Retiring the cliché “If you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out”
by Lenny Esposito
Yesterday, I read two different articles on the upswing of apologetics in Christian ministry. The fact that apologetics is getting any press at all is both exciting and telling as our culture continues its decline into a more secular worldview. What struck me, however, was that in both someone cautioned the use of apologetics in witnessing by quoting the old trope, “If you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it.” Like most clichés, at first blush this sounds like a truism we need to take to heart, but I’d like to examine it further because I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea.
The basis of a belief
The command to evangelize in Matthew 28:19 is well known. The call to evangelism is essential for those within Christendom that define themselves as evangelicals. But what exactly does evangelism entail? Evangelism at its core is changing a belief. It requires an individual to move from a state of non-belief in Jesus as savior and Lord to a state of belief. That is no small thing, since embracing that belief affects one’s understanding of things like the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of sin, and the nature of one’s own eternity.
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Now, I know of no reasonable person, whether believer or non-believer, who does not have at least some sense of belief on each of those issues. Some feel that people have souls that will live on after their bodies die. Others hold that people are just a physical byproduct of evolutionary processes and once the machine stops, so will they. Some hold to a fuzzy concept of God while others dismiss the idea of God altogether. The point is that beliefs at their core are ideas that one takes to be true, and everyone holds certain ideas as true, whether or not they have good reason for so doing.
Evangelism works in the medium of ideas
So if the evangelist is engaging with a nonbeliever, he or she must take into account their current beliefs. Asking someone if they want to avoid an eternity in hell will not be very effective if that person believes he will cease to exist at death! The sensitive evangelist will look for ways to interact with the nonbeliever in order to remove wrong beliefs he may hold about the world. He or she should strive to show why the ideas the non-believer has about the world are faulty. This means the evangelist is in the idea business…