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Ask TM: Practical advice for persuading others in conversation?

We often get questions about theology and apologetics sent to us by readers and we thought it would be helpful if we shared some of our answers to those questions on the blog. If you’ve got a question that you’d like us to address here, send it to thinknz@gmail.com along with your full name, city, and country.

This week, one of our readers from Tauranga, New Zealand, asks what practical advice we can offer for sharing the truth of Christianity with others.

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Should Christians Still Give Out Tracts?

Given the recent legal controversy over Christians passing out tracts at events, Christianity Today asks a group of pastors and evangelists if tracts, flyers, and street evangelism are still effective ways of bringing people to Christ.

I found Bob Roberts’ answer to contain the most common sense:

“Yes, if it isn’t distracting from the event. Yes, if it is done with respect to the person and culture that they come from, being sensitive to the differences. Yes, if it’s done with kindness to the person you are attempting to share with, passing out a lot of smiles. Yes, if you respect their wish not to listen to you. Yes, if you approach it as humbly, gently, and broken over the eternal destinies of people. No, if you are loud, arrogant, and aggressive in the way you come across. No, if you don’t genuinely love the people you are sharing with. No, if you haven’t bothered trying to understand their point of view and aren’t willing to listen to them. No, if you are not practically serving them in some way to show the love of Jesus. No, if all you want to do is preach.”

Read the other opinions here.

Five ways to argue like Jesus

We sometimes have a view of Jesus as a safe and gentle teacher but forget that the pages of Scripture reveal him as person of enormous controversy and debate. And many times it was Jesus himself who sought out that controversy – repudiating religious customs, upturning tables in temple markets, and castigating religious leaders for their moralism and hard-heartedness. For any Christian who thinks that we should always avoid confrontation or argument, Jesus’ life is a powerful reminder of the importance of discourse that embodies both truth and grace, salt and light.

Joe Carter and John Coleman have written a recent post at Relevant Magazine about how we can follow Jesus’ example and debate in a disarming and civil manner. If we want our communication to have the most impact, Carter and Coleman suggest that we should learn to be able to conduct a conversation that doesn’t raise voices or blood pressure.  The  “rules of rhetoric” they offer for effective communication have been distilled from their excellent book; How to Argue Like Jesus.  Joe Carter is the editor of the First Things magazine and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. John Coleman is a former national public speaking champion pursuing a concurrent MBA/MPA at Harvard University.

You can read the whole post here. Crossway Books have also provided a brief overview on their blog:

  1. Start with examples your audience will understand: Always start with an example or concept your audience knows, understands, or finds interesting, and connect it to your core message.
  2. Speak your audience’s language: When you speak to an audience, to the extent possible, you must speak their language.
  3. Use witness: Consider the use of witnesses essential to the construction of an effective message based on narrative and ethos. Wherever possible, elicit testimonies.
  4. Know when to speak: There are a lot of important topics in the world, and it is not necessary that you have something to say about all of them—particularly if speaking on the topic would hurt your credibility or detract from your primary goal.
  5. And know when to be silent: Silence is one of the most powerful forms of communication. It shows that you are in control and gives the person or people a moment to think for themselves and consider how they will respond to your message

Initiating conversations about the Gospel

Author and pastor at Summit Church in North Carolina, J.D. Greear has written a post talking about how to share Christ with others in everyday conversations. There isn’t an easy formula for witnessing and we must remember that the Holy Spirit goes where He wishes (John 3:8) but Greear does offer some good practical tips. Not all will carry over to a New Zealand context and I’d argue for a greater role for apologetics when encountering a “happy pagan”, but there is still plenty that is useful.

Here are some of his points:

– Look for subtle metaphors to bring in spiritual things.
– Build relationships. People respond less positively to strangers.
– Ask people how you can pray for them.
– Invite people to your church.
– Guide the conversation according to the acronym FIRE:  Family, Interests, Religion, Evangelism.
– People don’t like to be preached to, but they do like to be asked their opinions, and they do like to hear your story.
– Pray.
– Don’t underestimate the power of a consistently kind and joyful life.

Read the whole thing here.

(HT: Justin Taylor)