Thursday, May 03, 2007

Preparation for Witness

A couple of the RevGals bloggers, Jan and Songbird, recently posted reflections about the need for pastors and lay leaders to get out of their churches and into the communities. They were discussing this in the context of the Emergent Conversation, but that's not my purpose here.

Before sending people out into the community, the church needs to do a better job of preparing people to share their faith with others. Specifically, we are failing to "equip the saints" to wrestle with the hard questions that can be posed by thoughtful skeptics and seekers in discussions about faith.

For example, in a recent Bible study group I am involved in, the leader asked whether the Jesus and the disciples could have "engineered" the events in the New Testament that fulfill the Old Testament prophesies about the coming of the Messiah. She was referring to Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the events leading up to his crucifixion. Most everyone in the group nodded their heads, no, that wouldn't have been possible. I told them that some would argue that it WAS possible. Skeptics have said that Jesus and the disciples knew the OT prophesies as well as anybody else in that day and time and could have arranged for his entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey and for the dinner in the room. Furthermore, there are those who argue that Jesus colluded with Judas to arrange his betrayal to fulfill that prophesy and even some who would go further and say Jesus expected God would intervene to prevent his death.

After a bit of stunned silence, there was a lively group discussion about how they would respond to someone who agreed with the skeptical view. A couple of the participants talked to me afterwards and said they had never heard those arguments and would not have known how to respond to them before we had our discussion. I was surprised that these folks who have spent many years in intense Bible study and are very active in their churches had not been exposed to these views before and didn't know how to address them.

Before going out into the community to witness, you need to be prepared to respond to the thoughtful skeptic or else you appear uniformed and unpersuasive. Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ,and The Case for a Creator are a couple of good resources for the layperson seeking that kind of preparation that I have used in classes before. Some of the Alpha materials can be useful for this purpose as well. What would you suggest?

10 comments:

Presbyterian Gal said...

I totally agree about needing a better job of preparation done. We had a speaker at our church last week who emphasized that no one can "convert" anyone else. Each person has to make that decision for themselves. But we can answer questions and witness by coming alongside them and helping them.

One question that bothered me for years and years was the issue of contradictions in the Bible regarding the basic nature of God as omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. I tried Clifford Pickover first, which hurt my brain trying to get around. Then learned that those concepts were inserted into the Bible when the Greeks translated the texts. Then everything fell into place for me.

How would you handle the more intellectual skeptics QG? Do the books you recommend cover that?

Elaine said...

You do know what you get if you cross a Presbyterian and a Jehovah's Witness?




You're sure, you want to hear this?





It is pretty bad. . . . . . ..



Ok,

A knock at the door from someone without a clue what to say.

I did warn you.
Elaine
Norman, OK
www.dowlinglawoffice.com

Michael Kruse said...

One resource I would highly recommend is Kenneth Baileys two lecture DVD "Interpreting the Bible." The first thrity minute lecture gives a wonderful overview of where the Bible came from. The second lecture is about the seven sins of interpretation. I think it gives you a wonderful foundation to build as you ask other questions about the bible.

http://cdbaby.com/cd/revdrbailey9

I would also add that while the intellectual questions are important and have to be addressed in due course, our personal testimony is the most powerful evangelism. I am not saying it ends there but if the personal connection is not present, then our witness becomes a purely intellectual. The great majority of people who come to faith, come into community first and resolve questions later. Sometimes the best answer to a question is "I don't know. Let's explore that together."

Gannet Girl said...

I have been thinking about this post for a day now.

First, it sounds like you are an excellent teacher. Your new church is so lucky to have you.

Second, I think you raise an important point: there is often a wide chasm between the people who have been in the church forever, who have certain uncritical asssumptions about belief and its bases and others' understanding of same because those things are what they've always known and taken for granted, and those who have left or never been in the church, whose assumptions are quite different and often highly critical.

How to bring the two together?

It's hard for me to imagine a Biblical interpretation argument accomplishing that goal, at least at first. Most of the people I know outside the church, which includes most of my family and closest friends, are unimpressed by Biblical or theological reasoning. The basic narrative seems too preposterous and has too many holes.

