Evangelism in an Age of Skepticism

by Chris Turner

More than 70 percent of unbelievers agree that "Jesus makes a difference," but more than 70 percent also see the church as "full of hypocrites," according to a LifeWay Research study released earlier this year.

"They almost have to feel that way," said Tim Keller, author of a New York Times bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an age of skepticism, "because the view from the outside is that if you aren't living like Jesus Christ you won't go to heaven."

Keller's comments were voiced in a new Inside LifeWay podcast with Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"When they see Christians saying they are born again and they don't see an incredibly changed life, they assume you are a hypocrite," said Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. "[A]nd the fact that they are critical of us, we have to say partly that's our fault. But on the other hand, it's partly their inability to understand the gospel. We have to be patient with that."

Though unbelievers have been buoyed by the growing prominence of such books as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Keller said is it relatively easy to challenge the belief that there is no God or that all gods are the same.

"Of all the objections to Christianity, saying God is the same as all the others is the weakest and easiest to disprove," Keller said. "There are two ways to go about it. The practical way is that all other religions have someone who says, I am a prophet come to show you the way to God.' Only Christianity was founded by a man who said, I'm God come to find you.' Now if Jesus said that[then] Christianity is either a superior or inferior way to God, but it can't be equal [to all the others]. You ask any rabbi or imam or anybody who knows anything about their religion: they'd say the same thing.

"So when somebody says they are all equal it shows they haven't really learned anything about any of them and it is arrogant. It is as if somebody says, All you people of the same race look alike.' It is remarkably patronizing."

Keller added that a philosophical way to disprove skeptics' beliefs is to point out the hypocrisy in their approach, showing them that to believe there is no God, or that all gods are equal, is in fact a belief system based on a faith that can't be empirically proved, as is often demanded of Christians and belief in Christianity.

Stetzer pointed out that one of the findings in the study was that 52 percent agreed somewhat or strongly that Jesus died and was resurrected, and among those 30 years of age and younger, 66 percent responded likewise.

"Chris Smith talks about this in his book, Soul Searching," Keller said. "The average young person has adopted Christian beliefs. Smith calls it moral therapeutic deism. Moral' being, I'm going to heaven because I'm good.' Therapeutic' means my purpose in life is to be happy and fulfilled and satisfied.' Deism' is that God isn't part of my day but somebody I bring in when I have a need.' The resurrection clobbers all three of those. The resurrection means this world matters, you're here to serve and God is rehabilitating the world and dealing with the results of sin."

Keller said when witnessing to unbelievers it is important to move quickly to the resurrection because there is a lot of evidence for it. He said it is important to confront people with Jesus and His claims, His life and His resurrection. It shows how different the God of the Bible is. Too often Christians stick with traditional arguments trying to convince skeptical nonbelievers of a biblical God, Keller said, when they should use those points as clues that believing in God makes more sense than not believing in God.

"The real issue isn't so much, Is there a God?' as much as Is Jesus really who He says He is?'" Keller said.

Stetzer pointed out that even though there are skeptics, 78 percent of those surveyed said they are willing to listen to a Christian talk about faith and are open to having conversations about God. "If that's the case," he asked, "how do we become better at proclaiming the gospel?"

Keller responded: "Almost everybody who doubts does so for personal reasons, mainly because they have had bad experiences with the church, Christianity, or Christians. [As a Christian] you can't just say, I'm going to give you the gospel and you're going to hear it.' You have to embody a different kind of Christianity than the one they have experienced in the past or they are simply not going to hear it. It has to do with tone, graciousness, consistency of your own behavior. It's all stuff we know but it is absolutely true.

"People are not used to Christians being patient with them, sympathetic with them and their doubts," Keller said. "They are not used to that. They are used to propaganda, criticism, and being talked down to. Your demeanor, facial expressions, and tone of voice is way more important than you think in evangelism."

Baptist Press

Chris Turner is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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