Starting Apologetic Conversations Without Sounding Confrontational

By Jason Carlson

Recently a young man asked me, “How do I share my faith with someone who disagrees with me without sounding confrontational?”  This is a great question; and really, this is the attitude all of us as Christians should have when we think about sharing our faith. We need to be bold, but we also need to practice gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

If there’s someone in your life you’d like to share your faith with, but you’re not sure how to start, let me suggest the following strategy:

Begin the conversation with a question such as, “I’m interested in what you believe about (insert topic). Would you mind telling me more about your views on this?”  Here you’ve opened a door to conversation, but in a very non-threatening way. You’re simply showing interest in them as a person and what they believe.

Now, if the person you’re talking with is willing to share with you, listen respectfully and when they’re done acknowledge your appreciation for their openness.

Next you’ll want to begin to move the conversation towards a discussion of your different beliefs. To do so, politely note that you recognized some differences between their beliefs and yours. For example, “I found it interesting that you said you believe (insert topic). That’s a different perspective on this issue from what I hold.”

Now, at this point your conversation partner may ask you to share more about your beliefs with them. If so, go for it. However, it they don’t seem immediately interested, you might follow-up with something like, “Isn’t it interesting how we can both believe something about (insert topic) to be true, yet at the same time have such different perspectives?”

What you’ve just done here with this last question is you’ve introduced some helpful, logical tension into the conversation. You see, when it comes to the nature of truth- what is real or the way things really are- there cannot be two different and contradictory positions for a given issue. For example, if you’re talking to an Atheist, either God exists or He doesn’t. Both of these positions cannot be true.

Hopefully your conversation partner will intuitively recognize the logical tension presented by your competing beliefs, but if not, it can be helpful to follow up with a simple observation such as, “You know, with our respective beliefs on this issue being so different, we can’t both be right.”

Having made this observation you now have a great opportunity to take your conversation to the next level apologetically. Try saying something like, “Personally, when I think about this issue, I don’t want to believe something that isn’t true. Maybe we should explore this topic more together?  Would you be open to discussing our respective beliefs further with me and examining why we each believe what we believe?”

Now, ideally your conversation partner will be open to your proposal, maybe out of curiosity for whether or not their belief is true, maybe to assist you in your intellectual questioning, or maybe just because they like a good debate. Whatever their motive, in using this line of questioning and observation you’ve created an opportunity for ongoing apologetic conversation with them.

Of course, it’s possible your discussion partner might not be interested in examining your respective beliefs any further. If they refuse your offer, you can politely state, “Thanks for taking some time to talk with me about this. If you’d ever be open to discussing this more I’d really enjoy that.”

While it might appear that you haven’t gotten very far with this last outcome, the reality is, you’ve planted a seed and hopefully your discussion partner will begin to think more about what they believe and why. If they do, and if they want to explore this further at some point, now they know someone they can approach for conversation. This alone is a positive result.

Now, notice how this conversation unfolded. Throughout this whole process you’ve been able to direct the conversation respectfully and without sounding confrontational. By simply asking honest questions and making uncritical observations, you’ve highlighted and raised important issues that warrant further consideration.

If you have someone in your life you’ve been hoping to share your faith with I’d encourage you to give this technique a try. I’m confident you’ll find it a helpful tool for opening up fruitful apologetic conversations. 

What Makes Christianity Unique?

By Jason Carlson

“Mr. Carlson, tell me something, why are you Christians always sending missionaries around the world? Why don’t you just leave people alone? Other countries have their own cultures, their own religions, they’re happy with what they’ve got. Why don’t you just let people be?” This was the question that a young man in a large, non-Christian university asked me recently after I had finished a lecture on world religions.

Have you ever thought about this question? It’s a very interesting question for Christians to consider and probably one of the most important questions we could ask ourselves. What is so special about Jesus Christ and Christianity that we feel compelled to carry this message to the ends of the earth?

The answer to this question is found in the very nature of what Christianity truly is. Many people in our world today, even some Christians, have embraced the false idea that Christianity is just another religion in a world full of religious options. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

What makes Christianity unique? Christianity is unique amongst all of the religions of the world because Christianity is truly not a religion!

What are religions? Religions are human attempts to make our lives right with God- through our good works, sacrifices, rituals, and money. However, Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is about God entering human history to graciously save men and women through His Son Jesus Christ; and it is only by placing our faith in him and his saving work on the cross that we might be saved. Christianity is not about what we do as human beings in order to please God, but rather, it’s about what God has done for us so that we could have a relationship with him.