I agree with Michael Kruse that people tend to come to the community first, whether the community is a church congregation or one friend encountered at work or play, and that belief unfolds slowly from what they see in those encounters. When what they get is a defensive, self-righteous posturing, the Holy Spirit is unlikely to find much room to maneuver. When what they find is knowledge and the willingness to honor and share their questions, the space is much wider.

I suppose my favorite kind of book to share would be more along the lines of Anne Lamott or Nora Gallagher, someone who has lived her way into the Christian narrative (now there's a dreadful phrase -- as bad as "unchurched" -- my excuse it its still early) as a life experience rather than a theological argument.

Quotidian Grace said...

PG--The Strobel books are great resources for discussion with intellectual skeptics because Strobel interviews scientists, archaeologists, historians and other experts who share research and other information that is helpful in responding to the type of tough questions these folks will raise.

I agree with GG and Mike that relationship and example are the key to conversion in the long run and their resource suggestions are good. Part of that example is showing that you didn't check your brains at the church door. As GG wisely observes, these folks aren't be impressed by strictly Biblical or theological reasoning.

I didn't know there was a Kenneth Bailey DVD--must check that out.

Denis Hancock said...

I love the Presbyterian X Jehovah's Witness joke... Too sad and too true.

These discussions are always easier if there is a common frame of reference. But even if there is disagreement on sources of knowledge and authority, if people ask honest questions, they have the right to expect honest answers.

Michael Kruse said...

"I didn't know there was a Kenneth Bailey DVD--must check that out."

Go to www.cdbaby.com and type "Ken Bailey" into the search engine. He has several DVDs there. Our class just finished "Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Perspective." I have seen some of his series on the parables in Luke (which we are doing over the summer) and his one on the beattitudes. He presents the material in 30 minute segments so it works perfectly for a Bible study or class.

There is nothing hi-tech about the presentations but his teaching is mind-blowing.

Toby Brown said...

Anything that deals with practical apologetics would be helpful, depending on your strengths and abilities:

For the literary types, C.S. Lewis has many great ideas, as well as C.K. Chesterton. Also, anything by Diogenes Allen, of Princeton Seminary is of use for those with 'philisophical problems' with us.

R.C. Sproul is a great teacher of Reformed apologetics (www.ligonier.org), as is John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

For those without the academic bent, Josh McDowell is great too. Just google him or find his books at Amazon.

One more: For those who care about the arts, Francis Schaeffer cannot be equalled. He used the arts as a way of teaching the Christian worldview and biblical ethics. Go to www.rationalpi.com/theshelter

Dennis said...

"Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today", John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Oxford University Press, 2002.

"We should instead adopt the voice of a friend who thinks he has found something worth sharing but recognizes that not everyone will agree on its value. Indeed, we should adopt the voice of the friend who wants to stay friendly with our meighbors whether or not they see what we see and believe what we believe. To put it more sharply, we should sound like we really do respect the intelligence and spiritual interest, and moral integrity of our neighbors. We should act as if we do see the very image of God in them. We should therefore avoid any attempt to manipulate them into religious decision. And we should continue to love them whatever their response to the gospel might be--as God does" (P229).

Dennis said...

"When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations", by Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes, Baker Books, 1997.

This book goes through Scripture (OT & NT), and points to misinterpretations of Scripture, and then shows how to correct the misinterpretations.

For John 14, the authors point to verses 6-11, & 18 which Oneness Pentecostals say proves that Jesus is God the Father. Also in that chapter, verses 8-9 are said by New Agers to support pantheism.

John 14:16 is quoted by Muslims to say Muhammad is the "Helper". This verse is also used by Christian Scientists to support their claim that it refers to "Divine Science".

Verse 14:28 is quoted by Jehovah's Witnesses in an effort to prove that Jesus is a lesser god than the Father. The verse is also claimed by Christian Scientists to "prove" the "Christ is not God, but an impartation of Him," just as "one ray of light is light, and it is one with light, but it is not the full-orbed sun" (Eddy, 1901, 8).

The authors basically look at different ways of interpreting a particular text, then quote other texts, and other ways to help a person understand. "...In like manner, we speak of the President of our country as being greater, not by virtue of his character or nature, but by virtue of his position. Jesus cannot ever be said to say that he considered himself anything less than God by nature..." (A chart is then presented to offer the reader a summary of what was spoken in "correcting the misinterpretation".)