As Christians, we are called to share our faith with others, to be salt and light in the world. But sometimes that task feels incredibly daunting, and we fear the response we may receive. We may fear offending and angering strangers, or even losing close friends and neighbors.
Well, atheist turned Christian apologist Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ, has years of experience sharing his faith in a variety of ways. Strobel shares his tips for spreading the Gospel on our Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast this week, in Part 2 of a 2-part show.
“I have found that often we’re the ones who shrink back,” says Strobel, “and that people are more interested in talking about spiritual matters than we think they are.”
But we have to approach these conversations with gentleness and respectfulness. We need to “do more listening than talking, asking more questions than giving answers,” continues Strobel.
“And when they see you as being gentle and kind and a listener and someone who is empathetic, that is a great apologetic in itself. That is a bridge that makes people more willing to ultimately listen to what we have to say.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Lee Strobel’s tips for starting these conversations about our faith, in Part 2 of a 2-part show. There are several ways you can listen, or read the transcript!
LEE STROBEL:I spoke just yesterday at a university and afterwards some students came up to me and one by one they said, “Oh, it’s so encouraging! It’s just a great reminder, just strengthens my faith. It reminds me that I’m not crazy—there is really good evidence for what I believe and that the Bible is consistent with what we find in history and science.” And so I think apologetics, or evidence for the faith, is important to the believer, as well as reaching out to the non-believer.
TRACI GRIGGS: So do you think a safe place for people to start, if they want to try having these kinds of conversations, might be having these types of discussions with people that they believe are Christians? I know sometimes we as Christians believe very different things.
LEE STROBEL: Yes, there is a range of beliefs, and sometimes we can wonder, “Is the other person really a Christian? Are they authentically born again followers of Christ, or do they just think they are?” And one of the great diagnostic tools that I like to use is the verse that my wife helped lead me to faith with, which is John 1:12. John 1:12 has what I call the “formula” of faith. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” And so the formula is believe, plus receive, equals become. So often I’ll talk to people and say, “I get the fact you believe, don’t you, that Jesus is who He claimed to be?” “Yeah, yeah, I really do; I believe He resurrected from the dead; I believe He’s the Son of God,” and that’s great, but that’s not enough. John 1:12 says we have to receive, but how do we do that? That’s when we repent of our sin; we confess it, we turn away from it, and we receive this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased for us on the cross when He died as our substitute to pay for all of our sin. And when we received this free gift of His grace, then we become a child of God. And for some people, that’s the element that’s missing. They have intellectual knowledge or intellectual agreement with Christianity, but they’ve never really humbled themselves, surrendered their life to Christ, and received this free gift of his grace and thus become a child of God.
TRACI GRIGGS: So let’s talk a little bit about how we can start some of these conversations. How do you get this type of discussion started?
LEE STROBEL: Well, there are lots of ways. I mean, I think even simple ways of a conversation, say, “Wow, it’s so beautiful out today! This is a great example of God’s creation.” “Really, you believe in God?” “Oh yeah, I really do.” And it’s just bringing up that kind of thing subtly. If somebody asks you, “What’d you do last weekend?” You can say, “Well, I washed my car and I went to a movie and I played a round of golf.” Or you can say, “I washed my car, I went to the movie, I played a round to golf, and I went to church. And wow, I heard a really interesting talk about God, would you be interested in hearing about it?”
The other question I like to ask is, I ask people, “If you could ask God any one question and you knew He’d give you an answer right now, what would you ask Him?” And that’s a great question because it kind of gets to the nub of what may be a spiritual sticking point in that person’s journey toward God—an issue or a question or a doubt that’s holding them up in their journey toward Christ. Now, about 80 percent of the time when you ask that question, you’re going to get some permutation of the question of why does God allow pain and suffering? About 80 percent of the time, people are going to say, “Why does a loving God allow so much pain and suffering?” But I don’t follow that; I don’t then answer that question. I could. I could give him a five point sermon on why God allows pain and suffering, but I don’t do that. I ask a follow-up question, and the follow-up question is, “Wow, of all the questions in the universe, why did you ask that one?” And then it gets down to it. They’ll say, “Well, because we lost a baby in childbirth five years ago, and I want to know where God was when that happened.” Or, “My wife has breast cancer and I want to know where’s God in that?” And now you’re getting to really the emotional issue, and that often drives disbelief. We think people have a lot of intellectual problems with the Bible and intellectual problems with the faith. You know what the truth is? A lot of those are smokescreens; a lot of those are just excuses not to believe. Often it is an emotional issue that’s driving non-belief and anger at God.