Jesus’ disciple John tells us in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Christianity, different from every other religion in the world, offers salvation that is based not on human merit, but on a free gift from our Creator, God. This is what makes Christianity unique. As the apostle Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” In his great love for us God has offered the world a gift, a relationship with him through his Son, Jesus Christ. We cannot earn it, we cannot buy it; it’s free, it’s a gift.

Why do Christians send missionaries around the world? Why do we feel compelled to evangelize and contend for our faith? It’s because God has given the world a gift. We call it the gospel. The word “gospel” literally means “good news”. And for a world caught up in false, man-made religious systems of works and rituals, the gift of Jesus Christ is not only unique, but it’s very good news.

The “Abomination” of Harry Potter

By Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson

I’ve got some great ideas for a new series of children’s books.  Let me share some of them with you:

1) Perry Hotter and the Dirty Crack Pipe – A young boy is shipped off to live in an inner-city crack house.  In this crack house, the boy is trained in the ways of illicit drug production, use, and distribution.  Perry has wonderful adventures learning about creating more effective highs, outwitting the bad crack dealers, and teaching other young kids about the joys of drug use.

2) Perry Hotter and the Jihadist’s Bomb-belt – A young boy is shipped off to an Al Qaeda training camp.  At this training camp, the boy is trained in the covert practices of subverting American laws, developing dirty bombs, and using a sword to cut off an infidel’s head.  Perry’s amazing exploits include evading U.S. spy planes, purchasing nuclear materials from Chechen rebels, and developing jihadist literature to share with his friends at school.

3) Perry Hotter and the Prostitutes of Pleasure – A young boy is shipped off to a secretive brothel in Eastern Europe.  While living in this brothel, the boy is taught all of the most effective pimping techniques. Perry’s feats include seducing poor Russian girls with offers of employment in the west, bribing dirty police officers to look the other way, and exposing other children to the pleasures of earning a living by selling their bodies.

What do you think?  You’re shocked?!  You’re outraged?!  How could I even suggest a book series for children containing such vile and filthy material?

To be sure, I think that these are all commonsense and appropriate responses to the evil subject matter detailed in my imaginary book series.  How could anyone, yet alone a Bible believing Christian, think that this is appropriate subject matter for a series of children’s books?  You don’t have to look very far into scripture to find that illegal drug abuse, terrorism, and sexual exploitation are all topics that break the heart of God.

However, while my imaginary series of children’s books, featuring these demonic evils, would be condemned outright by any God-fearing person, there is currently a real children’s book series on the market, filled with equally dangerous and unbiblical evils, that is being bought by the millions, even by Christian families.  This is the Harry Potter series, which has recently released a new book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  In its first day of sales alone, this newest addition to the Harry Potter series sold almost 7 million copies; and will probably sell upwards of 15 million+ by the time it’s all said and done.  While this reality should shock and disturb our society, what we find instead is widespread praise for the “magic” of Harry Potter and how he has “enchanted” millions of kids into reading.  What’s even more disturbing is the vast number of Christian children and parents flocking into bookstores to buy their family a copy, while our pastors remain silent about the dangers found within Harry Potter’s pages.

The Harry Potter series is wholly based on the dark arts of witchcraft, sorcery, and spiritism.  These are all Satanic practices that are absolutely condemned by God throughout the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 18:9-14, God tells us that these practices are an “abomination” in God’s sight.  In Galatians 5:19-21, God says that sorcery is a “work of the flesh” and that those who practice sorcery “will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.”  And Revelation 22:15 tells us that sorcerers will not be present in the glorious city of the New Jerusalem.

Christian brothers and sisters, if God condemns the activities glorified in the Harry Potter series, and if by God’s standards Harry Potter himself will spend eternity separated from God, how can we as believers ever justify the purchasing of any Harry Potter book?  How can we justify allowing our children, the children God calls us to raise “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), to read books that revel in such clearly unbiblical practices?  We would never allow our children to read stories that glorify illegal drug abuse, murder, or sexual exploitation, so why do we lower the standards when it comes to witchcraft and sorcery?

Being “salt and light” to the world (Matthew 5:13-16) sometimes requires that we as believers take a stand against things that the world defines as popular, cool, and even beneficial.  No matter how many Harry Potterbooks are sold, no matter how much acclaim Harry Potter receives, and no matter how great people think it is that Harry Potter has caused kids to put down their video games to read a book, sorcery will always be an “abomination” in God’s eyes.  And if God views the subject matter of Harry Potter as an abomination, then we as Christians have no choice but to do likewise.

