The following is a guest post by Dr. David Geisler, President, Norm Geisler International Ministries and an Adjunct Professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary.
I remember that day! I was sitting on a bench at the student center watching others go to and from class and suddenly I started to cry. It became very clear to me at that moment that if any of these students didn’t accept Jesus Christ sometime in their brief life, their destiny would be finalized! By then it would matter little how well they did on their exams, or what kind of success they saw in their careers. Without Christ, they would all be separated from God for eternity.
Fortunately, witnessing back then seemed easier. There was a certain respect for the Bible, and students were open to hearing about Jesus. I remember reading a gospel booklet to a student in their dorm during that same time period, and the listener prayed to receive Christ that very day! Sadly, that kind of approach doesn’t seem to work anymore.
Why is that? Put succinctly, the gospel remains simple, getting to the gospel is not. Consider for example how many today view morality as a personal preference, like ice cream flavors. Some may prefer chocolate, others may prefer vanilla, but who can really say which one is better! That’s how some view moral choices. Yet reducing morality to a mere personal preferences makes many in our culture tone deaf to hearing the gospel message and blind to seeing it’s relevance to their life in any way!
Today, if we are going to effectively communicate the truth of the Christian message, simply repeating old formulas is not enough. We have to rethink our approach to witnessing, and include something else, called “pre-evangelism.” Pre-evangelism is tilling the soil of their hearts and minds, removing the rocks and obstacles of disbelief, helping them to see how lost they are. After all, it’s hard for them to see their need for savior, when they don’t believe they have any sins to forgive!
One day a student said to me, “Why can’t God just let me into Heaven?” It was clear to me that in his question, his view of himself and of God was skewed. So many young people today will say that they believe in God, but then tend to overestimate their own righteousness, and underestimate God’s holiness. These distortions in their beliefs make cultivating good soil for the gospel to flourish in their lives a much greater challenge (See Matthew 13:19-23).
This means at times, we may have to help others see the world through a biblical lens, before they can see any truth in the Christian message! Unfortunately however statistics show that we are failing this task! Today, 25% of Americans have no religious affiliation, and 45% of these are millennials! Now helping others to see through a biblical lens means practically that we start by helping our non-believing friends recognize the distortions in their beliefs. The truth is that many have deceived themselves and believe they can explain moral goodness in general without reference to a belief in God! Other who say they believe in God may deceive themselves by overvaluing their own moral goodness, as well as undervaluing God’s moral standards or believe somehow that God grades on a curve. Some have even allowed certain distortions in their perception of God’s nature to develop a crippling undervaluation of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. But if these distortions can be identified and removed, many will be more receptive to hearing about the Savior.
Last summer while training in Italy I had a conversation with a young skeptic. His question to me was this: “How can you believe the Bible when it was written by so many different people, who were imperfect?” Now, the truth I wanted him to understand is this: if God can do the big miracle, then He can do the little miracle.
Here was my question: “Would you agree that if there is a God who created the universe, then He’s powerful enough to ensure that what He wants to communicate to us reaches us, even through imperfect people?” His response to me was revealing. He said, “I see how that would make it less problematic.” He came to his own, unforced conclusion, a conclusion that he could not deny.
This illustration demonstrates the value at times of changing our old witnessing paradigm, and “allow others to surface the truth for themselves by asking them probing and thought-provoking questions.” (See our book Conversational Evangelism to learn this art!) Very rarely today can we simply just tell people the truth directly. Most non-Christians are even offended when we try to “share with them” where they are wrong. They see our approach as downright offensive, maybe even evil for pushing our “truth!” So we must remember that even if we know what truth to communicate to people today, based on the questions and concerns they have, we still need to discern what’s really the best way for them to “see this truth for themselves.” This too is an important factor to keep in mind in reaching millennials today. Like the men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we too need to better understand the times in which we live, and know what we should do!
To better understand this pre-evangelism paradigm, check out our book, Conversational Evangelism and our web-sites (www.ngim.org/speaking and www.conversationalevangelism.com and www.conversationalanswers.com) and our new channel www.vimeo.com/davidgeisler.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!