Or emotional issues like a father issue. If you look at the famous atheists of history: Kimo, Nietzsche, Freud, Voltaire, Wells, Voyerback, O’haire. They all had a father who either died when they were young, divorced their mother when they were young, or with whom they had a very difficult relationship. And often that can lead down a road toward atheism, because they don’t want a heavenly father who they think is going to hurt them just like their earthly father. There could be a moral issue; it could be that people enjoy their immorality, their sin, and they don’t want to give it up, and they don’t want to admit perhaps who they really are. So there are lots of reasons why people fend off faith. And I think in diagnosing that, sometimes we use these kinds of questions to get to the real issues.
TRACI GRIGGS: And do you discuss some of these—I don’t want to call them techniques—but some of these strategies in all of your books, or is there one in particular that you would direct people to?
LEE STROBEL: You know there’s one I did with my good buddy Mark Middleburg, called The Unexpected Adventure. And I guess there’re 42 of these little daily readings that include a story from my life or Mark’s life about how we try to share our faith—successfully or not, often not. But then there are some principles we draw out from that and some scripture. And so it’s kind of a fun way you can read every day; take your 10 minutes to read the daily entry. And then over the course of these several weeks of reading this, it encourages you and builds your confidence to say, “Well, golly, if Strobel can do that, I could do that.” And through that you can learn about various techniques and approaches to ask questions, or to get into spiritual conversations.
TRACI GRIGGS: Now, you mentioned that sometimes people can just mention casually in conversation that they went to church, and that this can help open up conversations. So is there a time when we just don’t talk? We just let people know that we’re Christians and we wait for them to kind of bring up the topic? And how do we know when that is?
LEE STROBEL: Yeah, I think it is helpful to plant seeds—to be able to let people know, let your neighbors know that you’re a Christian. You don’t have to come out and say, “Oh, I’m a Christian.” You can mention casually, “I was in church last week,” or “I heard something interesting in church last week.” They may not pick up on it then. But I’ll tell you what, if two months later their son gets arrested—or they find out he’s an addict or whatever—and they need to go to someone and say, “I need some advice. I need some encouragement, some help,” they’re going to say, “Golly, I know my neighbor…he mentioned he goes to church! Maybe I’ll talk to him.” So just sometimes planting seeds to let people know that we’re followers of Christ can lead later to conversations when they’re ready to have a conversation.
But I have found that often we’re the ones who shrink back and that people are more interested in talking about spiritual matters than we think they are. And so a good way to start is just to ask them, “Hey, what’s your faith background? Did you ever go to church as a kid?” Let them tell you. Just ask them questions. “What do you believe? What do you believe about God? What do you believe about heaven? And how do you know that’s true?” And just keep asking questions, and ultimately, they’re going to turn the tables and say, “Well, what about you? What do you think? What do you believe?” And that gives you an opportunity to share your story of your faith journey and why you believe what you believe.
TRACI GRIGGS: You know, I heard somebody say the other day that they often have an opportunity to share their faith and start talking about God by just asking someone, “Can I pray for you?”
