In this post I am going to teach you a process that will let you answer your friends’ questions. Seriously. You can do this.
Before we begin, though, we need to recognize a more general point. Whenever we decide to learn something new, there’s a three-step process:
- Decide that the new skill is worth learning.
- Overcome our initial fears of not being good at the new skill.
- Become competent at the new skill.
When it comes to apologetics, I have talked to hundreds of people who buy into #1. “Yes, apologetics is a skill worth learning. It would be amazing to be able to answer my friends’ questions. I would really like to be able to do that.”
But steps #2 and #3, the overcoming our initial fears and the becoming competent part, is very daunting. For instance,
- First, there are thousands of questions. It would take a lifetime to learn answers to all of them.
- Second, the questions are not just on one subject, but they cover topics like epistemology, textual criticism, historical methodology, and modal logic.
- Third, some of these topics are difficult to understand. I just put some very big words out there!
- Fourth, when you do apologetics badly, it seems to backfire. It is hard to know ‘just a little’ apologetics. Once you answer the first five questions, most people have ten more, and you may not yet be prepared to answer those questions.
- Fifth, if you’ve given the expectation that apologetics can lead people to God, but then you don’t have answers, the effort can become counter-productive. Your friend thinks, “ok, you’re saying that reason can lead me to God (that’s pretty important!) – so why don’t you have better reasons?”
So what do we do? One option is to reject apologetics altogether. “That’s a useless method!” “You just need to love people” “No one ever becomes a Christian because of arguments!”
These statements reflect a premature conclusion. Think about C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller: they are all famous for providing arguments and reasons for Christianity. If they could be cited as saying, “Arguments for God are useless. You don’t need to worry about those silly things, they never change anyone’s mind,” that would be rather persuasive.
But they don’t say this. In fact, Tim Keller recently wrote, “But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it…we do need to do apologetics and answer the why question.”
Coming from the pastor of a large church in New York City, and the author of a New York Times bestselling book on apologetics, Tim Keller has certainly earned the right to tell us if answering questions is an important part of evangelism!
Look at it this way: If we don’t currently have good answers to people’s questions, it makes good sense to be worried about answering their questions! Instead of rejecting apologetics, decide to study more so that you are actually prepared.
If this describes you, here are some simple, realistic steps so you can answer your friends’ questions:
Grow in Humility
Humility is “thinking no more and no less of yourself than is true.” In an ultimate sense, this means we affirm our identity, status, and value comes from being made in God’s image, adopted as His beloved children, and declared righteous by Christ’s sacrifice.
But in a secondary sense, it means we develop self-awareness to know the truth about our strengths and weaknesses. For instance: I am terrible at playing tennis. I am a mediocre cook. And I am pretty good at leading Bible studies.
Take stock: how good are you at answering sincere questions about Christianity? How prepared are you to resolve people’s doubts?
With a humble attitude, acknowledge your current skill level. Write down what you need to figure out.
Learn the Questions
Before you try to answer someone’s questions, you need to know what they are. But more importantly, they need to know that you care about their questions. Not the questions as they are written in a book. But their questions. Even if you can read minds, there’s only one way to do that: ask them to tell you their questions!
So try this over lunch one day with someone you know is not a Christian:
Hey, Bob, can I ask you a religious question?
No pressure, feel free to pass, but I’m just curious: what are the main questions you have about Christianity, or the main reasons you would say it is false?
Then listen. Listen closely and carefully. Ask follow-up questions. Just try to understand your friend.
When (or if) they ask for your thoughts, be genuine, but avoid launching into a lecture. This is not the time to see how much you can say without breathing.
You have two goals: 1. Know the real questions your friends have and 2. For you and your friend to have a positive, no shouting involved, low-stakes experience discussing religion.
You are not going to share the gospel. You are not going to invite them to church. For most people in most relationships, as a matter of practical wisdom, those are terrible ideas for your first religious conversation in a post-Christian culture.
Why? Because you don’t want to shut the door to any future discussion. You do not want to make your friend feel awkward.
Instead, your goal is simply to build trust and humbly learn about their current obstacles to faith. This process will give you the credibility to invite them to church and share the gospel at another time.
Learn the Answers
When you get back from lunch, take five minutes and write down their questions.
Then, when you get home, spend some time doing research. Use your apologetics library. Search the internet. Ask the Christian Apologetics Alliance for insight. Talk to friends from your church. Send your pastor an email asking for advice.
Be skeptical of what you find. Doubt your doubts and doubt your answers. Think critically. The process needs to have integrity.
The good news? Nearly all of the questions our friends are asking have terrific answers. Can the Bible be trusted? Yes, it can. Is it even possible to know truth? There are good thoughts on the subject. Over time, you’ll identify some excellent websites, authors, and communities where you can reliably find good answers to honest questions.
Discuss the Answers
When you see your friend again, if it feels appropriate, ask if they’d be interested in talking further. For instance:
Hey, Bob, you know that religious conversation we had last week?
I’ve been thinking about what you said and I was wondering if you’d be interested in talking about it more.
Ok, maybe some other time.
Sometimes this process doesn’t work. Sometimes your friend isn’t interested in your answers. That’s okay. Pray for them, love them, and be a real friend.
The upside? You are more prepared to handle those questions if your friend becomes open to the conversation in the future. And if one friend has these questions, chances are that many of your other friends do too. In my experience, 90% of the time, the information I learn helping one person out happens to be useful with at least a dozen others.
Repeat, with Growing Humility
Remember one of the first points in this post? “There are thousands of questions.” Unless you are a world-class expert in apologetics, you may never have all the answers to all the questions of your friends. But that’s okay.
As long as you don’t pretend that you know everything, the humble admission of “I don’t know about that, but I’ll look into it. Why don’t you explain the point further?” is going to build a lot of trust.
In other words, whenever you “run out of answers,” just switch back into information gathering mode, and learn more questions. Then you can reconnect with your community and other resources to learn more answers. And then you’ll be prepared to discuss the answers with your friend.
Did you get that? This process will build trust with your friends, safely handle the situations where you don’t have answers, and slowly build your ability to answer your friends’ questions! Isn’t that cool?
Here’s the other great feature of this method: you rarely spend time learning answers to questions that nobody cares about.
For instance, back in the 1930s, logical positivism was a big deal in philosophy, and seemed to be a serious challenge to Christianity. But now – how many people can even explain what logical positivism is? Sure, if you’re getting a master’s degree in apologetics, you need to think about this. But for most people, that is overkill.
The other benefit? You’ll have great conversations with real friends about the most important issues in life.
If you are afraid or worried that you won’t know all the answers, here’s the three step process to steadily grow:
- Learn the questions.
- Learn the answers.
- Discuss the answers.
Evangelism is certainly a bigger topic than apologetics. When you think about “evangelism,” that includes many other important topics: prayer, sharing the gospel, invitations to church, the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s providence, acts of service, and old fashioned love.
But with this method in hand, you don’t have to prematurely leave apologetics out of evangelism! Instead, giving good answers to good questions can be an integral part of the process. (After all, isn’t that how you would want to be treated if a friend tried to change your mind about something important?)
As you respect the minds that God gave your friends, and use the mind God gave you, I am confident that you will be honoring Christ. And, by God’s grace, your faithful witness will bring more people to know and follow Jesus.
Be encouraged. Keep going. Jesus is with you in this journey!