What might just persuade our friends to embrace the gospel of Christ? I guess that depends on what we think is stopping them. Our apologetic (defense) of Christianity largely revovles around answering various questions; Are the gospels reliable, what about other religions, suffering, etc…
But Doug Wilson wonders whether we’ve really understood the nature of unbelief? Can I suggest that next time you chat to a self-confessed atheist why not ask them this question ‘Do you hope that God is there?’ and it might reveal the true nature of the problem. Their answer might well reveal that behind intellectual doubts, at it’s heart unbelief is a heart issue rather than an issue of the head.
Wilson takes us to Romans 1 and reminds us that unbelief is really a suppression of the truth because of a hearts desire to rebel against God and his word. People in some sense don’t believe because they don’t want to believe.
What them should we do? How should our theology drive our apologetic? Doug Wilson asks us to aim at the heart in our apologetics because that is the heart of problem. When the Christian community learns to love God by demonstrating a deep gratitude for all that we have received from him that has persuasive power. From a man who debated Christopher Hitchens on more than one occasion its a helpful reminder. And after all wasn’t it Francis Scaheffer who said ‘the greatest apologetic of all is love’.
The Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) invites students across Oxford to take a fresh look at Jesus. Lunch time and evening events led by Mike Cain and Tim Keller. All happening this week. Oxford Town Hall.
(HT: Gavin McGrath)
Many of us will spend more time with non-Christian family and friends this Christmas time than perhaps at any other time of the year. Some of us are looking forward to finding an opportunity to share our faith but most of us find it an intimidating thought.
My top tips for this Christmas
1. Plan in advance and plan in particular to pray. Decide that God can and might use you in a surprising way this Christmas time. You may doubt that anyone in your family could be interested in the gospel but don’t doubt what God can do.
2. Be wise in how you seek an opportunity to speak. For example it’s often easier to chat 1 to 1 rather than around a meal table as a group. Look to spend a little quality time with different members of family over the time you’re together.
3. Be a consistent witness. Don’t drink or eat too much. Be eager to serve and be helpful.
4. Make church on Christmas day a priority. Unless you’re in a log cabin in the wilderness plan to get to church.
5. Find someone from your church who might be in a similar situation so that you can agree to pray for one another over the festive season and maybe call or text each other a couple of times to encourage and support each other.
6. Give an appropriate evangelistic Christmas book.
7. When speaking think what Christmas means to you as a Christian and try and say something about your own attitudes to Christmas time and what it is that you are choosing to celebrate. Sharing your own experience often opens up conversation as does asking open-ended questions. The question might be different for different members of the family.
Here are a few questions or comments I think could work:
To parents, in-laws, Grand-parents…
- How has Christmas changed since you were growing up?
- What was Christmas day like when you were a child? Did you have any family traditions? Did you go as a family to church?
- A recent news item might be a good topic eg. Did you hear that David Cameron called Britain a Christian country. I’m not sure I understood what he meant by that do you?
- What was Christmas like for you growing up? Would you want to do it differently if you had kids? (have in mind how as a Christian you would want to do things differently eg. how you might try and engage with commercialism etc.)
To younger children
- Did you do a school ‘nativity’ this year for Christmas? What did you do in it? Do you know what the story was all about?
If you want to think more about witnessing to family and friends then help is at hand in the form of Randy Newman and his book Bringing the Gospel Home.
Randy has given a great interview on some of the themes in the book
For 10 tips on making the most of this Christmas time check out Ten Ways to Bring the Gospel Home This Christmas .
During his final talk this morning at City to City: Europe here in Berlin Tim Keller gave a 10 point guide to conversational evangelism.
1. Let people know, casually and naturally, that you are a Christian.
2. Ask questions about your friends religious beliefs offering NO comment or response. Just asking thoughtful questions.
3. Invite someone to share with you about a problem they are having. Make it clear that you pray for people you care about and offer to pray for them.
4. You share a problem or issue in which your faith has really served to help you, illness, bereavement, lonliness, unemployment, etc.
then if your friend, neighbour or colleague wants to take things further
5. Share a book or recording that you think they might find helpful
6. Share your story of faith
7. Ask whether there are any problems that they have with Christianity
8. Take them along with you to church
And if they’d like to take things further
9. Meet regularly to read the Bible
10. Take them along to a discovery group eg Alpha or Christianity Explored.
How would you know that someone was really afraid to die?
