Category Archives: Mentoring

Eight tips for talking to non-Christians about Christianity

Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS
Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS

From Stand to Reason – some excellent tactical advice about how to have a conversation about spiritual topics with a non-Christian.

Here’s the setup:

I overheard a conversation on the airplane coming back from my vacation in Wisconsin.  A Christian gentleman was vigorously sharing his faith with a gentleman in the seat directly behind me.  There are some things we can learn, both good and bad, from what I overheard and take his effort—which was a good one—and channel it in a little bit more constructive direction.

So I am going to give you eight points of application.

And here are my favorites from his list:

3.  Try to stay away from religious language, terminology, and religious affect. This person was very religious in his whole approach.  I think this is hard for us as Christians because we are brought up in a Christian environment and it’s natural for us to talk this way, but it sounds weird to people outside of that environment.  I think there are a lot of people who may be, in principle, interested in a bona fide, genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ but who are not interested in the Christian religion as they perceive it.  This is where I think a lot of the emergent guys have a legitimate bone to pick with Evangelicalism.  Let’s try not to sound like Bible-thumping fundamentalists if we can avoid it, even if that’s what we are, because there’s no need to sound that way if it puts people off.  Find another way to communicate the message.  Just talk in a straightforward manner.  Be conscious of using religious language the other person may not understand or may think is strange.  Avoid all of that so they can hear the message you’re trying to communicate.

4.  Focus on the truth, not personal benefits of Christianity. I appreciated the gentleman’s approach in that he kept talking about truth.  One person he was talking to said he liked reincarnation.  The Christian man said that even if he liked reincarnation that that didn’t make it true if it’s not true.  Liking something is not going to change reality.  That’s a great point.  He was focusing on the truth claims of Jesus.  He wasn’t giving a bunch of promises.  He wasn’t saying, “Jesus is my ice cream.  He’s a great flavor.  Try him to see if you like him, too.”  Or, “Try Jesus because he’ll make your life so wonderful.”  Focus on truth and not personal benefits.

5.  Give evidence. This gentleman was giving all kinds of evidence for his seatmates to consider.  Good for him!  You should too.  You know why?  Because people in the Bible did, too.  Jesus, Paul, Peter, all the Apostles.  If you look at the details of how they communicated their faith they gave evidence for the truth of what they were saying about Jesus.  In fact, if you want to get the content of the Gospel, one of the most famous passages for the articulation of the Gospel is the beginning of 1 Corinthian 15.  Paul gives all kinds of evidence.  It’s all right there as he is explaining the Gospel.  We see that all through the New Testament.  So give evidences.  It’s appropriate.  People do respond to that even in a postmodern age.

I remember that I was once working in Chicago, and after a particular good apologetics discussion with a team of engineers, I apologized to them all for being so conservative and confident that I was right. These guys all had MS and PhD degrees in computer science from top schools like Stanford, Purdue, U of I, NIU and Northwestern. I was worried that they would think that I was some sort of fundamentalist because I was so definite about what I believed. They said “you’re not a fundamentalist”. And I said, “but I am ultra-conservative in my theology!”. And they said “That’s ok – as long as you have considered different points of view and you have objective evidence, then somehow it doesn’t sound fundamentalist”.

I think that’s something that we need to work on. When Christianity is about truth, it’s open to investigation using public evidence. At work, I have explained the structure of DNA molecules in the office and had people rolling their chairs out of their cubicles to come and see me draw amino acid chains on a white board, and calculate the probabilities with a calculator. You can be a fundamentalist, without sounding like a fundamentalist. You just have to focus on public, testable evidence.

Look here:

Make religion about truth – not personal preferences. They respect that way of talking. Don’t talk about your feelings or your spiritual experiences. They can’t test that. Talk to them about history and science. They CAN test that.

Woman explains what she was told about having children when she was young

Man teaching woman proper marksmanship
Man teaching woman proper marksmanship

This article is by Ellie Bufkin, writing for the The Federalist. I always had a suspicion that women were being told not to marry too early, and not to have kids too early, but to instead enjoy their freedom. (With all that that entails) In some cases, it was their own mothers telling them this. Here is the story of one woman who was told to follow her dreams – as long as they didn’t involve marriage and children.

