My desire with this series on apologetic and evangelistic methodology is to motivate Christians with confidence to evangelize more readily and frequently. Obviously, much of what I have written is theoretical, and knowledge of truth is worthless unless we are prepared to apply it.
These last two articles are intended to draw out some practicality with our apologetic theology. I broke up my points of application into three, our preparation, our practice, and our pitfalls.
Just as a quick review of my first point, I wrote that we prepare ourselves to engage the world by knowing our faith and knowing our friend.
Knowing our faith entails knowing Scripture, which can only be accomplished if a person willingly reads the Bible on a regular basis. Additionally, a Christian will want to supplement his daily Bible reading with exposure to theologically rich books. That would also include having on hand a copy or two of a good systematic theology. Next, knowing our friend involves recognizing those individuals we evangelize are lost, opposed to God. Their opposition to us is a reflection of their opposition to the Lord and that should not dissuade us of our evangelistic efforts.With that in mind, allow me to turn to considering my final two points.
Keep in mind that when you engage an unbeliever with the truth of the Gospel and discuss eternal things, two opposing worldviews are meeting head-to-head. The encounter could be likened to two kingdoms at battle or two authorities competing for devotion.
On the one hand there is a Christian with a God-centered view of reality with Christ as his sovereign, redemptive Lord. On the other, is the unbeliever with his self-centered view of reality with his idolatrous understanding of God or god/gods as his lord. The Christian sees the world filtered through the self-disclosed revelation of the eternal God as contained in Scripture. The unbeliever sees the world filtered through the self-deceived philosophies of fallen men.
With such profoundly opposite perspectives, how exactly does one make any headway?
As I noted in a previous post, the Bible provides us with some specific insights to the nature of the unbeliever. Let me quickly review those insights,
All people know God in their hearts. There is not a person on earth who doesn’t believe in God because he hasn’t been shown enough compelling evidence. That is because all men are created in the image of God. Unbelief is not a matter of there being no evidence, its having no changed heart.
What unbelievers do with the reality of God’s existence is to suppress that truth. They do that by appealing to fanciful and imaginative excuses in the form of philosophies, worldly opinions, idolatrous false religions and so forth, as a justification for not believing God in the way He has revealed Himself in Scripture. They know he exists, they just refuse to submit to him as their Lord.
I have a modern day example of what I mean. Back in December 2004, I was with my family at Disneyland with a group of friends and as we were in line waiting to get on some ride, a group of anti-Bush malcontents came striding past us. One of the guys was wearing a tee shirt with a big image of a stern faced George Bush plastered on the front with the words scrawled across it, NOT MY PRESIDENT.
I had to keep from laughing at him until he walked on past with his pals, because I thought myself, “his shirt represents the nature of unbelief. ” That little punk didn’t reject Bush as president because he wasn’t thoroughly convinced he held the office of President of the United States. He rejected Bush as president because he hated him so much. Its the matter of this kid’s heart, not what is true.
However, it is a fallacious assertion to proclaim George Bush is “Not my president,” because it doesn’t matter how much a person despises Bush (or Obama for that matter) as a person or how much he or she hates his policies in the world, he is still your president – end of issue, period. And to demonstrate that he is YOUR president, George Bush (or whoever is president at the time) could exercise the full force of his elected office to really mess up your life The same is true of the LORD. It is only by grace He hasn’t brought the full force of his absolute sovereignty to bear upon your life to really mess it up.
All people have core convictions they trust with their lives. Those personal convictions are formed by a variety of sources. They can be a person’s up-bringing, education, religious beliefs, etc, and they shape a person’s overall perspective on life. They provide a person with the basic answers to the “meaning of life,” issues that have eternal consequences, like “why am I here?” “What happens when I die?” and similar questions along those lines, and they shape personal opinions that intersect with the rest of the world.
More importantly, a person’s core convictions are often appealed to so as to help explain away the feelings of guilt all men created in the image of God, and separated from him, experience. People know they are separated from God, so the worldview philosophies they allow to govern their lives provide them assurance about choices and beliefs they make which in reality have those eternal consequences.
All people, by and large, live widely inconsistent to their chosen beliefs they use to justify meaning in their lives. This inconsistency may be manifested in a myriad of ways, because for each person it will be different. For example, a person may have multi-cultural convictions and argue all cultures are equally good and no other culture should imply they have better values than another culture. Yet, if individuals from another culture were to express their values of burning alive widows at their husband’s funerals, the multi-culturalist will become outraged. Many people may hold differing convictions about how THEY think the world should run, until they are inconvenienced by those very beliefs in their personal lives.
Now, with these thoughts in mind, the goal of the Christian is simple when he or she engages the unbeliever:
Gently, and with reverence, confront this person’s convictions, along with the inconsistency often display between those convictions and how the person really lives. Then you bring in the Gospel by showing the person he can’t truly place his trust in those chosen beliefs and the only person he can trust is the Living God who has given His son, Jesus Christ, to redeem a people called by His name and who restores an unbeliever to a functional spiritual relationship with his Creator.
