When your friends ask you difficult questions about your faith, consider the wider context to their questions before trying to answer them. Keep in mind that most people only possess fragmentary knowledge about the Bible, typically mixed with a few misguided assumptions. The bits of knowledge are often the typical bullet points promoted by skeptics and late night comedians.
The aim of this kind of stuff is to dismiss Christianity as either simplistically unrealistic or ridiculously offensive. This is one reason why I believe that bearing witness to the gospel must be done with greater wisdom and grace.
We need renewed reflection, discussion and application of the truths in the following Scriptures:
- “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).
- “But in your hearts honor Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).
Common questions people ask would include the following:
- “How can you believe the Bible is the word of God?”
- “Do you really think that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus goes to hell?”
- “How could an all-powerful and loving God let so much evil happen without doing anything about it?”
I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable answering difficult questions isolated from important contexts. Take for example the question about hell. If sin is no big deal and God is all love, hell will be very hard to understand. Larger questions about evil, human culpability and justice must be discussed before we can have a profitable discussion about final judgment. Given the challenges of our times, consider five guidelines for answering tough questions.
1. Don’t react defensively
Aim to engage not ignite. Answer people not questions. Respond to God; Don’t react to man. Some believers feel a need to defend the truth with a polemical tone no matter how it’s understood. Only speak with the compassion of the gospel, as one who found an undeserving place in God’s mercy (see: Titus 3:1-5).
2. Acknowledge the importance and possible difficulty of the question
When asked about hell or the exclusive truth claims of Jesus, for example, acknowledge that you understand that these are difficult matters and that you affirm the importance of the question. An honest acknowledgment like this can help reduce the antagonism often associated with loaded questions.
3. Explore the context of the question
When we answer questions in isolation, we risk further confusion and alienation. It’s helpful to respond with questions to help you know the level of understanding behind the matter. This can also help defuse the tension that often accompanies hard questions. Our desire should be to open sincere dialogue not angry debate. When asked tough questions, always ask yourself what kind of assumptions the person is making about God, morality, life and sin.
4. Start with plausibility
When someone says, “I just can’t accept that everyone has to come to God through Jesus.” — you can usually assume that he doesn’t understand the narrative of salvation. So I recommended starting with a plausibility point by saying, “If the way the way the Bible describes God’s provision of salvation in Christ is true, exclusivity of salvation through Jesus (John 14:6) makes sense and inclusivity (salvation through other ways) sounds anywhere from superficial to offensive.” Taking this approach will often require extended discussion about the unfolding story of the gospel (see: II Corinthians 5:17-21).
5. Provide the context before answering
The answer will not help the man who doesn’t really understand the question. The solution will not help the one who doesn’t understand the problem. And the answer and solution of the gospel do not exist as isolated truths from a larger narrative. We need to become better at telling the whole story and helping people see it as the human story not just the Christian story.