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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Tips for Sharing Your Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips for Sharing Your Faith. Show all posts

Friday, November 04, 2016

Starting God-Conversations: Take the "Class-Photo" Approach

AS the holidays are approaching, families will be reunited and seldom seen relatives will have the opportunity to share with one another. Burt when the topic of faith comes up, the conversation can quickly turn contentious. How can you get "God conversations" started where others are interested in engaging instead of arguing with you? How do you set the stage so others won't be put off before the conversation has begun?

First, listen more than you speak

One of the bigger problem in witnessing today is Christians equate it with preaching or dumping our information onto someone else. Some think "as long as I say 'Jesus died for you' and share a couple of scriptures, my witnessing obligations have been met!" That's a complete misconception of what sharing the Gospel is. Jesus never did this. Jesus actually cared enough about each person he engaged to ask them about their lives and he tailored his conversation to their interests. With the religious leaders (Nicodemus/Pharisees) He discussed theology and with the common people (woman at the well, the blind man) he engaged them in the tasks they were doing or the needs they had.

With Zaccheus, Jesus went further. Zaccheus was a tax collector; this meant his attention to the Jewish laws and requirements were not strictly observed "because someone unreligious enough to collect taxes would not be careful about tithing his foodstuffs."1 But Jesus wanted to build a relationship with Zaccheus, not just preach at him, so he invited himself over for dinner. It was the building of intimacy and the care that Jesus showed towards Zaccheus the individual that prove3d effective in the sinner's repentance.

People's favorite subject is themselves

So, my first point in starting God conversations is to make sure you listen more than you talk. Take what I call the second grade class photo approach. Do you remember those pictures you would take in elementary school with your class in three rows and the teachers standing at each end? When the class pictures were distributed, what was the first thing everyone did? They looked for themselves! I'm sure you were interested in your friends and what kind of faces they may have been making, but you first wanted to see how you looked in the picture. That's because no matter the person, everyone's favorite subject is themselves.

Given this, the Christian can be very effective in beginning conversations not proclaiming pronouncements but by asking questions and trying to understand the person with whom they're conversing. Ask, "What's the thing you're passionate about these days?" Most people's passions have a moral component that leads into conversations on good and evil. Even sports or hobbies have broader implications, as the Colin Kapernick controversy has shown. Make sure you follow up their answer with another, such as "Why did you get involved in that specifically?" or "What is it about that that you find satisfying?"

Paul used this technique to great effect in Acts 17 when he was asked to present before the Greeks at Mars Hill. He first starts with a compliment (Men of Athens, I perceive you are very religious in all respects.."), then quotes some popular poets, then ties hose interests to his message. Paul made sure he knew the interests and ideas that motivated the Athenians before he brought up Jesus.
By seeking to understand the drives and motivations of an individual, you'll be in a much better position to discuss things like what makes life meaningful.  You may also find the conversation you planned would not be effective at all, as I did here.

People will tell me they've had the greatest conversations when they feel they were heard – not when they were talked at. That means you must listen first.


1. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993. Print. 229.
Image courtesy John Atherton and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What's the One Question No Christian Can Answer?

Remember that cliffhanger on Friends where Rachel sees Joey on one knee with a ring in his hand and tells him she would marry him? As fans of the show would know, the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. Joey bent down to pick up an engagement ring that had fallen out of Ross's jacket. Even though Joey never actually asked her to marry him, it was because Rachel had it in her mind that she was going to be alone that she reacted so quickly to his posture.

Sitcoms have made a trope out of friends misunderstanding one another. The seventies sitcom Three's Company seemed to drive almost every episode on some kind of farcical misunderstanding. However, in the real world misunderstandings are usually not so funny nor so easily resolved. Yet, we live in an age where in-person conversations have given way to digital exchanges and misunderstanding someone else is easier than ever.

Real conversations between people allow the participants to see each other's body language, facial expressions, and their level of attentiveness. Their voice inflection, cadence, and speed help our understanding of the words they use and what they mean. But all of that is lost in the digital world of texts and social media comments.

How does this affect me and my witness?

