There’s a lesson to be learned from the violent video game Mortal Kombat. During a match, two players duel to the death by controlling their on-screen avatars. As you pummel the other player, his health dwindles to a dangerous low. Your bludgeoned opponent stumbles, struggling to stay on his feet. The video game detects your likely victory and bellows ominously, “Finish him!” commanding you to deliver one final and deadly blow.
Christians are often tempted to deliver a final, verbal blow when sharing their religious convictions and noting their “opponent’s” faltering view. But taking the “Finish him!” approach is unbecoming of an ambassador for Christ. If you’re in mortal combat, that makes sense. But if you’re a Christian attempting to share the truth, it’s a big mistake.
I’ve seen this occur with both in-person conversation and online interaction. This scenario plays out when a Christian starts with the presumption that the non-believer is an opponent and the goal is to win the argument. As the conversation unfolds, the Christian presents some powerful points, causing the non-believer to reconsider his own view. In his mind the Christian thinks, I’ve got him on the ropes. I need to deliver one final, verbal blow to destroy his position…Finish him! But if he follows through on this instinct, he’ll make himself appear like the victor and the unbeliever feel like the loser and less likely to consider the truth.
Sharing your faith, however, should not be Mortal Kombat. People are not our enemy, and we’re not trying to kill anyone. Although the stakes in evangelism are life and death, our goal is not to destroy an argument but to reach the person with the truth.
Though there might be an instance when you’ve made a powerful point, that doesn’t mean you have to continue aggressively advancing your position till your friend concedes your view. If you sense he’s seeing your point, it can be prudent to back off a little and let him save face.
A few years ago, I was talking to a non-Christian about the subject of Islam. He asked me if I believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God. My initial answer: No. Our conversation went back and forth for a minute until I provided the following hypothetical situation. I asked him to imagine what would happen if Jesus appeared in the room. I told him that every Christian around us would bow down to worship that person, Jesus, as God. But no Muslim in that room would bow down to worship Jesus as God. That’s because Christians believe Jesus is God and Muslims vigorously deny that. How is it possible, then, that both Christians and Muslims worship the same God when they don’t both worship Jesus as their God?
The man paused, smiled, and said, “Hmmm…let me think about that.” I sensed he found my point somewhat persuasive. Even though he wasn’t fully convinced, I could tell his position was weaker. At that point, I could hear the words in my mind, Finish him! Deliver a final blow. Crush his view. I could have piled on another point and claimed victory. But that’s not what an ambassador for Christ does. We’re not trying to win an argument but to reach the person with the truth.
There was no need to hammer my point home and injure his self-image in front of me, a stranger. So, I let him save face and allowed the conversation to naturally transition to another topic. I put a stone in his shoe and felt comfortable enough to let the Holy Spirit continue—perhaps at a later time—to convict him of the truth of my point.
This approach reminds me of how Francis Schaeffer engaged those who sought to converse with him. Jerram Barrs, a Schaeffer scholar, writes:
Shaeffer would be filled with compassion for them…. Always he would pray for them and seek to challenge them with the truth. But this challenge was never given aggressively. He would say to us (and he would model for us): “Always leave someone with a corner to retire gracefully into. You are not trying to win an argument or to knock someone down. You are seeking to win a person, a person made in the image of God. This is not about your winning; it is not about your ego. If that is your approach, all you will do is arouse their pride and make it more difficult for them to hear what you have to say.”
That’s what I’m talking about—leaving someone a corner to retire gracefully into. Otherwise, your “Finish him!” mentality will emotionally bruise them and leave them more resistant to the truth. Let’s remember that people—even those who might oppose us—are valuable image bearers of God. Though their false ideas need to be addressed, their souls need to be handled with care.