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God’s Not Dead: Responding to Skeptics – Introduction
Today we continue our four-part series based on the movie God’s Not Dead. As we’ve already discussed, the movie hits on some very important aspects of our faith, confronting some difficult questions that most of us have faced, or will face, at one time or another. In part one of our series we discussed the question, “Where is God when everything falls apart.” Part two examined the question, “Is our faith blind.” Today we’ll be discussing the question, “How to respond to skeptics?”
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
~Philip K. Dick
1 Peter 3:15 tells us, ”but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”
This Scripture reminds us that we should always be ready to defend our faith when we respond to skeptics. There are generally two kinds of skeptics–religious skeptics and non-religious skeptics.
Sometimes it can be very frustrating explaining something to the former when they may be extremely self-righteous, like modern day Pharisees. It’s almost like trying to communicate to a fish what it means to be thirsty. They are so absorbed with their “water” that they miss the point of it.
And non-religious skeptics can be so enamored with science that it’s become a religion to them, prizing intellectual arguments above an objective search for truth, making our task very difficult trying to match argument for argument.
Should we even try to do that? Maybe there’s more to it than arguments.
The movie provides some wonderful lessons about how to “give an account” to skeptics. When talking about our faith with skeptics, there are 5 Goals to keep in mind.
Goal 1: Our Attitude
“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)
What are the three things that we’re warned we should never discuss in public?
Politics, Sex, and Religion, right?
Well, that’s true to some extent. However, the Bible makes it clear that God wants us to discuss our faith as much as possible. We just need to be wise in how we do that. It comes down to this: it’s not what we say so much as how we say it. We want to represent Christ properly as equals in a humble search for the big answers to life.
But there is some truth between the lines in the adage about politics, sex, and religion…discussing sensitive topics can lead to an ugly argument if we’re not careful. As believers, our goal should be to love the person, not just winning an argument with clever points and information.
The goal of our instruction is love. We see an example of this in the father’s reaction in the parable of the Prodigal son in Luke 15:20: “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
If we don’t have that same desperate compassion, scanning that road every day as the father did, longing for his son’s return, we don’t really get what Jesus was conveying here about God’s love for the lost. It’s critical that we be loving, compassionate, gentle, and filled with the Holy Spirit, manifesting His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, etc. when discussing our faith.
No one likes a know-it-all, and it’s critical that we are gracious in sharing the gospel…especially when we may have to tactfully point out biblical differences or misconceptions about God to a skeptic.
If our goal is to be right, to win the debate, and show how much we know, then we’ve already lost the person. We don’t want to win the battle over a minor point regarding Evolution or Creation, and lose the war for bringing them into a relationship with God. So remember…
• The goal of our instruction is love.
In the film, one of the loudest critics is Professor Radisson. He vehemently opposes Josh, but Josh does a good job of restraining his emotions and stays pretty even-keeled. We discover later on that the professor has some deep pain that’s driving his anti-God crusade. And that can be a pretty typical scenario when discussing our faith with others – especially skeptics. A lot of people have some pretty intense toxic waste from their past that is bubbling near the surface.
We need to be sensitive to their unseen hurts, and compassionate like the Prodigal’s father.
Like the hidden pain in Professor Radisson’s past, there may be an alcoholic parent in their past, a tragic death, or some other personal injury or abuse, maybe even from a church. If we knew their pain, we’d probably be more compassionate with how they arrived at this stage in their spiritual journey.
Darwin himself is thought to have turned away from belief in God because of the death of his 10-year old daughter. It’s so important to remember it’s not an “Us vs. Them” situation. We are all on the same side, mutual captives, trying to help others see His love and grace.
When answering questions Paul advises us in 2 Timothy 2:25 to answer, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” So remember…
• Sometimes the more antagonism, means more buried pain, and more compassion on our part.
Let’s look at a scene from God’s Not Dead where Willie and his wife, from Duck Dynasty, graciously take some pretty snide remarks, and still manage to love Amy.
Movie Clip*: God’s Not Dead 3
Did you notice that there was no condescension toward Amy? No superiority in their answers? No self-righteous indignation at her remarks? This is a good example of how to interact with someone who doesn’t understand, without returning evil for evil.
Goal 2: Share the truth, not clever arguments
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
This is precisely the advice that Reverend Dave texts to Josh when he accepts Professor Radisson’s challenge to defend God’s existence. We don’t have to know every answer or analogy, but we do need to know the truth…the gospel.
It’s not about being clever with facts, dates, and figures. It’s okay to know some answers to hard topical questions, but our goal should be to love them…and the most loving thing we can do is to share the gospel. Remember, like Reverend Dave reminded Josh, we may be the first real exposure some have ever had with the Gospel of Christ. As Paul says in Romans, this is God’s power for salvation. When discussing our faith, our interaction may be the first step on their journey into a deep relationship with Him.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
It makes no real difference if someone doesn’t believe in the Bible. It’s still a sharp weapon and, like a scalpel, it can cut down to their innermost being.
Think of it this way. You point a loaded gun at someone and they say, “I don’t believe it’s loaded.” What they believe about the gun makes no difference. It can still affect them. Share the Gospel with them, in a calm, loving way, without condescension or snide remarks. God’s Word is powerful.
• This is a spiritual battle, not a battle of wits.
