Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of John Stott’s republished work Christ in Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies (IVP Books, 2013).

Although Jesus is often portrayed today as someone who made peace at any cost, he was actually quite controversial during his time on Earth. Jesus didn’t hesitate to disagree with people on issues or engage in vigorous debate with them.

Evangelical Christians today sometimes shy away from Jesus’ call to follow his example of asserting the truth about faith – especially when talking about controversial issues. But if you boldly do so, you’ll inspire others to discover more about God and seek closer relationships with him.

Here’s how you can assert your faith in controversial conversations:

Understand the forces you need to overcome to inspire people to talk about spiritual truth. Certain cultural forces undermine the importance of discussing the nature of truth in faith: dislike of dogmatism, hatred of controversy, love of tolerance, anxiety about the church’s decreasing popularity, and the spirit of ecumenism. Pray for the ability to engage people in conversations successfully despite these forces.

Recognize what the call to express “evangelical” Christianity entails. Keep in mind that evangelical Christianity is: theological in its character, biblical in its substance, original in its history, and fundamental in its emphasis. 

Discuss whether the Christian religion is natural or supernatural. Christianity is not natural, but supernatural, because it’s a life lived by the power of God. Yet in our culture today, people often get confused because religion is frequently presented stripped of its miracles, as if it was just a system of merely human effort. Talk with people about how God, the Creator, is always at work within the natural order he set up for the universe, but that He occasionally works in beyond it in supernatural ways to accomplish specific purposes related to salvation, revelation, and judgment. Discuss how Christianity is much more than just a natural list of religious rules and rituals; it’s actually a journey in which people rely on God’s supernatural power to gain new life that transforms who they are and how they live.

Discuss which has more authority: tradition or Scripture. Authority is found not in tradition but in Scripture, because tradition is human while the Bible is divinely inspired Scripture. People today often debate by what authority Christians believe what we believe and by what authority churches teach what they teach. They wonder whether there is a final, objective standard by which Christians’ beliefs and teaching may be assessed and judged. So we need to clearly submit church traditions (which differ between Christian denominations) to the higher authority of the Bible (which presents the core truths of the faith).

Discuss whether the Bible is an end in itself or a means to something else. Scripture is not an end in itself, but a means to an end (pointing us to Jesus Christ so that we may find eternal life in him). When discussing Scripture with religious leaders during his time on Earth, Jesus asserted that Scripture was designed by God to point people to him, so they could then believe in him and go to him for the eternal life they need. So think of the Bible as a love letter that testifies about Jesus, just as a husband or wife’s love letter speaks to a spouse who reads it about his or her beloved. The love letter itself isn’t the object of devotion; instead, it’s the person to whom it points. Discuss with people how there is a two-way testimony between Jesus (the living Word) and the Bible (the written Word), with each bearing witness to each other: Because Jesus bears witness to the Bible, we believe it. Because the Bible bears witness to Jesus, we go to him to find true life.