I observed a conversation last week that is a perfect illustration of something that has bothered me for a very long time. It shows the most common mistake that people make when trying to present a defense of the Christian worldview to a nonbeliever. This one thing, in my opinion, has served to turn people away from Christ rather than encourage them to seriously consider the Gospel more than any other single mistake we make as defenders of the faith and presenters of the Truth.
I’ll tell you what happened, and you’ll probably guess what the monumental mistake is before I’m even done:
I walked into a small store just before closing time, and two people were in a conversation about the validity of religion in general and the Bible in particular. For convenience, I’ll call them Edward the Evangelist and Albert the Atheist – Ed and Al for short.
Ed was giving Al a rapid-fire list of reasons why the Bible is reliable. Al responded with “All religion, especially Christianity is just a bunch of man-made nonsense”. Ed responded with another list of reasons. Al rejoined with “It’s all made up. It all happened so long ago that we have no idea what really happened.”
Ed listed all the reasons he could for why the Gospels are reliable accounts of historical events. Al came back with “We can’t really know anything is true that was written so long ago”. Ed’s reaction was to say, “You say that no ancient history is true.” and start off on another list of facts. Al’s response (once Ed wound down) was, “that’s not what I meant.”
Ed continued to refute the argument that Al had just stated was not what he was trying to say until the conversation degenerated into a shouting match – at which time the cashier announced that the store was closed, and it was time to leave.
Did you catch the mistake? It was as obvious as it is common. Edward did not listen to Albert! This is the most common mistake I see when observing people trying to share or defend the Gospel – they are so focused on getting that evangelistic notch on their belt that they fail to try and see and hear their “target’s” real and felt issues.
Too often we forget that the primary value in sharing our apologetics with nonbelievers is not so we can win arguments or ridicule the illogical arguments against Scripture, but to better introduce people who are doomed to hell to the only way to escape that fate.
And in order to do that, we must be willing to listen, get to know our audience (usually of one or two) at least a little, and realize that in most cases we will not ‘win the argument’, but plant the seeds of doubt in their worldview. In other words, don’t look for the ‘notch on the belt’, but gently and firmly state your position, find out what their real objections are, and address them as best you can. Then let God do the rest.
“Fine.”, you might say, “but how do I do that?” Good question.
One way is to use what I call the investigative approach. This is simply to ask variations of the question “why?” until you get a response that you can address meaningfully. Here’s an example of how a conversation with Albert might go:
Al: I don’t believe that Bible stuff because it’s all made up anyway.
Me: That’s an interesting viewpoint. Why do yo say that?
Al: Because all religions are just made up.
Me: How do you know that?
Al: Because it’s obvious that supernatural events just don’t happen.
Me: How is that obvious?
Al: No one has ever seen one happen, and science demonstrates that they don’t.
Me: Christianity is based on eyewitness observations of supernatural events, but let’s put that aside for now. How has science demonstrated that supernatural events cannot happen?
Al: Because no supernatural event has ever been replicated in a lab.
Me: But if an event can be replicated in a lab, then it wouldn’t be supernatural, would it?
Me: So what you’re saying is that because a supernatural event can’t be replicated by natural means it can’t happen, but if it can be replicated it isn’t a supernatural event. Isn’t that circular logic?
Al: What I mean is that anything supernatural will eventually be explained by science.
Me: Ok. So what you’re saying is that if someone observes, say, resurrection from the dead, then even though we can’t explain that now, science will eventually figure it out.
Me: So how does that negate the facts of the occurrence?
Al: Because there must be a scientific explanation for it.
Me: So, following your logic, protons must not exist because science can’t explain why they act as waves sometimes but particles in other instances. Like the resurrection, if science can’t explain it, it doesn’t happen. Is that correct?
…. and so it goes. Notice that during that entire (hypothetical, but based on actual talked I’ve had) conversation, I did two things:
1) I listened to what Al was saying, and responded in a way that encouraged him to clarify his position.
2) I forced him to confront the problems with his position without being confrontational.
Typically, these conversations don’t end with any kind of neat and tidy resolution; Albert will probably walk away unconvinced that he should become a disciple of the Christ – but he will walk away with at least a small chip and usually a rather sizable hole in the wall he’s built up against Christianity.
Should we become friends (or at least friendly toward each other), over time, that wall will most likely fall.
So don’t forget to listen!