Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Eight tips for talking to non-Christians about Christianity

From Stand to Reason – some excellent tactical advice from a master apologist.

Here’s the setup:

I overheard a conversation on the airplane coming back from my vacation in Wisconsin.  A Christian gentleman was vigorously sharing his faith with a gentleman in the seat directly behind me.  There are some things we can learn, both good and bad, from what I overheard and take his effort—which was a good one—and channel it in a little bit more constructive direction.

So I am going to give you eight points of application.

And here are my favorites from his list:

3.  Try to stay away from religious language, terminology, and religious affect. This person was very religious in his whole approach.  I think this is hard for us as Christians because we are brought up in a Christian environment and it’s natural for us to talk this way, but it sounds weird to people outside of that environment.  I think there are a lot of people who may be, in principle, interested in a bona fide, genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ but who are not interested in the Christian religion as they perceive it.  This is where I think a lot of the emergent guys have a legitimate bone to pick with Evangelicalism.  Let’s try not to sound like Bible-thumping fundamentalists if we can avoid it, even if that’s what we are, because there’s no need to sound that way if it puts people off.  Find another way to communicate the message.  Just talk in a straightforward manner.  Be conscious of using religious language the other person may not understand or may think is strange.  Avoid all of that so they can hear the message you’re trying to communicate.

4.  Focus on the truth, not personal benefits of Christianity. I appreciated the gentleman’s approach in that he kept talking about truth.  One person he was talking to said he liked reincarnation.  The Christian man said that even if he liked reincarnation that that didn’t make it true if it’s not true.  Liking something is not going to change reality.  That’s a great point.  He was focusing on the truth claims of Jesus.  He wasn’t giving a bunch of promises.  He wasn’t saying, “Jesus is my ice cream.  He’s a great flavor.  Try him to see if you like him, too.”  Or, “Try Jesus because he’ll make your life so wonderful.”  Focus on truth and not personal benefits.

5.  Give evidence. This gentleman was giving all kinds of evidence for his seatmates to consider.  Good for him!  You should too.  You know why?  Because people in the Bible did, too.  Jesus, Paul, Peter, all the Apostles.  If you look at the details of how they communicated their faith they gave evidence for the truth of what they were saying about Jesus.  In fact, if you want to get the content of the Gospel, one of the most famous passages for the articulation of the Gospel is the beginning of 1 Corinthian 15.  Paul gives all kinds of evidence.  It’s all right there as he is explaining the Gospel.  We see that all through the New Testament.  So give evidences.  It’s appropriate.  People do respond to that even in a postmodern age.

I remember that I was once working in Chicago, and after a particular good apologetics discussion with a team of engineers, I apologized to them all for being so exclusive and a fundamentalist. These guys all had MS and PhD degrees in computer science from top schools like Stanford, Purdue, U of I, NIU and Northwestern. They said “you’re not a fundamentalist”. And I said, “but I am ultra-conservative in my theology!”. And they said “That’s ok – as long as you have considered different points of view and you have objective evidence, then somehow it doesn’t sound fundamentalist”.

I think that’s something that we need to work on. When Christianity is about truth, it’s open to investigation using public evidence. At work, I have explained the structure of DNA molecules in the office and had people rolling their chairs out of their cubicles to come and see me draw amino acid chains on a white board, and calculate the probabilities with a calculator. You can be a fundamentalist, without sounding like a fundamentalist. You just have to focus on public, testable evidence.

Look here:

Make religion about truth – not personal preferences. They respect that way of talking – as long as you bring the science and the history.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Christians can learn about morality from “Breaking Bad”

I found this post about the TV series “Breaking Bad” through J.W. Wartick’s “Really Recommended Posts“.

The author of the post argues that most of what you see in the arts and entertainment field tries to give us the idea that there is a dichotomy between small choices and big choices. But Breaking Bad rejects this by trying to show how small choices add up to your character.

Take a look:

I think Breaking Bad is a great show because it rejects this line of thinking [small vs big choices], because its running time is a five-season rebuttal to the idea that there are choices that matter and choices that don’t. Walt’s pride at a dinner table is ultimately as important to the villain he becomes as his murder, his lying as corruptive as his violence. In Gilligan’s eyes, there’s no differentiating between Walt’s pride and his rage and his enviousness and his determination to succeed at all costs, to be the Kingpin, the only one. Telling the story of how Walt chose to become the villain takes every minute of all 67 episodes aired so far.

