Ever Been Stumped on the Stump?
If you’ve spent any time proclaiming the gospel in the open-air or engaged in evangelistic conversations, you’ve come across the question you can’t answer. None of us are experts at everything, so it’s not a matter of if, but when, this will happen to you. After all, we can't be experts in every cult, every nuance of science, textual criticism or ancient culture. We should know something about these topics, but rarely are we going to be an expert in every area. So the question is, what do you do about the times when you are stumped? Here are a few suggestions I hope will help to keep you engaged in these kinds of conversations without looking lost, and without hurting your witness in the process.
The Philosopher David Hume was asked why he was going to hear George Whitefield preach, especially since he didn’t believe the message. Hume responded, “because he does.” The power of sincerity can often earn the respect of our listeners. The unbeliever may disagree and even hate the message, but the messenger ought never to be the offender, and they should know we believe what we preach.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5
The preacher’s demeanor goes along with his sincerity. If you are stumped, it is okay to say, “I don’t have the answer for that, but if we can speak again in the future, I’ll look into it and provide one.” Nobody has all the answers, all the time. Below I’ll address some of the objections that surface again and again, and if we know how to put these things in their respective categories it will help our argumentation. But it is still proper at times to simply say, I don't know.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
Know your Bible
Our greatest apologetic is the word of God. When we know Scripture, we are armed to fight all that comes at us. The Scriptures are sufficient for teaching, for reproof, and for correction in every situation (2 Timothy 3:16-17). All Christians are called to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), but also to be prepared to give a defense (1 Peter 3:15) and to contend for the faith (Jude 3).
There are several categories that consistently reappear when doing Christian ministry. If the evangelist is skilled in these common arguments, it will aid you to bring down the strongholds of the enemy.
· Human suffering – This is by far the biggest objection to Christianity, in my experience. While this is a whole separate post, it is important to have an answer for human suffering. When dealing with atheists or unbeliever’s that want to reject God because of their sin, the most concise, cut to the heart response, is how can they even know what is good without God? This is a presuppositional approach at its best. Unless the God of Scripture has created all things in accordance with His Word, there is no way to make sense of the world around us, and objectively discern good from evil.
· Contradictions – “The Bible is full of contradictions.” A good question to ask in return is, can you name one? Most people mimic what they have heard and are rarely sophisticated in their ability to argue or deal with a preacher that has the experience, knowledge, and study in the Word of God. It is the Word of God, after all, which is why it is divinely inspired. Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word, it can't have contradictions. All of Scripture is breathed out by God, so any seemingly contradictions are the result of man's improper interpretation, not Scripture. The Bible is either God’s book, or it is man’s book from man’s imagination. It can't be both. But the Scripture's attestation about itself as God’s Word, which is certified by its inherent marks of divinity, is why it is to be taken as God's book, which means it is infallible and inerrant.
· God’s Laws – “Do you eat shellfish?” “Do you wear mixed clothing?” This is always a crowd favorite on a college campus. The unbeliever thinks he has you right where he wants you. This is the catch-all that must stump every preacher, or so he thinks. The unbeliever has heard it or has read it on the internet. He has not taken any time to investigate it or understand anything about the Law of God and its three-fold division of Civil, Ceremonial and Moral. Often times even believers are unfamiliar with this? In my experience, presenting the three-fold division of the law to most naysayers ends the argument very quickly, and opens a door for a gospel presentation.
Love in your heart
This is really an endless conversation that can explore hundreds of different objections and methods for dealing with those objections. The skilled minister must spend time in study, knowing the enemy’s schemes and more importantly the Word of God. When we study the Word of God, we conclude that the greatest thing to have is love. Without a desire to see a lost sinner saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, the most gifted preacher, apologist, or minister should simply stay home.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18
Yes, some do preach Christ out of wrong motives, and even that can be used for Christ’s glory, but we are called to preach Christ from a true heart of love. Whether they agree or disagree, they will know you care about them and you desire to see their soul saved. This in itself will make your ministry that much more effective, and most importantly, that much more Christ-honoring…Whether or not you have every answer.