Imagine being on one side of the 1,300-foot-tall Niagara Gorge with a vast crowd in the summer of 1858. You’re in an electrified crowd waiting eagerly. There is a tightrope strung across one side of the gorge to the other side, suspended over the rapidly flowing Niagara River below that leads to Niagara Falls.
On the other side of the gorge is a French acrobat, whose stage name is "The Great Blondin." You hold your breath as he pushes a wheelbarrow across the vast distance. When he arrives on your side, you join the thousands of spectators cheering and clapping. Blondin motions for silence. In broken English, he asks, "Do you think I can put a man in this wheelbarrow and walk him across safely?"
Of course, you do. You have already seen Blondin walk across the gorge several times with his balancing pole and the wheelbarrow. And you've even seen him sit on a chair half-way across. He is a masterful acrobat, and nothing would be too hard for him. "Yes!" you cry, along with everyone else.
After the cheering fades, Blondin asks, "Which of you will volunteer to get in the wheelbarrow?" Silence. Nobody, including yourself, volunteers.
Belief That, or Belief In?
This story shows the essential difference between reason and faith--or a "belief that" something is real as opposed to "believing in" someone. Your mind tells you that it is reasonable to "believe that" Blondin could accomplish the remarkable feat. But putting your life in his hands requires faith or "believing in" him. And you are unwilling to go that far?
Why is that distinction between reason and faith so important?
What Do We Do About Questions?
Most Christians are familiar with the term "evangelism" or sharing the gospel of Jesus so that non-Christians have the opportunity to place their faith in Jesus.
But if you frequently share the gospel with others, you know that some non-Christians have many questions.
- "Is there evidence that God exists?”
- "Is there evidence that Jesus lived, died, and resurrected in first century A.D.?"
- “Are miracles possible?"
- "Are science and Christianity at odds?"
- "How can an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God allow so much human suffering?"
- "How can you prove the Bible is accurate?"
These questions are essential and have excellent answers that can satisfy the most inquiring mind.
It is never appropriate for Christians to ignore sincere inquirers. Telling seekers that there are no answers or that their questions show a lack of faith (or that they should just "pray harder"!) is irresponsible and intellectually dishonest.
Unfortunately, many young adults turn their backs on Christianity because they presumed their questions were unanswerable. Or, worse, that their leaders didn't care about them or take their inquiries seriously.
Pre-Evangelism Answers Questions
Instead, Christians must always be ready to give a defense of their faith (1 Pet 3:15).
Providing answers to the seeker's earnest questions is the discipline known as pre-evangelism or apologetics:
- It's “pre-evangelism” because some folks just won't consider listening to the gospel message (through evangelism) until they have their questions answered.
- The term "apologetics," comes from the Greek word apologia. It refers to defending our faith (1 Pet. 3:15).
Pre-evangelism answers the question of why Christianity is the only correct worldview. It also defends it against other worldviews (such as atheism and pantheism).
Evangelism, or Pre-Evangelism?
Evangelism leads to faith or "belief in" Jesus as God and Savior. Pre-evangelism uses reason and evidence to defend and argue for the "belief that" Christianity is true.
Like the story of the "Great Blondin," the crowd reasoned or "believed that" he could push a man in a wheelbarrow across the Niagara River. But no one had sufficient faith to "believe in" him and get into the wheelbarrow.
In evangelism, when the new Christian "believes in" Jesus, salvation comes through our placing our faith in Christ. This gift of God is not through any work on our part but is a gift from God because of his grace towards us (Eph. 2:8) and the work of the Holy Spirit (John 6:63; Titus 3:5).
By contrast, reason and evidence (pre-evangelism/apologetics) can lead the non-Christian to "believe that" Christianity's claims are correct, but this knowledge is insufficient for salvation.
That is why evangelism should always accompany pre-evangelism. There is a difference between “believing that” Christianity is true and “believing in” Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
Starting Right Now
If you are not a Christian, take a look at the evidence for Christianity's truthfulness. Consider being open-minded enough to investigate and learn why Christians claim that their faith is the only correct worldview.
If you are a Christian, prepare yourself by familiarizing yourself with the evidence testifying to Christianity's truthfulness. Then humbly dialogue with those who don’t yet believe.