Suppose your favorite NFL team is headed to overtime in a tie game and ends up winning the coin toss. Would you want your team to kick off or receive? It’s a no-brainer. Even the most defensive-minded fan wants his team to have the ball. After all, the team receiving the kickoff can win the game by scoring a touchdown in its initial possession. While the defense could cause a turnover, pick up the ball, and run eighty yards for the tie-breaking score, there is a better opportunity to get into the end zone when your team is in control.
When I taught Bible classes at a Christian high school for seventeen years, I believed that getting students to assimilate the information was facilitated when they were actively in the game. For example, instead of merely lecturing on a topic like evil and suffering, I found that it was better to direct the conversation by first asking questions of the students. This allowed me to measure “pre-understanding” and determine their natural position. Questions such as “What is your view on how evil came into existence?” or “Do you believe that evil discounts the possibility that there can be a good God?” were able to give me valuable insights while requiring the students to develop their critical thinking skills by defending a position—if they even had one! Sometimes a “devil’s advocate” position was required, so I occasionally used class time to role-play an atheist. Asking, “If God is so good, why did He create evil?” could take an entire class period, especially since the question could be considered “fighting words” to an audience raised since birth in a Christian church! It is true that lectures and laying out the factual information ought to play an important role in teaching, but this sit-and-listen approach should not be the only (or even primary) tool for issues where there is much disagreement.
When it comes to evangelism, desiring to be on offense is a wise choice. If we want to be effective in sharing our faith with other people, why wouldn’t we take the ball and be in charge instead of guessing what the opponent will do next? Asking intelligent questions can be an excellent tool in sharing the Christian faith.
Asking the Right Questions. This tactic is certainly not new, as the “Socratic Method”—named after the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates—has long been used to stimulate critical thinking skills. In what he calls “the queen mother of all tactics,” apologist Greg Koukl believes that using questions will help the Christian stay “in the driver’s seat in conversations so you can productively direct the discussion, exposing faulty thinking and suggesting more fruitful alternatives along the way.”1 He explains, “Sometimes the little things have the greatest impact. Using simple leading questions is an almost effortless way to introduce spiritual topics to a conversation without seeming abrupt, rude, or pushy. Questions are engaging and interactive, probing yet amicable. Most important, they keep you in the driver’s seat while someone else does all the work.”2
Typically I have found that almost everyone likes to think that their opinion is important. The very idea that you are asking questions—not superficial inquiries but honest questions where you really want to know what the other person is thinking—can help eliminate the pressure many Christians feel, as if they somehow must be the resident experts who possess all the answers to any skeptic’s inquiries. Think about how Jesus used this tactic when He dealt with people. For example, in Matthew 22:41, He set up the situation by asking the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (NIV). Or in John 5:6 when He asked the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to get well?” (NIV). This question allowed Jesus to understand how badly this man wanted to be healed.3 Whether you are speaking to a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or even a stranger, thoughtful questions can help guide the conversation and make it more productive than you may have ever thought possible.
Getting an evangelism encounter started can be greatly aided with questions. For example, asking, “Do you know what the gospel of Jesus Christ is?” will tell you how well this person understands Christianity.
Probably one of the most simple but effective introductory questions comes from D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion, which was started in 1962. This tactic begins, “Have you come to a place in your thinking where you would know for sure that if you were to die today, you would go to heaven or is that something you would say you’re still working on?”4
A similar tactic is used by evangelist Ray Comfort, who likes to start evangelism encounters by asking, “Would you consider yourself to be a good person?”5 Such approaches work because many people believe—with no biblical support, of course—that their perceived moral “goodness” makes them worthy for heaven. After all, they reason, there are much worse people out there, like murderers and rapists. When the standard of the law is used as a mirror, the sinner can quickly see that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10 KJV).
Imagine an alternative approach, with the Christian walking up to a stranger and pointing a finger in the person’s face, loudly proclaiming, “You are a sinner who is going straight to hell, so you better turn or burn.” While the words might be technically true, they promote accusation over consideration, which can easily result in anger or frustration and hinder what otherwise could have been a successful conversation.
Over the years, certain students in my high school Bible classes were famous for raising their hands and asking questions by which they fully intended to take the discussion off track. They knew that asking questions placed me in a defensive position, effectively giving them control of the discussion. Earlier in my teaching career, I often took the bait, which resulted in having to reschedule the next day’s quiz since we didn’t cover all the pertinent information. Using tangential questions is a red herring tactic.
Probably the most popular question used on Christians who are sharing the gospel is, “So what will happen to the people in Africa who never heard the gospel?” Is the Christian obligated to answer this when it is obviously used to stall the conversation? I say no. Thus, I often respond in this kind way: “That’s a good question, but right now I’m talking to someone who is hearing a presentation of the Christian gospel. How about if I answer that question once we’re done with the topic at hand?” The person is usually fine with my response, as I have recognized the legitimacy of the question and am not disqualifying it; all I am doing is delaying the answer. It seems fair to finish the conversation at hand before introducing any new topics. Keeping the topic focused prevents a premature punt.
Another important strategy is making sure you ask questions without sounding like you are accusing the other person. The Christian who comes across as mean-spirited will lose every time. And it’s vital for the believer to listen to the answers. If we don’t come across as caring, most people who are feeling attacked will dig into their defensive position and not listen to any reasoning, no matter how sound it might be.
A good example of this was illustrated in a recent issue of Christianity Today.6 Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a university professor of English and women’s studies who was once a self-admitted “radical”/“leftist” lesbian, was “tired of students who seemed to believe that ‘knowing Jesus’ meant knowing little else. Christians in particular were bad readers…. Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That’s what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus.”
