Monday, December 9, 2013

Four Approaches to Evangelism *

Part Two of Part Five:   Apologetics on the Offense

When I taught apologetic classes in Bible College, I ask the students at the end of their final examine to tell me what they thought was the most important thing they learned in the class. Seventy-five to eighty percent said it was the Socratic Method (a method of argumentation used by the Greek philosopher). This is the topic of the last two blog articles in my twelve part series on the “Four Approaches to Evangelism.” 

When skeptics and other critics raise issues against Christianity or ask challenging questions, our normal response is to defend our faith by giving evidences to support the Christian position on the issue at hand. This is defensive apologetics. It’s a valuable and long-standing apologetic approach, one crucial for overcoming barriers that hinder an unbeliever from considering Christianity as a world and life view. 

The Socratic Method employs another strategy, which I call offensive apologetics. I believe it’s the best way—at least initially—to begin an apologetic response when critics make challenging statements or ask a skeptic’s question. Rather than responding by defending the Christian position, we first challenge the unbeliever to defend their position on the issue at hand. We challenge them to account for their religious or philosophical beliefs. This allows us to point out inconsistencies, assumptions, and inaccuracies (especially their assumptions and inaccuracies about the Bible and Christian beliefs in general) as well as their lack of verification for their position. More often than not, the beliefs and arguments raised by unbelievers are merely what they have heard in popular culture: television, books and magazines, professors in universities and colleges, and other pulpits of secular culture—which are notoriously inaccurate and biased. In most cases unbelievers are merely parroting what they’ve heard in popular culture. They seldom have well thought-out arguments.

I believe the Socratic Method is the most valuable and useful apologetic tactic Christian apologists can employ. If you understand it and apply it, I can virtually guarantee you will dramatically increase your effectiveness in apologetics.  The entire concept is summed up beautifully in Proverbs 18:17: “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (NIV). The arguments and assumptions skeptics and critics bring to religious discussions can sound truly convincing—until we pause a moment, think about what’s being said, and then question them. When this happens, their arguments fall apart almost every time.
You see, too often we find ourselves on the defensive. But it shouldn’t be that way. Why? Because we have the truth—and unbelievers harbor untruth. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out decades ago, we should move unbelievers in the direction their presuppositions will take them if carried to their logical conclusion: “No one can live logically according to his own non-Christian presuppositions. . . . If he were consistent to his non-Christian presuppositions he would be separated from the real universe (The God Who Is There). In other words, if pushed far enough every non-Christian worldview will eventually crumble into inconsistencies and incoherency. Only the Christian worldview is internally and externally coherent, free of inconsistences, and in harmony with reality as virtually every human being understands it and lives it out (I give the characteristics of a coherent worldview in my book, Christianity on the Offense).

Asking challenging questions also encourages non-Christians to be more willing to reconsider Christianity. Unbelievers are often confounded to find they are unable to substantiate their beliefs or their misconceptions about Christianity. They’ve never been forced to do so before. (The two most outrageous revolve around evolution and the alleged historical inaccuracy of the Bible.) When fair-minded people understand that their existing religious or secular worldviews cannot be substantiated, when they discover they are unable to muster supporting evidence to confirm them, they will be more willing to rethink their assumptions about Christianity—and their own worldview. Remember, we can give supporting evidences for our positions on whatever the issue is—assuming we’ve done our homework. We have truth on our side.

How does the Socratic Method work? I’ll explain it in the next blog article and give examples. Following that, I have a new series of blog articles beginning after the first of the year. It will probably be different from anything you’ve read from a Christian apologist! I’ll be interested to getting your responses. (This will be my last post until after the holidays. Have a blessed and Christ-centered Christmas.)

*  This and the other blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without permission. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or email it to people who may benefit from it. I explore the topic of this present series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).