Perhaps you've followed me to this point and are currently thinking, "Well, yeah. Everyone has had an experience when our text or comment was received differently than intended. But what's your point?" My point is simple, as Christians who engage with others both in person and on social media, we must be extra diligent to make sure we really understand the other person before we comment in any way.

Unfortunately, I see the opposite over and over again, especially on boards that focus on defending the faith. One particularly grievous pattern that I've observed is people commenting on the title of an article that has been shared or posted without actually bothering to read the article itself. Just like the distracted Rachel who's a bit wrapped up in her own needs, these folks are responding to something that many times hasn't been said. Yet we complain whenever an atheist or news report provides a caricature of a Christian position, many times without ever asking a Christian what it is he or she believes.

This can happen in face to face conversations when you're too busy thinking about what your next "killer comeback" is going to be instead of really listening to the other person. But I've shown that taking a vested interest in the other person and their beliefs can radically change the nature and direction of the conversation. Online, it happens even more frequently, and results in driving people apart more than helping them see the truth of the Gospel.

Did you answer this article's title before you got here?

Even in my own writings, I often title my articles in the form of a question (just as this one is). When I post them on Facebook, I receive several responses. The people don't interact with the article and its ideas, but they simply answer the question in the article's title! Sometimes they even get the topic the question raises wrong. This should never happen.

Christians need to care enough about those with whom we interact to find out what it is they're saying before we rush headlong into our "silver bullet" answer. We cannot allow ourselves to create straw men.  When the issues are important, proper communication and understanding become even more crucial. Don't rely on second hand accounts of what you think an expert said, read the expert yourself. You may be surprised to find a more nuanced view than you were lead to believe. Don't snap to a judgement on a post because the first sentence sounds like a common view. It may or may not be. Ask the author some questions and see if you can understand what is behind the comment. By asking questions, you may even be able to show the inconsistency of the other person's view.

What's the one question no Christian can answer? It the one they never bothered to hear in the first place.

Image courtesy Lourdes S. (Day 14: I Don't Know ANY of This!) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Talking God at Starbucks (video)

Christians sometimes struggle to find ways to witness to others. Asking good questions is one of the best ways to open up real conversations with people while still not offending them. Here, Lenny recounts a short conversation at a Starbucks to illustrate how effective questions are at starting God conversations.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #8 – Be Confident!

In hockey, scoring a goal is tough. A team will average thirty or more shots on goal per game, with only one or two making it past the goalkeeper. Because of this, teams will often circle or delay their attempts hoping for a better opportunity. While some care should be exercised so a player doesn't blow a chance, it's easy to fall into the trap of being over cautious. Players begin to look for the "perfect" chance. Of course, there's another team on the ice, so perfect chances are rather hard to come by. The result is they dismiss decent opportunities or possible opportunities as not good enough and they fall deeper into a scoring slump.

I think the same thing is true in sharing our beliefs with others. Over the last week and a half, I've been offering several tips on sharing and defending your faith. I'd like to wrap up this series by simply offering a word of encouragement: be confident! Take a chance and strike up a conversation with a person. Don't be afraid to tell someone the Christian position on a particular topic that's being discussed. Write a letter to the editor or ask someone out to lunch.

Remember, we are commanded by God to make disciples (Matt.28:19) and to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). I also know that many people find this very scary. But, as I've written before, you're smarter than you think you are. It really doesn't take a lot to ask someone why they hold to his or her beliefs. If you are gracious and listen a lot, the conversations can turn out very pleasant. I've approached atheists on college campuses who were complete strangers and had extended conversations about God and morality with them which end in them actually thanking me for taking the time to talk about these issues.

Paul, when writing to Timothy, encouraged him to not be ashamed of his Christian beliefs. He states, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (1 Tim 1:7 NKJV). Jesus promised that he wouldn't leave us alone in this task, but he would provide the Holy Spirit to help us in our efforts (John 14:15,25-26). We have the very Spirit that shaped the world helping us in our witnessing to others!

