by C Michael PattonMarch 22nd, 2013 111 Comments
“What about evolution?”
This was her question. It was a question that before this day I was prepared to answer. I had read Ken Ham, been through the Morris training, and watched all of the Hovind videos. I could have shut this lightweight down in no time with flood geology, plate tectonics, the law of thermodynamics, and the dust on the moon. What about evolution? Pffft . . . soft ball!!
But not this time. It was not a soft ball. In fact, I was bound and determined that this ball not even get a chance to be thrown. I was about to bypass the “What about evolution?” question for the first time in my life. Why? First, I was not as sure about the subject as I used to be. The more I studied, the more I discovered that I was not a scientist (and that most scientists were not, either)! Second, I did not have time to talk about it. Third (and most importantly), it made no difference.
The year was 1998. My sister had a friend she wanted me to evangelize. This friend was an atheist. She believed in evolution and did not believe in the Bible. But she was willing to sit down with me and talk for about an hour. The first thing she said was “What about evolution?” I immediately responded, “What about it?” She then proceeded to explain to me how evolution disproves Christianity. She expressed a desire to hear the “Christian side” of the issue. I told her that, while interesting and important, it did not make any difference right now. “It does not make any difference? What do you mean? It discredits your faith,” she said. “No, it does not. There are a lot of Christians who are evolutionists. I am not one, but there is no need for me to talk you out of evolution. I want to talk to you about Jesus.” It took a while for me to convince her that evolution did not need to be our topic that night, but she finally conceded and heard what I had to say about Jesus and his resurrection. We talked for a good two hours. She had never gotten past the evolution thing with Christians so she had never heard about Jesus and all the historical evidence showing that he rose from the grave.
After we were done there, we talked for a while about what it meant to be a Christian (still leaving the evolution thing out). She left with a very troubled perspective on her faith. I was not sure God was doing anything with her that night. However, no one ever accused me of being perceptive. Twenty minutes later she called my sister in tears. She said that she had not been able to stop crying since she left. She timidly asked what she was to do next with Jesus. My sister prayed with her over the phone. Ten years later this Christian woman says it was that night that she trusted in Christ.
(BTW: Later in her Christian walk, she dealt the evolution issue. I had nothing to do with it, but she is no longer an evolutionist.)
Story number two . . .
“I don’t believe the Bible” he said as he pushed the black leather Bible back across the dinner table. “I think it has errors in it.” I pushed it back and said, “I don’t care . . .”
Romania, 2004. Two American missionaries want to meet with me over food (tomatoes and cheese—a Romanian delicacy!). “We were wondering if you would meet with this young man,” they ask me. “We have been meeting with his father for a while now and our conversations are bearing some fruit. But his son, a very intellectual graduate, makes things much harder on us. He is an atheist and he does not respond at all to the Gospel. Every chance he gets he undermines our work with his father. He is extremely antagonistic and very smart. Can you talk to him?”
I had very mixed feelings about this. First, I am not that smart. And if he is just looking for a win, a dishonest person can find a win out of nothing. But most importantly, this guy did not want to be evangelized. He had already heard it all. What was I going to tell him that he did not already know?
We met that night for dinner. The husband and wife missionary team introduced us at our table, then left me alone with him. He seemed very pleased. From my perspective, he was just out for an intellectual match and I was someone who could quickly become another notch in his belt. We made small talk for about ten minutes, then I changed the subject to the Gospel. He briefly told me his story and how he was an atheist. “Although there is no way you can convince me that atheism is not true,” he said, “I do want to hear what you have to say.”
I did not want him to think that I was just another naive Christian, so I started with the things that make me doubt my faith. I expressed the many struggles I have in my Christian walk. From the silence of God to problems with Old Testament laws, I laid myself bare. This is normal procedure with people like him. Not only is it an honest testimony, it serves to preempt some of the issues I suspected he had which were causing him to hold on to his atheism. I wanted him to get to a point where he said to himself, “If this guy knows all of these problems, and is not naive to their severity, why does he still believe?” And we definitely got there.
I then began to tell him about the resurrection of Christ. “I know what you are thinking,” I said. “Why do I still believe?” “Yeah, why do you?” he responded. “I don’t know what to do with the resurrection of Christ. It’s that simple.” I then pulled out the Bible, opened it up to a certain passage, and slid it across the table to him. He looked at me with one of those, “I got ya!” looks. Without even looking at the Bible, he said, “I don’t believe the Bible,” pushing it back across the dinner table. “I think it has errors in it.” I pushed it back and said, “I don’t care.” He immediately pushed it back and said, “You don’t understand, I don’t believe in inerrancy” (he was obviously well-versed in Evangelical theological lingo). “I don’t care,” I said as I pushed it back at him. One more time he pushed it back without having looked at the passage I wanted him to read, saying, “I don’t believe the Bible is inspired.” “I don’t care if you believe in inspiration or inerrancy. I just want you to look at this passage in this ancient letter. Don’t even call it ‘Bible’ or ‘Scripture’ or anything Christians call it. This is just a first century letter that has a testimony that I want to talk to you about.” After staring at me for a bit, not knowing how to respond, he finally conceded and looked at the passage. I began to explain to him the background of the epistle, when it was written, and by whom. From these I went to other first century documents (some of which Christians call the “New Testament”) and explained them the same way. For the next hour we focused on a historical study of the resurrection of Christ. We treated the Bible as a collection of historical documents, each of which stood on their own. We set aside all other Christian presuppositions and discussed the story of Jesus in a way he had never heard before . . . a person who actually lived and events that actually happened, both of which we have substantial evidence for.
By the time we were done (a couple hours later), I finally got back to eating my (now cold) food. He asked if he could just read for a minute. He read for about five minutes without saying a word. He looked up at me and said, “Are there any other passages like these?” “Yes,” I responded. “Can I keep this Bible?” “Yes,” I responded again. When I looked at him, I was surprised to see tears in his eyes. My non-intuitive nature let this slip again. I shook his hand and went home.
The next day I came down into the lobby of the hotel I was staying at and I found the missionary couple waiting for me. The looks on their faces were ones of great anticipation. It kinda scared me. “You know that man we had you talk to last night?” “Yes,” I said. “What did you say to him?” they asked. I told them a summary of what happened. “Well,” they said, “Something has changed in him. He read his Bible all night. He told us this morning that he wants to start coming to the Bible study. Something has changed in him. He seems to believe now. The atheist now believes!”
These two stories are illustrations of the importance of keeping to the “make or break” issues of our faith when sharing the Gospel. The issues of origins, inspiration, and inerrancy are very important. We eventually need to discuss them. But they are not ”make or break” issues. And they can be used to sidetrack discussions of the Gospel into endless and fruitless debate. They can often keep you from getting to Christ. The two people above may have never really heard an actual argument for the Gospel. They were both intellectual types who were ready to debate so many things that did not matter. I don’t need to convince an unbeliever that the Bible is inspired or inerrant. The issue of evolution does not matter if it is only keeping you from sharing the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people will have legitimate hang-ups about these and other things that need to be dealt with. But sometimes we need to deal with them by explaining that they have no bearing on whether Jesus rose from the grave. Once we establish Christ’s resurrection, you can get back to those things. But in our apologetics, we need to do everything we can to get to the historicity of the resurrection.
- Snake Talk and Evolution Comic: Some Clarifications
- Some Alternative Explanations for the Resurrection of Christ
- Inerrancy? What Do the Differences in the Gospels Really Prove?
- Richard Dawkins: A Philosophical and Theological Lightweight? Responding to Dawkins, Part II
- Atheist Counseling During Tragedy