Excerpt:

Since I was young, I’ve heard a non-stop stream of encouragement for me, as a “modern woman,” to take charge of my own life, live independently, and chase my dreams. This seems like the obvious advice we should give children, except that many people spent so much time chasing their dreams and creating their bespoke lives that they forgot to have children.

While growing up in the suburbs, my post-scholastic dream did not consist of finding a partner and having babies. I wanted to see the world, experience many cultures, and live without having to worry about caring for anyone else. I ended up in a fast-paced career with a propensity for hard partying, late hours, and a taste for travel and luxury.

As years ticked by, I assumed my perfect life would simply fall into place when I was ready, my career would steadily improve, and I would be swept off my feet by a perfect man. I had many friends with the exact same expectations for their lives, and today, we are pretty much all still single and childless.

We set our expectations so high that we never achieved them. We dated people with the same hope for impossibly perfect lives and moved from city to city, hoping we could achieve a greatness that was not to be.

[…]Liberal feminists widely consider it to be morally wrong to have children in your twenties, or to have more than two children, or to continue any unplanned pregnancy. As a species, shouldn’t we want to reproduce? If we continue to reinforce the idea that having kids is a taboo choice, how long will it be before there are no children?

Many of the women I went to primary and high school with never left our little hometown, and now have their own children in the exact suburb I couldn’t wait to get away from. In my twenties, I pitied them. How could they be so uncurious as to never leave home? Weren’t we all raised to believe that women had choices now?

The next thing I want to do is to give you some facts about infertility, and whether women have accurate beliefs about infertility.

Dina sent me this UK Daily Mail article a while back, but I held onto it until I could find something to pair it with.

It says:

One of Britain’s top NHS fertility specialists last night issued a stark warning to women: Start trying for a baby before you’re 30 – or risk never having children.

In a strongly worded letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, consultant gynaecologist Professor Geeta Nargund has also demanded that teenagers are taught about the dangers of delaying parenthood, because of the spiralling cost to the taxpayer of IVF for women in their late 30s and 40s.

[…]Prof Nargund said last night: ‘Ideally, if a woman is ready for a child, she should start trying by the time she is 30. She should consider having a child early because as a woman gets older, her fertility declines sharply.’

If a woman started trying early enough, doctors would still have time to diagnose problems and take action before it was too late, she said.

Her comments were endorsed by Professor Allan Pacey, outgoing chair of the British Fertility Society.

‘You need to be trying by 30 because if there is a problem and you need surgery, hormones or IVF, then you’ve got five years to sort it out,’ he said. ‘If a woman starts trying at 35, doctors have got to sort it out when she is already on a slippery fertility slope’.

My friend Drew found a study reported on by ABC News, that explained why the age of 30 is so important.

Excerpt:

By the time a woman hits 30, nearly all of her ovarian eggs are gone for good, according a new study that says women who put off childbearing for too long could have difficulty ever conceiving.

The study published by the University of St. Andrews and Edinburgh University in Scotland found that women have lost 90 percent of their eggs by the time they are 30 years old, and only have about 3 percent remaining by the time they are 40.

Now, do most women know what the experts say about infertility?

Consider this article from Aeon magazine.

It says:

Many studies show that women are not only woefully ignorant when it comes to fertility, conception and the efficacy of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) – but they overestimate their knowledge about the subject. For instance, a 2011 study in Fertility and Sterility surveyed 3,345 childless women in Canada between the ages of 20 and 50; despite the fact that the women initially assessed their own fertility knowledge as high, the researchers found only half of them answered six of the 16 questions correctly. 72.9 per cent of women thought that: ‘For women over 30, overall health and fitness level is a better indicator of fertility than age.’ (False.) And 90.9 per cent felt that: ‘Prior to menopause, assisted reproductive technologies (such as IVF) can help most women to have a baby using their own eggs.’ (Also false.) Many falsely believed that by not smoking and not being obese they could improve their fertility, rather than the fact that those factors simply negatively affect fertility.

[…]According to a 2011 study in Human Reproduction, which surveyed 410 undergraduate students, most overestimated a women’s chances of spontaneous pregnancy in all age groups, but particularly after receiving IVF beyond age 40. Only 11 per cent of the students knew that genetic motherhood is unlikely to be achieved from the mid-40s onward, unless using oocytes or egg cells frozen in advance. ‘This can be explained by technological “hype” and favourable media coverage of very late pregnancies,’ the authors concluded.

