Iwrote this brief guide after a few requests from those who wanted to better engage with people that were skeptical about faith. Though I’m far from being an expert, I’ve learned some valuable principles as a missionary to the University. Some may have expected a list of answers to the top ten questions asked by skeptics. But that isn’t the solution.
That is to say, having a response to tough apologetic questions is important, but more important is our need to communicate effectively to reach both the skeptic’s mind and heart. If you talk to enough atheists, you’ll realize quickly that most questions raised are smokescreens concealing a problem of the heart. I am confident that Christianity can answer all the objections even the most ardent objectors wield, but the goal is and always will be to win hearts to Christ.
Below are five steps (the acronym is SWIPE) that I take whenever I’m talking with students. This might happen in one conversation, or over multiple conversations. In order to convince people of the Truth, our goal is never to demonstrate our intellectual prowess but to strategically enable them to see the flaws in their own thinking and come to the conclusion themselves. This is done best by asking good questions.
Lastly, we must remember every individual is unique. Some questions will be more helpful to one person than another. Some people will need more time to think it through. Ultimately, we must pray for God-given discernment and wisdom to know what to say (and NOT to say), and ask the Spirit to open their heart.
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1. SET THE STAGE
- So, what’s your story? How did you get to this place in your life?
- What keeps you busy in your spare time?
- What does a typical day in the life of Bob/Jill look like?
- You’re an entrepreneur? Awesome! What do you think of Tim Ferris’ last book?
- You do web development? Migrating my server was a nightmare! I hate propagation!
- Skateboarding huh? Can you laserflip?
- Oh, you’re from [city or state]? How’s that like compared to here?
- So, you’re studying [field you know nothing about i.e. medieval literature]? Cool! What got you into that?
- Do you come from a religious background?
- How did you come to that conclusion?
- If you found out what you believed wasn’t true, would you stop believing it?
2. WORLDVIEW CHECK
- Where do you believe everything came from?
- Do you believe there is an absolute truth concerning morality? If so, how do we determine it?
- How do you find your identity?
- Do you think there is actual purpose and meaning in this world?
- What happens when we die?
3. IDENTIFY INCONSISTENCIES
- You say you don’t believe in absolute truth, but aren’t you also suggesting that statement itself is true?
- You say you DO believe in absolute truth and we determine it through science, but what about things we can’t prove with science like meaning, history, math, beauty, or morality? Do you not believe those truly exist?
- You say that we create meaning and identity for ourselves; we don’t need it to be objective. You also say you believe in reason. Isn’t pretending there is actual meaning a bit unreasonable?
- You say you don’t believe in a Creator because that’s not reasonable. But isn’t it just as unreasonable to say that everything came from nothing?
- You say we don’t need God to be good people and for societies to flourish, but who gets to decide what is good or bad?
4. PAIN POINTS
At this point, some questions to begin this conversation are:
- If all your questions about Christianity were resolved, would it still be difficult for you to believe in God?
- If God was real, do you think believing in God would make your life better or worse?
- If God was real and you could ask him one question, what would it be?
At this point in the conversation, we must move from apologetics to theology.
Our tone must change from being persuasive to pastoral. We must demonstrate Christ-like empathy and not disregard their real pain or anger. There have been times at this point in the conversation I simply had to weep with her as she asked how God could let those atrocities happen to her as a child. I dare not answer on God’s behalf nor dismiss her pain.
5. ENCOURAGE EXPLORATION
Finally, the last step is to explicitly invite and encourage the person to consider and explore the Christian faith. We must always present this invitation on their terms, or they will immediately be repelled. This might be an invitation to meet again for coffee the next week, or an invitation to read the bible together.
How this may look like will depend on how their pain points. Regardless, they must walk away convinced that we care for them, there is grace for them, they can be completely honest with us, and that there might just be more to life.
- Set the Stage
- Worldview Check
- Identity Inconsistencies
- Pain Points
- Encourage Exploration
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