You do not accidentally end up a drug kingpin, says the show. And the story is a five season long a fortiori argument whose conclusion is that you, viewer, also have a choice, in what to watch, or say, in how to treat people, in who to be. To echo James K.A. Smith, there are very few, if any, “morally neutral” practices. We get shaped by the things we do, or don’t do, even unintentionally, even if you’re not paying attention.

Breaking Bad echoes that not only in content, but in form. In the critical importance of little decisions (Walt’s wined-up boasting in front of Hank; his lying to his wife, Skyler; Marie’s shoplifting; Hank’s pride and arrogance affecting his job) that all compound in the direction of calamity.

“I just feel like I never had a choice in any of this,” Walt argues early on in season one, after he’s declined cancer treatment. “I want a say, for once.” When you first watch the scene, not knowing the kind of person Walt is going to choose to be, it’s a poignant moment. Walt wants to spend his last months with his wife on his own terms, rather than as a powerless and weak and hollowed out shell of who he used to be.

But as flashbacks inform the choices Walt made in the past, and as time and time again Walt refuses to stop cooking meth, to stop feeding his own pride, the scene is recontextualized as an ironic echo—as just another excuse for Walt’s behavior. The paradox central to Walt’s nature is that if you deny him a choice, he becomes furious. Because of this, most every conflict in the show stems from the interplay of Walt’s staggering intelligence and his equally impressive capacity for stupid, pride-motivated decisions.

But if you empower Walt, when he comes into real responsibility, he shirks it, he self-sabotages; he pretends he doesn’t have a choice, or never did have a choice. He becomes paranoid, and self-aggrandizing, and manipulative, until he’s relaxed from the tension of having responsibility—and as soon as that happens, he’s out looking for it again.

When all Walt has are choices, he demands a CHOICE; and as soon as it is presented to him, as soon as the danger of responsibility is there and real and able to hurt him, he denies it, labels it meaningless, and continues to victimize himself.

Walter is us. And that is a dangerous message, and it hurts. It hurts to be awakened to choices you didn’t know you were failing to make, or making poorly. It is always, always easier to deny choice than to accept it, to want to brush things off until it’s really important, until it’s a choice, and then perform well, and go back to the status quo of being a-volitional. We want to be fully ourselves already, and for our actions to be extrinsic, non-reflective. To keep separate who we are, our identities, and what we do in our everyday life.

But that’s not what it means to have character. And it’s not what it means to be a human being, created to shift and change dynamically. The tragedy of Walter White makes for a great narrative, and for really compelling TV. But the lesson of Breaking Bad is invaluable, especially in a culture like ours, that’s so allergic to prescriptive statements, to generalizations that aren’t platitudes, to Truth Claims about the nature of humanity. Breaking Bad doesn’t just make those claims—it does it with gusto. It confronts you with the ugliness of humanity like a Flannery O’Connor story, begging you to look and to look away, to see the outer extreme of an idea so that you’ll kick back and respond and fight with it, because engaging is just as much of a choice as anything else.

That reminds me of this well-known saying:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action; reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character reap a destiny

Something to think about when we are making the decisions about “how far is too far?”. The best way to avoid becoming a bad person is by not trying to walk on a dramatic line, but by making a million decisions every day to consciously get away from evil.

I find that in the church there is this strange and ridiculous idea everywhere that you can just do whatever you want and that God will give you the strength to be courageous and effective in these dramatic moments when you are tested – perhaps by being asked to deny Jesus or die. That will probably never happen for most of us. We overestimate how much an “act of God” can really do compared to the long, slow hum-drum day-to-day work towards a goal. A person has to die a million little deaths in order to achieve big things, like marry well and raise Christian kids, or keep a job to support a home, to get an MS or a PhD, etc. It’s the million little sacrifices that lead to making a big impact in the end.

Think abut it another way. How do the Armed Forces train soldiers in order to fight as a team and be brave? Do they just say “go about your lives, and when the time comes God will tell you what to do”? Hell, no. They drill and train and prepare for war because they know that this is what works. They have obstacle courses with live-fire machine guns and explosions to get soldiers used to making decisions under fire. They have classroom instruction and reading lists to share knowledge that will be useful in battle. All of this is to get the soldiers into the habit of making tiny brave decisions under controlled conditions. God doesn’t throw ordinary Christians out in a university auditorium and say “now perform like Bill Craig”. Bill Craig is Bill Craig because he chose to pass over fun things a million times and to instead focus on hard things like advanced degrees, reading advanced books and practicing debate. He isn’t debating in front of thousands of people because he made one “big” choice, but because he has a million little choices.

