Tag Archives: Evangelism

Skipping the Easy Questions

I’ve been studying for a big engineering exam for most of 2018, and have learned a few things in the process (OK, a lot of things…). One has been the need to be familiar with the subject matter. I know, that seems more than a little obvious, but let me explain. One of the subject areas covered in the exam will be bridge design. There are plenty of areas of building design that I need to study, but bridge design is one area I have absolutely zero experience with, and never had any intention of pursuing. Don’t get me wrong; I like seeing a well-designed, aesthetically-pleasing bridge as much as anyone, but I would’ve never in my life cracked open the 1,600+ page bridge manual if it weren’t necessary for this exam. So this has been one area I’ve tended to avoid in my exam preparations. Aside from the lack of experience with that whole subject, I’ll admit that there was a bit of intimidation at the 4″ thick binder. How could I ever hope to learn enough about all the intricacies of that code to apply it correctly? But then I realized something after taking a couple of practice exams: the bridge questions I was skipping to focus on areas I was more comfortable with were actually opportunities to make up time. As I reviewed the solution keys to the practice exams, I realized that many of the bridge questions were actually relatively straightforward questions… if I knew where to look. I was only shooting myself in the foot skipping them to work out longer steel design problems that weren’t worth any more points. Now what does that have to do with Christianity? Let’s work through that today.

Too often, Christians let the objections of skeptics go unanswered because it’s unfamiliar terrain for them. And yet, I would dare say, most objections are easier to answer than people assume. It’s understandable to hear that a prominent critic of Christianity, like Sam Harris, is a neuroscientist, and be intimidated by the fact that an obviously intelligent person like him doesn’t think Christianity is true. Similarly, one might shy away from confronting a famous Oxford biologist like Richard Dawkins. Yet, if you actually look at their objections, they often are the same type of objections anyone could make; their credentials don’t really add any weight to their objections. When Dawkins, for instance, asks “Who made God?“, you don’t have to debate genetics with him to answer that. You do have to understand what Christians mean by “God” since Dawkins doesn’t. But when he leaves his specialist’s niche to discuss basic questions of metaphysics and theology, he sets aside his specialist’s credentials and proves to be just as amateur a philosopher as anyone. This is just like if an expert witness testifies in court. Suppose the leading expert in the world on forensic entomology witnesses a hit & run accident and is called to testify in court; despite his world renown as an entomologist, his credentials are meaningless when it comes to this case. He’s just another witness who may or may not have useful testimony.

So what is the Christian to do when confronted by objections to the existence of God, or the historicity of the resurrection, or other common questions?

  1. Don’t panic. These are far from shocking new objections. They’ve been answered over and over again throughout the centuries; skeptics just don’t like the cold, hard truth.
  2. Be honest. If you don’t know how to answer, admit it. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being played, so don’t just make up something untrue or questionable to try to silence the objection. Acknowledge that it’s a question you hadn’t investigated sufficiently before, offer to get back to the person, do your homework, and then actually get back to them about it.
  3. Prepare ahead of time. How? Don’t be biblically illiterate. Sadly, there are atheists who know the Bible better than many who call themselves Christians. This simply should not be. God’s Word is supposed to be our “delight” [Ps 1:2, 119:47], and yet too often it languishes on the shelf, unopened, in Christian homes. Have you ever asked a grandmother about the grandkids she delights in? Or a rabid football fan about their favorite team? Those are some “subject matter experts” that delight in their area of expertise! Can we learn God’s Word better than a sports fan learns his team’s stats? I hope so. If that’s not the case for you, here’s some questions to consider. Are you reading the Bible daily? If so, are you thinking about what you read, or just checking it off your list? When you come across a passage you don’t understand, do you follow up with prayer, reading alternate translations, checking multiple commentaries, or talking to a more mature Christian? You don’t have to memorize the Bible (although if you can, by all means, go for it!). But understanding how it’s organized, the background of each book, the key points addressed in each book, and so on, can help immensely. Learning about church history is a valuable resource as well. The creeds and catechisms written over the centuries are especially compact summaries of the Christian faith, with great thought put into every word. There are lots of good (and typically free) resources available online, but you need to find good, theologically sound sources before you’re put on the spot.

You, Christian, may be the only “subject matter expert” on Christianity that an unbeliever ever consults. There are many who mistakenly assume that a preacher has ulterior motives for speaking to them about God, and won’t step foot in church or talk to him on a plane. You may very well find that you have better opportunities to introduce people to God than many preachers do. So don’t skip the easy questions, and don’t let answerable objections hinder your friends from recognizing the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Church: The Forward Operating Base of God’s Kingdom

African Church. Image credit: Freeimages.com/John Gardiner

Is church just a social club that meets on Sundays? Or is it more of what the US Army would call a Forward Operating Base (or FOB)? Let’s work through that idea today.

