“How do you know Jesus really existed?”
“Genesis is just a compilation of manuscripts from several different sources. It isn’t authoritative.”
“What about the people who never hear about Jesus? What happens to them?”
Every Christian at some time or another has had somebody ask them a question about their beliefs. For many people who do not know Jesus, Christians are a curiosity. They think they know what Christians believe (although they don’t; if they really did know about grace, forgiveness, and eternal life, more of them would be believers!), but have heard so many negative perspectives, oversimplifications, and attacks, that what they know is incomplete.
We live in a time where evidences for the veracity of the Christian message are not readily available to the general public. Those who look can find them easily enough, but they are not highly visible. As such, a professing Christian will draw frequent questions. In the same way that Jesus did not fault Thomas for needing evidence, we should not fault non-Christians for needing evidence.
Answering intellectual objections can be as easy as referring someone to a book or website about apologetics. It can also be more involved, requiring much patience and many conversations.
Here are some strategies to make the most of dealing with the intellectual objections of others:
1. Ask questions. Before giving a detailed answer that may miss the intent of the question, probe a little bit to get a clearer picture of what is being asked. Ask the person where they heard that fact, or why they hold that particular objection. Ask them if they have read any books dealing with the topic, and if so, which ones? Find out their church background, and how that has influenced them. Getting a good picture of the person, the nature of their question, and their background will help tremendously to avoid wasting time or falling victim to miscommunication.
2. Don’t argue. Remember from 1 Peter 3:15 that we are not charged with convincing someone, but with giving him or her an answer. God and His word will change a person’s heart and beliefs. Choosing to not argue is a very powerful stance to take. Many non-believers stereotype Christians as pushy and argumentative, and are surprised when we are not that way. Besides, arguing is rude, causes people to get defensive, and communicates that the aggressor is coming from a point of weakness that requires opponents to be attacked in order to win.
3. Admit if you don’t know an answer. It is OK not to know something. To be ready to give an answer is not the same as being omnipotent. No one is all knowing. Besides, the humility demonstrated when someone says they don’t know an answer is very appealing to many people. Always make sure to find out the answer to that question, though. Simply stating, “I’m not sure. Can I look in to it a little and get back to you in a couple days” is a great way to handle a question that you don’t know.
4. Be familiar with several different resources. There are numerous good books and websites available that deal with issues that may be encountered when dealing with an intellectual objection. One should familiarize oneself with some of these resources, so that the honest inquirer can be directed there for further investigation.
5. Beware of ‘rabbit trails’. Rabbit trails occur when the discussion goes off on a tangent, or when inconsequential issues take the forefront, or when a person asks the next question before the last question has been answered. Don’t follow the rabbit trail, because it is confusing and counterproductive, and many times leads to argument. Stay on track, and politely insist that one point is made before another one is taken on.
6. Know the truth. The truth is the most powerful weapon we have to counter error. Many people think that if they know all the answers to any question that may be asked, that they will then have command over the facts in a discussion. A better plan is to have a command over the truth, and deal with the errors as they arise. To study every erroneous view of Scripture is nearly impossible; to acquire a solid understanding of Scriptural truth takes much work, but less time. After all, truth comes from one perspective, whereas error comes from many.
7. Know when to end the conversation. If a person begins mocking, or arguing, or talking in circles, or putting up smoke screens, or if the person is unreceptive, it may be the time to end the conversation. Many Christians fear this, as if ending the dialogue will somehow damage the other’s opinion of Jesus. But again, we are charged with giving an answer, not with changing someone’s mind. If the answer is not sufficient to change their thinking, it can be counterproductive to continue. Simply thank them for their time, mention that you enjoyed talking with them, and move on.
8. Pray. God loves the head as well as the heart. God hears when we ask Him to illuminate truth to another person.
Answering intellectual objections can be fun and rewarding. It is a time a great growth, when faith and knowledge are challenged. Keep in mind that God loves it when people seek truth, whether that person is in Christ or not. A person apart from Christ must seek truth to find Jesus, and we can help him in his search!
Test Questions to Consider
What are some ways to know if a conversation has become unfruitful? How should you respond?
What intellectual objection has caused you to read and study the most? Write two pages on how you would answer that objection if you came across it today.