This lie about service being something that God has to lead you to is one of the biggest lies in the church today. That you don’t have to build the kind of life that honors God one self-sacrificial decision at a time. That you don’t have to have a long-term plan to be effective, but instead just do what you “feel led” to do moment by moment. That you can have as much impact as a Jim Demint or a William Lane Craig or a Ryan Anderson without having to train and prepare for it. It’s a lie to think that making an impact is a one-decision affair. We over-spiritualize the idea of serving God to give ourselves maximum autonomy and tell ourselves that “if it comes to that, I’ll be faithful”, while living ordinary lives the rest of the time. It’s probably never going to come to that, so shouldn’t you have some sort of day-to-day long-term self-sacrificial plan to achieve something for God instead?

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , ,

Jim Wallace and the case-making Christian

To make a good case, you need to be prepared

To make a good case, you need to be prepared

I found an interesting post by Jim Wallace of Please Convince Me. (H/T The Poached Egg)

Wallace responds to the alarming statistics of Christians abandoning their faith as soon as they get to university, often because of intellectual doubts. He also notes that many young Christians who don’t fall away don’t really have a Biblical worldview at all.

Here’s the problem:

Many students are walking away from Christianity because they no longer believe it is true. In a survey conducted by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton and recorded in their book, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers” (Oxford University Press, 2005), 32% of former believers said they left because of intellectual skepticism…

The young Christians who were surveyed said that they believed in the existence of a God who created and ordered the world and watches over human life here on earth. They also believe that this God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, (as they claimed the Bible teaches, and as most other world religions also teach). They said that the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. They did not believe that God needed to be involved in one’s life except when He is required to solve a problem, and they said that good people go to heaven when they die. Not much of this version of “Christianity” resonates with the classic, orthodox truth of the Christian Worldview, does it?

And here’s his solution, passionately argued:

When asked what it means to be a Christian, few of us would respond that being a Christian means becoming a ‘defender of the faith’. Most of us shy away from challengers and those who hold opposing beliefs; many of us are uncomfortable with the potential confrontation. But being a Christian demands that we become proficient “case makers”. Think about it for a minute. We would all agree that our salvation does not depend on our ability to defend what we believe. After all, we are saved when we trust Jesus for our salvation and recognize that we are fallen, sinful creatures in need of a Savior. When we recognize that Jesus is God incarnate and paid the penalty that we deserve, we begin to embrace the promise of God to rescue us from ourselves! This trust in Christ as Lord and Savior is what saves us.

But we need to recognize that our Christian life is more than one of trust. It is also a life of knowledge and expression. God has called us to think about what we believe and defend it to those who might challenge us or simply ask questions (more on that HERE). Christian “case makers” who have accepted this challenge are often called “apologists”. The word “apologist” comes from the Greek word “apologia” which simply means “speaking a defense”. The term does have some liability, however, for a couple of reasons. First, the related term, “apology” leaves many with the impression that Christians think they have something to apologize for when they engage in “apologetics”. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Secondly, our present culture has a tendency to view apologists as professional speakers of one kind or another. Even Christians tend to think of apologetics as something to be done by professionals, rather than an important responsibility to be embraced by each and every Christian. It’s time to recognize the fact that all Christians are called to be a Christian “case makers”; the situation couldn’t be more urgent.

[...]There’s a reason why God calls us to worship Him with our minds, understand the value of evidence, examine our beliefs until we are convinced, and then become Christian “case makers” (more on that HERE)! While it is our faith and trust in Christ that saves us, it is our ability to make the case for Christ that protects us and transforms our world. We need to become “case makers” just as Paul was a “tent maker”. “Case making” needs to be a part of our Christian identity, and all of us need to be apologists for the Christian Worldview. We cannot continue to delegate this responsibility to well known apologists and Christian authors. We don’t need one ‘million dollar apologist’; we need a million ‘one dollar apologists’. All of us can be equipped to defend our faith; it doesn’t require a master’s degree in apologetics; it doesn’t require a library full of books, or a radio show, or a podcast. It simply requires the personal commitment to learn the truth and defend it to others.

This article is pretty long, but it has a lot of information based on his experience as a cold case police detective.