If you’re unfamiliar with the military concept, a FOB is a temporary stronghold in the theater of operations, forward of your main base, from which you can quickly deploy to fight the enemy. It’s a miniature version of your main base that strengthens your foothold in the area. It can be very basic or very elaborate. It is typically built up to resist attacks, but it’s main purpose is not simply defensive, but rather advancement: extending control into disputed areas. It provides a protected staging area to prepare you, the soldier, to defend friendly territory and go out into enemy territory. It’s also a place to return to for needed resupply, rest, training, and maybe medical attention if a mission doesn’t go so well. But ultimately, the mission is outside the wall and concertina wire of the FOB.

What is our main base? Heaven [Heb 11:13]. What is this world? Enemy-controlled territory [Eph 6:12]. What is our mission? To go make disciples [Mat 28:19-20, 9:36-38]. Are our churches to be little outposts of Heaven? Consider the following passages:

  • Paul explained to the Ephesian church that God established some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of God’s people, for them to grow in maturity and the knowledge of the Son of God… no longer blown around by every wind of false doctrine. [Eph 4:11-14] The whole purpose for a preacher getting up on Sunday morning in front of a congregation isn’t to help them feel good about themselves and give them warm fuzzy feelings. And attending shouldn’t be about checking an obligation off your list, trying to earn God’s approval (which is impossible). It’s about equipping you with the armor and weapons needed to survive the very real spiritual battles going on every day.
  • In describing the qualifications of church leaders to Titus, Paul said that an elder in the church must hold firmly to the trustworthy message he’d received, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. [Ti 1:9 NIV] You can’t hold firmly to what you don’t know. Your encouragement will ring hollow if you have no reason to back it up. And you certainly can’t refute an opponent if you don’t know what and why you believe as you do.
  • The pastor of the church should “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” [2Tim 4:2 NIV] This is focused training with specific objectives. Take full advantage of this training “on-base” before you need it out in the fray. People don’t like correction and rebuking, but it’s better to sweat in training than to bleed on the battlefield.
  • Paul told Titus, whom he left in Crete to oversee the church there, to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” [Ti 2:1] Doctrine – simply what you believe, laid out formally – is immensely important. Being sincerely wrong won’t help you in physical or spiritual matters. How can you fight for the Kingdom of God if you don’t even know about the Kingdom?
  • Paul instructed Timothy, another young pastor, that “what you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…” and again, “the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others [2Tim 1:13, 2:2 NIV]. Teaching in the church is a serious responsibility [Jam 3:1], and woe to those that lead people astray [Mat 18:6]. But it can’t just be on the pastor; it needs to be passed on.
  • Deacons “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” [1Tim 3:9 NIV] Don’t stay at a shallow level. Dig deep. Grow in your knowledge of God.
  • Paul urged Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching [1Tim 4:13 NIV]. A church needs to keep its priorities straight. If there’s very little Scripture in your services, that should be a red flag.
  • Paul said that he was writing the Colossian church so that no one would deceive them with fine-sounding rhetoric [Col 2:4]. There’s a lot of bad ideas out there disguised as clever memes and so forth. Learn the truth so you won’t fall for the lies.
  • The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were warned that they should’ve been teachers already, but they needed to be taught the basics again before they would even be able to chew on meatier topics. Those deeper truths were for the mature, who because of practice had their senses trained to discern good and evil [Heb 5:12-14]. If you think it’s only the pastor’s job or a Sunday school teacher’s job to teach Bible truth, think again. We should all be working toward that so that we can disciple others just we were discipled. There’s a lot of people in this world that would never step foot in a church that you may be able to help. And the words “disciple” and “discipline” aren’t similar by coincidence; a mature Christian doesn’t get that way without disciplined training, and prayer, and putting the Word into practice daily.

Do you get the impression that church shouldn’t be about simply getting together, but rather about being prepared to go out? The Bible tells Christians in almost every book of the New Testament that they will be hated, persecuted, mocked, tortured, and killed on account of bearing the name of Christ. Would you go out into a fierce battle without body armor and lots of ammo? Has any soldier ever lamented being too prepared, or bringing too much ammo? And yet, too many Christians go about their daily tasks without the shield of faith and the sword that is God’s Word [Eph 6:10-17]. A base doesn’t do any good if everybody stays huddled inside. It’s only in the soldiers going outside the walls that they can engage the enemy, take ground, and rescue people trapped by the enemy. Likewise, a church that isn’t training and equipping Christians to go outside the walls has really forgotten (or shirked) its mission. So choose this day whom you will serve, and mount up, Christian. There’s a world dying right outside our gates, and we need to be about the King’s mission.

