Second Baptist Church
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
January 21, 2006
Thomas Aquinas said people reject truth for at least one of three reasons. It reveals personal flaws (sins), is a barrier to achievement, or conflicts with what they wish truth to be. I’ve recently seen the latter barrier in three situations. One renounced her newly professed faith when she learned it required her to love the Jews. A widow rejected Christianity because she said if it were true, her husband is in Hell, and she did not want to spend eternity separated from him. A third lady refused to believe because she had homosexual friends, and did not want to accept the fact they are sinning. She has since changed her mind and embraced faith.
Ravi Zacharias believes the morality issue is the crux of the matter. In becoming a Christ-follower, the final and largest hurdle to overcome is not intellectual but moral. It seems to be the hardest hoop to jump through.
Unbelievers may wax eloquent, trying to convince us their objections are intellectual, but almost always we will find their mental skepticism is a smoke screen put forth to avoid dealing with an embraced immorality.
I was once on the verge of leading a man and woman to Christ. They assented to all my questions, but when I asked them to pray the sinner’s prayer, the man interrupted, “Can we be saved if we are living together unmarried?” I appreciated his honesty, and told him he would have to be willing to repent of all sins to be saved. They decided to wait to receive Jesus. I never saw them again.
G. K. Chesterton was right, “The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Morality is the last big hurdle to overcome. This having been said, an unbeliever usually must pass through other turnstiles to become a Christ-follower. Three common passageways are evidence, examples, and exhortation.
Evidence comes first. The truth-claims and historicity of Christianity have to be proclaimed and bolstered. This is the chief role of the Apologist. We drive a stake in the ground, saying “This is what we believe, and why we believe it.”
Faith is based on reason which embraces believable, credible evidence. Therefore, we should have solid arguments to bolster our convictions.
“Training in apologetics should be a regular part of discipleship. Apologetics is a New Testament ministry of helping people overcome intellectual obstacles that block them from coming to or growing in the faith by giving reasons for why one should believe Christianity is true and by responding to objections raised against it. Local church after local church should be . . . training a group of people who serve as apologists for the entire congregation” (J. P. Moreland).
Remember, evidence is not proof. We will never be able to get beyond the apostolic witness to Christ’s resurrection. People do not need blind faith. They must instead have faith in reasonable historical evidence.
Ravi Zacharias says truth can be boiled down to two tests. Statements made must correspond to reality, and the system of thought must be coherent. People must be able to say, “Its claims match what I see.” Each premise must also proceed by logical progression to the next premise. Once these two conditions are met, only the Holy Spirit can then take a person on to the next step: faith.
Examples come second. Proof is in the pudding. Unbelievers need to see a believer who has walked the same path they did, and has victory to show for it.
Drug addicts and heavy drinkers need to hear the story of saved overcomers. Womanizers must hear testimonies from forgiven and cleansed adulterers.
Intellectuals need to interact with geniuses who believe. Skeptics need to talk to doubters who became convinced.
The man born blind testified, “I was blind, and now I can see” (John 9:25b Holman). The spiritually blind need to hear this same claim today. Examples considered personally relevant by a lost listener can result in riveted attention.
Hypocrisy, examples flipped upside down, is a bane on the Church’s existence. High profile believers falling into sin grabs headlines. An Apologist must help drag up the truth which often ends up buried beneath the hype.
Christians must convince unbelievers the Christian life is livable and makes one’s life a lot better. For all our faults, flaws, and failures, Christ-followers have overall done the best job of living fulfilled, productive, helpful lives.
No group has done better in overcoming antagonisms of race, nation, and class. Christianity is the most integrated and widest spread religion in the world. Its appeal is universal. It should be, because Jesus died for the whole world.
Christ-followers have given this world lift. They taught the importance of reading, elevated women and children, led in areas of scientific research, and built the first hospitals. In times of disaster, Christians respond first and foremost.
The Apologist had best know the scorecard, how believers stack up against unbelievers. Our arguments have never been solely intellectual. We also bear testimony to the fellowship, love, temperance, and kindness of Christ-followers.
Justin Martyr used this argument forcefully. He said, due to conversions to Christianity, selfish materialists had become benefactors, and people who had hated one another due to their being different were now friends with them. Our early defenders were quick to point out the fact Christians prayed for their enemies and for hostile government leaders, plus urged people to pay their taxes.
George Barna’s research shows Christ-followers are nine times more likely than others to avoid Internet adult-only material; four times more likely to boycott objectionable companies or products; four times less likely to view an objectionable movie; twice as likely to volunteer to help the needy.
Becoming a believer makes a huge, positive difference in people’s lives. The Apologist hammers on this truth.
In their heart of hearts, most unbelievers have to acknowledge the positive benefits of being a Christ-follower. If their car broke down in a crime-ridden area, and ten men were approaching, they would be much relieved to see they had Bibles in their hands, as opposed to knives and chains.
Even Darwin, one of our bitterest opponents, had to confess Christianity helped. He said if he were shipwrecked at sea, and floating toward an island known for cannibalism, he would hope Christian missionaries had arrived first.
Exhortation comes third. Chit-chatting about the faith is critical. Unbelievers need a believing friend to walk with them unthreateningly into the land of faith. Prechristians need to be able to direct questions to someone they trust, someone who will not condemn, be judgmental, or try to rush them. They begin with “safe and easy” questions, and progress to harder questions only if they feel secure.
Forming relationships with unbelievers must always be a priority for believers. How can we win them if we don’t socialize with them?
We must personalize the Gospel for people. We must break it down bit by bit to where each person can understand Christianity at their level. C. S. Lewis said if we can’t take a complicated argument, and simplify it to where it can be understood by the average person, we probably don’t understand it ourselves.
At work, in coffee shops, on ballfield bleachers, at neighborhood parties, and in living rooms ( these are the places where the action is. From what seem to be casual conversations come life-changing exchanges of ideas.
At some point, this helpful chit-chat must become exhortation. We want to avoid dogmatism and defensiveness, but witnessing is incomplete until there has been confrontation.
In witnessing, two extremes must be avoided. Don’t barge in like thugs, and try to browbeat sinners into submission. At the same time don’t accommodate to the point of never trying to persuade. It is possible to be overly friendly, and then some day see the lost person’s obituary in the newspaper and say, “He was a wonderful friend. I hope he’ll do well in Hell.