I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
What keeps you from sharing your faith? In my case, it’s fear—I’m afraid of phrasing my beliefs in a repulsive way, and I’m afraid that I won’t have answers for questions that challenge my beliefs. The problem is, the Bible makes it pretty clear that Christians aren’t to hide the Truth they have received (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Cor. 10:5, Jude 3). How do I communicate truth without ruining relationships or running myself into an impossible web of arguments, theories, and claims that I cannot answer?
Answering this question became imperative for me as I considered the challenges of attending a secular university. I wanted to learn how to defend my beliefs in a respectful, thoughtful, accurate and preferably, grade-preserving way. This summer, I spent two weeks at Summit, a conference/camp for students whose mission is to “cultivate rising generations to resolutely champion a biblical worldview.” At Summit, I was able to take the truths I have been taught and pair them with their supporting evidence and techniques to present them in conversation.
Summit is not your typical youth camp. There is time for hiking, games, and sports, but there is also plenty of time spent in the classroom—over sixty hours, to be more precise, listening to speakers who are experts in the field of apologetics. Summit also encourages students to ask questions—lots of questions—and even to challenge the ideas presented.
My conversations with students, staff, and speakers covered topics ranging from personal testimonies to whether atheism attracted the most intelligent people to whether Chacos or Tevas are better sandals—all the while strengthening my ability to present my opinions and beliefs in civil dialogue. I came home with a renewed passion for learning the reasoning behind the beliefs I hold to be true and to start bringing conversations beyond talk of weather, puppies, and sleep deprivation.
One aspect of apologetics is a base of knowledge—knowing what you believe and why you should choose that belief over other viewpoints. To understand why a claim is true, it helps to know why another claim is not. You see, if Christianity is true as I am convinced it is, every argument against it will be fundamentally flawed and fall away when examined. We can line arguments against Christianity up alongside the claims of the Bible and, if we take the time to seek out the truth, we can emerge more prepared to defend the claims of Christianity.
I learned that perhaps the most important aspect of a conversation is silence—taking the time to listen to a person’s story and beliefs. As multiple speakers at Summit noted, “If I have 100 minutes with a person, I will spend 90 minutes listening and 10 minutes talking.” Why? Because people want to be heard and if you don’t have their hearts, you are unlikely to reach their minds.
I had plenty of time to practice this concept while traveling to and from Summit—as long as the “seatbelts fastened” sign was on, my fellow travelers made the perfect guinea pigs. Conversations beginning with, “Where are you headed?” led to dialogue about family, life, and, eventually, faith. I found that the more I focused on the other person’s story, the more they were willing to share and, ultimately, the more interested they were in what I had to say. I have started to incorporate some key questions, collectively called the Columbo Tactic, to draw out people’s worldviews:
- “What do you mean by that?” (clarifying their viewpoint)
- “How did you come to that conclusion?” (hearing their story) and, eventually,
- “Have you ever considered…? (presenting my beliefs). 1
These questions provide an opportunity to learn what a person believes and why, to expose flawed thinking, and to present a counter argument (enter the gospel and Truth, stage right), all while maintaining a friendly, seemingly innocent dialogue.
We can’t expect every person we converse with to immediately commit his life to Christ. We can’t even hope to win every argument; however, we can “put a pebble in a person’s shoe”—place an idea in a person’s mind that will cause him to start thinking about his beliefs. Whose shoe can you put a pebble in today? 2
- Read Tactics by Greg Koukl. It’s a great resource for strengthening conversational skills, particularly as relates to detecting strengths or flaws in arguments and engaging a person using questions.
- Read The Secret Battle of Ideas About God by Jeff Myers. This book briefly addresses some of people’s most common life questions, comparing the answers given by a few of the most common worldviews. This book is great for getting a basic understanding of other worldviews as well as becoming stronger in some key concepts of Christianity.
- College Park sets aside a weekend every year just for learning—start making plans to attend THINK|18 now!
- Students, consider attending a summer session at Summit. You can start building knowledge and skills now that will help you throughout your life. Go to www.summit.org for details.
1Gregory Koukl, Tactics. Zondervan, 2009
2This concept of “placing a pebble” is referenced in Tactics and various lectures given by multiple Summit speakers.