In 1997, Butterfield wrote a local newspaper article arguing against the Christian men’s group Promise Keepers. She received so many letters—both positive and negative—that she ended up putting two empty boxes on her desk to sort the responses. She writes, “But one letter I received defied my filing system. It was from the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was a kind and inquiring letter.” Pastor Ken Smith encouraged her to consider questions such as: How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know that you are right? Do you believe in God?
According to Butterfield, this letter was different from the others who were against her view because the pastor “didn’t argue with my article; rather, he asked me to defend the presuppositions that undergirded it.” Although she initially threw the letter away, she later took it out of the trash and allowed it to sit on her desk, “confronting me with the world- view divide that demanded a response.” Butterfield ended up becoming friends with this pastor and his wife. The positive results did not take place overnight. However, a simple letter that asked legitimate questions ended up completely rocking the professor’s world, causing her eventually to leave her homosexual lifestyle and embrace biblical Christianity.
Will every evangelism encounter that utilizes questions like these always have a happy ending? By no means! However, I have found that it is better to be invited into the backyard of potential believers for a friendly conversation rather than pounding on their doors in a demanding way. What are some ways that you might be able to use this strategy the next time you share your faith?
Eric Johnson lives in Utah with his wife and family. He works full-time with Mormonism Research Ministry (www.mrm.org).
The gap theory attempts to resolve the apparent conflict between Scripture and modern geology by inserting a gap of unknown time between the first two verses of Genesis 1. The gap theory doesn’t just insert a gap of time in order to give room for geological eras; it also theorizes that because of Satan’s fall, the original creation became ruined and devastated, which supposedly explains the evidence of mass animal death before the fall as seen in the fossil record. Genesis 1:2 is describing not merely that the earth was formless and void but also that it was in a state of ruin and destruction, an accursed state under God’s judgment. The gap theory suggests that verse 1 describes God’s original work of creation, verse 2 describes the result of the original creation’s destruction, and verse 3 and following describe its restoration or re-creation. For this reason, the theory has also been called the ruin-restoration theory.
Although advocates of the theory claim to have precedent in earlier writers, the view makes its modern appearance in the work of Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers, who proposed it in 1814. His view was popularized by the Plymouth Brethren writer G. H. Pember in his bookEarth’s Earliest Ages in 1876. Pember wrote, “It is thus clear that the second verse of Genesis describes the earth as a ruin; but there is no hint of the time which elapsed between creation and this ruin. Age after age may have rolled away, and it was probably during their course that the strata of the earth’s crust were gradually developed” (Kregel edition; p. 32).Is “Animal Rights” a Biblical Concern? By Dan Story
During the past forty years, radical animal rights activists have elevated the value of animals to the moral equivalency of humans. They uncompromisingly insist that medical research on live animals, factory farming, and other practices that cause animals intense suffering and death should be legally forbidden. Christians, on the other hand, generally agree that God created animals primarily for human consumption, commercial benefits, and entertainment. As such, they believe humans are free to use animals in practically any manner we choose with little or no concern for their welfare. While the ranks of radical animal rights activists escalate, the church remains largely indifferent (or ignorant of) the pain and suffering of both wild and domesticated animals. Is the general Christian position God- honoring, or is the modern animal rights movement more on track with biblical revelation? Is promoting animal rights a legitimate and just cause? The Bible answers these questions. It reveals that God enjoys and watches over the animals He created, and they have value to Him independent of their benefits to humanity. Furthermore, the Bible reveals that God has instructed the human race to be His caretakers over nonhuman life, and it provides ethical guidelines for how to achieve this.God Is Love, but Is Love God? By Elliot Miller
If “God is love,” then “Love is God.” So say virtually all of the founders of the “metaphysical” or “mind science” sects, along with many Eastern and New Age teachers. This esoteric interpretation of 1 John 4:8 and 16 allows them to argue that God is an impersonal principle rather than a personal being. God cannot love or be loved by anyone but rather is the love in everyone. God therefore does not judge or punish people for their sins. This, in turn, supports the metaphysical teaching that God alone is real, and sin, sickness, and death are mere illusions sustained only by our belief in them.
This interpretation does not hold. The grammatical structure in the Greek prohibits inferring “Love is God.” In context, the phrase is rather used in association with God sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sin. This means Christ’s death satisfied the demands of the law and appeased the wrath of God, both of which were against us because of our sins. God’s wrath does not contradict His love because His wrath expresses His righteousness, and righteousness and love are both essential to, and fully integrated in, His being.
How we respond to God’s merciful provision in Christ determines whether we experience His mercy or His wrath. Denial of God’s just punishment of sin will only ensure that one experiences it; acceptance of God’s loving provision for our guilt will remove all fear of judgment and ensure one’s place in a world where there truly will be no sin, sickness, and death.
On today’s Bible Answer Man broadcast (08/07/20), Hank addresses the twin evils of racism and rich-ism. According to Scripture, all human beings are made in the image of God and are designed to be conformed to His likeness. As such, racism, while it has raised its ugly head within the context of American churches, is abjectly incompatible with genuine Christianity. Historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity posits that all people, irrespective of skin color, are descendants of one human couple. Indeed, orthodox Christians have historically rejected the idea that there are multiple races and have been mocked and ridiculed as a result. An evil twin to racism is rich-ism—the predisposition to honor the rich and disfavor the poor. This is precisely why Saint James warns Christians of wanton partiality: “If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves?….If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture (‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’) you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (see James 2:1–13).All Sermons by Hank Hanegraaff