Wayne Gretzky, the greatest goal-scorer the NHL has ever seen, has been credited with saying, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I think that's right. Be confident. Take a chance to share your faith. You cannot get better at it until you risk a bit of yourself and do it. You may be surprised at  how quickly you can see fruit from your faithfulness.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Image courtesy goaliej54. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #7 – Be Gracious

 Every year, I attend the meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. The EPS is a collection of professional philosophers and apologists from different parts of the world. Tonight, Paul Copan addressed the audience and gave a talk about emphasizing gentleness and respect when sharing our faith. As it happens, this is exactly the topic I was planning on writing about tonight.

The phrase "gentleness and respect" is the second half of 1 Peter 3:15, known as the apologist’s verse. It reads, "Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." Yesterday, I wrote about the what of 1 Peter 3:15—the "always be ready to give a defense" part. I said that it would take some work on your part to study the common objections that you may hear so you can answer them.

Arguments Shouldn’t Be Adversarial

Today, I want to focus on that last part. As I said previously, passionate arguments can generate a lot of emotion and it can become difficult to keep one’s emotions in check. Yet, it’s crucial that you don’t get heated in your talks. Remember, our goal is not to win the argument, but to win the person to Jesus. Yelling and snapping at people won’t accomplish this. In fact, it may have just the opposite effect of driving people away.

Many years ago I was a purchaser for a hardware distribution company. One of my vendors had a girl who would always answer the phone in a very kurt manner. She sounded harsh and a little bothered any time I called to place an order. Given that this vendor had a cutoff time that if not met could mean some serous delays, I knew that it would not benefit me to react to the abrasiveness of this girl; I just couldn’t afford the gatekeeper as an enemy. Therefore, I decided that whenever I called I wouldn’t ask for my sales rep without engaging her with a bit of small talk. I’d ask her about her day or if she had a nice weekend. Soon, whenever she heard my name, her tone changed and she was genuinely happy to hear my voice in the phone. My calls were handled aster and they would now make some exceptions for my needs. This is all because I consciously decided to treat abrasiveness with care.

Practice Your Patience

Peter not only commands us to prepare for defending our faith through study, he also instructs us to prepare to defend the faith graciously. It may surprise you to think of gentleness and respectfulness as things that require preparation, but they do. Being kind when another is attacking is a hard thing to do. You have to make a conscious decision to keep calm and defuse any potential conflict. It doesn’t feel natural to us. It takes practice.

Proverbs 16:21 reads, "The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness." Our arguments can actually become more persuasive when we defer to another. Again, if you feel things are getting out of hand, you can stop the conversation. By telling your questioner, "You know, I value you so much as a person that I don’t want our relationship to be hurt by this conversation. Why don’t we take a break and meet again another day," you demonstrate you care more about them than being a conqueror. Such actions can open the minds of others far more quickly than any intellectual argument may do on its own.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #6 – Prepare and Seek an Answer

People have noted how some of the most wildly successful people seem to dress in a uniform. Even though he could have afforded any type of clothing, Apple founder Steve Jobs chose to always appear in the same combination of jeans and a black turtleneck. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg said that he has only one drawer at his house filled with "about 20 of these gray t-shirts." 1

Why would such successful people choose to limit themselves so much? Zuckerberg recently answered that question by saying he wanted to spend his time focused on the thing that mattered most to him. "I'd feel I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life." That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it is true that highly successful people pour more of their energy into achieving their goals than most people. They strive to cut out distractions, whatever they may be, in order to really focus on making their product or service the best in its class.

Always prepare to give a defense

That lesson is also true in sharing your faith. We are commanded to make preparations before we have encounters with people to be able to answer their questions on Christianity. 1 Peter 3:15, which reads "Always be prepared to give a defense to those who ask of the hope that is within you," is the most well-known of these verses, but there are many others.

So, while you don't have to limit your wardrobe choices, it is imperative for Christians to prepare before they step outside the door. Make sure you have studied some of the key objections that are common among skeptics such as arguments for the existence of God, dealing with the problem of evil, and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Make sure you look at both sides of a controversial issue. As I've warned both in this series and more fully in a previous article, you do not want to erect a straw man. You should be able to put the issue and the solution into plain language without using "Christianese" in order to make sure that you are understood.

