Pre-evangelism, or apologetics, is the discipline that seeks to explain why the Christian faith is the only correct worldview and defends it against attacks from other worldviews. Does this sound tricky? It is!
But after decades of conversations with others who disagree with me, I want to share four ways to prepare and four obstacles to avoid to help us in our pre-evangelism.
How You Say It
Thoughtfully responding to a non-Christian’s questions is crucial:
- Since a significant number of young adults don’t have a religious affiliation
- Because of the constant immersion in media that has non-Christian worldviews and an overwhelming relativism
Remaining gracious while presenting intelligent and engaging answers can often attract level-headed unbiased seekers. Most people will indeed pay more attention to how you say something than what you say.
Ways to Prepare
No one, including young adults, likes to be told they are wrong. When we answer questions or defend our faith against attacks, invoking apologetics requires proper preparation and recognition of several possible hazards. Here are four ways to prepare for pre-evangelistic conversations:
The most crucial requisite before pre-evangelizing is prayer. It readies your heart and mind for the task ahead and makes you receptive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Pray before, during, and after your interaction with others.
Second, seek to cultivate genuine and respectful relationships. As it has been said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Sincere friendships start with being an active listener seeking to understand the outsider’s real questions and then briefly answering them. Too often, we don’t listen but are just waiting for our opportunity to speak to give a “canned” mini-lecture.
Third, find areas of agreement between the other person and you. For example, can you both agree that:
- “Absolute” truth exists
- God exists
- Miracles are possible
- There are ways to find out if a historical event actually occurred
Once you discover points of agreement, use that as a starting place. You can build an apologetic that proves the truthfulness of Christianity. Apologetics is not about winning an argument but leading the non-Christian to Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s work.
Fourth, your apologetic argument should always lead to sharing the gospel in a culturally sensitive way. Apologetics and evangelism are intimately interwoven.
Obstacles to Avoid
Even when we’re prepared, we can still have unhelpful conversations. Here are four obstacles to avoid.
1. Pride (And Being Offensive)
Perhaps the most common problem is pride. In response, cultivate intentional humility. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit your ignorance and promise to follow-up with a reply.
Pre-evangelism is not about winning an argument or showing who is smarter. Instead, seek to be “on the offensive” without being offensive! And always shedding more light than heat on any discussion.
Remain gentle and kind even in the face of challenging people. Some people can become frustrated when they realize that they don’t have answers to your questions and that their worldview is false. Imagine how you would respond if someone asked you to stop believing in Jesus!
If the conversation gets heated or the other person becomes uncomfortable, just change topics. Sometimes the process of sharing the Gospel and invoking apologetics is a marathon, not a sprint. Leaving the apologetic discussion and moving on to other issues is best.
2. Not Depending on the Holy Spirit
Your arguments, no matter how compelling, will not save anyone. That is the Holy Spirit’s work. Apologetics works at the point of reason. Evangelism works at the level of faith.
I tell students when it comes to apologetics, “Create genuine friendships, answer the outsider’s question, share the gospel and then get out of the way! Let the Holy Spirit finish his work on them.” Intelligent answers never save anyone. It is always Scripture and the Holy Spirit in tandem.
3. Not Being Teachable
Continue to be a student. There are always things to learn as an apologist, but we also need to train other Christians in pre-evangelism. As part of our training, remain transparent when it comes to your mistakes and failures. Those we help should never see us as always having the perfect answer, no matter how many fruitful conversations we’ve had.
Allow yourself the freedom to share your mistakes with other Christians. This transparency encourages others to realize that they do not need to be perfect.
4. Only One Approach
Finally, there are several different apologetic approaches, including:
- Classical apologetics
- Historical apologetics
- Evidential apologetics
- Presuppositional apologetics
Every technique has proven useful. Whatever apologetic method you use, please avoid unnecessary arguments over which form is best.
When Christians from different camps of apologetics war between themselves over which is best or who is smarter, we only look foolish and prideful to a watching world. And we seldom change anyone’s opinion except in a negative way.
Whatever form of apologetics you decide to use, remain prayerful, humble, and attentive to genuine friendships. Answer specific questions. Then get out of the way to let the Holy Spirit work on those you care about.