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Friday, November 29, 2013

"How to Talk to a Skeptic" (Donald J. Johnson)

TITLE: How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics
AUTHOR: Donald J. Johnson
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis. MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (272 pages).

Have you ever been tongue tied when an aggressive non-Christian throws doubts at your faith? What about times in which you feel inadequate when dealing with atheists and secularists? What if you have previously gone for a class on Apologetics but have largely forgotten what the teacher had said? If you are any of the above, you are in good company. A lot of people have received training and possessed wonderful resources in addressing the tough questions regularly thrown at Christians. Whether it is the inability to recall the facts and information, or the inadequacy of responding on the fly, it is increasingly more challenging not just dealing about material but learning how to talk to skeptics. Written gently and with great understanding, Apologist Don Johnson, President of Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries has written a very practical how-to book on learning to converse intelligently with skeptics, non-Christians, and people who simply needs someone to engage them at a level they appreciate. Basically, when engaging in any discussion, the purpose is about worldviews and truth. Johnson gives 5 reasons why tackling the subject of worldviews is most important.

  1. Looking at worldviews is an excellent way to exercise rationality and to relate with the facts presented.
  2. Worldviews are bigger than any single objection.
  3. The honest skeptic deserves a fuller answer.
  4. It is easy for anyone dealing with one objection to be quickly dealt with the next, and the next, and the next.
  5. Apply burden on proof on all sides, and not just rely on the Christian to defend the faith. The skeptic will also need to defend his/her skepticism.
These form the foundation of the conversational approach advocated by Johnson. Putting it simply, the entire book is about empathizing with the skeptic; explaining the Christian faith; and finally engaging with the objections raised.
A) Empathizing with the Skeptics

It is important to learn to listen first, so that the skeptic will also respond in kind. Through honest empathy and understanding, we can aim to find out what the skeptic believes and why he/she cannot accept Christianity. By listening to them, by asking relevant questions, and by patient conversation, we can avoid turning the skeptic into a bigger opponent. Recognize that the skeptic is also a person that Christ loves. At the same time, by patient listening, we can learn to pinpoint exactly where the problem is, so that we can speak constructively into the matter. Listening and learning is the important first step.

B) Explaining the Fundamentals

The skeptic will not settle if we simply do the listening and he do the talking. At some point, we will need to speak up. Five chapters are written in "What Skeptics Need to Know About God." The first affirms that God is love. God wants all to be reconciled with him. God's love is sacrificial. The love of God and the meaning of life are connected in very profound ways. Second, loving must be done within a set of rules and laws, just like a marriage needs to stay within the boundaries of faithfulness and purity. Third, John talks about what Jesus meant in "born again." It is not just freedom from sin but the joys of becoming a new person of hope. Fourth, salvation is not simply about escaping the fires of hell. It is about embracing the joys of heaven. Many skeptics tend to prefer a world that is like John Lennon's song, "Imagine," that suggests no heaven, no hell, no nothing. The question is: Is that reality? Is that truth? Think of heaven and hell is to see them as reality, and not just concepts to be argued about. Fifth, the chapter on Bible is not just about dogmatic statements, but an invitation to learn how to "think about the Bible." Skeptics have often used a wrong method to think about the Bible which then leads them to an erroneous understanding of what the Bible is about. Both a "literal" as well as a "spiritual" sense need to be adopted. As far as reading the Bible is concerned, the purpose is to know God, rather than a set of rules of do's and don'ts.

C) Engaging the Objections

Six specific objections are dealt with by comparing the Christian worldview and the rest. On "The God Hypothesis," we begin with God is love, where we look at the list of indisputable facts of life, and to apply the test of reasonableness of how Christianity can explain the facts as well as the seeming contradictions. Beware of intellectual roadblocks that can become an irrelevant piece of data that behaves like a spanner in the works.On Jesus as myth, one skeptic uses a tagline for Christmas: "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason." Clarify the observations. Evaluate the facts from history. Then approach the matter reasonably. Other objections Johnson engages on are:

  • The reality of an after world;
  • Personal relationship with God;
  • Hypocrisy, sex and other causes of skepticism
  • Learning to tell the story to the world.
So What?

We live in an increasingly skeptical and in some cases very cynical culture. With trust levels hovering consistently at a low level, human relationships have become increasingly individualistic and isolated. This is the culture that challenges all of us, especially those trying to share the gospel. Thanks to the New Atheists, religion has become associated more with fanaticism and radicalism. Thanks to some New Evangelicals, the fundamentalists and the conservatives have been sidelined as old-fashioned, irrelevant, and even unbibiblical. Thanks to the New Age, relativism, pluralism, and all manner of free-thinking philosophies have flourished. Anyone carrying a message that does not emanate liberty, relativity, and tolerance will be rejected outright. Welcome to the new world, a world that is insisting that people tolerate everything but believing in nothing.

However, that does not mean Christianity is easily debunked or deemed some pushover. Truth will always stand out. Learning how to talk to skeptics is not about winning arguments or coming up with brilliant answers to the world's toughest questions about the faith. It is about learning how to love people in spite of their objections. It is learning to be patient to explain things out with them. It is about empathizing through listening and understanding. It is about explaining gently and lovingly the fundamentals and reasons for our faith. It is about building a relationship that allows us to engage constructively so that we all grow a step closer to knowing God more personally. The road may be long and tough, but the gospel message is for all. This book is another resource to help us not just to talk to skeptics, but to be channels of blessings to bring hope and faith to all the world, including the skeptic.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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