Which Kind of Evangelist Are You?
In evangelism, before there can be a harvest, there has to be a season of gardening. If we go to the field looking for a harvest, we may be frustrated because the fruit may not be ripe yet. In other words, before someone comes to Christ, there is first a season of considering Christ. I’m not a harvester. I’m a gardener. Someone comes into my garden after me and harvests my fruit. Do you think that bothers me? No, I’m glad. Jesus confirms this point in John 4. He says to the disciples, “You are about to reap where you did not sow.” He’s identifying one field, two seasons—reaping and sowing—and two kinds of workers—harvesters and gardeners. I think the gardening job is harder than harvesting because when the fruit is ripe, it falls into the basket. Jesus is telling the disciples they’re about to get the ripe, low-hanging fruit after someone else did the heavy lifting. Then He says, “So that the one who reaps and the one who sows can rejoice together.” I want to put a stone in someone’s shoe. That’s my approach. I want to create a doubt in their mind about their own view so they move a little closer to Christ. If more Christians thought of themselves as gardeners and left the harvest up to God’s sovereignty, more Christians would be willing to get into play. The book Tactics is a game plan that will allow you to do that effectively. Tactics help you to garden, and gardening is the biggest thing that’s needed right now.
Want to Share the Gospel? Start with This Question
Having a tactical game plan in place allows you to engage somebody in a productive way for Christ without taking a lot of risk on yourself. Don’t worry about the harvest, but think more about the gardening. If we garden effectively, the harvest will take care of itself. Trying to win someone to Christ is daunting for a lot of people, so they sit on the bench instead. I want to suggest how you can get in the game. First, gather information. What does that do? It gives me a lay of the land. I might find out if they are a Christian, if they used to be a Christian, whether they’ve thought about Christianity, or whether they’re hostile to Christianity. These are all things that are really valuable to know before you move forward. You don’t need to hurry. Do not worry about winning them to Christ. Just think about gathering information. I have a model question that will help you: “What do you mean by that?” You can use it different ways, under different circumstances, with different people. This is especially helpful when people are raising objections or challenges against Christianity. Examples: A: Friend: “Everything is relative.” You: “What do you mean by relative?” B: Friend: “I believe in evolution.” You: “What do you mean by evolution?” C: Friend: “I believe the Bible is filled with errors.” You: “Why do you believe the Bible is filled with errors?” It is always in your favor to ask more questions. You don’t have to answer the objection at this point. Just get more information. The more information you get, the better. The more you understand that person, the better you’ll be able to decide which direction to go or whether to go in any direction at all. This first question, “What do you mean by that?”—meant to help you gather information—is going to get you started, and that’s all we want to worry about at this point in the tactical game plan.
The Burden-Free Step in Discussing Christian Beliefs
When we think about the tactical game plan, or how we thoughtfully engage someone while staying relaxed and keeping our risk level low, I have in mind a multi-step process. The first step is to gather information. We can use the question “What do you mean by that?” The second step I call “reversing the burden of proof.” The burden of proof is the responsibility someone in the conversation has to give reasons or evidence for a view. Here is the burden of proof rule: The one who makes the claim bears the burden. If somebody says, “The Bible has been changed,” or, “God doesn’t exist,” or “Jesus didn’t exist,” or, “There are no miracles,” it’s not your job as a follower of Christ to show where the other person is wrong. It is that person’s job to show why he or she is right. After we ask some questions to get more clarification, we will have a clear picture of what they believe. We want to know why they believe their view. This is where some form of the question “How did you come to that conclusion?” comes in. “What are your reasons for saying that?” “How do you know that’s the way it really happened?” “Do you have any evidence for that view? I’m interested in finding out.” In the second step, we’re gathering a different kind of information than the first step. First, we get clarity on their point of view. Now we want clarity on why they believe what they believe. Just like the first step, there’s no pressure on you. It’s relaxed. You’re being a student. You’re just listening to what the other person has to say. The other person has to clarify their view and their reasons for it. Don’t be surprised when you get silence in response to your questions because most people have not thought through their views. You have no obligation to go any further into theology, apologetics, or philosophy. All you’re doing in the first two stages of the game plan is gathering information, getting an education, and deciding whether you’re in a position for the next step. No stress on you.