So, I guess now I’ll issue my advice to women in their 20s on how to avoid being single and childless at 35.

Money gives men confidence to pull the trigger on marriage, so you should focus your efforts on men with a solid balance sheet and a gap-less resume. Beware of men who paint a rosy picture of their finances in the future that makes you feel good, but who have not demonstrated their ability to earn or save. It’s much better to focus your time on a man who can marry you right now. The best way to tell if a man is capable of marriage is not by listening to confident words, it’s by looking to see how he has prepared to perform his roles, one of which is provider.

Be debt free. Study STEM in school, update your resume, and get a job that pays well. Jobs are not meant to be fun or fulfilling. You need to be preparing financially for marriage, and that means a normal 8-4:30 job in an office with 3% annual raises and 401K matching. The more you save to help your man with the down payment on your house, the better. Pursuing fun and spending money on frivolous things like travel makes you addicted to fun, which is unsuitable for the hard work and responsibilities in marriage. Working a hard job is a good way to break down your selfishness, and prepare you to take your obligations to others seriously. Don’t live in the moment,  do sacrifice for the future. Believe me: a woman’s debt is a serious damper on a man’s willingness to marry her.

If you went to college, chances are that you absorbed a lot of feminism. Feminism emphasizes being free of constraints, feeling happy, having fun, career over family, and independence from the needs of men and children. You need to renew your mind in order to undo the cultural denigration of marriage and children. Get yourself a marriage mentor, ask for book recommendations that will educate you about the challenges and rewards of marriage. A good marriage mentor will explain to you why marriage is a better plan than the feminist plan, and will emphasize self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-control and serving others. It’s only by getting specific about marriage and parenting that your heart will change to want to work on marriage rather than work on the things that the feminist culture prefers. I recommend Dr. Laura’s book on husbands, and lectures by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse.

This talk of infertility made me think of a woman I know who just turned 30. She spent most of her 20s in relationships with huge, tall burly men. Race car drivers, etc. She liked to travel, especially to the beach. She liked ride around with in boats with buff guys. Now, at 30, she is very jaded about men and struggling to even get a date. In my experience, men are most open to marrying a woman who is young, athletic, and doesn’t have baggage from fun-seeking with hot bad boys. Sexual baggage usually builds impatience, mistrust and controlling behavior in a woman. Men prefer to marry virgins who are calm, stable and not addicted to alcohol or drugs. The less experience the better. The time to focus on serious marriage-minded providers and leaders is when you have what they want to marry.

How I retained my Christian faith, sobriety and chastity on a university campus

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a woman who grew up in a Christian home that was very focused on externals. There was a lot of bullying to get her to comply with expected Christian behavior, although the expected Christian behavior was often arbitrary, and had nothing to do with Christianity and more with just appearing “nice”. There was no discussion of the evidence, no talking through objections. No focus on truth at all. She was always very curious about me, and how come I didn’t drink, and how come I was able to stay a virgin through college, grad school, to the present day when so many people she knew who were raised in the church fell away from it in college. My answer was simple. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home so I was never bullied into acting like a Christian beyond what I was convinced of myself. I just took my time and proved everything out before I had to act any particular way. I was in the driver’s seat all the time, and that’s how Christianity ought to be. The truth-seeking comes first, and then the slow process of re-prioritizing comes after. Performing for your parents and church will not survive contact with college.

Growing up, I didn’t ever have to go to church. I didn’t go to church until I  was comfortable going. If I felt bored in church, I read an apologetics book, and I did this openly. If I didn’t like the words of a song, then I didn’t sing. My first youth pastor, Grant, never tried to get me to be like the other kids. He asked me what I was interested in. I said “arguing with people”. He gave me books by E.J. Carnell and Alister McGrath. I read them, and that was how I acted like a Christian. When I met other Christians at the church who hadn’t read anything about God’s existence or the historical Jesus or the problem of evil, I didn’t feel pressured to be like them. In school, there were lots of people who never did any studying or lab work. They could talk a lot about things they knew nothing about. But because they didn’t know anything, they failed tests and they couldn’t put anything they learned into practice, either. People can sound so smart about things… until they actually have to take a test, or put something to use practically.

