How do you know there’s a God? Simple question. Everyone’s grappled with it in some form. But can you answer it without a religious argument, without using religious lingo? Apparently, a lot of believers can’t. How many times have you heard (or even used) these lines of reasoning:
SKEPTIC: How do you know there’s a God?
BELIEVER: Because the Bible says so.
SKEPTIC: How do you know there’s a God?
BELIEVER: Because he’s changed my life.
Of course, believers aren’t always this simplistic. But it’s rather amazing how commonplace such knee-jerk responses are. Kind of like that bumper sticker:
God said it. I believe it. That settles it!
That may settle it for you, but many people can’t get past the “God said it” part. And, if I’m not mistaken, those are the people we should be trying to reach.
Maybe that’s why God also said…
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders… (Colossians 4:5 NIV)
Okay. Technically it was the apostle Paul who said that. Point is, spouting off cliches and religious rhetoric is not the “wisest” way to “act toward outsiders.”
Marketplace evangelism often requires “non-religious” persuasion, arguments devoid of Scriptural recitations and Christianese. However, I’m afraid many Christians stumble at such nuance.
Take for instance gay rights issues. Same-sex marriage remains in the cultural spotlight and many Christians, perhaps rightly, oppose it. (Note: This is not a post articulating my belief FOR or AGAINST gay marriage; I’m simply using this as a springboard for the larger issue of our approach.) But as I see it, using religious arguments to oppose gay marriage is the wrong thing to do. Far too many people, when asked why they oppose the homosexual lifestyle, will say something like,
“The Bible says homosexuality is a sin!”
“God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!”
Pretty persuasive, huh?
Even if those things are true, we must remember that many citizens do not share our religious convictions. Quoting the Bible, especially with the militancy that some well-meaning Christians do, often has the reverse effect of alienating those who share our values.
I’m sure some will interpret this as appeasement or a being sell-out. I mean, if the Bible condemns the gay lifestyle, then why not come out and say so? But just like the above “God” question, the best answers are the ones that engage and transcend slogans, that build on peoples’ existing beliefs, confirm their own convictions, employ logic and evidence, and establish common ground.
There are arguments outside of Scripture — cultural, medical, sociological and philosophical — that are just as valid and forceful. In the case of gay marriage (and really many other social issues), the “non-religious” arguments are the most pervasive and powerful.
Believe it or not, this tact has a Scriptural basis. The Bible teaches that it is not the sole source of revelation. Romans chapters 1and 2 tells us that God gives a witness to everyone, that he’s written his law in our hearts and minds, and that the very order of creation speaks of his power. The apostle Paul summarizes:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20 NIV)
Nature and the human conscience both gives witness of God’s Truth. This is what theologians call general revelation. How do I know there is a God? Well, two of the best evidences for God’s existence don’t even require the Bible —
- NATURE: Creation implies a Creator; Design implies a Designer, and
- CONSCIENCE: Moral Law implies a Moral Lawgiver; intuitive guilt assumes both obligation and dissonance.
Likewise, when arguing for traditional marriage and/or opposing homosexual marriage in the public square, our primary arguments should be “non-religious.” The moment we start basing our arguments on Scripture, the more we potentially alienate those who agree with us, blur that ethereal Church / State line, and conjure the baggage of so many negative religious stereotypes.
Of course there’s a time when Christians need to invoke the name of Christ and quote Scripture. But when it comes to politics, lifestyle, and culture, a shrewd, nuanced approach is often the most biblical.
That debate, and how Christians approach it, is a microcosm of how we approach marketplace evangelism. In fact, I think this ties into writing and how Christian fiction writers approach their stories (you knew I’d get there, didn’t you?). Non-religious rhetoric and/or imagery bypasses many intellectual censors and touches us at an emotive level.
I’ll talk about this more in my next post.