At a superficial level we are tempted to think of it in terms of a fear of the moment of death itself. Perhaps the last few weeks of a terminal disease or the moments on board a plane as it plummets to the ground after a major malfunction. It’s this kind of fear of death that made Woody Allen quip ’I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’
So when we think of the fear of death we tend to reduce it to the fear of dying. But I’m not sure that does it justice. I want to argue that the fear of death is a much bigger idea that pervades more of life. It’s better expressed in another quote this time of Leo Tolstoy who said
My question – that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide – was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man … a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: ‘What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?’ It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy.
To the secularist the vague notion that maybe we actually live on in the afterlife has been rejected. So what hope now? Well we find the fear of death at work in surprising ways. In the vain hope that we can continue to be present, if not in reality, then through a computer programme that interacts on Facebook, etc., on our behalf. That, if you like, pretends that we have not gone forever.
So here we find the fear of death expressed in surprising ways as exemplified in this TED talk by Adam Ostrow entitled After your final status update
The fear of death is seen in increasingly desperate attempts to hold onto life. In our unwillingness to leave this life.
How do we respond as Christians?
It’s easy to want to laugh, maybe it all makes us want to cry but surely it reminds us that our message of the one who has defeated death and promised life to all who are in him is a message every human soul is primed to need to hear.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says in chapter 3:10-11
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart
It is that burden we see expressed in the world and it is that burden that only the gospel answers. Peter in his first letter writes;
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you
Let us then be bold to continue to speak of him who alone has beaten death and conquered the grave. The one who alone has the answer to the fear of death however it might reveal itself.
Tim Keller has written
There are only two kinds of churches;
One kind says to its community: ‘You can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests, become like us and meet our needs.
The other kind says to its community: ‘We will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests, join in your life and try to meet your needs.’
It is pretty obvious which approach will do most to gain the gospel a hearing as we take Christ to the world.
Josh Reeves is planting a church in Round Rock, Texas. There’s nothing like planting a church to stretch your thinking as to how you and the church family can make the most of opportunities to develop community relationships.
Recently I made a list of 100 ways to engage your neighborhood. I have found that it is often helpful to have practical ideas to start engaging the people around me in order to be a better neighbor. Most of the things on this list are normal, everyday things that many people are already doing. The hope is that we would do these things with Gospel intentionality. This means we do them:
- In the normal rhythms of life pursuing to meet and engage new people
- Prayerfully watching and listening to the Holy Spirit to discern where God is working.
- Looking to boldly, humbly, and contextually proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.
For a look at Josh’s top 100 ideas visit here
For the many of us who live with the reality that most of our family are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ it can be an emotional as well as an intellectual challenge to our faith and our lives.
Here are four practical tips adapted from a new book on witnessing to family Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
1. Recognise that there is something uniquely difficult about witnessing to those closest to us.
When it comes to family the relationship dynamic makes for a challenge. Maybe it’s their familiarity with our faith that means they stopped asking questions years ago that makes it hard. Alternatively it’s that they see our many failings because they see us up close that leads them to question the reality of our faith. Whatever the issue it makes it tough!
2. Find grace to move from fear to boldness
One of the things that stops us speaking for Christ is an underlying fear of a negative reaction of our family. At times it takes courage to speak for Christ and to stand for him.
We need to be clear about our faith and bold in our stand. But the secret is not ‘to muster up courage. That’s what many people try – with little or no success. Instead soak in grace.’ Newman reminds us that fear of our family and their judgment of us can only be overcome with a greater desire to live in the light of God’s judgment of us, his covenant love for us in Christ.
3. Deny the guilt.
There is a guilt which is decidedly not from God and yet many Christians live with a great sense of underlying guilt that those closest to them don’t believe. Despite faithful witness, love and prayer Christians are still tempted to think they have failed.
The appropriate emotion to feel in such circumstances is not guilt but sadness. Just as Jesus wept for unbelieving Israel so too we are right to feel pain but we are wrong to feel guilt.
4. Accept that truth divides.
However painful it may be, Jesus warned that his message would divide even family members.
We need to anticipate that our faith brings new loyalties, new priorities and new desires that may lead to a distancing of what was otherwise a close relationship. In some cultures truth divides even to the extent of being disowned by unbelieving family.
The temptation in the face of losing a relationship with those closest to us is to compromise. We need to anticipate that danger, seek God’s grace and the love and support of our church community to help us remain strong in the truth in a difficult situation.
In a later blog I’ll be bringing another 4 ideas to help dealing with issues of love, humility, time and eternity.
