their phones, so I have found many will ask me what I am reading if I carry a book. Some of the books I have brought with me were The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Replacement Parts: The Ethics of Procuring and Replacing Organs in Humans, and Gospel Wakefulness. When people ask me what I am reading I try to explain in enough detail with an eye to making them curious. This indirect method allows you to talk about the book and not yourself. The title of a book I was reading sparked a great conversation with three nurses at once during one of my chemotherapy infusions.

#4 Bring Something to Give Away

Bring a little Gospel of John to give away. Another oncologist I see is from a foreign country, so asked her if she was atheist or Orthodox (the two major religions in her home country). She surprised me by telling me that she was Catholic, and that opened the door for more discussion on what she believed. Just then her assistant came to ask her a question about the next patient. So, I quickly pulled a small Gospel of John from my pocket and asked her if she would be willing to read it. She seemed very happy and promised to read it. I also leave them in waiting rooms.

Conclusion: Confidence in the Gospel

You may have additional ideas of how to share the gospel with HCP. I would love to hear them. One thing we must keep in mind: we cannot know until we broach the subject how a HCP will respond to our attempts. Satan loves when we prejudge that someone will respond negatively if we start a gospel conversation. We must have confidence in the gospel and its power, regardless of how we think someone may respond.

One of the most surprising experiences I have had with these attempts was with a Physician Assistant that initially showed no interest in spiritual matters. I moved back into conversation about my health, but before the appointment was over, I asked her why she didn’t have much interest in spiritual matters. Was it her studies in science and medicine or her exposure to so much suffering that moved her away from any specific belief in God? She suddenly opened up and the conversation became friendly and fruitful.

You may be the best person to reach your HCP. Don’t let their education or expertise intimidate you. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!

The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 1

 

2945978650_d15a7f6130The doctrine of Scripture is one of the most important doctrines to know in depth since the Bible serves as our foundation for knowing what we know. The Bible is also the target of many attacks on Christianity, so the better we know how it was written, what it says about itself, its historical nature, and place in Christian theology, the better we will be able to defend all of the Christian faith.

What IS the Bible?

There are many ideas about what the Bible is. Some believe it is like many of the rest of sacred religious books from around the world—pious people’s reflections on their experiences of the divine. Others believe the Bible is simply a collection of myths that some people mistakenly take to be divine. The Christian view, however, is that the Bible is the revelation of God about himself and his divine plan to redeem the world. The Bible, then, is the very Word of God to his creatures for the purpose of establishing a relationship with him. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that the words of Scripture are the very words of God breathed out by God himself. This is what we call the doctrine of Inspiration. God the Holy Spirit moved human authors to write his words so that each word, and the final finished product are exactly what God wanted to be written and without any errors. This is what we call the doctrine of Inerrancy.

Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, all his power and authority are invested in it. The Bible is not a dead book or an inert substance that has no power. Rather, the words of Scripture, being the very words of God, have incredible power to expose, convict, and transform the human heart (Heb. 4:12). Unbelievers often think that Christians merely follow the instructional teachings of a lifeless 2,000-year-old book of facts and commandments. In reality, Christians follow the living God who has spoken through his Word, which is a living and powerful document. When we defend the Bible, we should do it with this in mind.

Our relationship to the Bible is not like reading instructions on assembling a bicycle, but rather is like reading a personal, handwritten invitation by the President of the United States to dine weekly with him at the White House. Such an invitation would contain some instructions, of course, but its primary intent would be to invite you into a relationship with a kind and powerful ruler who wants to invite you to serve him in a prestigious position.

Sometimes unbelievers will fault Christians for believing in the Bible while missing this very point. Christians don’t believe the Bible because they want to live with as many rules as possible. No, Christians believe the Bible because they have discovered that it lays out the path to a restored relationship to God. And the Bible goes further, clearly teaching how we can participate in God’s great work of redemption in this life, and how we can have peace and joy for all eternity in the next life.

Another detail about the Bible many unbelievers don’t know is that, while it is a single book, it is also a collection of sixty-six books with a unified message. It is a library of books bound by a single theme of redemption. The Bible was written over the course of 1400 years by more than 40 authors, and yet is unified in its message. The Old Testament was written over a 1,000-year span, and the manuscripts were carefully preserved by the Jewish people to ensure accuracy. The New Testament was written over a 50-year span and was carefully preserved by the Christian church. (The reliability of the Bible will be covered in more detail in a later lesson).

In addition, the books of the Bible are comprised of many writing styles, or genres . In the Old Testament these include law books (Genesis-Deuteronomy), history (Joshua-Esther), poetry and wisdom literature (Job-Ecclesiastes), and prophets (Isaiah-Malachi). In the New Testament we have Gospels, or biographies (Matthew-John), history (Acts), epistles (Romans-Jude), and apocalyptic literature (Revelation). Each of these genres serves a different purpose in the unfolding story of redemption.

