I had a conversation recently with a friend that does not believe Jesus is the only way. He believes that many religions offer many paths that will lead to heaven or some nirvana afterlife. We batted around ideas and thoughts for about 40 minutes, and we both enjoyed the conversation. He was not defensive in the least but was more than willing to hear what I had to say on the matter, so I asked questions trying to understand his views and reasons.
The atheist or agnostic will fall into one of two categories concerning their unbelief: Reasons and/or Causes.
If someone has ‘reasons’ for their unbelief, you will find them open, considerate, and thoughtful when discussing their ideas. They believe what they believe solely for intellectual reasons. In other words, the evidence or data is insufficient to warrant a belief in God or Jesus. They are not angry, wounded, betrayed, resentful, or have any other internal emotion that is steering the direction of their unbelief. Simply put they don’t see enough evidence to believe.
Some may see the belief of Christians as subjective. Michael Horton explains it this way, “To such people, belief is completely subjective. The question is not whether it’s true but whether it works for you. That might be a legitimate assumption for other religious and self-help philosophies, but Christianity rests on historical, public claims. These claims are either true or false; they can’t be true for some people and not for others.”1
Someone who views religion that way may not have a cause, they just never gave it much thought. Life is going smoothly, and a need for God is not something they have seriously considered before. They pick and choose from the various religious options and adopt some commonly accepted set of morals and ethics they try to live by.
Others may have hit a difficult time in life and believe in God, but still select elements of other religions to build something that comforts them in their trial. All religions preach love and acceptance do they not? All religions encourage us to love our neighbor and to give to the poor, don’t they? No, not really.
What matters are the differences in religions, not the similarities. Let me give you a simple example. What if I was to draw two little pills on a whiteboard and ask you if they were basically the same? The answer would be yes; they are both small, round, and white. What if I then drew an arrow to one and labeled it aspirin, and the second arrow to the other pill and labeled it arsenic? Would you say they were still basically the same? Obviously not, one is a remedy, and the other is a poison.
Most unbelievers fall into the second category of having a cause for their unbelief. Evidence has little or no impact on the unbelief of this individual. Unlike someone with a reason, a person with a cause may be angry at the church, their Christian parents, or God. They may have been wounded by Christians, or even non-Christians and blame God for their circumstances. Often they may be in denial for the reasons of their unbelief. Admitting they are wrong would expose the true condition of their heart, the reason for their anger, or wound. Causes have to be dealt with before you can address their unbelief.
When we have conversations about our faith with unbelievers, it is essential to recognize what is going on in their heart or you will be casting pearls before the swine. Matthew 7:6. In His sermon, Jesus uses pigs and dogs as representatives of those who not only reject the gospel but mock and ridicule it for their own motives and purposes. We are to share the gospel, but we have all met someone who enjoys belittling and insulting believers of Christ. I have heard it said we are responsible for sharing the good news, but we are not tied people’s response. Pigs have no use for pearls and don’t even recognize their value, the same can be said of some people and the gospel.
John Coe, a professor at Biola, said we were made to have a transparent heart, but so often early on in our life, we began to avoid self-awareness. Remember the times in grade school when there were two team captains, and they choose who was to be on their team? Of course, the more athletic students had no problem with this method.2 I can remember a time or two when I was dreading the picking teams and being the last one chosen. Maybe you have experienced that.
Can you picture someone in school who was often the last one chosen? What were they doing? More often than not, they were kicking the dirt, not looking up, and engaging possibly for the first time in their life, repression. They were avoiding self-awareness. Who at the tender age of 8, 10 or 12 would want to think about and consider why they were the last one picked? Repression is the father of self-deception.3
Where are they the next day during lunch or break? They are asking the teacher if they can help erase the whiteboard. If they can stay in and push in the chairs. If they can stay in and pass out papers. If they can stay in and help with anything, anything at all so they could avoid being picked last. Of course, most teachers welcome the helpful student, but may not even reflect on why they are asking if they can stay and help. A mistake I have made more times than I can count.
People love to tell their own story. Many of the best conversations we have had with others were because they listened with interest on what we had to say. There is an old saying in the teaching circles that states, student’s don’t care what you know until they know that you care. How much more enjoyable is a conversation with someone that wants to hear what you have to say.
When engaging others don’t start with your story, listen to theirs. Don’t start by speaking into their life, start by pulling out their life. Take your time and show you care.
To be able to do this successfully we need to peel back the layers of our own heart. This kind of apologetics must begin within. Psalm 139:23-24 Ultimately love is the final apologetic. How can we possibly share Christ’s love for us if we don’t understand how much He loves us personally which is vital for a healthy identity. Then we can allow Him to work in our hearts, and then on our hurts, hangup’s, and habits.
Brandon Heath wrote the song “Give Me Your Eyes.” The chorus
goes like this;
Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.
Timothy Keller addresses our identity and writes, “If anything threatens your identity you will not just be anxious but paralyzed with fear. If you lose your identity through the failings of someone else, you will not just be resentful, but locked into bitterness. If you lose it through your own failings, you will hate or despise yourself as a failure as long as you live. Only if your identity is built on God and His love…can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.”4 I would add something my sister said to me recently; courage is fear that has said its prayers.
I have realized in recent weeks that my identity has been based on the approval of others. The more important the person was in my life, the more I needed their approval. I have never looked intently at what my identity is based on and facing that fact was a huge step in healing for me and has allowed me to move that much closer to the Lord. Genesis 1:26. If I did not get their approval, I was very dismissive of them, and they no longer mattered to me. I began kicking the dirt and erasing whiteboards, protecting my image.
Sharing my failings and risking the criticism and condemnation of everyone I care about has been the most difficult trial of my life. I would never have thought this would be tied to apologetics but I see it is. Sharing your faith at times may start with answers, but always ends in love.
Do people have reasons or causes for their unbelief? Think about that as you share your faith. As you explore causes, also consider what their identity is based on, they may not even know themselves. And always look at your own heart and explore your own motives and actions. What is your identity based on? Remember, God loves a transparent heart.
1. Horton, Michael. “God’s Story and Ours, or Why Doctrine Matters.” Core Christianity Finding Yourself in God’s Story. Zondervan, 2016, pg.15.
2. Coe, John. “Apologetics and the Spiritual Life.” Apologetic Lecture Series. Biola University, La Mirada. n.d. Lecture
4. Keller, Timothy. “The Problem of Sin.” The Reason for God. Riverhead Books, 2008, pg.171
Dirt and Whiteboards by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.knowingforsure.com.