LEE STROBEL: That’s a wonderful way to get into a conversation. I’ll do that sometimes at a restaurant where the server will come and they take the order, and I say, “One other thing. We’re Christians and we’re going to pray for our meal in a moment. Is there anything we can pray for you?” And I’ve had servers break down and cry, right then. And I’ve had others just be so vulnerable and say, “You know what, I’m a single mom, I’m really struggling. If you would pray for me, it would really mean the world to me.” I’ve never had people get angry or get offended if I asked, “May I pray for you?” And the other thing to do is to have a resource there with you, because frankly you may never see this person again, but if you pray for them and they’re appreciative, it would be great to give them a copy, for instance, of The Case for Christ as you leave. Say, “By the way, here’s a book. I was listening to a guy and he was a skeptic and atheist and he investigated Christianity and became a Christian and his life was changed, and God met his needs in ways he never would have anticipated. So let me just give you this as a gift and see if you might enjoy it.” That’s a wonderful way to offer to pray for people to get into a spiritual discussion.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And you do not have to be an apologetics expert to do that.
LEE STROBEL: That’s right. And as I say, be willing to say, “Great question! I don’t know the answer, but let’s find it together.” That also opens up the opportunity for another meeting and another conversation. So yeah, and we can give them resources, there are so many good resources these days. Many people have written wonderful books that contain evidence for the faith. When I was an atheist and did my investigation back in the 1980s and late 70s, I had a hard time finding any good books. There just wasn’t much out there those days. Nowadays, there’s a lot of good material.
TRACI GRIGGS: So the way we approach this is also important, right? Because if people feel like, “Oh my gosh, we’re never supposed to talk about religion! If we start talking about it and I disagree with them, they’re never going to be my friend anymore!” So there’s an attitude that we need to convey, right, to make people feel like we’re open to discuss this?
LEE STROBEL: That’s right. I think gentleness and respectfulness. To say to ourselves, “You know, this is someone who matters to God. I’m going to validate them as a human being who was made in God’s image and God loves them. I’m going to respect them as being on a journey. Maybe they are not as far as I am, but that’s okay. Maybe I can help them in their journey.” And to do more listening than talking, asking more questions than giving answers. “What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Did you go to church when you were younger? What was your experience?” And just let them talk about it, and it just opens up that spiritual conversation. I often find that once you start that, you can’t stop them because they keep wanting to talk about spiritual stuff. People are fascinated. And when they see you as being authentic, when they see you as being gentle and kind and a listener and someone who is empathetic to them, that is a great apologetic in itself. That is a bridge that makes people more willing to ultimately listen to what we have to say.
TRACI GRIGGS: Why don’t you tell us about your newest project? Because people may be very interested in how that’s going to work. So it’s the Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics, and you’re at Colorado Christian University. So tell us why this was created and what is motivating its mission.
LEE STROBEL: When I was at Billy Graham’s funeral, the question was, “Who’s going to be the next Billy Graham?” And my attitude is, it’s millions of contagious Christians who are trained and equipped and motivated to share and to defend their faith in a natural way. I think that’s the next wave of evangelism in America. And so our new center exists to train people and to encourage people and motivate people to do that very thing; to understand why we believe what we believe and to understand the essentials of the faith in a way that we can share in a natural way. You know, the Bible has at least half a dozen different ways that people share their faith. You don’t have to do it like me. I don’t have to do it like you. You can be yourself and God can use you, with your personality and your background and your temperament. God can use you to be salt and light, as Jesus says, to influence people for Him.
We want to train people to do that. So we’re going to be offering online courses so you can take them from wherever you’re located. They’ll be for college credit. If you want to get a degree, we’ll have degrees—undergraduate degrees and master’s degrees. But maybe you just want to take a few courses, and we’ll have certificates that you can get if you want to be, for instance, an evangelism director at a local church. You can take our curriculum on that and be certified as a evangelism director with a local church. There are a lot of different things we’re going to offer. So as we ramp up over the next year or so, the first courses will be offered Fall of 2020. People can go to ccu.edu/stroblecenter and get all the information they need.
TRACI GRIGGS: Sounds great. Well, Lee Strobel, thank you so much for not being afraid to dive deeply into matters of faith and reason, and of course for bringing your story to us here today on Family Policy Matters.
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