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stalking-1WHEN IS AN ATHEIST NOT AN ATHEIST?
       


"ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO GIVE AN ANSWER TO EVERYONE WHO ASKS YOU FOR
 THE HOPE THAT YOU HAVE, AND DO SO WITH GENTLENESS AND RESPECT."
                                                                        - Peter, the follower of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:14

 
ATHEIST STORY

 
Dave had been my friend for a few months when, in a lunch conversation, I casually mentioned something about my church.

'Church?', he said. 'You're kidding? You go to church?'

'Yeah. And you?'

'Hell no, I'm an atheist," he said.

We're good friends and he was in a playful mood, so I decided to push him a little.

'Are you an atheist or an agnostic?'

'Er, what's the difference again?'

Dave had blitzed his science degree, he's a brilliant marketeer and a lethal opponent in Trivial Pursuit, but his philosophical jargon was a bit rusty.

I said, 'An atheist says there is definitely no God anywhere in the Universe.
That's actually a huge truth claim. It's like me saying there are no coins anywhere on this shopping centre floor. I'd better have checked, and know for sure there are none hidden anywhere under any cover, or I lose my credibility.'

'Right', he said, 'So what's an agnostic?'

stalking1‘An agnostic says "I don't know if there's a God or not".'

'Well, that's me', said David.

'OK', I said. 'What kind of agnostic are you?'

'Ah, an Anglican agnostic', he grinned. 'No, what kinds are there?'

'Hard agnostic or a moderate agnostic.'

'Hard or moderate? What?'

'A hard agnostic says you cannot know if there's a god. Actually, that's pretty arrogant. I mean, who else can say what someone can and cannot know?
Plus that very statement contains a logical loop: either reality is not entirely knowable, in which case no-one can make statements about what we can and cannot know; or else reality is entirely knowable, in which case you can't say I can't know something.'

He got that the first time.

'Right. What's a moderate agnostic?'

I said, 'A moderate agnostic just says "I don't know if there's a god".'

'That's me,' he chuckled. 'I'm a moderate agnostic.'

'OK', I said. 'So what kind of moderate agnostic are you?'

He groaned and laughed. 'What kinds are there?'

'Closed-minded or open-minded.'

His answer was predictable. 'I like to think I'm pretty open-minded…'

start-talking-3I said, 'Good, because a closed-minded moderate agnostic says,
"I don't know if there's a god – but I really don't want to know.
Don't show me evidence either way."

That's a bit anti-intellectual.

'Agreed. So what's a…?'

I said, 'An open-minded moderate agnostic says,
"I don't know if there's a god – but I'd like to see evidence either way".'

'That's me', he said.

'Congratulations', I grinned. 'You're a moderate, open-minded agnostic.
Do you want to write that down? Put it on your business card?'

He raised a couple of fingers - digital communication.

I continued, 'Do you know another name for a moderate, open-minded agnostic?
A seeker. Someone looking for evidence about God.'

He looked a bit surprised to find he was a seeker!

'OK', he said. 'So what evidence convinces you?'

And so we started comparing ideas about a topic that is scary to many people, but is
either the biggest self-delusion of all time or the most important thing in the Universe.

This would be a great story if I could tell you that I baptised him right then and there in
the shopping centre wishing-well as well-wishing shoppers sang 'Just As I Am'.
That would be telling fish stories, but the win is this: now the God question is up for
discussion whenever we feel like it. I have the opportunity of planting occasional seed
ideas in his fertile mind. Who knows what God will grow from that? – Grenville

start-talking-4YOU CAN START SPIRITUAL CONVERSATIONS SEVERAL WAYS:

1. Direct ways

Question: Do you ever think about spirituality/God/justice/afterlife/etc.?
What do you believe about...?
Statement: One pastor asks people, 'If you ever want to know the difference
between religion and Christianity, let me know.'

2. Indirect ways

Everyday topics introduce a spiritual aspect.
The key is NATURAL transitions.
e.g. (in a game park) 'God must have a sense of humour...'
(After a conversation on world affairs) 'I just saw a great video on...'
(Around Christmas) 'What are you doing over Christmas?'