Randy Newman waited a long time to see his 75 year old mother come to faith in Christ. That’s what makes him the ideal author of Bringing the gospel home – sharing your faith with family and friends. From his personal experience he writes;
I’ve seen the value of patience, the significance of prayer, the marvel of grace, and the power of love.
Most Christians find sharing their faith a challenge at the best of times but sharing faith with family as Newman testifies ‘seems infinitely more daunting.’
The book is a great resource to help all of those who like myself have the responsibility and challenge of being Christians in a family who are mostly not Christians. The book isn’t about technique or methodology but about how the gospel meets the unique challenges of witness to family. So Newman begins the book saying;
How we think about our family while telling them the good news is almost as important as how we think about our message.
So here are 8 take homes from his first chapter to help us think a little more about a tough topic.
1. Family is at the heart of God’s purposes.
It is designed to be a special place with unqiue ‘family dynamics’. We should have a special concern for family. When it works well it is a real blessing.
Families were instituted by God to foster intimacy, to build trust, to be the springboard from which all relationships should work.
2. Families are often where we feel the effects of the fall most acutely.
The closer the relationship the greater the pain when sin spoils or even fractures relationships that are designed to run deep. Nowhere is the consequence of sin greater or more disturbing than in the home. When we have been hurt by members of our family through arguments, divorce, abuse and so on it has profound effects.
3.When family works well it makes witnessing hard.
If our family is a truly happy one then who wants to be the person to break it apart? When we come to faith it adds a new dynamic. There is a new person in our lives, we now have a relationship with Christ, not shared by our family.
Witnessing is understandably hard if we love our parents. We are desperate not to upset them or disappoint them. When a particularly close relationship with a sibling is suddenly altered by our new relationship with Christ it threatens to drive a wedge between you. No wonder if our first attempts to witness are not met with an enthusiastic reception, out of love for our family, we begin to want to hold back.
4. When family goes wrong it makes witnessing hard.
If we have been hurt or betrayed by our family, because the pain runs so deep, we might well run from family. Maybe we cut off connections with certain family members or choose to spend less time at home or simply emotionally disconnect. To protect ourselves from the pain we seek independence from our family.
How helpful to be reminded that Jesus was rejected by his own family only to see them come to faith later. Most notably, James, his own half-brother who would become a key leader of the church in Jerusalem.
5. For those blessed by a loving family the gospel teaches us that family is not ultimate
In becoming Christian we find new reasons to thank God as we see for the first time that a loving family comes from his hand in order to bless but we also learn that we have to stop idolizing family relationships as we serve God.
Jesus said in Mark 3 ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’
Jesus’ placing of family underneath kingdom relationships serves as both a rebuke and an encouragement.
6. For those saddened by broken family relationships the gospel teaches us that family is redeemable
The Bible also teaches us to not give up on even the worst of families.
Remembering how Christ in the gospel refused to give up on me and continuing to rely on the love of God that first changed me is crucial to empowering .
7. Evangelising family will feel like hard work
Newman wants us to recognise that witnessing to our family is going to be hard and it’s probably best to acknowledge that up front.
When you know the difficulty of running a marathon, you train for it, eat the right foods, get proper rest, etc. If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll probably drop out of the race early on.
8. Evangelising family is emotionally charged
Two emotional struggles need to be highlighted – guilt and anger. Both seem to attack from within and without.
It might be guilt that we have not done more to seek the salvation of family members. We’ve not particularly prayed or we’ve stop trying to speak to them about Christ.
It could be guilt that comes from within because we are conscious about the past.
Our family, in other words has seen us at our worst, and the guilt we feel for losing our temper or any other display of sin immobilizes us in our witness.
It could be guilt from without as family members demonstrate their disappointment & disapproval that we have become a Christian or even a threat to disown us. Parents who have sought to control and manipulate their children are unlikely to stop when we reach adulthood.
Anger often rises in the frustration that comes from not being understood as a Christian or when the gospel is not understood no matter how clearly we have explained it.
Several people I spoke to expressed frustration from lack of objectivity. This seems to be in short supply when we’re around our family.
Maybe, Newman argues, objectivity is not only an unrealistic goal but an undesirable one too. Love rather than dispassionate objectivity is a better goal. It is when love is our motivator that
we can let go of the anger, disengage the guilt, and share the gospel so that it truly sounds like gracious, attractive good news instead of haughty, condemning bad news.
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