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We shouldn’t be surprised if the topic of faith elicits anger or other negative emotions. Some like to attack us with sarcasm or embarrass us at family gatherings or send scorching emails. Responding in kind makes things worse and shows us to be foolish just like them (Prov. 26:4).
One way to lower the temperature in the room or the blood pressure in their veins (and yours!) is to quietly acknowledge the tone of the conversation. I’ve sometimes said something like “I think I’ve struck a nerve, haven’t I?” or “Maybe this isn’t the best time or place for this conversation” or “I feel uncomfortable about how this is going.” Their response could direct you to move forward in a cooler atmosphere. Until you “step on the clutch” of setting a better tone, your evangelistic presentation may not yield the best response.
The Clutch of Common Ground
An increasing number of non-Christians consider our Christian faith implausible or just plain crazy. They view us as homophobic, intolerant, narrow-minded bigots, and apologetic arguments or archaeological evidence may not help. However, we can pave the way for their consideration by finding things we do have in common about the world of ideas or the arena of faith.
For example, when accused of being narrow minded, we could suggest that everyone says no to some ideas or beliefs. We’re all “narrow” about some things. If need be, we can point to extremes that most people reject. Philosophers like to use the example of “torturing babies” as something we can all be “intolerant” of. Once we find common ground with people, we can then pursue discussions of where those limiting ideas come from. Eventually we can posit the notion that we Christians get our views from God who has revealed them to us in the Bible.
Sometimes we should follow the apostle Paul’s example when he preached to secular skeptics on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16–34). He quoted their poets to make the points he wanted to establish. Once they started shaking their heads affirmatively, he showed how their ideas, expressed by their poets, aligned with truth in God’s Word.
This may not go as smoothly as we’d like. But I have found that stepping on the clutch of finding common ground can help a great deal. If we fail to do so, we may prompt noises even louder than grinding gears in cars with stick shifts. The gospel resonates with some things all people should know. They may have “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness” (see Rom. 1:18), but God can raise the dead. He did so for all who believe (see Eph. 2:1), and He can do so for the people He brings our way.
Randy Newman is Senior Teaching Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism at the C.S. Lewis Institute. He is also an adjunct faculty member for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Patrick Henry College. He received his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. After serving for over 30 years with Campus Crusade for Christ, he established Connection Points, a ministry to help Christians engage people’s hearts the way Jesus did. He has written three books and numerous articles about evangelism and other ways our lives intertwine with God’s creation. He and his wife Pam live in Annandale, VA and have three grown sons. Randy blogs at www.connectionpoints.us.