This is important, because unbelievers often know nothing about how the Bible came to be. They know that the Bible is old, but don’t know much else about it, except that there are miraculous stories written in it. The Bible is actually an amazing piece of literature in its own right, in addition to being the revelation form God so we can be rightly restored to him. One of our goals in apologetics is to get unbelievers to read the Bible for themselves. Countless unbelievers through the ages have been save simply by reading the Bible for themselves.

In the next post we will look at the way we got the Bible and its reliability.

How Knowing What You Believe Makes You A Better Evangelist

biblicaldoctrineMany Christians who are interested in evangelism and apologetics make the common mistake of thinking that they don’t need to know more than the basic plan of salvation to be a good evangelist. They believe that knowing just a little about Jesus is enough. They may even think that too much knowledge will be a hindrance to effective outreach. As a result they proclaim a message about Jesus without knowing very many of the details. Consequently, they don’t know how to deal with objections to the Christian faith because they are relatively ignorant of the faith they are defending. They are easy prey for an unbeliever who knows even a little of the doctrinal content of the Christian faith and its complexities.

It is no surprise, then, that many Christians avoid interaction with unbelievers because either they have had an unpleasant encounter in which they could not give an answer for an objection raised by an unbeliever, or because they know that they really don’t know what they believe. Even worse, they may have serious doubts about some of what they have been taught, because they haven’t given the time to study their faith.

Surprisingly, the key to becoming an effective evangelist and apologist is to know the Scriptures and sound doctrine! Knowing what you believe thoroughly provides a sure foundation to confronting the worldviews of others who reject the truth of the gospel. Instead of rushing off to evangelize before they even know what they are proclaiming, Christians would be better served if they would take the time and effort to gain a systematic understanding of their beliefs and the Scriptures on which they are based.

The Relationship between Apologetics and Theology

Theology is, at its heart, the study of God. The word theology is the combination of two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (a word about, or the study of).  Christian theology studies all that God has revealed about himself, his creation, and his divine plan. While theology can be understood in its basic form even by children, because it is the study of the infinite, eternal, divine God, it can also occupy the greatest minds with its complexity, depth, and beauty.

Apologetics is primarily a biblical and theological endeavor. This surprises many people who think of it first as a philosophical enterprise. While apologetics often deals with the same questions posed by philosophers, and at times incorporates contributions from philosophy, it is not primarily a philosophical activity. Philosophy rejects divine revelation; therefore, it can never provide a true picture of reality or a solution for the redemption of all creation.

Our apologetics, then, must be in agreement with our theology. If our theology tells us that the Fall corrupted man completely, so that even his intellect is damaged and his heart totally depraved, we cannot develop an apologetic method that counts on the objectivity and goodness of humanity. By knowing sound doctrine thoroughly, therefore, we will possess more powerful intellectual arguments against unbelief.

Our doctrinal convictions begin with a faithful study of the Bible. We should move from the text of Scripture to our theological system to our apologetic methodology. This has the benefit of making us logically consistent, which is important since we aim to reveal the logical inconsistency and contradiction of the unbeliever’s worldview. The more we know Scripture, the stronger our theological conclusions will be, which in turn will make our defense of the faith more robust.

In the next post we will begin to look at some of the key Christian beliefs about the Bible that serve as the foundation for our apologetics.

Guiding principles and a game plan for apologetic encounters

assessment-gameplanAs a summary of previous posts, here are some guiding principles of effective apologetic discussions with unbelievers.

Guiding Principles

Apologetic encounters with unbelievers should be guided by the following principles:

  1. The goal of apologetics is to present the Christian faith confidently and with respect for and gentleness with the unbeliever.
  2. Even though you may feel fear, keep going! Fear is a sign you are doing something right.
  3. The goal is not to argue with the unbeliever, but to draw him out by asking questions that get to the heart of his belief system.
  4. The goal of the conversation is to challenge his objections and answer his questions so you can present the claims of Christ.

The Game Plan

Here are some of the tactics used when engaging unbelievers:

  1. As you share the truth of the gospel, take the time to learn what the non-Christian believes. Do this by asking good questions. The questions you ask should be focused on getting him to admit or realize on what authority he bases his beliefs.
  2. Once he reveals the basis of his beliefs, you should challenge those beliefs.
  3. Take his side for the sake of argument and show the consequences of his beliefs when taken to their logical end.
  4. Correct mistaken ideas, factual errors, and contradictions.
  5. Seek to identify the ways the unbeliever is suppressing the truth of God so you can get to the heart of his objections to the gospel.
  6. Don’t let the unbeliever avoid the implications of his beliefs by changing the subject or jumping to another objection.
  7. Weave the Christian answers to the issues you are discussing into your answers to their objections. In other words, as you show the contradiction and irrationality of the unbeliever’s worldview, share the Christian worldview as the alternative.
  8. As you present the Christian worldview, use Scripture to strengthen your arguments, whether or not the unbeliever values the Bible.
  9. Ask questions that push below the surface to the reason why he believes what he does. 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?

