by Rob Lundberg
Have you ever tried to share the good news of Christ with someone who has no intention of believing like you do? I have, and let me tell you what I am finding. What I am seeing with the ideological shifts our culture is taking, that much of the kind of evangelism today involves a conversational type of evangelism. Think of it like gardening, planting the seed, cultivating it, and then reaping the harvest. Unfortunately there are those who are still insisting toward using the older tried methods of sharing the gospel with those who have no intention of believing what we believe as Christians. The results do vary.
Some become friendly toward the chapter/verse approach of the Roman Road, Evangelism Explosion, and others kinds. And there are truly genuine conversions. In other scenarios though, the decrying of Jesus being the answer is beckoned to a culture that is responding with “if you Christians say that Jesus is the answer, what is the question.” This settings one needs to have patience and cultivate a cordiality that is so different than trying to drag a person to the foot of the cross in 8 minutes or less.
But with the church being used to doing things the same way in their evangelism, they have been negligent to see the culture shift before their very eyes. Please understand that I am seeking to change the life changing message of Christ’s saving power through His death and resurrection and the need for one to profess Him as Lord.
But because of the cultural changes, many believers do not share their faith and that is because much of today’s kind of evangelism involves talking to unbelievers and not seeking to “drag them to the foot of the cross in ten/fifteen minutes or less. It is no lie that much of evangelism today is no easy endeavor.
Let me also say that those who say one does not need apologetics to do evangelism today has not done real evangelism. At the same time, we do not see the old school kind of evangelism in Scripture. Much of what we see in the ministry of Jesus and others, involves talking to people. So if we see that in Scripture, it must be biblically right?
Thankfully, Scripture has much to say about how to engage with them! The book of Proverbs has a lot to say especially helpful in this regard. I try to read through the Proverbs every month as part of my daily devotional time. As I have over time, I have noted that book of the Proverbs provides for us several practical guidelines for Christian apologists and evangelists to follow. Allow me to present eight proverbs I believe will be helpful for us to remember when you and I dialogue with an unbeliever.
1. Don’t Trust Your Own Wisdom (Proverbs 3:7).
“Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”
One thing we need to remember. While we may have a lot of evidences to present, we aren’t that smart. It’s easy for us apologists to trust our own background experience, our own education, and our own wittiness. Yes, we should be diligent in our studies. Yes, we should know our stuff. But the fact of the matter is, we will NEVER have all of the answers and know what to say all of the time. We have to trust the Holy Spirit in the conversation, lean on God and His understanding, and ask Him for the wisdom we need when engaging unbelievers.
2. Don’t Correct a Scoffer (Proverbs 9:7-8).
“One who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And one who rebukes a wicked person gets insults for himself. Do not rebuke a scoffer, or he will hate you; Rebuke a wise person and he will love you.”
I struggled with this one, early in my ministry. We cannot know what people are thinking, but we can use God-given discernment to determine when we come across a scoffer. Scoffers are people who don’t want to have a genuine conversation. Some will ask you a question to see if you have an intelligent answer to their question. Many are seeking to ridicule and slander their opponents. With a little bit of experience, it will become easier to spot scoffers before you get too deep in conversation. According to this proverb above, sometimes we do more damage by correcting someone that doesn’t care what we have to say. So don’t be afraid to end the conversation when a scoffer emerges.
3. Don’t Let Their Insults Get to You (Proverbs 12:16).
“A fool’s anger is known at once, But a prudent person conceals dishonor.”
I love talking to those who have no intention of believing what I believe as a Christian. Every so often there will be some excitement from someone who is hostile to the Christian faith or from someone that is so confident that their skeptical views are true that they are snide in their remarks.
I do not let that bother me. Part of the reason is that I am THAT CONFIDENT that the Christian faith is true, is because it is contagious. Am I bothered that skeptics are like that? Yes, but my faith IN Christ is rooted deep in the historical truths and the existential reality of a living relationship with Jesus, allowing me to walk in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Please understand. I get it that it is easy to take offense at comments from those hostile to the Christian faith. As for those who do listen but still will not believe, pray for them. Those that are hostile and refuse to listen to your reasons for the hope that you have, pray for them and remember Jesus’ words, “If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14).
