21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 18
I’m going to share a lesson from my research that may seem to contradict what I’ve written elsewhere in these 21 lessons. I’m willing to take that risk given the diversity of people we meet and the varieties of evangelistic methods we need to employ.
Many people write today about “defeaters” that must be overcome or answered or resolved before we present the gospel. I’ve advocated this many times. I still do. There are certain beliefs or prior convictions that, if not dismantled to some degree, make the gospel message unintelligible. For example, if I’m talking to someone about connecting to God and they tell me, “that may be true for you but it’s not true for me,” I should probably challenge some of their assumptions about knowledge before turning to page 2 of my tract.
But, after listening to the 40 recent converts I interviewed, I think “defeater” is too strong a term. Many people said they didn’t believe in absolute truth or the authority of the Bible or the reasonableness of any religion that thinks it’s the only way. Christians who shared the gospel with them discussed some of the objections as part of their proclaiming of the good news. The evangelists wove together some negative tactics (deconstructing some of the outsider’s worldview), some positive ones (clearly articulating the truths of the gospel) and quite a few defensive strategies (answering stated questions with Biblically backed answers).
Lesson 18 of these 21 evangelism lessons is that so-called defeaters may not be as powerful as we might think.
I’m not taking back anything I’ve said about the need for pre-evangelism. I’m still a Francis Schaeffer fan. But as I listened to the stories of conversion, I noticed that some of these “defeaters” never got totally resolved. They were addressed but not thoroughly answered. They were acknowledged but not “defeated.” At least, not all of the time.
Some may be tempted to announce, “Aha! Just as I thought. You’re relying too much on human reason and not trusting in the power of God’s word.” They might even point to Paul’s resolve to “know nothing…except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) But I think this is to misunderstand Paul, ignore his many practices recorded in Acts, and totally discount many of Jesus’ appeals to reason as he reached out to numerous people as told in the Gospels. I’ve tried to investigate these many examples of the validity of pre-evangelism, often expressed through questions, in my book Questioning Evangelism.
All I want to suggest here is that we need to find a different word to think about what we’ve called “defeaters.” That term ascribes more power to them than they deserve. They’re obstacles or hurdles or first lines of resistance or potential problems. In some cases, we merely need to acknowledge their presence (doing so with respect) and ask God for wisdom in how to take the next step.
It might sound like this: “I understand that you think it’s narrow-minded of me to think there’s only one way to God. But I wonder if you’ll consider why Jesus made some of the claims he did about being the only way. Can we set your objection aside for a moment and look at a passage in one of the books of the New Testament? Perhaps that will be more helpful for us as we try to make progress in our discussion.”
I think it’s worth a try.