How to Share Your Faith With Seekers and Skeptics
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2012 5 Apr
Editor's note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Alister McGrath's new book, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (Baker Books, 2012).
If thinking about the concept of apologetics (communicating the core themes of Christianity to people who don’t yet have relationships with Jesus) brings to mind worries about getting into defensive or even hostile conversations with people, stop right there. Sharing your faith with others through apologetics doesn’t ever have to be a negative experience.
In fact, apologetics can be an exciting and worthwhile endeavor whenever you approach it in the right way. Jesus calls everyone who follows Him to help communicate the Gospel message in compelling ways, so don’t shy away from your role as an apologist. Here’s how you can pursue apologetics in a positive way to help seekers and even skeptics find faith in Jesus:
Turn your worries into prayers. Yes, the task of communicating the Gospel to people whose souls are at stake is a weighty responsibility. But you don’t need to be worried about the task, because God has promised to empower you to do whatever He calls you to do. So whenever you catch yourself worrying about how inadequate you feel for the task, pray for the help and confidence you need, and God will provide it.
Understand the three parts of apologetics. Apologetics involves defending, commending, and translating your faith. Defending means finding out what barriers people have to coming to faith and answering their sincere questions in caring and thoughtful ways. Commending means communicating the Gospel message in ways that help people see its truth and appreciate its power to change their lives for the better. Translating means explaining Christianity’s concepts in terms that people who are unfamiliar with the faith can best understand.
Get to know your own faith well. Before you can effectively tell others about Christianity, you must know why you personally believe what you believe, and why it’s important to you to follow Jesus. Be prepared to give others reasons for your faith. Keep in mind that when others observe Jesus’ power at work transforming your soul and life, they’ll be drawn to Him themselves.
Get to know your audience well. Make time to learn about the people you’re hoping to reach. What’s important to them, and why? What hopes and dreams do they have? What struggles and concerns do they have?
Find points of contact in people’s lives that can help them relate to the Gospel message. Identify people’s current values and experiences that relate to what the Gospel has to say, and then use appropriate points of contact to bring up the subject of faith in conversations with them. Some of the possible points of contact include: the origins of the universe, how the universe appears to be designed for life, the orderly structure of the physical world, people’s built-in sense of morality and longing for justice, people’s deep sense of yearning for something transcendent (which can only be fulfilled by discovering God), the beauty of nature, people’s fundamental need to exist in relationship with others (and how Christianity is a relational faith), and people’s sense that they were made for much more than just brief lifetimes on Earth (a sense of eternity and the eternal hope that Christianity gives). Talking with people about any of these or other points of contact can help them discover how the Christian faith can help make them sense of their lives.
Present the whole Gospel. Don’t restrict the way you present Christianity to just the parts that you enjoy the most; be sure to faithfully communicate the entire Gospel message – even the parts that may be hard for others to hear (such as the effect of sin on their lives) – and trust that God will help them receive the message.
Show people that the Christian faith is reasonable. Study the evidence that supports Christianity so you can tell people about it when they ask. Explain how Christianity makes more sense of reality than its alternatives.
Use different gateways to communicate the Gospel message to people. Gateways are means by which people can come to understand the reality of their own spiritual situation and how Jesus can transform it. Different gateways include: explanations (simply telling people what the Gospel is about), arguments (giving people good reasons for believing in Jesus and trusting Him), stories (showing people the power of a relationship with Jesus at work changing lives), and images (visually communicating the Gospel’s truths and how it transforms people’s lives).
Deal well with people’s questions about faith. Welcome people’s honest questions about faith rather than viewing those questions as threats. Realize that when someone expresses questions about Christianity to you, it’s usually to signal interest and a willingness to listen. When people ask you questions about faith: be gracious, ask them to explain why each question is a particular concern for them (so you can find out any questions behind their questions), listen carefully, and avoid prepackaged answers while seeking to thoughtfully address each specific question. Observe how other people who regularly share their faith with others handle questions, and learn from their approaches. Ask people you trust to observe how you deal with questions from seekers and skeptics, and get their feedback afterward so you can make changes as needed.
Develop your own apologetic approach. As you incorporate apologetics into your everyday life and refine your efforts through practice, you can develop your own distinctive approach to it. Figure out how God has gifted you to best be able to share the Gospel message with others. Keep in mind that you can do so beyond the conversations in which you talk with others; you can also do so through writing, or even just through the example you set to others of how you live your life (your attitudes and actions).
Adapted from Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith, copyright 2012 by Alister McGrath. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com.
Alister E. McGrath (DPhil and DD, University of Oxford; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts) is professor of theology, ministry, and education, and head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King's College, London, and president for the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including the award-winning The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind. A former atheist, he is respectful yet critical of the new atheist movement and regularly engages in debate and dialogue with its leaders.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: email@example.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
Publication date: April 5, 2012