The Unexpected Way to Effectively Make Your Point
The tactical game plan helps you have conversations with people who don’t share your convictions by maneuvering carefully and productively in a relaxed, friendly way that provides safety for you. The first step is to gather information by asking some form of the question “What do you mean by that?” The second question reverses the burden of proof. Once you learn what a person’s view is, you want to know why they believe it. They made the claim, they bear the burden. Ask them, “How did you come to that conclusion?” If you want to go further, the third step of the game plan is to make a point using questions. You never want to abandon using questions during the tactical game plan because they give you latitude, liberty, and effectiveness without requiring you to take any responsibility on yourself. You want to enlist the other person as an ally. Assemble your pieces by having that person help you put them on the table. If they put the pieces there, it’s going to be difficult for them to take the pieces off. Here’s an example: Somebody once said, “Prove to me that God exists.” I said, “First of all, do you think that things exist?” He said, “Yeah, of course.” He’s just put a piece on the table—things exist. Second question: “Have things that exist always existed?” In other words, is the universe eternal? He said, “No, I don’t think the universe is eternal. It came into existence.” Then I asked the third question: “What caused everything to come into existence?” There are only two options: Either something or no-thing. I made an argument for the existence of God based on the cosmological argument. The universe came into existence. What caused it? It’s a very usable argument. Notice how I got there. Instead of just throwing it out there, I am setting it up by asking questions so the other person gives me the pieces I need. Before I make my point, I ask questions to get the pieces on the table. You may also want to exploit a weakness or a flaw. Use questions to do that. A young man once told me that I was judgmental. I asked the question “What do you mean by that?” He said, “It’s wrong to judge. It’s wrong to find fault with somebody else.” Now he’s made another statement. I got a piece on the table and asked him, “If it’s wrong to judge, then why are you judging me right now?” I could have said, “Well, you’re judging me!” That’s a claim. That’s an accusation. That’s a fight. But if he says, “It’s wrong to judge,” then I hold him responsible for his own ethical view. A little later he said, “I think it’s wrong to push your views on other people.” Then I asked him a clarification question: “Is that your view?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Then why are you pushing it on me right now?” Another question that keeps me safe. I’m not making a claim. I’m not advancing my argument, I’m using questions to point out a weakness or a flaw in that person’s view. There are dozens of ways to do this that you’ll find out through practice. Start with your game plan and ask questions about the person’s point of view: “What do you mean by that?” Then ask questions regarding the reasons that they have for their view: “How did you come to that conclusion?” If you decide you want to go further, use questions to make a point. That is the most powerful and effective way of moving forward. There’s no risk to you at this point. You are asking questions almost the whole time. You’re engaging in a friendly way. It is a wonderful way to powerfully make your point as a follower of Christ.
Where Do Moral Laws Come From?
Arguments that Christians have offered in favor of God based on the existence of morality have been misunderstood by atheists and also by some Christians. Here's the way the moral argument goes: If there is no God, there is no objective morality. But there is objective morality evidenced by the problem of evil. Therefore, there must be a God. I’ll specifically address the confusion because atheists are quick to object, “You're saying I can't be moral if I don't believe in God," and that is not our point. Our point is, if there is no God, morality has no meaning. The quickest way I can get to that point is to offer a challenge by the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the New Atheists. He said, "Tell me one good thing that you can do as a theist that I can't do as an atheist." That's a fair charge, but notice how it focuses on behavior. Can he do the same behaviors that we do? The answer is yes, he can. That's not the issue. The issue is whether the behaviors are good or not without God. Let me offer another illustration. I'll use Christopher Hitchens. What if Christopher Hitchens said, "I don't believe in writers." And I said, "Well if you don't believe in writers, then how can you read?" And he said, "I can read anything just as good as you can read, maybe even better." The point isn't who can do the behavior more effectively. The point is whether there's anything to read without writers. This is called the grounding problem. What makes morality possible? What does it sit on, so-to-speak? Reading depends on writing. Writing depends on writers. That's the grounding problem with reading. Morality—being good—depends on there being moral laws. Moral laws require a moral Law-Maker. If there is a moral Law-Maker, then there are moral laws, and both the Christian and the atheist can do good things regardless of their beliefs because there are good things to do. But if there is no God, then there are no morals, and there are no good things. You can still do the same behaviors, but neither the atheist nor the theist can define them as good.
How to Get out of the Hot Seat While Remaining Engaged
Here’s another variation in the tactical game plan. You can use the first two questions, "What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?" to stay out of the “hot seat.” The hot seat is when you're in persuasion mode rather than questioning mode, and the other person is responding with challenges that you don't know how to deal with. One of the goals of the tactical game plan is to keep you in the driver's seat. Even though you're not doing most of the talking, you are still guiding the conversation using questions. When you're in the hot seat, however, the other person is in the driver’s seat. We can change that very quickly. I want you to think about switching immediately from persuasion mode to student mode. You're going to stop trying to persuade the person. They have challenges you can't deal with. Instead, you are going to turn it around by being a student of their view. Here's how it will sound: "Wow, you have a lot of objections I don't know how to deal with." "You know a lot more about this topic than I do. Can you slow down a little bit? Let me take some notes." “Tell me clearly what your view is and your specific reasons that you hold that view.” Notice, those are the first two questions of the game plan: What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? You’re just applying them in a different way. When you ask these questions, who is now in the driver's seat of the conversation? You are. You are now directing where you want it to go. After they explain their view, you say, "Now let me think about it." Those are the magic words. Do you have any further obligation to answer the challenges? No, you've already admitted that you can't answer. You want to get an education so that you can consider it. This gives you a tremendous amount of freedom and latitude when you're in the hot seat. What do you do next? You do what you say you're going to do. You think about it at your leisure when the pressure is off. This is where you can get ready to respond to the issue next time. That is a simple way, using your tactical game plan, to get out of the hot seat.
