Have you been studying apologetics for a while? Perhaps you’ve read Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, watched some lectures by Ravi Zacharias, and dug into a few books by C.S. Lewis. Armed with this new and exciting knowledge, you’re fired up about Jesus, the evidence and reasons for God, and looking for someone who is willing to listen!
This is a recurring temptation. Just the other day I was at a friend’s birthday party after spending the whole week reading a few books on apologetics. I spoke about apologetics to no less than three separate groups of people! I was feeling passionate about all that I had been learning. Looking back on it, the birthday host is lucky I didn’t stand up on a table and give a mini-lecture about the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. (Or, depending on how you look at it, maybe that would have been a highlight of the party!)
The fact is, apologetics has a tendency to fire up your love for God. It generates tremendous evangelistic zeal. Knowing that you’re prepared for the conversation makes you eager to have the conversation!
If this describes you, I’d like to give you a rule of thumb that needs to become ingrained into your heart and head: start with your friend. If evangelistic zeal doesn’t describe you, what in the world are you waiting for? Start reading some apologetics until you’re so animated by all the terrific thinking that points to Jesus – and the meaningful, hopeful worldview of Christianity – and the love and joy of Christ – that you can barely contain yourself from talking about the Lord.
But… Start with Your Friend
What do I mean by ‘start with your friend’?
First, I mean that giving mini-lectures to everyone you meet is probably going to get you disinvited from future birthday parties (though really good friends might make an exception for you). So, if you want to be invited to parties where they serve delicious birthday cake, you need to think about more than your own enthusiasm for God and evangelism. You need to start with your friend.
Here are four tips, all hard-won from ten years of campus ministry, for what it means to start with your friend:
Pray for your friend
Evangelism isn’t about information transfer. “Here, read this book, it’ll make you a Christian.” Evangelism is about inviting your friend to encounter the holy and living God of the universe. This is a dramatic spiritual encounter, with life changing implications. Pray earnestly for Jesus to be revealed to your friends and family. Get on your knees and invite the Holy Spirit to fill your life with servant-hearted love for others. This can be a tiring, weary process. You might find yourself praying for the same hard-hearted friend for decades. Today, renew your flagging energy with time in the Word. Enjoy the presence of God. Worship the Lord. And talk directly to God about your desire for your friends to know Jesus.
Biblical evangelism begins by starting with your friend’s spiritual needs.
Enjoy your friend
True friendship is about a mutual enjoyment of one another’s company. About sharing interests in common. Maybe you both like to play golf. Sounds boring to me, but if that’s what defines a good time with your buddy, sign up for 18 holes this weekend on your favorite course. Go for a run together. Start a knitting circle. Root for the Boston Bruins as they win the Stanley Cup. Whatever you choose, just have fun together.
Your friend has a need for relationship, trust, and love. We all do. That’s how the Triune God of the universe made us – in His image. Biblical evangelism takes into account the structure of the relationship as much as the content of the conversation. So love your friend well, and have a great time together.
Listen to your friend
My guess is, most of your nonChristian friends are not waking up wondering, “You know, I wonder what the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is. I should pick up some books on ancient history today.”
Rather, most people are wondering how they’re going to get a good review at work, pay the mortgage, find a husband or wife (or just a date for the weekend), and deal with some unresolved conflict.
If you jump into their world with a discussion of the finer points of the teleological argument for God’s existence, it can sound like you don’t care about them. Put yourself in their shoes:
“Man, this is a rotten day. My boss chewed me about because I messed up the stupid TPS reports, my wife is sick, and we aren’t saving anything for retirement.”
“Hey man, how’s it going? So, I was just reading a really great book, and I’d like to talk with you about how we know the universe had a beginning, which proves that God created it.”
Sure, I’m exaggerating, but think about it. Ask some questions. Listen well. Show your friend you care about what they care about.
Understand your friend
When you get to understand your friend, you’ll see how similar we all are. We’re all trying to figure out where we came from, who we are, what the meaning of our lives is, and where we’re headed. How do we make sense of these big questions? Atheism, as I’ve argued a number of times, actually provides dehumanizing answers that fail to fit with our daily experience. But Christianity integrates and explains both the despair and the hope of the human race – and the human heart.
Your friend’s desire for fame? The omniscient, all-important God knows her name – and wants to build a relationship of eternal significance.
Their search for success? There’s nothing more significant than contributing to a cause that will last forever – building God’s kingdom in every sphere of life and work, whether you build homes or build churches.
The hunger for love? Who has loved us more than Christ, who died to save our lives?
When you understand the core motivations of your friend’s life, then you can connect their fundamental yearnings with your deepest longings – and show how all of these irreducibly human desires point us to Jesus.
I can tell you from experience, that’s what makes for a great conversation. There’s no debate about it – its just sharing our lives and our hearts together, in a friendship full of acceptance, love, and trust.
Then, as people question whether or not this is just wish fulfillment, the objective evidence for the resurrection, or the appeal to the teleological argument, make sense not only to you – but to your friend. When you both care about the question, then you’ll both care about finding an answer.
Are you excited about sharing the gospel with your friends? Filled with enthusiasm to declare the truth of Christ? I hope so! If not, reading some apologetics books can give you the equipping and the preparation you need to get there.
If you are enthused about God’s mission, don’t just have a little enthusiasm about it. A little bit of enthusiasm leads to awkward conversations at parties as you spout out information no one cares about.
Instead, have a lot of enthusiasm. Have so much enthusiasm for the gospel that you’re on your knees in prayer, building genuine, well-rounded friendships, asking great questions and listening well, so that you can have a profound and intimate understanding of where your friend is already aching and yearning for God.
May you find great joy, and bear great fruit, as you trust in our great God for the work of evangelism. Just remember: start with your friend.