I realize that’s a mouth full, but that will be your goal.
How the evangelistic apologist will accomplish that goal differs from person to person, evangelist to evangelist.
The easiest way to challenge your friend will be to ask questions. Ask him why he believes the way he believes. If he is prone to make dogmatic assertions, ask him to explain what he means, or how it is exactly he can justify his dogmatic assertions. If he values the teaching of a particular individual or organization, ask him to explain why.
Basically, you are asking your friend about “politics and religion.” You know, the old saying of how people don’t like to talk about politics and religion. That is because those two subjects reveal a person’s heart and what he or she values. Your questions should be the ones which reveal a person’s heart, especially discovering what he or she thinks of death and eternity and the forgiveness of sins. Believe me, no matter how hardened an unbeliever may be, those subjects do occupy his mind frequently.
And, all the while you are challenging your friend, you should be unashamedly bringing to bear upon his worldview the Word of God and the Gospel. Never abandon the foundation of God’s Word on which you stand. It alone is your authority. The person may mockingly accuse you of blindly believing the Bible, but he is also blindly following an authority, even though he may not realize it.
In spite of excellent preparation and a flawless ability to practically present any apologetic material and provide a compelling evangelistic witness, there will be some pitfalls endangering our efforts. Our ministry will only be served and much improved if we take note of these pitfalls so as to avoid them.
1) Quickly Becoming Discouraged Even though we should expect unbelievers in rebellion against God to respond with negative reactions and hostility when we attempt to evangelize them, the experience can still be disheartening. If we really care about a close loved one, the discouragement can compound, especially if it is a sibling, a parent, an aunt or uncle, or even a spouse. At those times, we need to remind ourselves again of who it is we are speaking to: an ornery sinner. The person may be nice, sweet, and a faithful friend, but as a sinner, the person doesn’t want anything to do with God.
If the individual happens to be a close loved one, someone you may see regularly, it may be wise to step back from the verbal evangelistic confrontation and merely love the person with silent, faithful service. The power of a changed, quiet life devoted to God can shout volumes into the hearts of an unbeliever. Eventually, in God’s timing, the person will come back around to talking about the Lord. Just be alert to when it happens.
2) Overwhelming The Person With Too Much Information Sometimes when those evangelistic encounters come about, there is a tendency on the part of the Christian to present the person with every argument in defense of Christianity the Christian has ever learned. Such an approach can be a frightening experience and will just make the person want to shut down and not engage in any conversation. The better approach is to go slow and present a little bit of information at a time. Take as much time to answer any objections and concerns the person may have. And of course, listen more than you may talk, allowing your words to be carefully selected and to the point.
3) Attempt To Win An Argument Don’t come across as wanting to pick a fight and win. Even if the person is a big-mouthed skeptic who needs to be shut down and put into his place, attempting to win the argument can potentially lead to heated words, raised voices, and flaring tempers that will merely damage your character. If the conversation is becoming argumentative, the better course of actions is to graciously bow out by ending it or changing the subject.
4) Treating The Person As An Enemy Along the lines of coming across as argumentative is the danger of treating the unbeliever as an enemy. It can be easy to fall into that trap if the person is adversarial with his mocking scorn. However, we cannot fail to think evangelistically with compassion toward the individual. The person is a sinner in need of being rescued.
We shouldn’t think like Jonah who wanted the people of Nineveh to die in judgment, but sadly, many Christians have similar feelings against the sinners in our culture. Rather than seeing the lost as our mission field who need to hear the message of reconciliation, they are viewed as the troublers of American values who must be stopped at all costs.
However those people forget they were one time hostile to the Gospel as well. They may had been out right mean-spirited about it, but if the people who shared with them had treated them as an enemy they may had never heard the Gospel. We are the ambassadors of God’s grace, not the proclaimers of eternal punishment.
5) Laziness We don’t take the time to prepare our minds for the task of evangelism. It may be we don’t even really care about reaching our loved ones for Christ because it forces us out of our comfort zone. Faithful evangelism means we have to take the time – time we would otherwise use to spend on ourselves – to get to know the person. We have to get involved with his life and that takes away from time spent with the people we like. I say that with all fingers pointing back at me, because I am all too familiar with this pitfall. But we must shake ourselves from that lazy stupor and involve ourselves with the messiness of people’s lives that is encountered when we evangelize.
6) Forget To Bathe The Time In Prayer According to Paul’s words in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, we proclaim Christ and Him crucified. We go in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we need to look in prayer to the God of salvation to direct our efforts and to work in the person’s heart. That is why you don’t have to be super eloquent in your speech, or an expert know-it-all on every major cult, religion and “ism” in the world. As long as you do your part by preparing spiritually with sanctification and study of the Word, God will take care of the rest.