Adapted from an article written by Hannah Ploegstra (gotherefor.com).
Last week, we started to deal with the conundrum of how we use the Bible to reason with unbelievers when, on the one hand, they don’t recognize it as a valid source, while, on the other hand, it actually is the source, whether they recognize it or not. Let’s continue to see how the apostles approached this conundrum as the gospel went out to people who knew less and less about the Scriptures.
2. Wrap back around to Christ, especially his resurrection
The laser-point centre of the Bible is the resurrection of Christ—God, through his Son, has solved the cosmic problem of death. Jesus’ resurrection is the impossible but historical reality that makes all the difference. Without it we really have nothing substantive to offer the world (1 Cor 15:14). An argument from Scripture that simply leaves unbelievers feeling like it’s a book set out to waggle its nit-picking finger at them isn’t really a successful argument. Scripture’s voice screams, “Christ!”
The apostles understood that faith in Christ’s resurrection was the line that separated the saved from the unsaved, and they were constantly boiling their arguments down to that single point (Acts 2:24-36, 8:34-35, 10:39-42, 17:31, 24:15; Rom 10:9). Evolution, homosexuality, morality, politics—all these hot-button issues are symptomatic of unbelief, but aren’t the true dividing line. We fixate on these areas in our conversations with unbelievers, hoping to change their minds on one thing or another—but what difference will it make? These issues are only side-bars. Make them work for you by using them to point back to the Bible’s most pressing controversy of all: did a dead man really conquer our greatest enemy?
3. Stay true to your source even if they think it’s invalid
Although the Bible isn’t the deciding voice for most unbelievers, we can be open about the fact that for us it is. Paul humbly acknowledged to Felix that he was a follower of Christ. He acknowledged that, in others’ eyes, his ‘Way’ was simply a renegade diversion from ‘normal’, but that didn’t change his commitment to it one bit, or his willingness to ‘confess’ that he believed every word of it (Acts 24:14). And he saw no need to change their minds about his own intelligence.
The world can sniff out a traitor immediately, and there’s almost nothing they hate more. Our humble willingness to stay openly faithful to Scripture even when others think we’re being dense will, in the long run, validate it in their eyes – especially if we can give them a sample of its fruit in the way we show meekness, peace, and love.
We can imitate Paul’s humility and diplomacy by saying something like, “I realize that the Bible is kind of a pointless book to most people. But I take its words really seriously. I only hope I can show you that it hasn’t closed my mind; it’s opened it. It doesn’t make me love you less; the Bible makes me love you more.”
4. Keep it short and sweet, and trust God with his word
Paul’s sermon to the Athenians is remarkably to the point. Unlike some of his lengthier synagogue addresses, this one summarizes biblical concepts from Isaiah and the Psalms and tags them with the Greek poetry the crowd would have been more familiar with. Get it? He’s using their own sayings to teach them the word of God. He knows he only has their ears for a moment, before they shuffle off to the next new thing (Acts 17:21) so he crafts his ideas in words that are memorable, familiar, biblical, and winsome—and that point them straight at Christ and the all-important issue of the resurrection. By the time he’s left, there is no question in anyone’s mind what impossible reality they must face if they are to satisfy their hunger to know God. He’s not ‘unknown’ anymore; he’s right in their face, in less than 300 simple words.
We don’t have to impart a full-scale Bible education before we can feel good about having shared the word of God with unbelievers. The word of God is guaranteed to work on people’s hearts in whatever way the Spirit uses it (Is 55:11). It’s the seed, the sword, and the light that unbelievers need in order to meet Christ, and the Spirit is fully capable of planting it, swinging it, and shining it through us in ways that make sense to others and represent him well. If he can do it for you and me, he can do it for them.