Their apologetics don’t evangelize you. Why should yours work on them?
About two months ago on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was accosted by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night.
Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish; he stopped me as I was walking past his synagogue.
He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time, and expect I’ll meet a few more this spring. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.
I know: Certain Christians are gonna be outraged that I dared let work get in the way of an “opportunity” such as this. With all due respect, there was no opportunity: In the two minutes we spoke—in which I told him I’m Christian, and he started going off on how we Christians typically (and often inappropriately) set aside the Law—it was made quite clear he wasn’t open to any correction from the likes of me. To his mind he’s right; we Christians are wrong; that’s that.
I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. I learned the hard way it’s a big mistake to go to fellow Christians for information about other religions. Nearly all of us are so biased. Which is fine; nothing wrong with preferring your religion to all others. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all its competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. Consequently you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.
So if I wanna understand Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and heretic Christians, I find there’s simply no substitute for going to people of those religions and hearing it from them directly. Yes, they confuse my curiosity for wanting to convert, which is why I gotta tell them upfront I’m not converting; I just want facts. Usually they’re fine with that… but I can hardly blame ’em for trying to nudge me in their religion’s direction just the same. I would.
First time I tried this was with a Muslim in Sacramento, decades ago. I listened to his testimony… and could totally relate. He grew up in church (same as me) and was put off by the fact his church was full of hypocrites (same as me). They praised Jesus in church, said Amen to everything Pastor shouted at ’em, but it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon before they relapsed to the same pagan lifestyle as their neighbors. Whereas the Muslims he knew, whose mosque he eventually joined, were no hypocrites: They were Muslim all week long. Hey, I couldn’t argue with that whatsoever. (But I’ve met plenty of Muslim hypocrites since.)
I spoke with that Muslim for hours. But I should point out: At no point in our conversation was I remotely tempted to quit Christianity and give Islam a try. Never crossed my mind.
I already have a team. Had experiences with our Lord. Picked a side. I’m immune to any persuasion to change allegiances. Yeah, our churches are full of hypocrites, but I don’t stay because of them. I’m Christian ’cause Jesus.
If that’s not true for you too… well it’s no wonder certain Christians fear for my salvation whenever I talk about talking with Mormons and Muslims. They’re convinced I’m tempting fate, to use the pagan saying, whenever I interact with non-Christians; that my mind is too open; that these folks might drop an apologetic argument upon me which I simply have no defense for, and I’ll doubt Jesus and wind up apostate.
Meh; they’re just projecting their own spiritual immaturity upon me. They have doubts. I dealt with those doubts decades ago. As we’re meant to, but a lot of Christians are pushing those doubts aside instead of confronting them, and suffer from unsteady faith as a result. So of course they aren’t ready to interact with people of other religions; they still have some growing up to do. Learn to trust that armor of God
True, there are plenty of immature Christians who are conversion-proof. Not because they have a solid relationship with Jesus: It’s because they’re awful to non-Christians. There’s a video currently making the rounds of the internet, in which some Christian tells off two Mormons who are trying to share their view of Jesus with him. His arrogant, mocking, graceless attitude towards them is typical of way too many Christians who lack humility, who take the “We’re right, you’re wrong” attitude instead of the proper “We’re wrong, Jesus is right” view. Faith isn’t their shield.
Still, whether we’re coming at non-Christians from a firm foundation or a dickish one, either way we’re not switching teams. We know what we know, believe what we believe, and aren’t quitting. (Well… barring some serious faith-shattering disappointment with God. Let’s be honest.)
Now here’s the thing: We Christians regularly recognize we’re never gonna switch sides. Yet when it comes to people of other religions, we never seem to remember they feel the very same way.
