If you are somebody who likes talking to people of other religions about your faith and interacting with non-believers, you are most likely to meet two kinds of people. I call them Jews and Greeks. In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul said “For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after knowledge”. This looks like one of those verses unworthy of note but it is laden with so much truth. The Jews require a sign, the Greeks seek after knowledge. Therefore you don’t step up to both Jews and Greeks with the same approach during evangelism.
‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ are metaphorical in this post. I am in no way referring to actual Jews and Greeks. Instead, I am talking about the two major kinds of non-believers I believe exist. The Jews are often looking for a sign; they demand that you show them something to prove your claim. This is why when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jews at Bethany believed in him instantly. When some people witness a miracle, they tend to surrender their all right away to Christ. The truth is, there are Greeks too (people who seek after knowledge). Paul performed so many miracles, but not everybody who witnessed the miraculous in Paul’s ministry automatically converted to Christianity? Why? There are Jews and Greeks and the Jews require a sign but the Greeks seek after knowledge.
One of my favorite chapters in the bible is ACTS 17 because of the remarkable turn of events that was recorded there. The chapter begins with Paul reasoning with some Jews in a synagogue in the Greek city of Thessalonica. “Didn’t Eli say Jews require a sign?” Indeed, I did, and I was quoting scripture. Jews do require a sign but they need to be fed with the right knowledge. Signs alone cannot keep a man grounded in Christ; he needs the word too. That is why Paul was reasoning with them in the synagogue. Some of them believed him, others didn’t. Amongst those who believed Paul were some very distinguished women in the city. The militant ones who didn’t believe Paul caused an uproar against him hence he had to flee with Silas to Berea and then to Athens. In Athens, Paul, as his custom was, debated with the Jews in the synagogue. He was later brought before Philosophers and this is what they did:
19. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
The Greeks indeed seek after knowledge; they simply want to know. They knew Paul was preaching a doctrine contrary to theirs, but their love for knowledge compelled them to give Paul the opportunity to share this new doctrine with them. I promise you, you will meet Greeks one of these days. People who are thirsty for knowledge. They don’t believe what you believe but their greatest desire is to accumulate as much knowledge as possible. May you not be found wanting when you encounter them. Paul didn’t mince words at all. He addressed the Greeks at their level – intellectually. No wonder he said that ‘… I became all things to all men… that I might save some’. He preached a powerful sermon. He made reference to the quotes of some Greek poets in his sermon. I get chills just reading this chapter. Some of them believed him and became Christians. It might not sound like a big deal to you, but in ancient times Greece was the hub of philosophical thought, therefore it is no mean feat to present a new doctrine to the Greeks and win some of them over. I love how the bible describes Athenians:
All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. (Acts 17:21)
That’s what they did all day: talking about and listening to the latest philosophies. And here comes a man all the way from Israel with a new philosophy: the gospel. He laid it before them and some of them believed him. It didn’t stop there, because of Paul’s ministry in Greece, Christianity gained grounds there. It is believed he established a church at Thessalonika, hence, his epistle to the Thessalonians. Ladies and Gentlemen, the gospel of Jesus Christ is far more efficacious than we make it out to be. In the marketplace of ideas, the gospel must be displayed as an undisputable commodity, though expensive, yet available for free to both the elite and the commoner.
In our world today there are so many Greeks and there are militant Jews parading the sidewalks of academia as Greeks. The militant Jews are the ones that persecuted and killed Jesus. They persecuted Paul too. But the Greeks are the ones who gave him the platform to present his idea. I am speaking of militant atheists versus the atheists who sincerely seek answers. The first group are merely out there on the internet to troll believers. They will incite you and provoke you by using crass words in reference to God, knowing that your faith restricts you from using foul language. They know atheism is a very weak stance. Because to claim you are cocksure God doesn’t exist, you would have to be omniscient. Meanwhile, you are disproving the existence of the only omniscient being there is. Therefore, it is a shot in your own foot to be atheist, because you would have to be omniscient to confidently claim there is no omniscient being. Haven’t you disproved your own existence in the process? Therefore, most of them often gravitate towards agnosticism. Which is some sort of a middle ground; a faux-neutrality. Agnostics are not quite sure if there is enough evidence out there about the existence of God or otherwise. So they choose to sit on the pointy fence – no matter how uncomfortable it is. Don’t let the vitriolic posts of the militant ones online provoke you to engage them in a fruitless back-and-forth debate which is often just a competition to show who has more knowledge. The bible is against such interactions. I have fallen for this trap over and over again. But I have resolved to ignore such posts and tweets online and rather address them in a lengthy blog post like this one.