How to. Avoid the Professor's Ploy
In the book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, there are three basic steps that are thoroughly outlined. Step 1 is to gather information by asking the question, "What do you mean by that?" Step 2 is to reverse the burden of proof by asking the question, "How did you come to that conclusion?" Step 3 is to make your own point using questions. There’s a liability to the burden of proof—a trick where someone is trying to reverse the burden of proof on you. I call it the Professor's Ploy because professors like to do this. You might go to class and have a professor that is bent on destroying your convictions, and so they go after Christianity as often as they can. Some Christians want to challenge the professor who's saying the Bible is just a bunch of fables or something like that. Going after the professor is right-hearted but wrong-headed. It violates a basic rule of engagement: Never make a frontal assault on a superior force in an entrenched position. The man with the microphone is going to win. However, I'm not saying to break off the engagement. You can still be effective if you use your tactics. What would that look like? If the professor is saying the Bible is a bunch of fables, what question could you raise your hand and ask? How about, "What do you mean by that?" That’s an appropriate question for a student to ask, and you’re not being confrontational. You're just getting information. He's going to explain in more detail what he means by "the Bible's full of fables." After he’s done explaining, what other question comes to mind in light of the tactical game plan? "How did you come to that conclusion?" Again, it's the kind of question that a student should be asking. However, the professor may figure out what's going on and say, “You must be one of those Christians who believes the Bible's the Word of God. Why don't you stand up and explain to the rest of the class why you think the Bible is not a bunch of fables?" What did the professor just do? He reversed the burden of proof. Why is that an illicit move? Because the student, the Christian, has not made a claim. He has only asked questions. Therefore, the student, the Christian, bears no burden of proof. The professor is pushing it on him anyways saying, "You disprove me." That's the Professor's Ploy, and here's my advice. Don't take the bait. In other words, don't take the burden of responsibility on yourself to disprove the other person's point of view. If you haven't made any claims, and at this stage in the game plan you haven't, then you bear no burden of proof. What can you say to the professor? You say, "Professor, you don't know my view because I never said it. I'm just trying to figure out what you believe and your reasons for it." You don't want to take the bait when somebody tries to push the burden of proof on you when you have not made any claims. That is the Professor's Ploy. Do not fall for it.
What We Can Learn from Mr. Rogers' Understanding of Salvation
I heard something about a very good man named Mr. Rogers. You might have grown up with him on TV. He died about 15 years ago. I watched a documentary on his life, and I was very impressed with him as an individual. Although he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, I don’t know a lot about his deep theological convictions. It was clear, though, that his theology dictated his behaviors towards people, making them feel accepted, loved, and cared for in ways that he never experienced as a kid. He was magnificent in that regard. However, I was troubled by a conversation he had with his wife at the end of his life regarding Matthew 25, the separation of the sheep from the goats. He asked his wife, “Do you think that I’m one of the sheep?” His wife responded, “Honey, if anyone was a sheep, you are.” I want you to think about that for a moment from the perspective of the grace of God in Christian theology. At the end of my life, I am not going to recount all the good things that I did in order to make myself feel comfortable as I face death. I’m not going to reflect on whether I have done enough good things to qualify for the Kingdom of God. I know that I haven’t. Think about it for a moment. The two greatest commandments that Jesus gave are to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. If that’s the summary of the law, there is hardly a moment in my life when I have fulfilled either of those. If that’s the way I am going to be judged, then I’m a goner, and so is everyone else. Our good deeds are like filthy rags. It’s our iniquities that get us. On my tombstone I want it to say, from Psalm 130, “If you, Lord, should mark iniquity, oh Lord, who could stand?” Not me. Not Mr. Rogers, as good and noble as he was. If God were to mark our iniquities, no one would stand. The psalmist goes on to say, “But with You there is forgiveness that You may be praised.” That’s the hope. The hope isn’t whether I have done enough good things in my life. I haven’t, and I know that. You know that. Mr. Rogers knew that. That’s why he asked the question. The only hope is in the grace of God. I wish his wife had told him, “Fred, you have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son in whom you have redemption, forgiveness of sins.” That’s what I’m banking on in my last day.