Defending Salvation Through Christ Alone

By Jason Carlson

Don’t all religions lead to God? Isn’t one faith as good as another? Isn’t it arrogant to say that only one religion leads to salvation? These are some common questions that people in our pluralistic world are wrestling with today. In a world full of religious options, many people of goodwill, including Evangelical Christians, have trouble with the idea that there would only be one way to enter into a saving relationship with God. However, this is exactly what God’s word tells us; salvation is only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6).

The problem that many Christians often face when communicating this biblical truth, is that many non-Christians will simply reply, “but I don’t believe the Bible”. So, how can we as Christians convey this critical biblical truth to people who don’t necessarily accept the scriptures as God’s word? This is where a simple little philosophical argument can be extremely helpful; it’s called the “Law of Non-Contradiction”.

In the philosophical discipline of Logic, there are numerous rules that govern the process of forming a coherent and rational argument. One of these rules is the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction formally stated is that “A cannot be non-A”. In plain language, this simply means that something that is true cannot be anything but that thing which is true. For example, if it is true that Jason Carlson alone wrote this article, nobody but Jason Carlson could have written this article. Either Jason Carlson alone wrote it or he did not. To say that Jason Carlson and Jane Doe both individually wrote this article would be a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction.

When it comes to the questions of religious pluralism and promoting the Christian claim of exclusivity (salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone), the Law of Non-Contradiction can serve as a valuable resource in a Christian’s apologetic tool-box. Here’s how it works:

All religions in the world make absolute truth claims regarding the way to salvation…

  • Christians proclaim that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Hindus claim that salvation (liberation) is achieved when a person transcends this world of illusion by building up enough positive karma (good works) to escape the cycle of reincarnation.
  • Muslims state that the possibility of salvation* results from submitting one’s life to Allah and faithfully carrying-out the Five Pillars of Islam.
  • Buddhists say that salvation (Nirvana) is the result of detaching one’s self from the desires of the physical, material world.

Each of the world’s religions claims to promote the true path to salvation, but each of these religions provides a distinct and contrary path from all of the others. Thus, one of these paths to salvation is true, or none of them are true, but they cannot all be true at the same time; this would be a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction.

For the Christian who uses this apologetic argument in response to the questions of religious pluralism and to promote the Christian claim of exclusivity, it is important to understand that this argument does not prove that Jesus is the one true path to salvation. What this argument demonstrates is that from a philosophical standpoint, it is irrational to claim that all religions are equally valid paths to salvation. The idea of religious pluralism (“all roads lead to God”) is philosophically invalid according to the Law of Non-Contradiction.

In order to show that Jesus Christ is the one true way to salvation, Christians must be ready (1 Peter 3:15) with other apologetic tools: arguments for the historicity of Jesus Christ, the reliability of the gospels, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, etc. There are terrific reasons for believing each of those truths; however, we will have to save those for another posting.

*In Islam there is no certainty of salvation. Allah, the god of Islam, is capricious by nature and therefore even the most devout Muslim has no certainty of salvation. The only certainty of salvation in Islam is to die as a martyr in Jihad or holy war.

Reluctant Warriors: Christianity and the Just War Tradition

By Jason Carlson

How are we as Christians to rightly live in a world of war? This has been a question that followers of Jesus Christ have wrestled with from the very earliest years of the Christian faith. This question was recast in many Christians’ minds this past week as we struggled with the reality of a prominent Christian leader advocating the assassination of another country’s President. However, even prior to those comments, many Christians have grappled with the reality of America’s “war on terror” and our military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. What are proud Americans who give their ultimate allegiance to the Prince of Peace to think about these matters?

God’s word, the Bible, provides some important insights into the reality of warfare and our proper Christian view and response towards it. Let us briefly note three key Biblical teachings related to warfare:

1. From scripture we recognize that warfare is a reality that God has condoned, participated in, and will participate in again in the future (Exodus 15:1-18; 17:8-15; Numbers 31:1-3; Deuteronomy 2:26-31; 3:1-7; 20:1-4; Joshua 5:13-6:27; Revelation 6:1-2; 19:11-21; 20:7-10). Thus, if our good, holy, and perfect God has sometimes condoned and participated in warfare, no matter how much we may dislike it, we cannot say that all warfare is inherently evil.

2. In Exodus 20:13, the sixth commandment admonishes us, “You shall not murder.”  What’s interesting to note about this commandment is that it is only directed against murder, the wrongful taking of another human life. Scripture assumes a distinction between murder and certain other forms of killing, such as capital punishment or warfare, which the Bible allows for (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 21:12-14).

3. In allowing for certain other forms of killing, God has ordained human governments, not private citizens, as the agents of justice, retribution, rewards and punishments (Matthew 5:38-39; Romans 12:17-13:7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Thus, God has given governments the charge to perceive when military action is necessary.

