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As Christians we all want to see nonchristians convert to faith in Christ by the grace of God. Even more, we probably want to be instrumental in such a conversion–for that would be a special blessing. But let’s be honest: we all hope that such an opportunity will be a peaceful encounter between us and someone who has never heard and/or understood the Gospel. We would like to see someone receive the Good News from us and immediately respond with joy, repenting and believing.
Well, it is fine for us to hope for a chance to share the Gospel without having to deal with conflict and confrontation, but that does not usually happen. I don’t know about you, but no one has ever knocked on my door because an angel of heaven told him to come to my address and hear an important message from God. In real life people don’t often ask about the Gospel, and when they begin to get the gist of the message, they usually try to change the subject. The reason for this should be obvious, the good news of the Gospel is an offer of forgiveness–an offer which presupposes that all people are sinners against their Creator and deserving of His wrath.
Witnessing for Christ inevitably involves confrontation.
Confronted with the claims of the Gospel, people typically respond to our message by saying that it is not true or (worse?) that it is an interesting hypothesis which MIGHT be true. It is at this point that I personally am usually most tempted to compromise the claims of Christ. Perhaps you are too. Not wanting to give offense, we can easily be derailed from offering “a ready defense.” (We can also be tempted to compromise the content of the Gospel itself, but that is another article.) How does this happen?
In my experience, a person who is sharing the Gospel will almost invariably want to “prove” to the nonchristian that Christianity is true. “Let us reason together,” he might say to the unbeliever. “I don’t want you to accept the Gospel on ‘blind faith’.” And then he will go on to present arguments and evidences which he thinks, if his friend will consider them, will lead him to the conclusion that God exists.
While it is true that people should reason in order to believe the Gospel, and that our faith is not supposed to be blind, defending Christianity in this way involves a fatal compromise. It treats the person as if he is a “neutral” observer who has the right to evaluate the claims of Christ for himself and decide whether or not they are worthy of acceptance. This simply will not do. According to the Gospel, people are creatures who ought to submit to their Creator in ALL of their thinking, and are sinners who are ANYTHING but neutral regarding the truth of God’s Word.
A cursory study of Biblical terminology will reveal that “bearing witness” for Christ has judicial implications. We are bringing an accusation against the world. It is the creature and sinner who must be cleared before God’s judgment seat, not Jesus who stands awaiting the judgment of any mere man. We don’t have the right to pass a “verdict” on Jesus, despite the popularity of a helpful book on apologetics by that title.
We must defend the faith without encouraging unbelievers to play the part of Pontius Pilate.
But does this mean that the Christian faith is irrational–that it is to be believed without evidence? Far from it. The fact of the matter is that all people everywhere already know that God exists. They may say that they are unsure of God’s existence, but in fact they are surrounded by God’s personal testimony–and they understand the meaning of that testimony. The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. For that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1:18-21; NASB).
Every single fact in human experience undeniably shows forth the face of God. And all people without exception spit in His face. They do this, not only by disbelieving the Bible, but by denying His general revelation (in nature and history) and coming up with rationalizations to justify themselves–rationalizations that we know as false philosophies and false religions. Instead of admitting that God is personally present with them, they insist that reality is ultimately impersonal. The only “god” they will accept is a finite being in the same impersonal surroundings.
By arguing as if an unbeliever is legitimately ignorant as to whether Christianity is true, by treating him as a neutral seeker of truth, we are denying the real situation and undercutting the Gospel. For if a person can be legitimately ignorant of God, then he cannot be sinning against Him. The Gospel is unnecessary. A person has an excuse for unbelief. Indeed, we are implicitly agreeing that reality is not a personal revelation of God, but an impersonal environment.
But if God is self-evident, and if the Bible is immediately recognizable to all people as God’s Word, then the Gospel makes sense. The fact that seemingly sincere people deny that it is true also makes sense. The Bible explains that people practice self-deception. Sinners don’t need new evidence to be persuaded of God’s existence, they need a new ethical orientation so that they will stop suppressing the evidence and “honor Him as God.”
They need a new heart.
Does all this mean we cannot argue with unbelievers in any constructive way? Not at all! It only means we have to argue in a way that does not compromise the Gospel. We must argue in a way that does not undermine the self-evident nature of God’s existence and the sinful disposition of people to deny the His personal revelation in nature and history and in Scripture. Hopefully, the various more specific ways we are tempted into such compromise, and the various ways we can avoid it, will be made more clear in future columns. For the moment, I will end our general discussion of how we are tempted to compromise, with a brief general explanation of how we might defend the Faith without compromising.
I’ve already mentioned that, as witnesses for Christ, we are in a courtroom situation. We are pressing charges against sinners who need to seek clemency before it is too late. As everyone knows from watching the O.J. Simpson coverage, the primary objective of a defense lawyer is to present a plausible reinterpretation of the prosecution’s evidence. This reinterpretation results in untrue worldviews–the false philosophies and religions I mentioned above. As witnesses for our Lord, we must attempt to show unbelievers that their nonchristian worldviews are insufficient and incoherent. An impersonal world, after all, is ultimately unknowable. By showing that only the Christian worldview makes any sense at all, we will press home to the nonchristian that he is evading the God Whom he already knows to exist.