To me, if you didn’t like apologetics, you were a fake and you were faking behaviors of a worldview that you had never investigated. It was really obvious to me that there was more to Christianity than just God-hollering and Scripture memorization. I did swimming lessons up until the point where I got my lifeguarding certification. At the later levels, we always had written exams as well as a practical portion including activities like treading water, swimming long distances, and rescue simulations. People who could pass the written test often failed the practical. If you fail the practical, then you fail the course. Period. No exceptions.

Knowing the truth about God’s existence and character comes before acting as if God is real and God has a specific character and will for us. From the existence of God, we move on to the accuracy of the Bible, and on to theology, and then and only then do we start the outward behaviors of a Christian. If you skip to the behaviors, that is unnatural – like pretending to be a doctor when you have never been to medical school. Everyone who comes to Christianity from the outside, like me, knows how strange it is to meet people in church who talk about feelings and experiences as the basis of their worldview. Those people would never do anything serious, like making investment choices, on the basis of feelings. They would never think that merely having feelings about auto repair or Java programming enabled them to solve problems in those areas. But somehow, this is the standard operating procedure in the church. Which is why so many kids raised in the church dump their faith in college. For me, it was apologetics that made me so resistant to alcohol, sex and atheism in college. After all, if you win the argument, then why should you act like the person you defeated? They lost. That means they’re wrong. I didn’t feel any social pressure to behave like people who couldn’t beat me in an argument.

Every single day, children raised in intact Christian homes on a diet of piety and “the Bible says” come to an understanding of what Christianity is that is fundamentally different from the knowledge they are acquiring in school or at work. And that is the beginning of their loss of faith. There should be no separation between practical areas of knowledge (e.g. – mechanical engineering) and Christianity. Christianity should not be seen as easy or shallow. We should not praise people who don’t know how to talk about spiritual things intelligently to non-Christians, which is the real core “skill” that Christianity requires. Christianity is not a religion of being nice or feeling good – that’s what all the other religions are trying to do. Christianity is about laying hold of the truth, and adjusting your actions to it.

Every Christian ought to be trying their best to learn how to speak intelligently to non-Christians about their faith, to the best of their ability. Especially when they are confronted with educated non-Christians – which is most of us living in the Western hemisphere. No Christian should be better at something else, like sports or school or music or anything. They should put maximum effort into Christianity, and do other things in their spare time. There is no one in my office who thinks that I know more about computer science than I do about my Christian worldview. Computer science is my day job – I have a BS and MS and 18 years experience in it. But my co-workers know what comes first, and where my real interest and passion lies. When we go out to lunch, I talk about Christian things. That’s what I’m the best at. I’m not trying to impress my co-workers by being the best at computer science. I’m trying to perform for my Audience of One, and show him that his honor and reputation are my top priorities. That quiet, hidden vertical relationship is what Christianity is all about. Not my will, Lord, but your will, be done. Tiny little steps backward from selfishness to communicate to the Lord Jesus that his goals are important to me.

My friend Stephen Bedard tweeted this, recently:

“Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.” – William Lane Craig

Typical Christian parents expect behaviors of their children but they put in almost zero effort to answer their questions. I hear from so many Christians who fell away in college about how they dropped their faith in high school but just kept acting to please their parents. And the parents had no idea. The parents are the ones who are closest to the problem. They are the ones who should be finding out what is in the culture and the schools, and discussing it with their children. Most pastors are in the business of saying things that people like in order to pack the pews, and collect offerings. They aren’t there to talk about uncomfortable topics. They’re no good at responding to non-Christian thought in the culture. So it really falls on the parents to do the work of answering questions and leading.

Christianity ought to be more like engineering or lab work if you want to appeal to young people – testable, repeatable, practical. Think back to math class, and how teachers would insist that students SHOW YOUR WORK, instead of just writing the answer down. Instead of just saying “the Bible says”, parents really need to show young people their work – how did they arrive at their worldview? That’s what parents need to be prepared to show their children. Not singing, not feelings, not community, not family time together. Facts and evidence. Because that is the only way we know to test knowledge claims to see if they are objectively true or false. Parents who get their worldview straight will also find it much easier to act in accordance with what they say they believe. Even when the pressure is on, they will know what is true, and be able to do hard things because they want to respect what is true. Coming through a test of your Christian convictions is much easier when you do the homework first. It’s just like any other test in that respect. It certainly worked for me in high school and college when I had to defend my faith to non-Christians. It also helped that I had no desire to fit in with people my own age, because they didn’t have jobs. I had no respect for people who didn’t work for money, which is almost everyone in high school and college.