Using these Biblical realities and teachings, Christians throughout the centuries have formulated some guiding principles as to how and when human governments may rightly participate in warfare; these principles have become known as the “Just War Tradition”. Two of the earliest church fathers that attempted to reconcile the individual Christian’s call to live peaceably with all, while living under human governments and often having to serve in their nation’s military, were Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo (circa 300’s A.D.). Their “Just War” positions have remained the majority Christian viewpoint since the fourth century A.D. Following their lead, other prominent Christian theologians who have expounded on the Just War Tradition include: Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin.

The Just War Tradition historically focuses on eight guiding principles for determining when human governments may rightly engage in warfare. These eight principles are summarized as follows:

1. Just Cause – The only justifiable war is a defensive war. Wars of aggression, started for the purpose of gaining territory, promoting an ideology, or acquiring wealth are not considered just.

2. Just Intent – The objective of a defensive war must always be the restoration of peace and the defense of innocent human life.

3. Last Resort – All efforts at peace, negotiation, and compromise must have failed. Waging war should never be the first option.

4. Formal Declaration of War – Only a properly authorized authority can declare war and a formal declaration of war must be clearly stated.

5. Limited Objectives – Since peace is the ultimate goal of a just war, the unconditional surrender or total destruction of an enemy are not legitimate objectives.

6. Proportionate Means – The weaponry used in warfare and the degree of force must be limited to what is necessary to secure a just peace.

7. Noncombatant Immunity – The use of force should discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Civilians and prisoners of war should be guaranteed immunity.

8. Reasonable Hope for Success – A defensive war against aggression must have a reasonable hope of securing peace for it to be considered just.

These eight principles summarize the essential elements of the Just War Tradition. Once again, the Just War Tradition has been the majority Christian viewpoint on warfare throughout the history of the church. This does not mean that the Just War position is absolutely correct, but it does lend much weight to its credibility for the discerning Christian.

While the reality of warfare is one of the tragic consequences of living in a fallen and sinful world (Genesis 1:31 & Genesis 3; Romans 1:18-32), God promises us that a day is coming when “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Micah 4:3). We will have to wait for the coming reign of the “Prince of Peace” to see that promise fulfilled here on Earth (Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 21 & 22). Until that day comes, the best hope for human relationships is to follow the model of Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of living a life of peace. However, in those sad chapters of human history when warfare and terror are thrust upon us, the Just War Tradition provides a moral compass that can rightly guide all reluctant warriors into battle.

Why the Secular Left Despise the Christian Right

by Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson

Many people in the Evangelical Christian community fail to understand the true underlying cause of the Secular Left’s antagonism for the Christian Right of America.  Many Christians assume it is because of our opposition to abortion, or the homosexual lifestyle, or our desire for alternative theories to evolution to be taught in the classroom; and while all of these are related to the Secular Left’s vitriol, none of them strike to the core of the matter.  No, there is a much deeper and far less recognized cause for the Secular Left’s animosity for the Evangelical Christian community.

What lies at the heart of the division between the Secular Left and the Christian Right in America is a debate over the nature of truth.  Evangelical Christians believe that truth is objective and universal, which means that there is absolute truth which applies to all people, in all cultures, for all times.  Evangelicals recognize that this objective and absolute truth is found ultimately in the one true God of the universe and in His revelation given to us personally in Jesus Christ and in the Bible.  As a result of God having revealed absolute truth to humanity, Evangelical Christians believe that lives and societies are best governed by adhering to the principles and guidelines that God has given.  After all, when an omniscient (all-knowing) and loving God personally reveals Himself and the correct path for humans to follow, it only makes sense to hold fast to His guidance.  And it is the Evangelical insistence on adhering to God’s absolute truth found in His word that stokes the Secular Left’s ire.

To the contrary, the Secular Left in America is guided by a far different understanding of truth.  For them, truth is no more than a social construction of reality.  This means that reality has no inherent structure or meaning and there is no objective truth that humanity can discover.  Instead, the Secular Left in our world has adopted a postmodern view of truth that declares that individuals and societies impose their own meaning and truth onto reality.  Thus, for them, truth is relative.  Truth is relative to individuals, to social groups, to cultures, and to religions.  And it is this postmodern view of truth that has created the wedge of animosity between the Secular Left and the Christian Right.

As a result of their denial of objective truth and their belief that truth is relative, the Secular Left has adopted a deconstructionist approach to history and traditional worldviews, and specifically towards the absolutes of Christianity.  The common claim brought by the various proponents of the Secular Left’s agenda is that “Christianity” has historically led to violence, repression, and conquest; and they will list a long series of historical abuses as evidence*.  As a result of these so-called “Christian” abuses towards non-Christian people and cultures, the Secular Left’s postmodern worldview has determined that we must now highlight and give preference to the historically marginalized and mistreated.

