The two most important questions an evangelist can ask (part 2)…

17 May

See part 1 here.

“How do you know” is an oft overlooked question that serves us on a number of levels. When I first began studying apologetics, my response to some sort of objection or untruth was to disagree and then give reasons. In our running example (the claim that all roads lead to God) I might have said “I disagree, I think that there are good reasons to believe Jesus’ claim of divinity – and that would mean His claim about being the only way is true.”

There is nothing wrong with this approach, except that it never works. Entering into a spiritual/theological debate does not appeal to most people (especially if you initiated the conversation!). However, just chatting about spiritual things interests almost everyone. Their interest intensifies if they get to share their own opinions of spiritual things. Additionally, Christians frequently let people off the hook in these types of conversations by allowing them to make bald assertions that are not supported by evidence (Jesus’ divinity wasn’t established until the 4th century, evolution disproves God, the Bible is racist/homophobic/misogynistic, e.g.) Enter question number two.

It’s worth pointing out that “How do you know” is the gist of the question, not the question itself. Just asking “How do you know?” can sound a bit combative. Cross your arms, close your eyes and you can almost see your second grade self on the playground after a friend has made some outrageous claim. I usually phrase it by asking “What makes you say that?” This is still a request for reasons, but it comes across as more palatable. My friend has now been politely asked to convince me that their claim makes sense and is more believable than an alternative explanation. Instead of disagreeing and going into defense/attack mode, I’ve basically said “Oh, interesting. Tell me more!”

At this point your friend’s response can range from sophisticated to silly depending on how much thought they have allocated to the topic and how reasonable their sources are. Your job is to listen closely, pay attention and ask yourself if their reasons are good ones. Sometimes asking for reasons takes you the whole way; a person hasn’t thought about it much and realizes they have no reasons for their belief. More often, you need to make some sort of response that challenges the truth or logic of your friends reasoning. (Remember, If Jesus is Lord then exposing false beliefs as such is the most loving thing you can do for your friend, even though it can be slightly painful in real time.)

How should you respond? My favorite way, the way we often see Jesus operating, and the way that will keep your friend “at the table” is to keep asking questions. I don’t have the space to appropriately address what types of questions or how to ask them in this post, so I’ll turn this into a longer series. Tune in next week for part 3.

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One Response to “The two most important questions an evangelist can ask (part 2)…”

  1. Rick Mattson, St. Paul, MN June 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Steve, nicely done! I’ll use this in my apologetics work on campus.

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