Using these guiding principles and game plan will make your encounters with unbelievers more effective. Want to find out more about each one? Read the last 20-25 blog posts!

Show the Glory and Rationality of the Christian Faith

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When someone rejects the Christian faith he rejects a worldview that answers the deep yearnings of the human heart and the difficult questions of the human condition. The reason for this is that the Christian faith is centered in a person, not an ideal or an abstract idea. Because Jesus is the center of Christianity, all the glory of the divine Son of God is behind the answers Christianity gives. Only the Christian worldview truly makes sense of the following questions:

  1. Why am I here? What is my purpose?

Each worldview, belief system, and religion has an answer for these questions. Let’s take one, atheistic naturalism (AN) and show how it fails to answer these questions with any degree of satisfaction. Atheistic naturalism denies the existence of God and believes that all questions can be answered by science because the physical world is all that exists.

The answer AN gives to the first question is that we are here because the random forces of natural selection, guided by blind chance and time, just happened to produce this universe and everything in it. Since evolution is a blind process, there cannot be purpose, because purpose implies intelligence. There is no intelligence or design in the universe, so whatever happens to be, just is. There can be no purpose or meaning to life. We are here for nothing more than survival.

In contrast, the Christian worldview tells us that we are a special creation by a personal God who not only designed this universe for the purpose of human life, but has communicated purpose to us in his Word. Our purpose, as human beings made in God’s image, is to bring God glory. This other-focused purpose frees us from thinking we are the center of the universe. Life has inherent meaning because of God’s design in creation.

There is a universal longing for purpose and meaning in every person. Even when a person believes in AN, he longs for his life to have meaning. When talking to an adherent of AN, push the issue of meaning and purpose. Show how AN cannot provide purpose or meaning, and in fact makes it impossible. Only in the Christian worldview can a person find meaning.

  1. Who am I? Where did we come from?

In AN the individual is an accident of nature. He is nothing more than the sum total of his genes. He is no different from animals, and therefore has no more significance than a snail on the sidewalk. Ultimately AN has no answer for the origins of life. The universe came about by the Big Bang, but no one knows from where the original elements came.

In contrast, Christianity says we are unique among all created things. We are made in God’s image, made to know him, and made to reflect his glory. This provides us with an identity directly related to the divine God. Our identity does not consist of our performance, failures, successes, family, anything we do or what is done to us. Since God is our creator and sovereign, we are not our own. We belong to God and owe him our allegiance. Only in acknowledging this can we find our true selves and find joy.

  1. What is wrong with the world? Why is there evil and suffering?

Those who hold the AN worldview face a real crisis with these questions. If evolution is true, and we are just the sum total of our genes, and life is guided by blind chance, and there is no meaning in the universe, then there is nothing wrong with this world. The world is exactly the way it is supposed to be, with all the murder, rape, genocide, slavery, human trafficking, theft, hatred, cancer, disease, poverty, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and so on. Yet, atheists cannot escape the urge to see many of the things mentioned to be wrong, or in need of correction. They are often deeply concerned with human suffering, even though they are inconsistent in their concern. In the AN worldview, whatever happens in this world is what is supposed to happen. Whatever happens is simply the result of natural selection. Ultimately, this is a very dissatisfying conclusion for most people, who want there to be meaning in suffering.

The Christian faith teaches that the world is NOT the way it is supposed to be. God created the world perfect, with no death or sin. Since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, however, the world is under the curse of sin. Nothing in the universe is as it should be, and the whole creation groans for the day when Christ will transform it (Rom. 8:22-23). Evil resides in the human heart, and anyone is capable of evil. God is sovereign over all events, so nothing happens outside God’s control. We suffer in this lifetime, but God has saved us from ultimate suffering by the death of his Son, Jesus.

  1. Where are we going? What is the end of all this?

In AN there is no ultimate end or final purpose of life. There is nothing after death. There is no afterlife, so life on this earth will continue without change until the resources of the earth are used up. There is no heaven or hell, so there is no reward for living a good life, and no punishment for those who have done evil. There is no good or evil so whatever you do to be happy is all that matters. There is no real value such as justice because all values are relative. No God will ever judge you, so do what you want with your one life, because after this life is nothing.

