Tactics and Tools

The Moment of Truth

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/18/2015

When you are faced with the question, here’s how you should respond.

While you’re on the lookout for your moments of truth this year—those brief windows of opportunity God gives you to sow a seed for the Kingdom—inevitably you will be asked the question.

It’s one of the most important questions anyone can ask you. It’s also one of the easiest to answer—it can be done in one word—yet at the same time it’s one of the hardest. A simple “yes” is wildly misleading.

Dennis Prager asked me this question when I was a guest on his radio program. Larry King seems especially fond of asking it frequently of his Christian guests on CNN. And Deepak Chopra fired it off at me it in our national TV debate on “Faith Under Fire.”

Here’s the question, in Chopra’s words: “Then you’re saying that people who don’t believe just like you are going to Hell.”

Someone once said that if you word the question right, you can win any debate. Dr. Chopra’s question was a classic case in point. A simple “yes” would have been accurate, but in this instance the correct answer would not have told the truth.

Fortunately, I was able to sidestep Chopra’s challenge. I did this for two reasons.

First, that wasn’t the point I’d been making, and I said so. My point was different. Since Chopra and I were grappling with serious issues no one could avoid—God, truth, salvation, eternity—everything rides on our answers.

Our discussion wasn’t idle banter. Ideas have consequences. Everyone is in the game and eternity is the ante. If Chopra is right and Koukl is wrong, I lose. If the reverse, Chopra loses—and so does everyone who reads his books, attends his seminars, or watches our debate and believes what he says.

Second, Dr. Chopra’s goal was not to clarify a theological point. In the gamesmanship of the moment, he was losing ground, so he offered up a challenge he hoped would tip me off balance, discrediting me with the audience.

If I had answered directly—“Yes, people who don’t believe just like me are going to Hell”—the debate would be over. Chopra’s query would have succeeded at painting me with an ugly stereotype, and he knew it.

People wouldn’t hear the voice of Jesus calling all men to repentance, offering reprieve and rescue from a judgment they will all face. Instead they would hear exactly what Chopra intended them to hear: conceit and condescension, an ideologue wishing people into Hell simply because they disagreed with him.

When you are faced with the question, here’s how you should respond.

Don’t meet it head on. Take my tack and parry the challenge. Tell them the question misses the point. Tell them everything is at stake and everyone is at risk, including you. Each will have to stand before God and give an account. That’s the reality, and it’s not good news because we’re all guilty in the final analysis.

But there’s another reality that is good news. God has made provision for clemency. If anyone accepts the pardon God offers through Jesus, they will not be punished as they deserve but will instead receive the kindest mercy of all, complete forgiveness.

If they ask about those who never heard, tell them that’s a more complicated issue. Simply put, God will judge each according to the light he’s been given. (Ultimately, they will still be lost, but your answer emphasizes that no one is lost out of ignorance, correcting a misunderstanding that calls into question God’s goodness.)

The key is to sidestep the trap while still telling the truth. This isn’t always easy. Jesus’ claim that “Unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24) is less popular now than ever. Be prepared to clarify Jesus’ point.

As a good ambassador, don’t let this moment of truth slip away. But don’t let anyone else twist the truth, either, by the way they frame the question. You’re in charge.