While highlighting marginalized people groups is a noble goal, the Secular Left does not stop here.  Once again, as a result of their postmodern view of truth, the Secular Left makes an amazing leap at this point.  They claim that not only should we recognize and highlight these historically marginalized people and cultures, but the leap that is made is that these marginalized people, cultures, lifestyles, and religions are actually equal to, or even preferable to the traditional Christian worldview.  Thus, we see the Secular Left’s embrace of every non-Christian lifestyle, choice, and religion as normative: homosexual marriage, abortion on demand, even Muslim terrorists.

It all boils down to the nature of truth.  The Christian Right has remained steadfast in our adherence to the objective truths and standards set forth in God’s word.  Thus, we oppose homosexual marriage, we stand on the side of the unborn and we believe that Religions that promote the killing and suppression of those opposed to them are evil.  Evangelicals are guided by God’s objective and absolute truths; and it is for this stance that the Secular Left despises us.

Christian brothers and sisters, we must be vigorously engaged in this cultural debate over the nature of truth.  The future of our country and our world is at stake.  Our engagement in this debate is a thoroughly Christian pursuit; in fact, God’s word admonishes us to contend for the faith, to contend for the truth (Jude 3).  At the same time, while we debate passionately, we must do so with a Christ-like “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  The way of the Master is to stand for the truth in love.  While we are right to defend the truth, point out sinfulness, and label right from wrong, we must do so with an attitude of humility and love.  If we do this, we will be faithful to the truth and to the example of standing for the truth left to us by our Master, Jesus Christ.

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?

By Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson

During a question and answer session at a recent speaking engagement, a university student asked me, “Why do you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God?”  Now this is a very interesting question; and probably one of the most important questions any Christian could ask themselves.  What is so special, so unique about the Bible that Christians believe it is literally the inspired word of God?

In answering this student’s question, I encouraged him to consider the following facts about the Bible:

First, the Bible is not just one single book.  This is a more common misconception than many people realize, especially with people who do not come from a Judeo-Christian background.  Rather than being a single book, the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, which is called the canon of scriptures.  These 66 books contain a variety of genres: history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom literature, letters, and apocalyptic just to name a few.

Second, these 66 books were written by 40 different authors.  These authors came from a variety of backgrounds: shepherds, fishermen, doctors, kings, prophets, and others.  And most of these authors never knew one another personally.

Third, these 66 books were written over a period of 1500 years.  Yet again, this is another reminder that many of these authors never knew or collaborated with one another in writing these books.

Fourth, the 66 books of the Bible were written in 3 different languages.  In the Bible we have books that were written in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic; a reflection of the historical and cultural circumstances in which each of these books were written.

And finally, these 66 books were written on 3 different continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe.  Once again, this is a testament to the varied historical and cultural circumstances of God’s people.

Think about the above realities: 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents.  What’s more, this collection of books shares a common storyline- the creation, fall, and redemption of God’s people; a common theme- God’s universal love for all of humanity; and a common message- salvation is available to all who repent of their sins and commit to following God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. In addition to sharing these commonalities, these 66 books contain no historical errors or contradictions.  God’s word truly is an amazing collection of writings!

After I had shared the above facts with this student, I offered him the following challenge: I said to him, “If you do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, if you do not believe that the Bible is of a supernatural origin, than I challenge you to a test.”  I said to the student, “I challenge you to go to any library in the world, you can choose any library you like, and find 66 books which match the characteristics of the 66 books in the Bible.  You must choose 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, written on 3 different continents.  However, they must share a common storyline, a common theme, and a common message, with no historical errors or contradictions.”  I went on to say, “If you can produce such a collection of books, I will admit that the Bible is not the inspired word of God.”  The student’s reply was almost instantaneous, he emphatically stated, “But that’s impossible!”

“But that’s impossible!”  It truly is impossible, for any collection of human writings.  However, the Bible passes this test.  The Bible contains 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, with no historical errors or contradictions.  The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, bears the mark of Divine inspiration.

The next time you encounter someone who asks you why you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, try sharing this challenge with them.  Better yet, don’t wait until you’re asked, just go ahead and share this challenge with a friend today.  You don’t even have to mention the Bible up front, just ask them if they think it would be realistic to assemble such a collection of books.  After they say, “But that’s impossible!” you’ve got a ready-made opportunity for sharing the truth of God’s word with somebody!