Our lecture tonight primarily focused on style. While the remainder of our time will be spent on what to say in spiritual conversations, tonight we wanted to focus on how to say it.
We first compared the style of the Nigerian Prince scammers with our typical presentation of the gospel. We saw that it is worth the effort to make our approach personal and non-random. This is how Paul did evangelism at Athens in Acts 17:22-31, which is a fair example for us today. When we are speaking with an unbeliever, we should pay attention for times when conversation comes close to spiritual matters and to have the courage to ask them what they believe (and listen to their answer!). It is only when we have understood where they are at that we will know what common ground we might try to build from.
Greg Koukl has an approach in his book, Tactics, that is worth using here. He focuses on asking two questions, “What do you mean by that,” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” These questions are not “gotcha” questions, but should be a genuine attempt to understand the other person. We should never take for granted what another person believes just because they give us the title of their religious views, but we can dig deeper to know them personally. Remember the graphics we showed below from Barna Group Research. If such a large percentage of professing Christians can disagree with central claims of historic Christianity, why should we not expect similar percentages of other people to have diversity from their stated belief systems?
We reviewed several apologetic systems when the time does come in conversation to bring something more than questions to the table. Those systems were Presuppositionalism, Classical Apologetics, Evidentialism, and Combinationalism.
The form of Presuppositionalism that we talked about makes claims about what the unbeliever is committing himself to. This method tries to show that the unbeliever is taking for granted (or “presupposing”) systems of thought that he says he disagrees with. Frank Turek is a good example of a presuppositionalist in his approach, detailed in his book Stealing from God. He says that the atheist has to steal things like objective moral values and duties from the Christian worldview in order to attack the Old Testament narrative, since the atheistic worldview does not support objective moral values and duties. Alvin Plantinga has a similar argument in which he claims that knowledge is only possible if theism is true. In a nutshell, the goal here is not so much to show that the atheist is wrong in his conclusion, but that he is self-contradictory in his thinking. Some of the premises that he is basing his thoughts on are in conflict with the conclusions he draws.
We then looked at Classical Apologetics, which is best exemplified in the work of William Lane Craig. In this system we start with arguments to show that God exists and then we move on to evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. This two-step approach is meant to first find common ground in the premises used in arguments for God’s existence and slowly walk toward the ultimate conclusion that God exists and raised Jesus from the dead.
The third system that we looked at is Evidentialism. This approach skips everything else and goes straight to evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead. If Jesus was raised from the dead, then we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus good evidence that God exists. Gary Habermas would be an example of an evidentialist.
Combinationalism is, perhaps, a little more nuanced. This approach gives up entirely on trying to prove Christianity from the evidence. The combinationalist would argue that it is our worldview that determines what evidence we will accept rather than the evidence that determines which worldview we accept. Since our choice of worldview determines what will count for evidence, an atheist who is committed to atheism will never concede any evidence that points to God. For him there simply is no God for the evidence to point to. In light of this, the combinationalist will take a step back and try to compare and contrast the worldviews themselves. They will use the substance of the typical arguments to point out areas or challenges that the non-Christian worldview cannot resolve in order to show that the Christian worldview is superior to the non-Christian worldview. He may not claim that the evidence proves God exists, but he will instead claim that the failure of the atheistic worldview to successfully account for the evidence counts against the validity of that woldview.
As an example, the combinationalist might not say outright that the beginning of the universe proves that God must exist (as the Kalam Cosmological Argument tries to show). Instead he will go over the argument to highlight the problem for the atheistic worldview, and then point out that the Christian worldview has no problem with the origin. Since a beginning out of nothing is impossible, and since we see a beginning out of nothing when viewing the world through atheism, this gives us good reason to be skeptical of atheism.
We should not think of these systems as camps that we must remain in. Rather, we should think of them as tools in our toolbelt to be pulled out as the situation demands. When we ask probing questions and think through people’s responses, we will discover which tool we need.
Anonymous, “State of the Church 2016,” Barna.com, September 15, 2016, https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/ (accessed January 20, 2018).
Brian Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015).
Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).
Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 48.