by Liz Abrams | Answers in Genesis
How Christians can communicate truth in a polarized world
Two recent news stories highlight the fact that ideological disagreement can be dangerous—even deadly. A conservative teenager was run over and killed by a liberal man who thought he was doing the world a favor through his actions. And a pro-life canvasser was shot as she left the house of a liberal couple who disagreed with her activities.
Christians are commanded to take the message of the gospel everywhere and to everyone. This means at least some Christians will be called to share the gospel in contexts that can become very hostile or even dangerous. This is even more the case in a society where words one disagrees with are equated with physical violence (and thus a physically violent reaction can be justified in the mind of the offended person). In these situations, we have to take extra care to exercise discernment.
First, people should prayerfully consider with trusted counsel whether to engage in evangelism in hostile environments at all. Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). This means that there are at least some situations where we can evaluate the risk and conclude the risk is unwise. There are so many avenues for evangelism—for every street preacher that shares the gospel in front of an abortion mill, there’s a need for someone to minister in a nursing home. Environments that can turn physically dangerous aren’t inherently more virtuous. And some environments can turn unexpectedly dangerous, so extra steps should always be taken to communicate the gospel clearly with grace and in a way suited to the environment (e.g., getting to know the people in the area or any challenges you may be facing) while taking steps to ensure safety for all involved.
Second, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). His statement implies that sometimes it’s not possible and sometimes it doesn’t depend just on you. An evangelist can share the most grace-filled gospel message since the apostles walked the earth, and someone may still get unreasonably offended and react in an inappropriate way. That’s not the messenger’s responsibility. We should communicate our message so that if someone gets offended, it’s by the message itself, not anything obnoxious about our manner of presenting it.
Find Common Ground
No matter how different someone may seem from you, they are a fellow image-bearer, and you have something in common with them! If someone feels like you can identify with them and their struggles, they are more likely to listen to what you’re saying. That’s why, for instance, those who have repented of committing the sin of abortion can have powerful abortion-mill evangelism opportunities, while ex-cons can be particularly effective in prison ministry.
We can find common ground even with people who are entrenched in sins that they use to identify themselves, because we are sinners who have been forgiven, and we are extending the message of that same forgiveness to them.
In today’s identity-driven world, a personal story can be particularly powerful. So if you have a story of how God has delivered you, sharing that can be a good tool to get someone comfortable with the idea of needing deliverance so you can address their need for salvation.
Get People Ready for Discomfort
People are sometimes mocked as “snowflakes” if they are easily offended, but the reality is that schools, media, and the overall culture are creating people who are increasingly insulated from anything that could mentally challenge them or hurt their feelings. When children are continually told they are special, deserve anything they aspire to, and have the right to define their own truth, identity, and how others view them, it’s not surprising they don’t react well to being told that they are sinners in need of God’s grace (as we all are).
When engaging with people who are likely unfamiliar with being challenged in this way, it’s helpful to deal with any emotional impact of the conversation up front. Starting by affirming their value and setting expectations can be helpful. For example, “The Bible teaches that we are created in God’s image, so that means that you, as an image-bearer, have inherent value and worth. So even though we may disagree with each other on some foundational things, I really want to understand what you’re saying and for you to understand what I’m saying. Are you interested in that type of conversation?”
Some people who aren’t used to engaging with ideas they find distasteful may respond immaturely and emotionally. It is particularly important that we don’t respond in kind. Because we are representing Christ, we should hold ourselves to the highest standard. Sometimes we can help people process their discomfort and proceed in a productive way: “I understand that you disagree with what I’m saying. However, I’ve been respectful to you. Can you tell me why you disagree with what I’ve said?” If they aren’t able to do that, it may be time to at least temporarily disengage: “I think at this point the best thing to do is take a break. Can we talk about this again at a future time?”
The above may seem like we’re tiptoeing around people’s emotions, but that can be appropriate at times. Getting people ready to hear things that are challenging for them can be a good first step if they are overly emotional or it seems like they are not used to being intellectually challenged (a sad indictment of our educational institutions!).
Do Not Compromise Biblical Truth
As much as we can try to take into account people’s discomfort with biblical ideas that run counter to their thinking or lifestyles, we cannot compromise or change what God’s Word says. For instance, we can be sensitive while communicating the Bible’s teaching about marriage to an unmarried couple who are living together or to a homosexual couple that the state has declared to be married, but we cannot shrink away from the reality that both situations are unbiblical.
It can seem unkind to tell someone something that we know is going to be uncomfortable to them. It seems like slapping someone in the face to tell them that something they love is unacceptable to God. But in reality, the sin that they love is killing them. Not only do many sinful behaviors have negative consequences in this life, but if the person does not repent and dies in their sin, they will spend an eternity separated from God in hell. The ultimate unkindness is to value our own comfort too much to share the truth with others. Ezekiel 33 even indicates that believers are held accountable if we fail to warn others about God’s judgment of sin. But we can’t stop there. The whole reason for showing people their sinful state is to point them to the Man who lived without sin that is able to forgive and save us from our own sin, offering us, instead, blessed eternal life with God.
We also have to be able to defend biblical truth. It is common for unbelievers to have a stock list of reasons why they don’t believe the Bible, and not coincidentally many of these objections are answered in articles on the Answers in Genesis website. If someone responds to your gospel message with, “Well, how did Noah fit the animals on the ark,” it’s best to give a sufficient answer to show the Bible is true, but then continue to share the gospel. It’s no good for a gospel presentation to be completely derailed into a discussion of how there could be day or night before the sun and whether the similarity of mammalian forearms means we evolved from a similar ancestor.
People Still Need the Gospel!
It can be tempting to say that it is not worth the challenge of sharing the gospel with people who will probably ridicule us and may even attack us. But the gospel answers some of the fundamental struggles in today’s society regarding identity, meaning, and truth. There is nothing more amazing than seeing people go from hostility to trusting Jesus as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts. And of course, we must obey the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).
SOURCE: ANSWERS IN GENESIS