A few days ago we had some new carpet laid in our hallway. The two carpet-fitters had been told that I’m a “vicar” and it wasn’t long before the subject came up. One of them – we’ll call him Tom – was eager to let me know that he’s a Christian too. He comes from a “very religious family”. His language was colourful; his ignorance of the Bible profound. But he assured me that he was on my side, all the way (though I think he was rather disappointed that I wasn’t wearing proper clerical robes). Then he jerked his thumb at his companion, Jack. “He’s a pagan. He doesn’t believe anything”, he said contemptuously. Well I was a bit uneasy about being cast as Tom’s ally, but I knew I had to say something. After all, we pray often that we’ll be given opportunities to witness. No point in asking for them and then turning them down when they come.
“I don’t think there are many real unbelievers,” I started. “I think most people deep down inside know that God’s there. And when they’re really in trouble, they start asking him to help them. The Bible says..”
But at that point Jack interrupted. “I don’t believe any of that rubbish about the Bible’, he said. ‘It’s just a lot of mumbo-jumbo made up by people long ago..”
Oh dear. Here we go again. How many hundreds of times have I heard those words? Or words to the same effect, spoken by people who have never read the Bible, who know nothing about the world in which it was written, the people who wrote it, the evidence for its reliability – and who aren’t interested. I’ve heard them from the semi-literate youngsters we meet on the streets; I’ve heard them from bright university students; I heard them on the radio a few days back from a prominent businessman who advises the government on all things social and economic and who sits in the House of Lords.
Well by now, surely, I should have my answer ready: a two-minute reply for everyone who comes out with that particular sneer at Christianity. And so should you. You must have had the same response from lots of people. And you know you’ll hear it many times again when you try to witness to folk you meet. So prepare your response now. If you were going for an job interview, you’d spend time thinking what questions are likely to come up. And you’d prepare your answers. Shouldn’t you be equally well prepared to speak for God when the opportunity arises? Peter says, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..’” (1 Peter 3:15).
A few weeks back, I sat down with James Goodman to make a list of the questions and objections that we hear most often from the teenagers we talk to on the streets. We made a list of a dozen or so. Some of them are “culture-specific” and could only come from teenagers (“well God made cannabis didn’t he?”), but most are heard just as often from older people. Some are just frivolous and mocking. Some are serious questions. But we want to have an answer ready for all of them, even if the answer is as short and sharp as the answer Paul had ready for a sneering objector: “One of you will say to me, ‘So why does God blame us? For who can resist his will?’. But who are you O man to talk back to God?” There are times when we must answer a fool according to his folly. But there are other times when we must give a reasoned response to difficult questions.
Here are some of the questions or objections we hear most often:
- If there’s a God why doesn’t he show himself or give us a sign he’s there?
- So what about all the other religions then? Why should yours be true?
- Well, what about all the good people who aren’t Christians?
- Religion causes most of the trouble in the world…
- God’s never done anything for me. Why should I bother with him?
- I don’t believe in God, I believe in evolution..
- So why are people all different colours if we all come from Adam and Eve?
- I wouldn’t mind being in hell: my mates will all be there, right?
- So is God male or female?
- God didn’t make me – my mum and dad made me..
- The Bible’s full of contradictions..
- So who did Adam and Eve’s children marry?
- So who made God?
Why not sit down and try to work out what you’d say to answer each of those statements or questions? Not long, complicated answers, because it’s not likely that anyone will allow you to give a half-hour lecture. Just write down what you’d like to say to each one if you were allowed to talk for two minutes. What facts would you quote? What arguments would you use? What Bible-verses would you want to have stored up in your memory to bring out when it counts? “Be prepared” says Peter.
And if you do manage to write something helpful, then share it with the rest of us. Why not give it to Carl for the next bulletin? James and I have tried to produce some simple tracts to give to teenagers who come out with these common objections. But we’re still looking for good ideas. So let us have yours.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I think all that’s needed when we witness is the ability to give smart answers. We need more. We need God-given insight into the minds of the people to whom we’re talking. There are some people who need a sharp, humbling rebuke. Others need gentle, patient explanation. Brownlow North, the 19th century evangelist, seems to have had a remarkable gift of knowing how to answer different people. A young man once came to him and said, “I have heard your sermon, sir, and I have heard you preach often, now; and I neither care for you nor your preaching, unless you can tell me, why did God permit sin in the world? “Then I’ll tell you”, he replied. “God permitted sin because he chose to do so.” The young man was visibly taken aback. So North continued, “Because he chose it. And if you continue to question and cavil at God’s dealings, and vainly puffed up by your carnal mind strive to be wise above what is written, I will tell you something else that God will choose to do. He will some day choose to put you into hell…”
That might not have been the right answer to give to everyone. But it was exactly the rebuke that was needed by that arrogant young man. And it led to his awakening and conversion.
The Lord Jesus was the most wonderful question-answerer the world has ever seen. Read through Mark chapter 12 and remind yourself of the questions put to him by hostile interviewers – and by one genuine enquirer. How wise he was in dividing between the many who asked questions to catch him out, and the one who was “not far from the kingdom”. How skillfully he answered them all – not just with clever answers, but with answers that struck at the heart and conscience of the hearers. He never failed to find the right reply. Our greatest need if we are to be effective in witness, is to have Jesus with us at all times and to be filled with his Spirit.
Prepare and pray. Prepare your answers and pray for the help of the Holy Spirit.