‘If God is loving, why is there so much suffering?’
‘Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?’
‘Isn’t the Bible sexist?’
Picture the scene: it’s a rainy Tuesday evening and you’re sat in a steamed-up kitchen, filled with the smell of molten cheese sweetened by hints of burnt chocolate spread. It’s the night of the CU Text-a-Toastie event. You’re feeling excited, anticipating an evening of theological conversation and spiritual interest. Then the first texts start trickling in… until it becomes a flood of questions spanning every topic. Suddenly you feel sick to your stomach with fear and any excitement has now dissipated: how can I even start to answer these questions?
If a question is asked in a highly charged tone, it can be easy to respond in the same way. But we are called to speak ‘with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:16). Try to dial down the tone: don’t respond to antagonizing questions with antagonizing answers but rather season your conversation with grace, as Paul commands in Colossians 4:6. If you love and respect others even when they don’t respect your faith, they may begin to listen.
An important part of answering your friends’ questions about what you believe is to help them to see that we all have inherited assumptions, and they will too. By gently challenging these beliefs, they may be more receptive to what Jesus has to say. Think about why someone is asking their question: are they asking an intellectual question about suffering from a place of personal pain or hurt? Is their previous negative experience of the Church impacting what they think of Jesus?
You don’t need all the answers – you need questions of your own. A simple response to a tough question could be: ‘why do you think that?’. This allows your friend to give some context to their question and opens the conversation to the personal significance of the gospel.
You can point out that while your friend wants to challenge Christian beliefs, they may not be aware of their own assumptions and worldviews. Prompting them to take a step back and think about why they think a certain way may help them to re-evaluate Jesus’ claims. Some 21st century assumptions may be:
Have a think: what are the central questions students at your university are asking? Looking back at questions from first-contact boards or past Text-a-Toastie events can help. Identify the common ones, start to consider the Bible’s answers so you are prepared and chat to Christian friends about them. Engaging with these questions initially within Christian community allows us to get our own thoughts straight, and to be confident in the truth and persuasive in our evangelism.
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15).
To take questions seriously, do your research. God’s Word is always the best place to start, though sometimes it can be helpful to find resources that answer a specific question. Here are some:
If in the moment you don’t know the answer, say something like, ‘I’m not sure on the answer just now, but let me read up about it and get back to you.’ Just make sure to follow up with an answer! Remember that these answers aren’t just intellectual retorts but point to the glorious hope that we have in the cross – a hope that is as emotionally satisfying as it is intellectually credible.
We want to be people that are listening, ready to answer our friends’ questions and ask our own too. But showing them the person of Jesus is the most faithful thing you can do. Sharing testimonies of how God has worked in your life and what difference the death and resurrection of Jesus has made to you can be compelling. This serves to move the conversation from the abstract and philosophical to the intimate and personal. The Luke 24 calling to be witnesses for Christ demands a whole life lived for His glory, not just having the right answers well prepared and coherently articulated. Our task is to be faithful rather than successful – our role is to proclaim Christ crucified and pray that the Holy Spirit can do the work of convincing and convicting. We’ll be praying for you as you seek to share the gospel with your friends.
This blog was written by Kitty Hardyman, a Relay Worker in Oxford.
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