This post concludes the three-part series on Strategies for effective apologetic encounters. To see the first two posts in this series click here and here.
The sixth way to effectively engage unbelievers with the gospel is to identify assertions when arguments are called for. Another common mistake we make when arguing a point is that we don’t actually argue a point! To argue for something is to make logical inferences from two or more truths (as we discuss in the next chapter). Quite often, however, we make assertions rather than present arguments. To assert something is simply to state it without any supporting justification. For example, to say “Christians believe the Bible because they can’t cope with the reality of life and need a crutch on which to rest” is only an assertion if no supporting statements are given that prove that it is true.
Sometimes when we are defending the Christian faith our opponent will make a statement such as the one above. If we don’t recognize it for what it is—a mere assertion—we will often feel helpless to respond. The reason is that an assertion made without any supporting arguments feels like an unimpeachable truth. That is, it comes across with the force of a universally accepted law. But it is not. Until a statement is supported by arguments it is actually nothing more than a wisp of smoke to be waved away.
Here are some examples of assertions that need to be challenged:
- Science has disproved the Bible
- All religions are the same
- There is no proof whatsoever for God
- Christianity is bad for the world
- We don’t know what the original manuscripts of the New Testament said
As you can see, these statements seem very intimidating, because they are stated in such a decisive fashion. But they are nothing more than unsupported assertions. We should apply our questions from chapter five whenever anyone tries to get away with such statements.
Seventh, pursue wisely those who wish to avoid conversation on spiritual issues. Sometimes in your efforts to engage people with the gospel, you encounter disinterest or resistance to conversation about spiritual topics. But even if someone tells you directly, “I don’t like to talk about religion” doesn’t mean that the conversation is automatically over. I usually try at least one more strategy if this happens. I will ask, “Oh really? Why?” in the most winsome way possible. That is, sometimes people attempt to shut down the conversation to avoid admitting the reason they don’t want to talk about spiritual issues.
By asking why, you may find that the answer relates to previous bad experiences with Christians, or alternately, a loss that has caused them to question the goodness of God in a broken world. By pressing the issue just a bit you may uncover an openness to further conversation. If the person declines to answer, however, I don’t continue to pursue the conversation. I don’t want to come across as pushy or aggressive. I will simply pray for her and hope to meet again.
Hopefully these strategies provide more clarity and give more tools for effective conversations. Much of it is intuitive. That is, if I keep in mind the command to give an answer with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15), I will strive to clear objections, so I can talk about Jesus without being annoying. I will listen to what the unbeliever is saying and how she is answering my questions. I will look for ways to incorporate these strategies in order to get to the root of her objections. I will seek to reveal the inconsistencies and irrationality of her worldview and the foundation on which it rests.
Remember, as you are employing these strategies you are tearing down the intellectual and emotional strongholds that the unbeliever has built up over time. These strategies give you various ways to challenge the objections, assumptions, and mistaken notions accumulated over time. Effective engagement requires patience and the insight of the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit dwells inside us and because we have the divinely revealed Word of God, we can be used by God for the planting and watering of gospel seeds in the lives of those who don’t know Christ.