I had lunch yesterday with one of my Godsons. My wife Katie and I help the Young Adults ministry at our church. Whenever a strong relationship develops with any one of them we “officially” make them our Godchildren. So, we are blessed to have many. Anyway, let’s call this young man I met with David (because that’s his name.) So, David and I enjoyed a very hearty meal at a locally owned diner. The food was great. Like most conversations I asked how he was doing with school and work. He is engaged to a wonderful young Christian woman who I’ve known since she was a child. I was glad to hear they’ve set a date and will be married soon.
Then the conversation turned to some of the discussions each of us has had with non-Christians and atheists. David wanted to make sure he was not being “preachey,” or appearing dumb, or ignorant, or irrational. I said that’s why we must start our conversation with Christian Apologetics that center around either culturally relevant topics or science. Now, you should understand that David is a Technologist. He is a Networking Engineer. So he has a strong affinity for the scientific. And he was quite surprised by that part of my statement.
He said, “Science? Shouldn’t we start with Jesus or the Bible? Isn’t that the right place to start?” I told him there was a time in our culture when we could do that, but unfortunately that time has passed. When I was a kid if anyone mentioned the Bible or Jesus, there was immediate respect. People acknowledged the authority of both. Now people view the Bible as an ancient book filled with fables and legends. Many also believe Jesus is a myth. I said we need to build up our “street cred” first. We need to show our non-believing friends that Christians are indeed rational, they actually think about things, and they can make an evidential and logical case for the existence of GOD, the life of Jesus, and the truth of Christianity. In other words, we need to be culturally bi-lingual.
And we find this in the Scripture. Jesus knew how to talk to his audience. To the Pharisees he spoke one way, to the Samaritan woman he spoke another. Paul gives us a clearer example. In addressing the Jews, he spoke as a Jew. While on Mars Hill, he found a cultural context he could leverage. He spoke about their “unknown god” and in essence said, “Let me introduce you to Him.” In fact, Paul writes,
19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (1 Corinthians 9:20-23 The Message (MSG)
Now don’t get me wrong. We need to know our stuff! We need to be able to speak knowledgeably, rationally, and intelligently about why GOD exists – why Jesus really lived, died, and rose – and finally how He has changed our lives. We need to study the Scriptures, Christian Apologetics, and, well – people. But never forget that we have reality on our side. What we believe is actually True! (Yes, the capital “T” kind of truth.)
Having said that, we live in a cultural that has become indifferent and even hostile to the old evangelistic techniques. (And to be candid, I’ve never been keen on using methodologies to reach people for Christ.) People demand a genuine human connection now. They want to know that you get them and where they’re coming from first. In short, we are living on Mars Hill now. We need to be able to relate to atheists and non-believers. Like Paul, we don’t “take on their way of life,” but we understand where they are at, and what speaks to them.