Sharing the gospel with skeptics is not an endeavor to be taken lightly. It is a risky enterprise, and the greatest risks involve the apologist’s own soul. That’s why C.S. Lewis, in the midst of his WWII evangelistic endeavors, warned youth leaders of the need to walk circumspectly when operating on the front lines of apologetic activity: that is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality — from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another’s continual help.
In addition to risking public reputation, and the real possibility of spiritual fatigue, the apologist will also be forced to come face-to- face with his true convictions. The apologist’s views will be laughed at, and his commitments scorned. Unless the evangelist to skeptics is adequately rooted and established in his convictions, there will be temptation to dilute beliefs in order to earn credibility.
A great deal of these temptations stem from a lack of confidence in the gospel and a misunderstanding of the nature of ministry to skeptics. Many think evangelism aimed at this demographic is limited to apologetics, a defense of the faith. This notion is too narrow, though. Evangelism is not merely negative and reactive.
Seeing evangelism as negative and reactive can lead to a passive witness instead of an intentional and positive assertion of the truth. That’s why evangelism in any setting should include both an affirmation of what the gospel is as well as a defense against objections and misunderstandings. Without a balanced approach, the apologist will be tempted to abdicate certain biblical foundations for the sake of establishing neutral ground.
So what is the best way to share the gospel with skeptics? What is the best form of apologetics? Those familiar with the nuances of apologetic approaches will know that there is no shortage of controversy regarding which form is the most biblical, so I don’t intend to answer these questions for you in this brief chapter. Instead, I’d suggest that you consider a book like Steve Cowan’s Five Views on Apologetics to inform, shape and refine your own convictions. What I would like to offer are seven imperatives, or broad categories, for sharing the gospel with skeptics. These are parameters to keep your gospel witness on track without falling into compromise.
Regardless of the strategy you use, the following principles will allow you to do evangelistic work among skeptics for the advancement of the kingdom and the glory of God.
Seven Imperatives for Sharing the Gospel with Skeptics
1. Present truth as knowable
Christians can easily become intimidated when sharing the gospel with the “intelligentsia.” this should not be so. The believer need not assume a position of weakness when talking with skeptics. The Christian worldview offers much more than many people realize when it comes to describing reality. In fact, an atheistic worldview is actually forced to borrow certain assumptions that flow from a theistic outlook in order to formulate an argument against it.
Consider how we use the basic laws of logic in our everyday conversations. The law of non- contradiction, for example, is utilized in evaluating truth claims. This is the principle that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way. But have you ever thought about how a naturalistic framework might account for such a law? How can eternal, mindless and impersonal matter produce logical laws that guide our thought?
On the other hand, the laws of logic flow smoothly out of a worldview that places an eternal, intelligent and personal creator as the source of all things. This underscores part of a perennial problem for the atheistic outlook. Atheists from previous generations like H.G. Wells, and even contemporary atheistic philosophers like Thomas Nagel, recognize that in atheistic naturalism there is no objective reason to trust our cognitive faculties.
Both Wells and Nagel offered these concerns in print, calling into question the bravado with which people boast of their brainpower for comprehending the world; Wells in an article, “doubts of the instrument,” where instrument refers to the brain, and Nagel in his recent book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Both men doubt that unguided nature is able to provide a basis for cognitive confidence.
This doubt can be traced back to Charles Darwin himself, who questioned whether or not he could trust his mental thoughts if his brain is merely a product of evolution. He understood that, if nature is all there is, and then there could be no certainty that our brain is reliable.
Apologists have consistently exploited this worldview weakness. C.S. Lewis claimed that this difficulty is a self- contradiction in naturalism.
G.K. Chesterton called this the “thought that stops all thought.” though much more can be said about this topic, the apologist must recognize that only Christianity provides a reasonable explanation for reason itself. Even arguments against God are forced to presuppose logical laws that only make sense if God exists. Thus, when the apologist presents the gospel, he should do so with the confidence that it is the power of God unto salvation. The gospel makes sense of the world we live in and provides a foundation for rational discussion. Truth is knowable because, as Francis Schaeffer said, “God is there and he is not silent.”
This post is an excerpt from the Guide to Evangelism edited by Southern Seminary. It is used with permission. You can purchase this resource in its entirety here.
Published September 6, 2017