4. Don’t Overstate Your Case (Proverbs 12:17)
”One who declares truth tells what is right, But a false witness, deceit.”
One of our goals as Christian apologists is to present the best case, as intelligently as possible. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should present our case with more confidence or certainty than we actually have. More importantly, we should never present “evidence” that is misleading, inconclusive, or plainly false!
Be honest when the evidence for a particular point you are making is not as strong as you might like. After all, poor arguments are not going to help anyone. And believe it or not, skeptics will pick that up on that and you could find yourself in an unexpected pickle or “lay an egg” to “retreat” from the conversation quickly.
5. Think Before You Answer (Proverbs 15:28)
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”
As obvious as this seems, God put it in Scripture for a reason. In the heat of the moment, especially when your character is being attacked, it’s easy to blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, pause and think about what a person is really saying. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know, let me research and think about this and get back to you.”
Sometimes giving an answer can be worse than no response at all. For example, you don’t want to list out 10 cold theodicies to someone who just lost their spouse. Pray and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit on how to answer objections to the faith.
6. Listen Carefully to the Other Side (Proverbs 18:2, 13)
“A fool does not delight in understanding,But in revealing his own mind. . .One who gives an answer before he hears, It is foolishness and shame to him.”
Being a “one dollar apologist,” I am certainly not an expert in doing every area of apologetics, but I do know that we are wasting our time if we never give the unbeliever a chance to talk. We must hear their stories and their arguments, and try to see things from their perspectives. Some folks, who use the traditional ways of evangelism, see this as avoiding a gospel presentation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you remember the Parable of the Soils (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-25)? I believe we need to see evangelism in our postmodern culture through the eyes of gardening. With the rise of skepticism in this country, it is easy to see that sometimes the soil of a hard heart needs to be broken and re-tilled. Sharing the gospel with someone who is skeptical is not going to necessarily work, apart from a divine intervention of God. Please note that I am not looking to change the message. All I am saying is that we need to re-evaluate the method so that the unchanging message can push through. That means we need to engage the person and hear what their beef might be, and then look for a way to invade that objection, clear the rubble, and share the remedy (the Gospel of Christ).
Apologetics is not about getting our views and opinions out there and halting the conversation. We need to listen carefully first and give the one you are seeking to share the truth with a fair shake. This does not mean that we agree with them. It is okay to acknowledge a good objection or admit when you are wrong! Honesty and integrity in the conversation goes a long way. Also remember that people have opinions, but not all opinions are right. The truthfulness of the gospel is beyond opinion. We need to remember this!
7. Don’t Make It About Winning Arguments (Proverbs 24:17).
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart rejoice when he stumbles,”
I have always loved the saying, “Win the person, not the argument.” I also remember the reminder given to us by the late Dr. Walter Martin. For those who are concern about winning the argument, Dr. Martin said, “You can win the argument and lose the soul.” So when dialoguing with a skeptic, our goal isn’t to trip them up or rejoice when they are proven wrong. We aren’t about scoring intellectual points or showing our superiority. Sadly, I’ve seen many Christians rejoice when seeing the other side fall. I’ve seen some go as far as ridiculing the person’s intelligence.
When an unbeliever makes a misstep in his argument, use that opportunity to pray. Ask that God would use this experience to show him the error of his way and lead him to the knowledge of the truth.
8. Commit Your Work of Apologetics to the Lord (Proverbs 16:3).
“Commit your works to the Lord, And your plans will be established.”
Don’t forget our motivation in doing apologetics. We desire for others to trust in Christ, and we know that only God can draw them to a saving knowledge of Christ. If our work in apologetics is for our own glory, then we will certainly fail every time! But if we engage with unbelievers to please God alone, the Lord will establish our ministry.
These are just some of the Proverbs that have been helpful for me when engaging unbelievers. As Jesus commands us, we must “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
I pray that these thoughts have equipped you and given you some food for thought for how you share the gospel and defend that faith. I pray that wherever the Lord has you that He will would bless your work in the ministry He has given you.
Rob is a blogger, professor, writer, and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to articulate what and why they believe to a confused culture in a “brave new world.”