Here’s a snippet that should get you to read the whole thing:

Call Witnesses Selectively

Once the Opening Statements have been made, it’s time to begin presenting the evidence to the jury. Much of this evidence will simply be the testimony of important expert witnesses. The attorneys have to select these witnesses carefully and judiciously. Each case is different and will require specific types of experts. Some cases require DNA experts, others require experts in material evidence; some cases require coroners or doctors, others require weapons specialists. The attorneys have the burden of deciding which types of experts will be needed to best make the case.

As a Christian…

I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. While I may be very familiar with the scientific or philosophical work that has been done on a particular topic, I have to be careful not to overload the conversation with the opinions of too many “expert witnesses”. I have to be specific and targeted in the way that I bring experts into the conversation. I also need to be well versed in the work that these experts have done so that I can accurately quote them.

A “Case Making” Tip:

Become a specialist. It’s important to have a broad understanding of a number of apologetic issues, but I know there are some places where I am weak, and some places where I am stronger. I try to focus on those areas that are off special interest to me and it’s in these areas that I am most familiar with the experts in the field. See yourself as the foreman on a jury. You and I don’t have to BE expert witnesses; we simply need to be able to reiterate what the expert witnesses have said once we get back in the jury room with the other jurors.

This is point #3 in his list of 7 points. He’s basically saying that you have to be able to represent the work of the experts intelligently, instead of just reading what they’ve written out loud, which could take forever. You need to read the experts, and then support your case with relevant quotes from the experts, showing how they support arguments that you understand – because you made them. And this preparation and specialization is not based on what is easy for you, or based on what you like, but is instead based on what is effective for your audience. If your audience finds science appealing, then to science you will go. Hint: most men like science, math and computers. Whatever you choose, logic, science, history – it has to be focused on demonstrating the truth of Christianity – NOT Christianity as life-enhancement.

 

Call Witnesses Selectively
Once the Opening Statements have been made, it’s time to begin presenting the evidence to the jury. Much of this evidence will simply be the testimony of important expert witnesses. The attorneys have to select these witnesses carefully and judiciously. Each case is different and will require specific types of experts. Some cases require DNA experts, others require experts in material evidence; some cases require coroners or doctors, others require weapons specialists. The attorneys have the burden of deciding which types of experts will be needed to best make the case.
As a Christian…
I’ve got to do something very similar if I want to be a “Case Making” Christian. While I may be very familiar with the scientific or philosophical work that has been done on a particular topic, I have to be careful not to overload the conversation with the opinions of too many “expert witnesses”. I have to be specific and targeted in the way that I bring experts into the conversation. I also need to be well versed in the work that these experts have done so that I can accurately quote them.
A “Case Making” Tip:
Become a specialist. It’s important to have a broad understanding of a number of apologetic issues, but I know there are some places where I am weak, and some places where I am stronger. I try to focus on those areas that are off special interest to me and it’s in these areas that I am most familiar with the experts in the field. See yourself as the foreman on a jury. You and I don’t have to BE expert witnesses; we simply need to be able to reiterate what the expert witnesses have said once we get back in the jury room with the other jurors.

 

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Eight tips for talking to non-Christians about Christianity

From Stand to Reason – some excellent tactical advice from a master apologist.

Here’s the setup:

I overheard a conversation on the airplane coming back from my vacation in Wisconsin.  A Christian gentleman was vigorously sharing his faith with a gentleman in the seat directly behind me.  There are some things we can learn, both good and bad, from what I overheard and take his effort—which was a good one—and channel it in a little bit more constructive direction.

So I am going to give you eight points of application.

And here are my favorites from his list:

3.  Try to stay away from religious language, terminology, and religious affect. This person was very religious in his whole approach.  I think this is hard for us as Christians because we are brought up in a Christian environment and it’s natural for us to talk this way, but it sounds weird to people outside of that environment.  I think there are a lot of people who may be, in principle, interested in a bona fide, genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ but who are not interested in the Christian religion as they perceive it.  This is where I think a lot of the emergent guys have a legitimate bone to pick with Evangelicalism.  Let’s try not to sound like Bible-thumping fundamentalists if we can avoid it, even if that’s what we are, because there’s no need to sound that way if it puts people off.  Find another way to communicate the message.  Just talk in a straightforward manner.  Be conscious of using religious language the other person may not understand or may think is strange.  Avoid all of that so they can hear the message you’re trying to communicate.