Yep. When those young Mormon elders come to your door to share what the Latter-day Saints believe about Jesus, do you imagine there’s a chance you can talk ’em into adopting what you believe about Jesus? If so, you got another think coming. These elders have been steeling their will against anyone or anything who wishes to change it. They expect people to try. (’Cause Christians do try!) They’re prepared. And if the Holy Spirit empowers us to actually slip a doubt into ’em somewhere, they’re ready and willing to turn off that part of their brains, for fear of missing out on Mormon heaven.
Yet whenever Christian apologists encounter resistant pagans, nontheists, and people of other religions, we foolishly imagine there’s a chance.
Well of course there’s a chance. The Holy Spirit can crack the toughest walnut. But often he won’t. Like us, they picked a side—it’s not ours, and they’re not even remotely tempted in our direction. They’re convinced their religion works for them. They’re not switching. And they definitely won’t switch when we decide to be pushy, condescending, mocking, argumentative, or otherwise rude about it. The Muslim and Mormon evangelists I’ve met knew better than to take this route. Wish some of us Christians did.
It’s why other religions’ apologetics don’t work on us.
In the past when I’ve written on Christian apologetics, I made the mistake of calling it “apologetics” without the “Christian” adjective before it. As if we’re the only apologists.
Obviously other religions and sects have apologists too: They aren’t satisfied with believing as they do without some logic and history behind it all. So their thinkers have constructed arguments as to why their beliefs are reasonable, historical, practical, and logical. That’s why we oughta give them a try.
And sometimes their arguments work! ’Cause not every human on the planet has a religion. Plenty of pagans are receptive to anything, whether it be the gospel of Christ Jesus… or the fourfold path of the Buddha, the five pillars of Islam, or the e-meters of Scientology. They’re aware their way of life isn’t really working for them, so they’re willing to try something new and better. Or they’re on the fence, and any good argument will push ’em over.
But Christians have picked a side. So nothing they say will faze us. We determine nothing they say will faze us: We figure they gotta be wrong somehow. Even when they say something really reasonable, accurate, solid: Doesn’t matter; we picked a side. We’ll just retreat to our corner and figure out a proper counter-punch for later. But concede? Convert? Never.
So why can’t we recognize when others adopt this mindset towards us? Why do we plow forward, even though the other person has clearly indicated they’re never gonna let us win?
Well, it’s arrogance. Pride. Works of the flesh. We’re so fixated on winning, on defeating them, we stop thinking. We lose sight of their motives, wishes, and sensibilities. We don’t care that argumentativeness and divisiveness runs counter to the Holy Spirit; we want our way.
This is why Christian apologetics, when used to try to convert people, sucks for spreading the good news.
Evangelism isn’t what apologetics is for anyway! It’s to encourage Christians by showing us our religion has history and solid reasoning behind it; that it’s not just wishful thinking. It’s to uplift the faithful… not beat down the faithless.
So it won’t convince the unconvinced. No more than other religions’ apologetics work on us. You know how certain Christians like to claim Jesus fulfilled a bunch of bible prophecies, and how vast the odds are of him successfully doing so? Well, Muslim apologists are fond of statistics too! They claim the Quran is a mathematically perfect book, and the odds of it not being so perfect is 1:6.26×1026. This number might impress their pants off, but it means nothing to a Christian, because we’re gonna doubt anything they tell us. So… how do you imagine our stats are doing on them? Or did you turn to Jesus because of math?
Well I don’t know about you, but I turned to Jesus because Christians introduced me to him. Not because we have the best archaeology and linguistic study, or logical arguments, or an impressive bible. That stuff impresses Christians, but few else. Because the cornerstone of our faith is Jesus. And had better be Jesus; not logical arguments. Anything but Jesus will crumble. Even math.
So if you wanna win people to Jesus, you can’t just provide them really good reasons for believing in an invisible man in the sky. We gotta show ’em Jesus. We gotta produce good fruit. The intellectual arguments must supplement our relationship with him; never take its place. (That’s the fast track to dead religion, by the by.) We believe in a living God, and if people see he’s alive, that convinces ’em far better than anything we can argue. Share Jesus by showing God. Accept no substitutes.