There are 5 ministerial offices in Christianity; these are the gifts of Jesus Christ. When he ascended on high he gave some Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Notice how there was no mention of Apologists? Basically, it means we should all be apologists – every single one of us. Nobody has been called to be an Apologist, however, apologetics can manifest in the 5 ministerial offices mentioned above. You may say ‘well, Ravi Zacharias is an apologist’, but even he identifies himself as an Evangelist. We have all been called to defend the faith every way we can. Peter lays down the formula so brilliantly. He stated in 1 Peter 3:15 that, ‘… and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear’
The keywords in this verse are ‘meekness’ and ‘fear’. Be humble in your submission and respect the questioner. Let it not be a contest of who is more intelligent. Just drop the answer and leave it at that.
These militant atheists are quite patronizing sometimes when you interact with them. The assumption is that you are dumb for believing what you believe and they are automatically intellectually superior to you. One of the things they hate is when believers are very knowledgeable about the bible and can confidently defend their faith. When the believer is well-versed in a secular field like Philosophy, Science, History etc., that is even more salt to their injury. This is the more reason why believers need to read the bible and other resources to be fit to defend the faith. Please, God has instructed me to tell you (myself inclusive) to read wide. Read his word daily and acquire knowledge. Such atheists will always want to point out some error or supposed contradictions in the bible. You should always be in the position to give a laudable response in meekness and fear. It is not automatic than they are more intelligent than you are because of their worldview. Maybe they are more knowledgeable about theirs than you are about yours. And if they are more knowledgeable about your faith than you are, that is a disaster.
Every Christian must be prepared at all times to defend the faith. Read the bible. Read other books. I agree with Ravi Zacharias when he said that even if you are not familiar with the area you are being questioned in, you should be in the position to point the person to some resources. For me when I am being questioned concerning the age of the earth, dinosaur fossils and stuff like that, I simply point the person to the ANSWERS IN GENESIS website. If it is concerning Morality and anything philosophical, definitely I would point the person to relevant literature by either Ravi or C.S Lewis. If it is a science related question, then Prof. John Lennox is my best bet. Let us help people find the answers they need otherwise they will never consider accepting the gospel we preach.
Churches must begin to hold open forums where congregants would be allowed to ask questions and get answers. I know some churches have mid-week teaching services and cell group meetings. That is not enough. Apologetics must be the core of present-day christian ministry. Any and every christian should be able to quote scriptures and make references to respected research works to buttress points they raise in defending the faith. It is very bad if you have been a Christian for more than two years and haven’t read the bible from cover to cover. It is not good at all. With the rising sensitivity to gender and race related issues amongst congregants, we need to be taught from the pulpit what God says about these things. Church has to be more intellectual in our day and age. Paul didn’t always preach, he sometimes reasoned with those in the synagogue. That sounds to me like a more engaging approach to sharing the word. That is what we need in our generation.
Every Christian must be an Apologist. Each and every Christian must be a Greek and a Jew. You must be a Greek to the Greeks and a Jew to the Jews like Paul. You must be knowledgeable enough to answer questions or help people answer the questions that bother them. Also, you must be spirit-filled enough to operate in the gifts of the spirit. Let us not be like our opponents on the other side of the debate and look down on spiritual things. We must walk in the gifts of the spirit and bear the fruit thereof. Prophesy to people, heal the sick and cast out devils. Paul said it is possible for every Christian to prophesy. Moses took it a step further by stating that it is the will of God for all of us to be Prophets. All these can only happen when you are in tune with the spirit. Always remember that a supposed contradiction in the bible doesn’t tarnish the authenticity of your testimony like when your lifestyle contradicts the bible. Preach a sermon by your character. Be an apologist through and through.
References: Numbers 11, Acts 17, 1 Corithians 1 and 9.