In this post I will first share some thoughts on “dealing with misconceptions.” Thereafter, I will recap of a conversation I had with a young man on Tuesday.
Some Thoughts on Answering Objections, Love and Sincerity
Dealing with misconceptions is an essential element of Gospel ministry. Christians and non-Christians alike struggle to think rightly about God. Mr. Unbelief, Miss Skepticism, and Dr. Doubt are not wimps. They are not only powerful, but resilient and tough. They dominate unbelievers. Though under the death sentence, they seem to have a twisted kind of prevalence even in the lives of most believers (until execution). However, when the eyes or our faith catch a glimpse of “the commander of the army of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-15), we see that there is hope indeed. Jesus is mighty to defeat Mr. Unbelief and his associates. By the Word of his power, Jesus will cause his people to think rightly about him and his Father. May we never forget the words of Christ: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18b).
Misconceptions about God and his Gospel are from the gates the hell. What is amazing is that Jesus builds his church through his people (i.e., “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”). So, he works through us to do his will. Of course, it is preaching Christ and his Gospel which is our ultimate weapon of righteousness, but there is a place for defending the truth and answering objections (1 Peter 1:15; notice, this was written through Peter!).
Surely defending and preaching often go hand in hand. Whatever the case, let me cut to the point: it is loving to consider the interests of others. Why do I say that? Well, we are commanded: ”love your neighbour as yourself.” And why do I say that? Well, here is the connection: some people are sincerely interested in hearing Christian answers to their objections (and questions). What an opportunity to lovingly serve them!
Sometimes, their sincerity may be masked with a form of arrogance (or some attitude which seems insincere). I think I have encountered this mask a few times this summer. At first, I thought I was dealing with insincere arrogance; but after a long dialogue, I learned that I was likely dealing with an authentic thinker with really good questions! Thus, we must be careful not to be over-confident in our initial assessment of people. We must love them and seek to serve them. Now, granted, not all questions are good questions. Even so, many are, and we need to lovingly interact with all objections and questions that come our way. We can also serve people by showing them the questions that they should be asking – and then by teaching them the answers that the Bible gives (i.e., What must I do to be saved?”).
When we meet people with objections (and questions), we can serve them by exposing any misconceptions they may have about the nature truth, God, man, sin and salvation. Now, this is not to say that true Christians have no misconceptions whatsoever, nor that we know all truth. But, this is to say that Scripture is the ultimate authority, and God has spoken clearly and plainly on many aspects of truth concerning himself, man, sin and salvation. On these issues we ought to speak and to reason with people. And we must always remember: our goal is to see Christ’s church built, not to win arguments. These are just some thoughts on “dealing with misconceptions.” These thoughts were initially stirred after a conversation I had this past Tuesday which I recap below.
What about the Bible? What about other Religions? What about . . .
John C. and I met a young man by giving him a coin with the 10 commandments on it. I quickly learned that he comes from a Catholic home (but that is not not devoted to his parent’s religion). At one point he said to me: “I believe that that Bible is not a book of rules.” I agreed, “You’re right, the Bible is not just a book of rules; it is the revelation of God. But, it does contain rules.” He replied, “The way I see it is that the Bible is more like a book of guidelines.” I asked him, “Have you read the whole Bible?” He said, “no.” I said, “Do you read the Bible?” He said, “no.” I said, “Then how can you claim to know what it is like? You do not even read it.” I think he followed my argument. I had tried to deal with his misconception about the Bible, but the conversation suddenly took a new spin.
Before I knew it, he had switched the topic and asked me, “Well, what about other religions. There are so many religions - how do we know which one to believe?” There are many different ways to respond to such a question. On this occasion, I told him to study. I said, “you have to study to find out which one is true.” I went on, “Faith is reasonable trust” (if my memory is correct, I think I learned this definition from William Lane Craig). There are at least two reasons I said this: 1) He is not reading the Bible (and he needs to study it!); and 2) it really seemed as though he was suggesting that one faith (religion) is equal to all kinds of faith (religions). In other words, all faith is on equal ground. Many people believe this. There is one massive problem with such a mindset – it fails to evaluate the object of faith (that is, what people are believing in). Just because a religion exists does not mean that it is based on truth . . . even if it has many followers! The question ought to be: which faith believes what is true? Or since there may be elements and traces of truth in various faiths, a better question may be: which faith is absolutely true? To deny the possibility of absolute truth from the outset would be to hold to the absolute truth that absolute truth is unattainable. This position is clearly self refuting. Accordingly, consistency suggests that we presuppose the possibility of absolute truth.
Back to the conversation: I discerned that he had a misconception about whether or not absolute truth exists. Thus, I told him: “Imagine being in math class and you are given a problem to solve. Suppose there are ten students who answer the question and seven different answers are given. They cannot all be right. Only one is right or they all are wrong.” He did not seem satisfied with my illustration. Whatever the case I was attempting to deal with two misconceptions. First, I was trying to show that there is absolute truth (only one answer can be right). Second, I was trying to teach that we can know it (through looking into the matter). Possibly he believes that the nature of truth in mathematics is just different than the nature of truth in religion. Thus, my argument carried no weight for him
(at least, I think it didn’t; the Lord knows).
Again, he wanted to know, “how can we know what religion to follow? There are so many?” By this time, we had already been talking for a while and he had already decided NOT to get on his bus, but to wait for the next bus in order to keep talking (this is always very encouraging!). I figured it was time to talk about Jesus. “Well, Jesus Christ is the person we need to focus on for that question. Every religion has something to say about him. We know he existed. Even liberal scholars who do not believe in Jesus (as the Son of God) do not deny that he was a real person who lived. All religions say something about him, but only Christianity believes that he rose from the dead. Do you believe that he rose from the dead?” He said, “yes.”
I said, “I don’t know about you, but if someone can raise himself from the dead, I will listen to him – I don’t care who he is.” He replied, “many people have risen from the dead.” I said, “no, only Jesus.” I went on to explain: only Jesus raised himself from the dead. Then I proceeded to tell him about something that Jesus taught. I pulled out my Bible and read John 14:6, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I asked him if he knew of C.S. Lewis. He did. I proceeded to tell him the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument: Jesus must really be the Lord, or he was a liar or a lunatic. The bus came. I handed him a clear presentation of the Gospel (which he took). He was really appreciative for our talk (and so was I). He expressed his thanks. I hope to see him at the bus stop again.
I struggled with my own misconception of him – at first, I did not think he was being sincere, but the more he spoke, the more I realized he really wanted to hear the Christian position on selected questions. May the Lord help him (and all of us) to think rightly not only about each other, but about truth, God, man, sin and salvation. Amen.