In the church, we should respect people who are able to study these issues deeply, and then have conversations about their Christian worldview with people who don’t accept that God exists, and don’t believe the Bible. That is what followers of Jesus did (e.g. Acts 17). We should be especially respectful of those who are able to defend the Christian worldview using scientific evidence and historical evidence. Especially those who get PhDs and do research in testable areas of knowledge that matter to the Christian worldview. Jesus offered his own resurrection as evidence of his claims to people who didn’t believe him. He liked evidence, and he had a passion for the truth. And so should we, if we claim to be his followers.

Dr. Walter Bradley

By the way, the lecture that changed my life the most is this lecture by Dr. Walter Bradley, a fabulously successful professor of mechanical engineering. I got hold of this lecture from 1997, about the time when I first started working full-time. It changed my life. Our young people are being raised to look up to attractive athletes, entertaining musicians, fideistic theologians, charismatic pastors, etc. People who have never set foot in the lion’s den. Dr. Bradley is an expert in the scientific evidence relevant to the Christian worldview, and has lectured on HUNDREDS of university campuses. He is invited to speak on campus because he KNOWS what he is talking about. If parents could just start by understanding what it takes to have a career as an open, visible Christian professor on a secular university campus, that would be a good start.

Should we be trying to change the world from the bottom up or the top down?

Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS
Two Air Force JTACs discuss mission parameters prior to calling in CAS

Dr. Paul Gould is a professor of philosophy (PhD from Purdue) at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here is his bio, which says, in part:

I have a Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Talbot School of Theology and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Purdue University.

I am an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

What his bio page doesn’t say is that he left a career in business to go onto this apologetics/philosophy track. I find that very interesting, because like most professionals with an interest in apologetics, I had the same dream – to go and do a PhD and get into a college and be a positive influence on Christian kids. But the main thing is that he has had some experience in the real world.

Anyway, Dr. Gould has written two posts on how to change the world, and I want you to look at an excerpt from the first one.

First post:

Christians like to talk—and aspire—to changing the world. This language stems very naturally from our God-given desire to make a difference, to live a life that matters. In a very real sense, making a difference is to change the world. But, usually, when Christians talk about “changing the world” they mean something like “winning the world for Christ” or “helping the gospel to gain a hearing in culture” or “contributing toward shalom.”Recently, there have been a number of very helpful books written by folks who challenge the common view of how to go about the task of world-changing, and call into question the relationship between Christ and culture. One of the most important books to enter this discussion is James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of world-change. In this post I will share his critique of the “common view” of world change. I think his critique is dead on.

Hunter argued that by and large, Christians have gone about the task of world changing in completely the wrong way and the result is that Christianity in our country at least and in the western world in general, represents a weak culture.

He focuses on world-view ministries (primarily from the US such as Chuck Colson’s Wilberforce Forum and Focus on the Families’ Truth Project) and those like them that offer the following view of how to change the world:

Common view of world change: as we change the individual beliefs and values of persons, and change enough persons, then we will ultimately change society. This is a bottom up approach.

On the common view, the implicit view of culture is that “the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals” and that culture change will come as enough individual lives are transformed.

Hunter argues that this approach fails to take into account cultural elites and the institutions that yield power within culture.

Instead, cultural change has always been top-down: it is always elites—those who have cultural capital to exert influence and power—who have changed the culture. This is why the university, and the media, and the arts are so important in shaping the culture.

All of this leads to a fascinating conclusion: some ideas have consequences—namely ideas propagated by those within society who possess cultural capital and a supporting network of other individuals and institutions also within the center of cultural influence and production.

Second post is here. The second post has a link to his review of Hunter’s book (PDF), which is published by Oxford University Press.