Don't bluff

Of course, it's impossible to know everything. People will have had different experiences from you and they will have heard different things. They may bring up a point that you hadn't heard yet or perhaps something you haven't thought a lot about. The key in these situations is to recognize that you aren't fully prepared to answer that point. Don't bluff! Bluffing may be an acceptable strategy for poker, but when the goal of a conversation is to discover the truth about an issue, bluffing an answer is the worst thing you can do! In certain situations you will have to admit that you hadn't heard that point before. Don't be afraid to tell someone "that's an interesting question; I'd like to get back to you on that." However, if you offer that response, you have now obligated yourself to dig into the books and really seek out an answer. This means you will need to set aside time to investigate the question thoroughly.

Make sure you set a time to meet again

Because you are taking on such an obligation, whenever you hit a roadblock you should always agree on a time to meet again and take up the conversation. This offers two advantages: first, it makes sure the other person is serious about continuing the discussion. While the research in digging out an answer is always good for you, you don't want to always be doing research if he or she isn't interested in engaging in your findings. If they don't want to meet again, you will know their objection is simply a smokescreen.

Second, setting a time pushes you to not procrastinate. I know that a lot of things compete for our time and distractions can creep into our lives, causing us to delay doing those important things. If you delay meeting again because you haven't had time to look into the issue may be perceived by them as you not really caring about the truth, or worse they may feel you don't care about them! It's also best to try and capture a puzzling question when it is fresh in your mind, so you can get the objection right and not spend a lot of time researching something the other person wasn't ever asking.

To be successful in sharing and defending one's faith will require time and effort. There's simply no escaping that. However, once you put in that effort, you may be surprised at the dividends it pays.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.


1. Kelly, Samantha Murphy. "Mark Zuckerberg: I Wear the Same Thing Every Day." Mashable. Mashable, 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #5 - Look for Logical Fallacies

When I was in sixth grade, some of my friends and I played an elaborate hoax on the second graders in our neighborhood. We took some ViewMaster projector and some slides of the Apollo missions, a sound effects record, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and some flashing Christmas lights that we taped t the back of a panel and convinced these kids we were taking them up in space. We tried to think of everything; we even sewed some dime-store space patches on our clothing to simulate uniforms.

I don't know just how much the little kids really bought, but they sure seemed to swallow the story hook, line, and sinker. The main reason was we had all the trappings right. It looked and sounded like a space launch in their limited experience.

When you are talking about faith and opposing worldviews, many Christians can be just as gullible as the second graders in my story above. They will hear an objection or an argument and because it sounds like a real objection, they assume it is a serious issue. However, the mature Christian will be able to identify what are known as logical fallacies. Fallacies are not real arguments. They're smoke-and mirrors tricks that are not evidence of someone's position. I've reviewed a couple of these before, but I'd like to quickly go through some of the more common ones below.

1. Genetic Fallacy

The genetic fallacy is any argument that draws a conclusion due to an irrelevant aspect of the source. An example I've often used is of an elementary school teacher who taught children their multiplication tables. Imagine that later this teacher was convicted of perjury. Since the teacher is a proven liar, does that mean the children should now not believe that 2x2=4? Just because the source of that fact has been shown to be flawed, it doesn't mean that the particular point you are arguing is flawed, too. Here are some examples of the genetic fallacy:
  • "You are a Christian because you were raised in a Christian country."
  • "Because the Bible is an ancient document, it can't be relevant to today."
  • "Too many Christian hypocrites have told me the same thing that you're saying."

2. Argumentum ad Populum

Argumentum ad Populum, or arguing to the people is saying because an opinion or position is the popular one, it should therefore be believed. However, the popularity of a position doesn't make the position true. Slavery was accepted in the early period of the United States, but that doesn't mean it was right or moral. Here are some examples of argumentum ad populum:
  • "Everyone believes evolution is true."
  • "The vast majority of scientists don't believe in God."