Goal 3: Be Humble
“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”(1 Peter 5:5)
“…knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
We are each just one beggar sharing a piece of bread with another beggar…we have nothing to boast about because our lives have been changed, we have been made new, through God’s grace. Remember what Paul told the Corinthians, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
It’s okay to admit that we don’t know an answer to a question too. We’re human and we don’t have to be a renowned scholars and theologians to lovingly help others understand His love for them. In fact, many people will respect our humility to say that we don’t know everything. When Professor Radisson challenges Josh with new information about Stephen Hawking’s theories, Josh says, “I don’t know…but that doesn’t change my faith in God.”
That’s brilliant! We don’t have to know everything to share the gospel, or defend what we believe. Just because we don’t have all the answers, doesn’t mean we don’t have enough answers to plot a course, to make a choice. We can also use those opportunities of not knowing to research and learn, and to share what we discover with them later on.
• It’s okay not to know every answer – just answer with what we know.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have some answers, because they do exist. There are lots of apologetic books and websites out there to help us with these questions. (Apologetics means “verbal defense.” Christian Apologetics is the verbal defense of Christianity to critics and skeptics.) So we should study and research, and have an idea of what we believe, and why we believe it.
For instance, many famous scientists were also believers (Newton, Kepler, Pascal, Bacon, Pasteur, Kelvin, Marconi, Maxwell, Carver, Fleming, Hertz, and Von Braun, to name a few). Having a tidbit like that in our back pocket can turn a few science-heads who think science and faith are incompatible. A person can be both a brilliant scientist and still recognize Intelligent Design when they see it. These scientists did, and they were geniuses.
And sometimes “the answer” isn’t what’s needed anyway. Sometimes what’s needed is empathy. Real life has real hardships that just require real compassion and honesty. When we don’t “know” the answer it’s best to be honest and keep it simple. For instance, “I don’t know why your grandparents were killed in that car crash last year, or where they are today, but I know that God loved them, and gave Himself up for them.”
We see this very clearly in God’s Not Dead when Amy meets The Newsboys backstage. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the move, but trust me…sometimes folks just need to know that we care.
And finally, pray for wisdom as we’re interacting with someone. Ask God to open the eyes of our hearts to see what the real need is in their life so we can demonstrate genuine concern.
• We should have some answers…a defense for the hope that is in us.
Goal 4: Be Winsome (Pleasing, Appealing)
“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’” (Matthew 9:37)
“And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” (Revelation 14:15)
Sometimes people new to the faith, or even we ourselves, get so excited about our experience and relationship with God that we lose all sense of tact and want to tell everyone how wonderful it is, shoving it down their throats, as it were. And having things shoved down our throats is rarely pleasing or appealing.
While zeal for the Lord is refreshing, it must be accompanied with the knowledge that not everyone is ready to hear or to believe, so we shouldn’t tug on “green” fruit. We should look for opportunities to talk about our faith, but know when to move on when someone isn’t open to our enthusiasm. Remember the old saying…”Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”
The movie depicts several examples of the different stages of a person’s spiritual journey in the various characters, and it’s important for us to recognize them.
- Ayisha’s father–some people are not interested in the gospel at all, and are even violently opposed to it.
- Professor Radisson–some just want to argue, to contest truth no matter what proofs are presented.
- Amy–some are content with their life, as she seemed to be when dismissing Willie’s invitation to church, “No thanks. I’m good.”
- Martin Yip–and some are honestly searching for the truth about God, even someone from a communist country who knows nothing of Jesus Christ.
We need to have discernment and respect for each person’s place in their spiritual journey, combined with a genuine love for them no matter what.
Goal 5: Intercede For Them
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
When someone first hears the gospel there are a number of things that can happen. Initially, their heart may be tender, like a bruise that is responsive to the slightest touch, but over time if nothing is done about it, the heart can become callous and hardened.
Once we have shared the gospel with someone, we should also remember to pray that the seed would take root and grow in their heart. This is another way to show God’s love to them, by praying for them.
We can ask ourselves if there is anyone else praying for them. If not us, then who?
Specifically we can pray:
- That the Holy Spirit would move their hearts to recognize their need for a relationship with God.
- That they would be reminded of the truth of the gospel in little ways.
- That we could develop a friendship with them and ask for divine appointments.
- That other Christians would come into their lives and show them God’s love too.
In closing, let’s consider this quote by C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit– immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
So let’s remember that Jesus Christ loves the whole world and “…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)
We are all in need…like Dean Cain’s character, we have all been, and some still are, prisoners of the trappings of this world. It’s just that some captives have escaped and are now trying to help show their fellow prisoners the way out.
And winning an argument is not as important as winning a soul. So, let’s always be in the Spirit as we discuss our faith and answer hard questions about the gospel with humility and gentleness, seeking to win them, not just a debate. Our reality is our relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. Even if we were to stop “believing” they won’t go away because they are reality. And we have a strong desire to share that reality with others. In the process, however, we must remember, the goal of our instruction, of our sharing, is, and must always be, love.
*Depending on your browser, the movie clip may play or download, or you may be asked whether you wish to play or download it.
- 1 Peter 3:15
- 1 Timothy 1:5
- Luke 15:20
- 2 Timothy 2:25
- Romans 1:16
- Hebrews 4:12
- 1 Peter 5:5
- 1 Corinthians 8:1
- Matthew 9:37
- Revelation 14:15
- 1 Timothy 2:4
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