I could not agree more. My orthodox Jewish doctor is really worried about me not marrying and he gives me lots of advice for how to live in a secular culture too. This is one of the things he told me about.
From Stand to Reason – some excellent tactical advice from a master apologist.
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 exclusive and a fundamentalist. These guys all had MS and PhD degrees in computer science from top schools like Stanford, Purdue, U of I, NIU and Northwestern. 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 have to have the calculator – otherwise the whole thing doesn’t work!). You can be a fundamentalist, without sounding like a fundamentalist. You just have to focus on truth. If the truth out there is fundamentalist, then you can be a fundamentalist.
Make religion about truth – not personal preferences. They respect that way of talking – as long as you bring the science and the history. My advice is to study all the physics, astronomy, chemistry, math and biology you can. Study all the new testament and ancient history you can.
More Greg Koukl
There are two views on the topic of decision making and the will of God. The view you learn in the church is called “the traditional view”. I call this view the feminized/postmodern view. The more practical view is called “the wisdom view”. I call this view the battlefield/military view. I am a proponent of the wisdom view.
[The traditional view is] that God has a plan for our lives and that we receive guidance through methods such as “open and closed doors”, “feeling led” and “the still, small, voice”. Once the view has been well explained, through the foil of a fictional seminar, the book continues to critique this view, explaining how it is based on a poor use and understanding of scriptures, and how some of the reasons given in support of the view do not apply.
[The wisdom view] holds that God does not have an “individual will” for our lives, but rather that all of God’s will can be summed up within two categories, God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will. Basically God’s sovereign will is all the things that god decrees will happen. It is hidden (mostly) from us, and does not play an active part in our decision, although some of it is revealed in the bible. God’s moral will is the part that we must concern ourselves with in making decisions. It is fully revealed in the bible and our decisions must be made within it. We may use wisdom in applying god’s moral will to our lives, or we may be in an area not covered by god’s moral will. We must finally submit in advance to God’s sovereign will, being prepared for him to sovereignty intervene and redirect us through whatever means he wills (see James).
Here’s a bit more from someone else:
Regarding the view that God has a personal will for us individually that we have to discern and find, J.I. Packer says, “The first thing to say is that the idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals. It does not go back farther than the last century. Second, it has led people to so much foolish action on the one hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other, as well as puzzlement and heartbreak when the ‘hotline’ to God seems to go silent, that it has to be discredited. Third, it must be said that Scripture gives us no more warrant constantly to expect personal ‘hotline,’ ‘voice-from-the-control-tower’ guidance than to expect new authoritative revelations to come our way for the guidance of the whole church.” (Hot Tub Religion, page 118).
As to the point of the question, how do I make decisions, I attempt to make decisions in light of three factors: God’s moral will, wisdom, and my personal desires. If something is opposed to God’s moral will, then I should obviously flee from it. If it’s not opposed, then I consider the wisdom of the choices. For example, would it be wise for me to marry a woman who loves Jesus, though we have nothing else in common? Probably not. If the options pass the criteria of wisdom, then I’m free to choose how I wish. If I’m offered two jobs, and both are honoring to God, and both would be wise to take, then I’m free to choose the job I would like more. I don’t need to put out a fleece or await some other confirmation from God. If it’s moral and wise, then the only question as to whether or not it will honor Him is my attitude.
Some examples of this model used in the Bible (in theological circles referred to as the Wisdom Model) are in Paul’s planning of a mission to Rome in Romans 1:9-15, 15:22-24, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29), and Paul’s instructions for legal disputes (1 Cor 6:3-6).
The best book on this topic is Garry Friesen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God”. In it, you’ll find a full assessment about what the Bible teaches on this topic.
When I am trying to decide what will be effective, I look at Christian scholars, at their papers, books, and public debates. That’s effectiveness because it is addressed to a non-Christian audience in public with the force of reason and evidence. It is persuasion and it is addressed to rational minds. I want to change the minds of people who have a large influence on society on the whole. I don’t think that offering Christianity as life-enhancement or self-help is really “having an influence”. I think that offering Christianity as truth, with support, is “having an influence”.
So let me be clear about what I believe:
- I don’t think that God normally talks to people directly
- I don’t believe that life is an Easter egg hunt, filled with clues accessible only to emotion and intuition
- I don’t believe that God expects people to discover a specific will for their lives using non-rational means
- I think that people make up their own life plan that is consistent with the Bible
- The goal of the life plan is to be effective, and there are no other considerations
- I think that there are many good things a person can do, but that some are more effective than others
- I think that with respect to the goal of serving God effectively, my happiness is expendable
- I don’t think that the purpose of doing something for the Lord is to feel good about ourselves
- I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they like them
- I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they are good at them
- I think people should do hard things that they don’t like – as long as it’s more effective
- I don’t think that any course of action is as effective as any other – some plans accomplish more
- I don’t think that life is totally unpredictable and irrational and subjective
- I think that we can know what is or is not effective by studying and learning about the world
- I think life is like a battlefield that must be surveyed, understood and acted upon deliberately
I think that every person is the commanding officer of his or her own life, and each person must study everything they can, make a plan that is consistent with the Bible’s moral prescriptions, execute the plan and achieve whatever they can achieve for the Lord. And the goal is not comfort or happy feelings, but real achievements. Life is more like a war than a vacation resort or a buffet or a shopping center. God’s will for us is not have happy feelings, but that we freely choose to sacrifice ourselves out of obedience and service to him. In my case, that means studying hard things, making money, saving money, and giving money away to good scholars, sponsoring good events and being persuasive to non-Christians. I cried when I had to learn calculus, because it was so hard. But who cares?
I think that it is very important to realize that God is not impressed by our not being smart and not being effective. If we have the ability to be smart, then we should be smart, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability to make money, then we should make money, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability have a great influence, then we should have a great influence, whether it makes us happy or not. There will be plenty of time for happiness after we’re dead. With respect to God’s purposes in the world, my happiness is expendable. The thought about what “I want” doesn’t enter into my mind.
Whenever someone questions my plans by saying that I am asserting my will over God’s will, the first question I want to ask that person is this: “how do you know what God’s will is?” and “what is your basis for thinking that my plan will not be effective?”. I want to know if I have misunderstood something about the way the world is, or miscalculated in some way. I want someone to look at my calculations and show where they are going to produce a less optimal result for the Lord. That’s the only concern I have – effectiveness.
And I also found this summary of the Friesen book useful:
In nine parts.