3. Argumentum ad Hominem

Argumentum ad Hominem means arguing to the man, and it happens when a person attacks the person for some inconsequential reason.  While the most well-known version of the fallacy would include an insult ("You're too stupid for me to believe that!"), many times the ad Hominem argument is more subtle. For example, a Democrat that rejects any statement offered by a Republican because of his party affiliation is committing a type of the ad Hominem fallacy. Here are a couple more:
  • "I can't listen to you about abortion. How can you possibly know how a woman feels since you're a man?"
  • "Christianity can't be believed. I mean, look at what the Christians did in the Crusades!"

4. False Dilemma

A false dilemma is when you are offered two choices as the only two possibilities, while more really exist.
  • "Either you accept outdated beliefs or you hold to reason."
  • "I would rather place my trust in science than faith."

5. Straw Man

Sometimes people will either oversimplify Christian beliefs or completely misstate what Christians believe. Just as a scarecrow stuffed with straw is easier to knock over than a real man, some will construct a straw man of the Christian's beliefs just to more easily knock them down.  (For a fuller explanation of a straw man, see this.) Here are a few straw men that you may recognize:
  • "All you Bible-believing nuts want to be slain in the spirit and protest against homosexuals"
  • "Everything needs a cause. God is a thing, so what caused him?"

6. Appeal to Pity

Appeals to pity are simply trying to not argue on the reasons for a position but rather on making someone feel bad. It tries to play on people's emotions rather than the facts of the matter. You can see this used all the time in political campaigns, where candidates will offer one or two anecdotes of a person who is in a tough spot and then argue that certain policies need to be adopted "to help her out of this difficult time." It's a tug on the heartstrings instead of looking at the argument itself. Here are some more examples:
  • "If abortion is not legalized, then only the rich will be able to get abortions."
  • "Accepting Christianity would mean that there are more people in Hell than in Heaven. That's a monstrous belief."
To see all the posts in this series, click here.
Photo courtesy edgeplot and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #4 - Avoid Smokescreens and Dodges

There's an old saying that goes "Do not discuss politics or religion in general company."1 Within any conversation where the participants are passionate about their views, it is likely that emotions can get in the way. The talk gets heated and it degenerates to more seeking to wound the other person or simply trying to protect oneself. This next tip is so important, because it seeks to help you argue well. We will use a single topic to see how each dodge can play out, but this is just for example. Hopefully, you can recognize these and apply them to other discussions as well.

Let's say we are discussing why God is necessary for objective moral values and duties. I've argued here that objective morality requires God to ground its precepts. Perhaps I tweet this article and get several responses. Let's walk through our scenario and see how to deal with each.

1. Be aware of smokescreens

Many times if you raise a point that the other person cannot or doesn't want to answer, they will throw out a smokescreen. Smokescreens are questions or objections that are meant to a) take the pressure off them by bringing up some new subject or problem not related to the issue at hand or b) questions where the questioner isn't really interested in hearing the answer. So, for example, a person responded to my article by writing "Morals can't be grounded in an imaginary being... not grounded in Jesus any more than grounded in Santa." This response is clearly not dealing with the problem of morals being objective versus subjective. It's simply meant to inflame.
Therefore, Someone who wants to shout at you, ask questions but refuses to answer ones you present, or simply barrages you with a barrelful of issues is trying to create a smokescreen. Here's the takeaway:
  • If people are honestly seeking an answer, they will be open to discussion; otherwise it's not worth your time.
  • Ask, "What evidence would you accept in order to change your views?"

2. Keep the focus on the issue at hand

The tactic of trying to get out of trouble by introducing a new subject is known as a "offering a red herring," an idea coined by William Cobbett, who wrote a story about a boy who drags the smelly fish away from a hare's trail in order to send the tracking dogs in the wrong direction2. In my post above, I used confederate money as an analogy to show why morality must be anchored in something bigger than just whatever people want to believe. I had another respondent who began to argue about the value of gold and the economics of the1860s versus today. These had nothing to do with my point, but were distractions. Similarly, you may get "well, if God is moral then why did He let all those people die in the (choose disaster of choice)?" But God's actions are a separate question from how we get meaningful morality. They are red herrings meant to lead you away from your point. Here's the key:
  • Stay on one topic
  • Make sure both parties are responding in a way that moves the conversation forward