The Christian worldview teaches that there is an eternal destiny for each person. This world will soon come to an end, and life in this sin-cursed world will be over. Justice matters in this life, and in the end God will bring justice. Every evildoer will be punished and those who have been saved by divine grace will enjoy eternal bliss with God. Every desire that has been frustrated in this life will be satisfied for believers in the next life. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

 

Conclusion

The centrality of Jesus in apologetics and evangelism cannot be emphasized enough. There is nothing more powerful to dismantle the unbeliever’s opposition to Christianity than to discover that the gospel is not about keeping a moral code, or attaining some enlightenment, but rather meeting a person. God has provided overwhelming historical evidence for what we believe about Jesus. This lesson touched on some of that evidence, but this topic will be greatly expanded in later lessons. For now, what has been presented in this lesson is a good start for a student to learn and have ready when challenged by an unbeliever.

We want to develop a Jesus-oriented apologetic, where we are always trying to work Jesus into the conversation. The person and work of Jesus are the central issue in the gospel, so the sooner we can clear away obstacles and talk about Jesus, the sooner we can get to the heart of the issue. The more we learn how Jesus answers the questions of the human heart, the more we will be able to present a compelling, attractive understanding of the gospel that appeals to the unbeliever’s awareness of his separation from God. Even when people still have intellectual objections to the gospel, if they find Jesus to be a gentle Savior and Shepherd, they will be drawn to him.

Get Them to Jesus, Part 2

Lead to crossWhen 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? In the last post we looked at Jesus’ claims to be God. Here we look at a few more claims with which an honest unbeliever has to wrestle.

  1. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament

This is an especially helpful claim if the person to whom you are talking is Jewish, but it also refutes objections about the God of the Old Testament being different from the God of the New Testament, or the objection that Christianity evolved from Old Testament religion. If Jesus fulfilled what the Old Testament promised, then there is no conflict between the Old and New Testaments.

  • In John 5:39, 46 Jesus claimed that all the Old Testament Scripture spoke of him.
  • In Luke 24:27 Jesus showed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the whole Old Testament pointed forward to his life, death, and resurrection.
  • In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus told the crowds gathered to hear him on the mountain that he came to fulfill the law, not do away with it.
  • In addition, Jesus fulfilled more than 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament.

 

  1. Jesus claimed to be the only way to be reconciled to God

In John 14:6 Jesus explicitly claims to be the only way to God, the ultimate truth, and the only source of life. Showing an unbeliever that Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way to be reconciled to God refutes the idea that Jesus only thought of himself as one possible way to God. If there are many ways to God, and Jesus claimed to be the only way, this would make Jesus egotistical, narrow-minded, and bigoted. Therefore, he could not be just a good, moral teacher. He either is the only way to God, or he isn’t, and is not worthy to be followed.

  1. Jesus rose from the dead

Christianity is the only religion whose founder rose from the dead and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate proof of his deity and his identification as the promised messiah of the Old Testament (Rom. 1:1-4). Even skeptical historians who deny Jesus as the Son of God cannot escape the historical facts that three days after Jesus was buried his tomb was empty.

Gary Habermas, professor at Liberty University and expert of the resurrection of Christ estimates that 75% of critical scholars (those who reject Christianity) believe that Jesus’ tomb was empty. In other words, the historical evidence for the empty tomb is very strong. On top of that, the belief that Jesus rose from the dead is the best explanation for what happened in the weeks following Jesus death. The transformation of a ragtag group of terrified followers into a powerful movement attracting thousands who proclaimed the resurrection of a crucified criminal can only logically be explained by the fact that Jesus rose again.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection have a number of features that lead many scholars to consider them reliable. First, the initial eyewitnesses of Jesus after his resurrection were women (Matt. 28:5-7). In the culture at that time the testimony of women was considered to be worth only half of a man’s. So, if you were inventing the resurrection story, you would never include women as the first eyewitnesses. You would perhaps write civil authorities or religious experts. Since women are, in fact, credited with being the first to see Jesus, the Gospel accounts more likely accurate. Second, when the women told Jesus’ disciples that the tomb was empty and that they had seen Jesus, the disciples didn’t believe them at first (Luke 24:11). This shows that the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Third, some critics believe that the accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection are legends rather than factual history. However, the examples we have of legends arising in antiquity (the ancient world) all demonstrate that such legends take hundreds of years to emerge. The Gospels, however, were written within 20-30 years of Jesus’ life, clearly not enough time for legends to arise. So, anyone who wants to argue that the Gospels are legends is arguing against the way history works.

By challenging unbelievers with these claims and facts of Jesus, you put before them the most important question any person has to answer—what will you do with Jesus? This is the goal of apologetics—getting unbelievers to face up to the claims of Jesus and show that Jesus is who he claimed to be and can save them from the sin which condemns them.

In the next post we will see how, in addition to showing them a truly biblical portrait of Jesus, it is necessary to show the unbeliever the beauty, glory, and rationality of the Christian faith.

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.

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.