3. Invitational

'Speaking of terrorism, I'm going to a discussion on future fear at my
LIFEdevelopment group next week. We eat together, we chat, then we get into some
really good issues: hope, fear, justice... Would you like to join us?'


CHRISTIAN CONVERSATIONS

We're talking about evangelism that is not preaching. It is:

1. Authentic
Not plastic or manipulated.

2. Natural
Done in your personal style.

3. Personal
Tell your life story in a way others can relate to.

start-talking54. Listening

How do you make a friend without listening?
How do you answer someone's questions if you don't know what they are?

5. Spoken

A 'silent witness' is a good start, but eventually you have to tell people the Gospel.'
"Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
But how can they call on Him unless they believe in Him?
And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him?
And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?' (Romans 10:13,14)

6. A process

In reality, people are not usually converted on the spot.
Conversion involves a huge change of worldview, which takes years.
And instant converts can 'convert' to something else 5 minutes later because
they are impulsive, gullible people. Converting a critical thinker takes time.
In previous generations, many Europeans had at least a religious foundation from
childhood, and evangelists could build on that. Today, faith-builders must start right
at the bottom, which takes time.

7. At their pace.

If you believe conversion takes time and is ultimately God's work, you can be less
anxious and hurried. You don't have to push them too hard and risk de-motivating
them. You can keep them curious – not giving them everything at one
sitting!

start-talking6SENSING WHERE PEOPLE ARE UP TO A ROUGH GUIDE*


Here is one way of trying to work out a person's spiritual condition.
Of course we can't always tell, and not everyone will fit neatly into these categories,
but they at least give Christians some idea of where to begin discussions.


1. Militantly opposed to Christianity (emotionally + intellectually)

2. Understands Christianity and opposed to it (intellectually)

3. Prejudiced against Christianity (doesn't really understand it)

4. Bored by Christianity

5. Neutral to Christianity, perhaps some idle curiosity

6. Some positive views of Christianity among other religions, curiosity

7. Personal interest in Christianity

8. Strong interest – open to learning more

9. Vague wish to become a Christian

a) Knows something about Jesus

b) Knows the gospel clearly but has objections

c) Knows the gospel clearly and wants to become a Christian,
but needs encouragement

10. Has prayed to accept Jesus, and is growing in Christian fellowship

Start-Talking7SIX STYLES OF EVANGELISM*

1. Interpersonal

A warm personality who is conversational and friendship-orientated, and can plug
into people's hearts with honest witness. e.g. Matthew, in Luke 5:29

2. Invitational

A hospitable, relational person who can invite friends to Christian meetings in an
attractive and persuasive way. e.g. the woman at the well invited her whole village,
John 4.

3. Serving

Someone who loves giving to others, and is patient and kind to the needy, can
often win hearts to his or her faith, especially if they combine this with other styles
of evangelism. e.g. Dorcas, Acts 9

4. Testimonial

This means telling your story to people in ways they relate to. If your experience
is relevant to them and interestingly told, it can be so personal it's hard to argue
with. Even the best storyteller needs to listen first so as to connect with their
audience's needs. It also needs to be simple - before, after, what changed.
e.g. blind man, John 9

5. Intellectual

This style can seem dry to most people, yet it has its audience. Many intellectuals
need their minds convinced by reason before they will trust their hearts.
Not everyone can do this type of evangelism, but we can always refer people to
those who can. e.g. Paul in Acts 17:16-34.

6. Challenging

There are times when people need a direct, assertive telling. Yet be warned – this is
a high risk method and can turn people sour if it is used without sensitivity.
Use rarely and only after much prayer and thought. e.g. Peter in Acts 2.

start-talking8HELPING SOMEONE COMMIT TO GOD!

1. Ask them:
Have you come to the point of asking for God's healing/forgiveness and help/
leadership, or are you still thinking it through?


2. Is there any reason you wouldn't want to do it right now?


3. Ask them if they want to pray in their own words, or if they'd like you to lead
them through it. Help them ask for God's forgiveness of their past and leadership
for their future. Then thank Him.


4. Tell them to try prayer as a way of experiencing God. Share something relevant
from your own experience.


5. Next step:
Encourage them to join an LD community for belonging, support and discovery.

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