Note: There is some overlap between this post and a longer post on objections I have heard on a major college campus.
This past week (the week of July 1st) I had the opportunity to take a friend with me to The Ohio State University campus. Keep in mind, this is a campus of over 60,000 students. They are on summer break. But the good news in there that are a fair amount of summer students and other people walking the streets of the campus. I thought I would go ahead and share some of the discussions we have with people. I generally have a sign with me with a pop question. The one we used yesterday was called “Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?” This among other questions always gets a decent response.
While we spoke to several people, I will highlight a few of them. In order to protect the identity of those I spoke to, I will use fictitious names:
James said it made no difference no him whether Jesus was the Messiah. Furthermore, he said he was busy with school. When I asked whether the bottom line issue is whether it is true (e.g., if objectively speaking, if Jesus really is the Messiah and he rose from the dead), James said “Well, I guess it could be true.” But James was just too busy to think deeply about these issues.
Bill was similar to James. I won’t elaborate too much on this discussion. He said whether Jesus was the Messiah made no difference to him. And he was just too busy to think about it. As I spoke to both Bill and James, I thought of some statements by Pascal:
Man finds nothing so intolerable as to be in a state of complete rest, without passions, without occupation, without diversion, without effort. Then he faces his nullity, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness. And at once there wells up from the depths of his soul boredom, gloom, depression, chagrin, resentment, despair.
Pascal says there are two ways people avoid thinking about such matters: diversion and indifference. Regarding diversion, he says we fill up our time with relatively useless activities simply to avoid facing the truth of our wretchedness. “The natural misfortune of our mortality and weakness is so miserable,” he says, “that nothing can console us when we really think about it. . . . The only good thing for man, therefore, is to be diverted so that he will stop thinking about his circumstances.” Business, gambling, and entertainment are examples of things which keep us busy in this way. (see Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined and Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 13, 1890.
Craig walked up to us (he was walking to lunch) and said “ I’m Jewish but I don’t care about whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. For that matter, I don’t are about a Messiah!” I responded by saying “Thanks for your honesty.” Pascal’s comments are relevant to Craig’s comments as well. However, J.P. Moreland’s comments are applicable to Craig as well.
“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.
Craig wasn’t as concerned about the truth question. Moreland’s comments are also applicable to our next discussion.
Nathan walked up to us and said “I’m half Jewish.” Nathan’s mother was Catholic (so Nathan was raised in Catholic school) and his Father was Jewish. We spent about 45 minutes talking to Nathan. He was somewhat of a seeker. After explaining the plan of atonement to him in several contexts, Nathan said, “ I think we should just be good people and live our lives.” So I backed up and asked Nathan if he believed two things: “Does God exist?” He said “yes.” I said “Is God holy?” He said “yes.” I then said “Then how can you appease a holy God and know him?”
In other words, “What do you do about the atonement issue?” I was trying to get Nathan to see that if he follows his own logic he would see the need for atonement. Nathan admitted the disconnect in our discussion was the truth issue. He was not seeing the relevance of whether it was objectively true that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was Nathan’s atonement. He kept saying all that mattered was whether he was a good person to others. Of course, I talked about objective morality and the moral argument. But he couldn’t see the disconnect between God’s holiness and why his own morality was not good enough for God. I am thankful for the opportunity to share the Messiah with many contexts with Nathan. But there seemed to be something else going on behind the scenes in our discussion.
John was student who I had talked to before on campus. He had left the Catholic church and was now an agnostic. John had already given me a list of objections in both discussions. Here were some of them:
• “Religion is all man made.”
• “We know so much more about the world now than the ancients did. They were ignorant.”
• “How can you possibly believe in a resurrection?”
• “Everyone I talk to (who have different religious beliefs) seem to all be just as convinced as you.”
• “Mankind is no different from animals. How could you think anything other than this?”
• “There is nothing wrong with marrying a dog!”
• “If two people are happy (a same sex couple), then they should be married.”
• “There is no way one person could possibly say one religion was true.”
I could go on with more objections. But John said it wouldn’t make any difference if I could give him an iron clad argument for Christianity. His mind was made up.
In this case, it wasn’t so much of a truth issue. I am presently enjoying reading Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment by James Taylor. Taylor lists three kinds of people who we will encounter when doing evangelism. If anything, if we do evangelism and encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:
1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.
2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims.
3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.
John was now a critic. I tend to run into a lot of John’s on the campus.
Some Scriptures than come to mind whenever we do an outreach event:
1.” But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned”- John 16: 7-11
The reason I point this out is that I have no idea what the Holy Spirit is doing in these conversations/encounters. I just try to be faithful and leave it up to him to do the convicting. I know there are times when no words can change a hardened heart.
2. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”- Colossians 4: 1-6.
I always try to make the most of opportunity. But part of the issue is time (how much time the person has to chat) and prayer on my part.
3. The third text is the entire chapter of Matthew 13. The parable of the sower is very important when it comes to speaking to people about our faith.
4. “He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”- Acts 1:7-8.
The same Holy Spirit that was given in the book of Acts is the same Spirit that indwells every child of God. His role is to magnify the person of Jesus the Messiah.
Finally, always remember the spiritual blindness issue.
There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
5. “I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)
6. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).
We see the relationship between these two passages:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light
2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light
Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.
Doing evangelism/apologetics is a messy business. We live in a culture that is no doubt pragmatic, post-modern, and skeptical about religious claims. The God of this age is using these paradigms to blind people. Apologists who do evangelism must be prayerful and ready. We must be faithful and let God handle the results.