“Now Hiring: Evangelists”

St. Paul Preaching at Athens - by Raphael
St. Paul Preaching at Athens – by Raphael

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend among product vendors to label their marketing as “evangelism”. Autodesk, producer of the Revit software I use (along with I don’t know how many other programs) has “Technical Evangelist” as an actual job title. These are the people usually doing the blogs and seminars and webinars, telling us design professionals how their product will be so incredibly helpful to us in our day to day jobs. And while dictionaries may describe this type of evangelist as “someone who talks about something with great enthusiasm,”[1]  I’d like to suggest that there’s more to these companies’ choice of job titles than just their employee’s attitude. But for that, we have to look back at the origins of the word.

Now maybe you’re familiar with evangelists as preachers. Maybe you’re cynical toward Christianity because of televangelists you’ve seen on TV: maudlin, maybe a little crazy, but like clockwork when it came to asking for money. I understand. But set aside those impressions for a moment, and come back with me to a time before the word was sullied with such behavior. If we dig into the Bible, we’ll find the following statement in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved…”[2]  The noun “gospel” above is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) in the Greek. Likewise, the verb phrase “preached to you” (or “proclaimed” in other translations) is εὐηγγελισάμην (euēngelisamēn). Remember that in it’s transition from Greek to Latin to English, the “u” became a “v”, and you can then see the root of our word evangelist or evangelism in both of these. But the “eu” at the beginning of both of these words is why companies sometimes call their marketers evangelists: “eu” means good in Greek. The other root, ἄγγελος (aggelos) means a messenger. This is the same word we get “angel” from, for angels serve as messengers of God. Put together, an evangelist is a messenger proclaiming good news or tidings. So when a vendor sends a technical evangelist to talk to me, they’re hoping to deliver a “gospel” of sorts (i.e. good news). And if their product really does work the wonders they promise –  well then, that would be good news!  The key point is, it’s not enthusiasm, but the content of their message that (hopefully) justifies the job title. “Good news” is at the very heart of the word evangelist, by definition. If it’s not good news to the audience, then evangelist may not be the most appropriate job title. But if it really is good news for the people you’re going to, then there’s also a reason to talk about it “with great enthusiasm”.  It’s not just an act then.

Now, what of the original evangelists? Does the Christian gospel actually bring good news? Indeed! Paul’s statement above speaks of the gospel (or good news) “by which also you are saved.” Many see the news that we are all sinners, worthy of condemnation by a just and holy God as bad news – even offensive news – and stop there. But is that part really “news”? When you look at the nightly news, or read the papers or look back through history books, can you honestly say humans are not fallen creatures? In spite of all our scientific and cultural advances, overall, we excel at finding better, more efficient ways to destroy and kill. We tend to be like the classic arch-villian of comics and movies – so much potential for good, yet so often choosing evil. In our heart, in those quiet times of reflection, we recognize that something is wrong at the core of us. And no amount of cultural progress or species evolution could ever fix it. Christianity not only explains our potential for good (we were created in the image of the one truly good God), but also our actual failure to realize that potential (we have all inherited a terminal disease called sin, that is, rebellion against our good Creator). Christianity recognizes the depressing problem that we can’t “fix” ourselves no matter how hard we try, but also proclaims the rest of the story – the amazing solution that God has intervened to do what we never could! Now that’s news.

Allow me to illustrate our trying hard to be good, but still failing. I never learned to swim until high school, when I took swimming lessons. After getting chided by my coach for doing something incorrectly, I flippantly remarked, “Oh well, practice makes perfect”, at which she snapped back, “No! Perfect practice makes perfect!” She was right. Practicing swimming strokes wrong will never make you a better swimmer, no matter how sincerely or devotedly you practice. Religious devotion or trying to lead a “good life” (by whose standard, anyway?) can likewise never succeed. That’s because the standard to meet is perfection. But, as the old sayings go, “to err is human,” and “nobody’s perfect.” In every other religion, you must earn salvation. Only Christianity proclaims this supreme unfairness, that God, in the person of Jesus, perfect and without sin, would become a human like us, to offer Himself as a sacrifice in our place, taking the punishment we justly deserved, that we might be justified and acceptable before God despite our utter inability to ever “measure up.” That’s not just good news – that’s GREAT news! And with news like that, how could we not proclaim it?


[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evangelist, accessed 8/8/2016.
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:1, NASB.