4.  Focus on the truth, not personal benefits of Christianity. I appreciated the gentleman’s approach in that he kept talking about truth.  One person he was talking to said he liked reincarnation.  The Christian man said that even if he liked reincarnation that that didn’t make it true if it’s not true.  Liking something is not going to change reality.  That’s a great point.  He was focusing on the truth claims of Jesus.  He wasn’t giving a bunch of promises.  He wasn’t saying, “Jesus is my ice cream.  He’s a great flavor.  Try him to see if you like him, too.”  Or, “Try Jesus because he’ll make your life so wonderful.”  Focus on truth and not personal benefits.

5.  Give evidence. This gentleman was giving all kinds of evidence for his seatmates to consider.  Good for him!  You should too.  You know why?  Because people in the Bible did, too.  Jesus, Paul, Peter, all the Apostles.  If you look at the details of how they communicated their faith they gave evidence for the truth of what they were saying about Jesus.  In fact, if you want to get the content of the Gospel, one of the most famous passages for the articulation of the Gospel is the beginning of 1 Corinthian 15.  Paul gives all kinds of evidence.  It’s all right there as he is explaining the Gospel.  We see that all through the New Testament.  So give evidences.  It’s appropriate.  People do respond to that even in a postmodern age.

I remember that I was once working in Chicago, and after a particular good apologetics discussion with a team of engineers, I apologized to them all for being so exclusive and a fundamentalist. These guys all had MS and PhD degrees in computer science from top schools like Stanford, Purdue, U of I, NIU and Northwestern. They said “you’re not a fundamentalist”. And I said, “but I am ultra-conservative in my theology!”. And they said “That’s ok – as long as you have considered different points of view and you have objective evidence, then somehow it doesn’t sound fundamentalist”.

I think that’s something that we need to work on. When Christianity is about truth, it’s open to investigation using public evidence. At work, I have explained the structure of DNA molecules in the office and had people rolling their chairs out of their cubicles to come and see me draw amino acid chains on a white board, and calculate the probabilities with a calculator. You can be a fundamentalist, without sounding like a fundamentalist. You just have to focus on public, testable evidence.

Look here:

Make religion about truth – not personal preferences. They respect that way of talking – as long as you bring the science and the history.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study finds that young people value marriage and hope to marry

From the National Post. (H/T Andrew)

Excerpt:

Young adults still tend to view marriage as an important life commitment to which they aspire, results of a new U.S. study suggest.

The findings appear to contradict public and academic anxiety over the state of marriage, and surprised even the researchers.

“What was so striking about what the young people said is that no one really described rejecting marriage,” said lead author Maria Kefalas, a sociology professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “I had a category all written -marriage rejector -and we couldn’t find any. There was no one who said, ‘Marriage is meaningless and I don’t want to get married.’ “

The researchers uncovered a divide between rural and urban young adults after examining interviews with 424 people aged 21 to 38 who lived in New York, San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul or rural Iowa.

Young adults in small towns and rural areas -dubbed “marriage naturalists” -generally have a 1950s view toward marriage, they found, seeing it as the inevitable “next step” in a long-term relationship.

“It was like a time capsule,” Ms. Kefalas said. “Marriage was expected. It wasn’t fretted about, there was very little hand-wringing about it. A lot of the pressure for marriage was external in terms of social expectation that that’s what you do.”

In contrast, urban young adults -dubbed “marriage planners” by the researchers -had high standards for potential marriage partners and a strong sense that marriage was something they had to be “ready for.”

[...]Ms. Kefalas said she believes declining marriage rates in Canada and the United States are due to a shifting economic landscape that makes it more difficult for young adults in the Millennial cohort born in the 1980s and 1990s to get the education, career, housing and general stability they feel they need before saying “I do” -not a lack of interest in the institution itself.

“One of the great myths has been that young people, in particular millennials, are saying, ‘We don’t want to get mar-ried and marriage is irrelevant to us,’ and that’s not true,” Ms. Kefalas said.

The paper is to be published in the Journal of Family Issues.

I think the problem I see, and this is something for Christians to research, and for churches to get serious about – is that we need to help young people to translate these aspirations to marry into a solid plan for how to get married well. That means telling them how to prepare themselves to be married, how to find and evaluate another person for marriage, and how to court another person in a way that will result in a stable, loving marriage. Young people need to understand things that social scientists know – like the fact that chastity is good for marital stability, and that cohabitation is bad for marital stability. We need to study these factors and then inform the young people in winsome ways.

 

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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