3. Note who has the burden of proof

Another dodge that can come up is when a person makes a charge and when you respond to that charge, he challenges you to prove your own position. For example, sometimes atheists simply dismiss my argument and state God is not necessary for morality to be real. At that point they've made an assertion, so it is incumbent upon them to back it up. I would ask something like, "How is it that moral laws are binding upon all of humanity and not merely a preference?" If the person replies with, "Well, atheists are more moral that other people" he's offered a red herring. This is why tip #2 is so important. The more questions you ask the less work you have to do. The objector should be able to provide reasons for his objection. The takeaway is:
  • One who asserts belief should have reasons for why they hold that view
  • You don't need to prove or justify anything, simply ask them the questions

4. Watch for power moves

One time I was walking down a street and noticed a man on a bench who was shouting about the Iran war to the crowd. He spoke in brave tones and seemed very confident. But some of the things he said were very simplistic. I asked him how Just War theory fits in with his position. He actually got off the bench, took me aside and said in a normal voice, "Yes, I know about Just War Theory. I'm a professor as the local college." I asked, "Well, we should talk about it since it isn't quite what you're shouting." He replied, "Well, I have to use rhetoric in order to get the attention of people walking by." I found such as statement educational. The man was intentionally misrepresenting a position to draw attention to himself, but the people wouldn't know because he'd never shout the nuances of the debate.

This is why students must be careful when arguing with their professors during class. It's important to try and be heard, but it's also important to realize that the dynamics are such where the prof may do whatever it takes to save face. The takeaway is:
  • Don't get "shouted down" – assert yourself as having a right to be heard!
  • The man with the microphone always wins

5. Don't let emotions ruin the conversation

Of all the tips I've presented, this one is probably the most important, since Christians are just as guilty of it as those they interact with. If your discussion with another person starts to turn where you can feel the blood rising in your face, it is probably time to take a break. As I said at the beginning, passionate beliefs can turn into more heated arguments. But this is exactly the wrong way to share your faith! Be firm in what you believe and don't let people abuse you, but you should never alienate the person because your emotions got the better of you. Take a break, ask to come back at a later time and finish the conversation. It's better to part ways and have the opportunity to be heard another time than it is to offend someone to the point where they will reject your message because they associate it with a vindictive messenger.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.


1. Hill, Thomas E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms a Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Hill Standard Book, 1886. Print. 151. Available via Google Books here.
2. "Catching a Red Herring." Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Tribune, 02 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #3 – Give them enough rope

I've been gathering several tips for Christians to better share and defend their faith when talking with those who hold to different beliefs. If you've missed any of the other posts, you can read them all here.

One of the biggest errors Christians make in faith conversations is they think they are the ones who have to do all of the defending. I've heard from so many Christians how they would be talking with a skeptic who would shoot off about four or five objections to the faith, like "how can you really believe a man rose from the dead, " "How can you know the Bible is from God," or "What makes you think your interpretation is true?" In many of these situations, the Christian will try to answer every objection thrown at him only to find that the objector has many more waiting in the wings.

Sometimes objections are simply thrown out as stall tactics, something I will talk about next time. However, more often it's a signal that the person is desperately trying to hold onto his or her own belief by undercutting yours. But real dialogue doesn't work that way. I have always held that the reason-giving game goes two ways. If someone wants to know why you think the Christian worldview makes sense, you may answer, but then you have every right to ask them about the problems within their own worldview.

Make sure they know what they're talking about

Napoleon has been quoted as saying "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." When you begin to ask questions, you may be surprised to find that the skeptic doesn't know quite as much about his own beliefs as he thinks. As an example, columnist Thomas Sowell tells of a time where he asked the simple question of "what do you mean by that" and it completely unraveled his challenger:
As someone who has taught at several colleges, I am all too painfully aware of the erosion of thinking over the years. But even after leaving the classroom, I have continued to encounter the same mindlessness everywhere. For example, an environmentalist to whom I presented certain facts responded by saying, "But, they're raping the planet!"

