A Dozen Thoughts on Evangelism

Here are some thoughts on effective evangelism, from someone who may or may not be an especially effective evangelist:

  1.  You need to have good answers to obvious questions like:  (1) Why does God let children die of cancer?  (2) Why are good people who don’t believe in Jesus sent to Hell?
  2. On the other hand, how’s this for an ice-breaker:  Where do you want to be in a thousand years?  (This is, of course, a spoof of the classic job-interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”)
  3. The evangelist must be prepared to play both offense and defense.  He must be able to make the positive case for believing, but also anticipate why people might not believe and address those objections.
  4. Another obvious point:  Nonbelievers can be divided into two groups, those who don’t believe in any god and those who believe in a god but not the Christian God.  That distinction should inform the evangelist.  (I ran across on interesting intersection of the two in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Easter, where he quotes  from his interview with William Lane Craig (page 56):  “But the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead doesn’t contradict science or any known facts of experience.  All it requires is the hypothesis that God exists, and I think here are good independent reasons for believing that he does. … As long as the existence of God is even possible, it’s possible that he acted in history by raising Jesus from the dead.”)
  5. Relatedly, one way for the evangelist to make his pitch is to divide it into two parts:  First, that there is a God; and, second, that He is the triune God in which Christians believe (that is, basically, that Christ is Lord).  Another way is to argue directly for the triune God.  It seems to me that the latter would have to proceed from the historicity of the New Testament, which is fine; and of course if the person you’re talking to already believes in some god, then that’s the step you have to take with them.  For someone who is generally atheist or agnostic, however, it might actually be easier to start with getting them to believe in God — and there are a variety of arguments for that — and then proceed to argue for our particular God as a second step.  Of course, the two-step argument takes longer, and may be better suited for written than oral evangelism. For the special case of a nonobservant Jew, which describes a friend of mine with whom a conversation prompts these particular thoughts, I would think the two-step process much better than the one-step process.
  6. Of course, I like the approach taken in my essay appearing elsewhere on this site, “Why I Am a Christian (and You Should Be, Too) in 600 Words,” and it’s reassuring that this two-step path was one that C.S. Lewis followed.  But I would never say it is the only approach or the best approach for all situations.
  7. For, say, a lost teenager, it might be direct and effective simply to ask him or her, “Do you want to live in a world — and do you believe in a world — where there is no good or evil, and where your own existence is ephemeral and meaningless?”
  8. In fact, consider a list of top apologetic arguments (considered, perhaps, in the context of Pascal’s Wager, which can be discussed at the beginning or end): #1. Who wants to live a meaningless life in a universe where there is no right or wrong? #2. It really is very unlikely that the basic storyline of the New Testament is nothing but a fabrication. #3. It really is very unlikely that our universe is fine-tuned just-so for human life — just by accident. #4. Just look around you and ask if it can all be just a random evolution of atoms — all nature,  all creatures, all people, your own mind, all incredibly intricate and beautiful.  And so on.
  9. Speaking of Pascal’s Wager:  It is desirable to convince people at the outset that they should be looking for reasons to believe, not reasons not to believe.  If you convince them that they really shouldn’t be eager not to believe — with or without Pascal’s Wager per se — then there will be less resistance to other arguments (and to the Wager itself if that was not directly invoked before), such as historical evidence, intelligent design, and so forth.
  10. Note that the reasons for not believing can be both intellectual and psychological.  That is, someone might not be persuaded intellectually of the historicity of the Bible, or might think that as scientist he must as a matter of principle view anything supernatural as implausible, but there’s also the problem that some people just do not want to believe.  For example, they know that if they become Christians they will have to give up doing things that they like doing (casual sex) or start doing things they don’t want to do (going to church). Or they might associate being a Christian with something undesirable, like being weak and ignorant or unsophisticated and uncool.  (I wonder if there have been focus groups or surveys on obstacles to faith and what it would take to get people to believe — and then analysis of how to overcome these obstacles by better evangelism.)
  11. It may take more than one person to get someone to Christ.  You can feel good if you have at least helped them along.
  12. Finally, bear in mind that issues regarding what the Bible says about we how should behave and how it can help us to do so are of less importance to the evangelist than establishing a person’s faith to begin with (on this tripartite division, see the “Three Challenges” post elsewhere on this site).  And I think that, as a general matter and within limits, getting someone to Christ is more important than ensuring that the person is not heterodox on this or that point of Biblical morality or theology.  There’s no denying that there are some questions of importance and controversy (gay sex, for example), but generally the important stuff is not really controversial (don’t murder people) and the controversial stuff is not really important (how does the Rapture work, exactly?).  If you can get a person to be a Christian, then you should be pretty happy.