I agree completely with the top-down thesis of James Davison Hunter, and I think that it is a tragedy that the Christian parents and Christian churches don’t do a good job of challenging and guiding young Christians to study the things that will allow them to have an influence. Most Christians I talk to have a negative view of steering young Christians towards advanced degrees, or towards making a lot of money, or towards positions of cultural influence, etc. Instead of focusing on being effective, they tell me “I will do what I want to do, because God has a mysterious will for me to be happy”. I don’t buy it. I am happy to consider alternative plans that serve God better, but I don’t think that the “I’ll do what feels good” view is interested in producing a return for God in terms of money and/or influence. Crazy plans do not work out just because we want them to. There are costs to every plan, and not every plan is as likely to lead to influencing the culture as any other plan. This is reality.

I also think it is important to steer children into positions where they can be prosperous and/or influential. Again, many Christians disagree with guiding children that way. In my experience, it is assumed that children need to be happy, and that they are the best people to decide what they should be doing in life. Well, I’m not a heavy-handed bully, but I am not letting my children do whatever they like, because they don’t have enough wisdom and experience to know what to do. For example, I am not letting my children study ballet in university. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it isn’t likely that they will have an influence compared to other choices. Money is important because money can be used to fund Christian scholars, apologetics ministries and apologetics events. Marriage is a great way to have an influence, but marriage costs money, and that means that marriage-minded people should have a plan to pay the bills before they consider marriage. We do not have the right to do whatever we feel like, because we have a boss who expects a return on his investment. If a person is capable of doing hard things that produce a better return (money or influence or children, etc.) then he should do that.

We have a problem in this country as it is with young people borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to study things that either don’t pay off, or that don’t allow them to have an influence. It’s not unloving to tell children the truth about the choices they make. Especially when the cost of having a child is over six figures per child. You can have a huge Christian influence with that kind of money if you spent it on other things, like apologetics scholars, their ministries and their events. So, if you are going to have children and spend it on them, you’d better have some sort of plan, and look for a spouse who is on board with that idea of providing God with a good return on his investment. Everything we do – including the choices to marry and have children – should be focused on serving God. If people shy away from the idea of steering children to have an influence, I don’t think it’s a good idea to get married at all. Save the money and use it for the kingdom somewhere else. Marriage is about making the best decisions you can in order to serve God, and you can’t marry someone who puts their own happiness over the need to produce that return for the boss.

Having said that, if you are already married, stick with it. I am advocating for making smarter decisions before you commit. And before you go off to college, ask yourself: is what you are thinking of studying worth it? Trade school is an excellent option that will give you an income that can support a family AND give to apologetics ministries, with less exposure to debt. If you must go to university, then it’s generally wiser to stick with STEM degrees, so that you can get a job and actually pay off those loans. Marriages and children are NOT free. Retirement is not free. Health care is not free. Christian apologetics ministries do not run on wishes and hopes. Christian scholars do not get their degrees for free – they need support. I think another good plan is to have one person do philosophy or history and then be supported by other people with jobs in STEM fields. That’s what I do – I help out Christian scholars on my team to finish their graduate degrees in fields related to apologetics. Those non-STEM degrees are the best way to have an influence, but it’s easier to get them as a multi-disciplinary team effort. Everyone has to pull their weight!

And one last point. The most amazing thing in the world is when I meet people who are very very skeptical about mentoring young people and steering children towards prosperous and influential areas, even though they themselves may be facing the results of their own poor decisions. You would think that someone who has burned $60,000 on a degree in Women’s Studies and can’t find a job would be on your side about helping other young people to make better decisions, but they are often not on your side. Why is that? Somewhere along the way, this culture stopped liking the Mr. Knightleys who were praised for loving people by telling them the truth about their bad decisions. Now we think that the Emmas can do whatever they want, and no one should be giving them any guidance. How sad.

Tactics: the worst mistake a Christian can make when doing apologetics

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.

Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.

First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”

Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.

Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”

So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.

So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:

  1. kalam cosmological argument
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. galactic and stellar habitability
  4. origin of life / DNA
  5. molecular machines / irreducible complexity
  6. the moral argument

The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.

So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.

How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.

So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence. 

I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.

So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:

William to me:

This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”

WK to William:

First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.

And William wrote this to his friend:

The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.

I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.

From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.

And then a few days later, I got this from William:

I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a gasket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.

And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.