"What specifically does that mean?" I asked.

He was as speechless as someone who had just played the ace of trumps and was then told it was not enough to win.1
When in conversations, you should always make sure the other person can define their terms appropriately. "What do you mean by that?" is a very powerful question that asks the skeptic to go beyond trite or repackaged objection. It also helps you see if they truly have understood the issues involved. It cuts down on misinterpretation, as well. Many times what they mean when they say words that can carry a technical meaning and what we hear can be two different things. Mormons will freely admit there is one god – but they mean one god for them. Clearing up these types of confusion can be a big step forward.

Look for self-refuting statements

Beyond misdefinitions, another key to showing the problems with other worldviews is to identify positions that the skeptic holds that contradict each other. In other words, there are certain positions that cannot possibly both be true at the same time.

Sometimes you can even find contradictions even in single statements. These kinds of statements are known as self-refuting or self-defeating statements. A self-refuting statement is one that is so broad it actually cuts its own legs out from underneath itself. A classic example would be someone saying something like "I cannot say one sentence in English." Obviously, that statement is itself a sentence in English so it cannot possibly be true.

Here are some other self-refuting statements that are common when talking about faith, as well as follow-up questions you can give:
  • "There is no such thing as absolute truth." Ask "is it absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth?"
  • "The only real truth is that which can be proven by science" Ask "Can you tell me what kind of science you have performed to find that out? What experiments did you perform that gave the result of ‘any truth not proven by science is false.'"
  • "You shouldn't push your morality on others." Ask "Are you saying it is morally wrong to push one's morality on another person? Is that your moral position? Why are you trying to push that on me?"
There are many other ways to approach self-refuting statements. I've written a bit about other self-refuting positions here and here. But the big takeaway here is to make sure that you aren't only playing defense in your faith-talks with others. One of the biggest advantages you have as a Christian is the Christian worldview is both externally and internally coherent and it provides a better explanation of the world that other belief systems.

It is not only Christians have to account for and justify their beliefs; everyone does. The reason-giving game goes both ways. So probe a bit and see if you can uncover the other person's confusion about their beliefs. You might be surprised at what you find.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.


1. Sowell, Thomas. "Using The Church Burnings To Scapegoat Conservatives." The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 26 June 1996. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Image courtesy Frits Ahlefeldt and licensed through the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Internationa1.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #2 – Listen to People

One of the things that irritates me more and more these days is the push for "suggestive selling" at fast food restaurants. Whenever I pull up to a drive-thru, I've usually looked at the menu and I know what I want to order. But when the attendant comes on the speaker she or she first pummels me with asking if I'd enjoy whatever their new special item is. This causes me to regroup for a second and recall my original order. Sometimes even as I'm ordering, they ask "what size would you like" or "would you like to add a XXX for only $1.49?" They will talk right over me when I'm in the middle of an order! I've even had attendants miss my drink order because they were too busy following their script.

I understand that fast food chains want to introduce new options that I may not be aware of, and I understand that some cash registers require the options to be noted in a certain order, but talking over customers while they are trying to order is still terrible customer service. Customers can choose many different restaurants; they're the ones with the money and they should feel like the cashier cares enough to get their order right before offering any add-ons.

Learning to Listen

The same is true when sharing your faith. Yesterday, I began a series of tips to help Christians better share and defend their faith. I said in that article that asking questions is crucial to being an effective ambassador for Christ. When I was first starting out in apologetics, I know that one of my bad habits was to talk with people and as they brought up a certain point, I would try to muster my responses while they were still talking. I was looking at apologetics like a tennis match: if he drops back, I'll rush the net, if he moves to the left, I'll aim for the right.

But this is exactly the wrong way to go about having a conversation! You aren't conversing with another person when you are strategizing instead of listening. Just like the over-zealous cashier in the example above, then you starts planning your responses while the other person is still speaking, your mind isn't focused on what they're saying and you aren't really hearing them. For someone who isn't just trying to fight but really wants answers, this is off-putting and rude. They may not wish to talk about these things with you a second time if they think all you're interested is talking about your position regardless of what they say.

