There are two simple tips that can make your spiritual conversations more effective.
The book “Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions” is out. It's on Amazon. Click the link in the sidebar. Get yourself a copy.
Now while that book is out, I am still working to be a better writer, to be a better communicator. I'm working on curriculum for the book. I'm working on my next book. Someone heard that and suggested the following title: “Unapologetic II: Still Not Sorry”. Not exactly what I'm going for, but a very witty and funny suggestion nonetheless.
Because of all that, I am working to improve my writing. There are two simple tips that can make someone a better writer. Here's why I want to share them with you: because they can also make you a better ambassador for Christ when you're speaking with your friends, your coworkers, your family, or your neighbors about spiritual topics. Here's what these two tips are.
The first is know your audience. The second is maintain focus. Audience.
Know Your Audience
As a writer, as a communicator, I have a primary audience. That would be people who have grown up in the church, most likely. They're faithful, committed Christians and they want to be faithful to Christ when topics of faith or values come up. I also have a secondary audience. This is probably people who are struggling or who have struggled with doubts. I know both of these groups. I have grown up in the church and I have had my struggles with doubts.
Here's where this comes in when you're talking with other people. You need to know who you're talking with and where they're coming from before you can say something that's going to be effective. If someone says they're not a Christian and you start saying, "Well, here's this great argument for why God exists. You see, everything that comes into existence has a cause. The universe came into ... " they might not care. Their objection to the existence of God might not have anything to do with their intellect or what they know. It might have to do with a family member dying. You're going to give them an intellectual piece of evidence when they don't even want that. The better thing to do would be find out where they're coming from. Who are they? What is their objection?
“Okay, so you don't believe God exists. Would you mind telling me why? I'd like to know. I'm curious.” They might tell you that it's something that deals with evil in the world, or maybe they think they're the only one who exists! Who knows. Nonetheless, you need to find out where that person is coming from.
Let's say someone says, "I am bothered by all the evil in the world. I'm so strongly bothered, I don't see how a loving God like you say exists could actually exist."
You still don't know enough to reply to that person. You could give them a logical reply about how God's existence is not logically incoherent with evil, how they're not contradictory, but that might not matter. They might be grieving inside and they need something that's more suited for their emotional needs. Their objection might not be intellectual.
We need to find out as much about people as we can in conversation to know our audience, to better address where they're coming from. You might realize that this is Greg Koukl's tactics approach, just with a slightly different angle on it. And it is. Using questions wasn't invented by Koukl, and it will be used far, far into the future, but it is the most effective and personal way to have a conversation, when used correctly.
The last thing I'll say on audience is that sometimes knowing your audience means giving out age-appropriate truth. I've written about this before, but somewhere between when a child is born and then when they go off to high school, the truths we tell need to progressively get more robust and complete. Trying to explain the Trinity to a seven year old is going to look very different than explaining it to an 18 year old. Here's the mistake we often make. We don't make the transition from the seven year old explanation to the 18 year old explanation. We need to. We often forget to progressively add that as we go along.
Don't tell your child about the flagellum on bacteria if they're seven, and how that is irreducibly complex and evidence of intelligent design. They're not going to have a clue. They'll think you're really smart but you'll have lost their interest. But for an 18 year old who's been through biology, that's going to probably connect a little better if they're even interested in intelligent design. Once again, know your audience.
Lastly, just like authors or writers probably have a primary audience and a secondary audience, you probably do too in these conversations. Your primary audience is going to be the person you're speaking with. You probably have a secondary audience in the form of the people listening. Who knows where they're at, but how you conduct yourself in that conversation will speak louder to them oftentimes than the words you say.
We can have all the truth, accurately presented, in the world and just sound like a clanging gong if we don't present it with love. We need to be convictional in what we share, but we also need to be intentional and loving. People shouldn't be able to criticize us for how we say things. They might thoroughly despise our ideas, but our character should be above reproach.
You need to know your audience.
The second thing is focus. The conversation is moving along. You’ve found out about the other person and where they're coming from. They're learning some about you too. You’re building this relationship, but oftentimes what will happen is, if you're discussing Christianity or some argument for God, you're going to have the tendency to hop all over the place. Because all of these things are interconnected like a puzzle. Every piece touches some other pieces. But, you need to resist the urge to do that.
If you never actually finish talking about a topic, that can make your conversation almost a waste of time in some ways. Let's say the person says, "There's too much evil in the world. I can't believe in a God who would allow this much evil." It's not an emotional objection. It's just a logical one. You're able to point out that God's existence and the existence of evil are not logically contradictory. God could use evil. God could allow evil for certain reasons.
Then they might say, "Yeah, well, evolution disproves creationism." You might start to point out something about irreducible complexity. You start to make a good point and they say, "Yeah, well the church is full of hypocrites." What they're doing is they have some bullets in their gun and they're shooting them out. That's about it. They don't care what's coming back.
But what you need to do is keep this conversation focused. If evil was the original topic, keep it focused on evil. Ask the person a question. “What do you think about what I said? What do you think about me pointing out that there's not a logical contradiction in God and evil? That they can fit together. We might not like it but God's actually the better existence for how we know evil than anything else. What do you think about that?”
Keep them focused on that topic. You need to make them confront what you've said, not in a harsh way or a confrontational way but just bring it back. Say, "If we really want to discuss something and get somewhere and not just talk past each other, let's fully engage on these ideas."
This is also a large problem in online conversations. It's very easy for someone to say something, someone else to try and give a reply, and the other person either never reply at all, never have to confront what was said, or do the same thing I demoed here and just say something else that's unrelated.
In those conversations it's helpful to bring things back to the central point. “What did you think about this specific point?” Oftentimes when people won't reply, I think that's telling. Now sometimes it just might be that someone didn't think the conversation was fruitful anymore, or they got distracted, or whatever. That happens, but we need to try in all of our conversations to not waste the time we've put into them and make it as effective and efficient as possible by keeping focused.
These two tips can be very helpful in your conversations. They can make you a better communicator, a better ambassador for Christ. You need to know your audience. Ask them some questions. Find out where they're coming from and then make sure your answers are geared for where that person is at. Lastly, try to keep the conversation focused. Don't let it run away for you, and I think you will have much better conversations. I look forward to talking with you next week.