The Second Grade Class Photo Approach

This is why I encourage you to use the "Second Grade Class Photo" approach. Do you remember those awkward class photos that your entire class used to take in elementary school? You know, the ones with the rows of children and the teachers standing on either side. When the school photos were developed and passed back to the students, what's the very first thing you did? You looked for yourself in that picture! That's human nature; we care about how we look or how we are perceived.

When engaging other in conversation, you can use that knowledge to help make sure the other person feels heard and knows you're listening. As I said last time, start by simply asking a lot of questions. I always ask "tell me, why did you come to believe this position?" That's a key question and can take your conversation in a completely different direction. As you ask more questions, you may begin to see that they hold contradictory positions on certain things. This is where tactics like the Columbo tactic can be handy.

Repeat their argument back to them

The Class Photo technique accomplishes a few things. First, it makes the person you're talking with feel important. I've always been told I'm a great conversationalist when the topic is about that person. Secondly, it informs you of their beliefs.  But just as importantly, it makes sure you aren't mischaracterizing their position. We should never offer straw men of someone else's position. The best way to guard against that is to listen and ask if you've understood them correctly. You should be able to repeat the argument back to that person and have them say "Yes, that's what I mean."

Lastly, you should be looking for the main idea or concept that drives their belief. There is usually one real issue underlying a specific position. It could be their not wanting to answer to a god, a woman who is saddled with guilt over her abortion, or simply that they don't understand the historic Christian position. Whatever it is, ask questions like "and why do you hold that view" or "Do you think this is one of the more important reasons you believe in X? If not, what would you say is an important reason?" Many times the issue isn't intellectual but emotional, and finding that out will make for a very different conversation. So, let's learn to listen.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #1 - Slow Down!

I don't think it's too hard to realize that in our secular culture, Christians have faced more and more resistance to their beliefs. Sharing one's faith can be difficult when others seem so antagonistic to it, but there are ways that we as Christians can be more effective in standing up for what we believe and sharing it with others.

In Matthew 11:16 Jesus said "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (ESV). Such a picture shows the adversarial nature that the Christian worldview faces. So, to be wise, we want to make sure we are planning on how to be more effective in having intelligent conversations. It's with that in mind that I want to offer eight tips for sharing and defending your faith to others. These techniques are ones I use all the time and they have been proven to be effective in real-world encounters with others. I'll spend the next couple of weeks going through each, so be sure to come back every day and follow the entire thread.

Many times Christians want to get to the "punch line" too soon!

The first tip is a crucial one because it's a mistake I see Christians make all the time: they go too fast. I've seen so many people who are talking with non-believers and they will jump straight from the question of "Are you a Christian?" to "You must recognize you're a sinner and Jesus came to save you." That's a big leap for someone who isn't familiar with the Christian concepts of the fallen nature of man or redemption. Heck, the person may not believe in the Bible, or that Jesus was even a real person! Christians can be too anxious to "get to the Gospel" when significant groundwork may need to be laid first.

So, my first tip is simply slow down. When Paul visited the synagogues during his missionary journeys, we see that he would sometimes spend weeks discussing why Jesus is the Messiah, and those people already accepted the ideas of God, the Old Testament Scripture, their sinfulness, and the need for a Messiah to come. The Christian today doesn't know if the one with whom they're speaking holds to any of those things.

It's hard to change beliefs

Remember that when you are discussing Christianity with another, what you are really doing is asking that person to change his or her beliefs. As I've written before, that's not an easy task. No one can force themselves to believe anything. Beliefs change only through the exposure to new evidence or experiences or seeing a contradiction in the belief itself. That means it takes time and purpose to provide new ideas and explore existing beliefs the other person holds.  Before you launch into a case for your own view, here are a few questions you should ask yourself to make sure you properly understand the other person's position:
  • What does this person actually believe?  Do I have it right?
  • Why do they believe that way?  Is this an emotional rather than intellectual position?
  • What do they know and what are they assuming?
This means that apologetics and evangelism starts by asking questions instead of making statements. Once you can answer each of the questions above, you should be able to build a better foundation for your arguments.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.
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