Greg explains how to rephrase the question that stops Christians in their tracks.
In your conversations with other people about Christ, and Christianity, and the real important things, you are going to encounter what I call THE question. That is, the the question that stops most Christians in their tracks, and they don’t really quite know how to deal with it. And the question was posed to me in an hour long TV debate that I had with Deepak Chopra, the New Age guru, as we talked about spiritual things. And what he said to me is, “So you’re saying that anyone who doesn’t believe just like you is going to hell.”
That’s the way he put the question. Now some people have said if you’re careful how you push the question, you could win any argument. And the problem here is that this was a question about the exclusivity of Christ. A critical issue in Christianity, but it was put in a way that made me look really really bad. So, if I would have answered the question, “Yes. Unless you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, then you will die in your sins, you would go to hell.” I would have answered correctly, but I would have really given the wrong impression. I would have fulfilled a really negative stereotype that people have of Christians, and I would have played right into Deepak Chopra’s rhetorical hand, and I did not want to do that.
And so in that particular circumstance, I side-stepped the issue and went in a different direction. But we can’t always side-step that issue nor should we. We need to address it because it’s really really important, but how do we do that? And this is where the tactical approach, I think, is really golden. Especially using the Colombo Tactic in its third sense, and that is using questions to make a point. Using questions allows us to make the point a much more powerful way especially when we get stuck in a circumstance like this. People asking us about Jesus being the only way of salvation.
This happened to me once in a Barnes and Noble, where I was giving a presentation for a book I’d written, the Relativism book, and afterwards during the Q someone came up to me and asked the question, “Why do I need to believe in Jesus.” He said, “I’m Jewish, I believe in God, I tried to live the best life that I can, why do I need Jesus?” So there’s the question again. Not as belligerently put as with Deepak Chopra, but the question.
Now here’s a case where I want to lead up to the point. I want to make the point by making a couple of steps. I have a choice at this point. I could go ahead and state my steps as part of my argument. Put my pieces on the table so to speak and then come to a conclusion, which leaves me with a certain liability. Every time I make a claim that is a stepping stone to my conclusion, the other person, especially if they’re a little bit belligerent, can just deny the claim and now I get nowhere.
So instead, I am going to use questions to get those pieces placed on the table by the other person, because if they put those pieces on the table it’s a lot harder for them to take them off. To deny them. Ok, let me show you how that works with THE question. Alright, and this person who asked the question there at The Barnes and Noble. I said when he offered the question, “Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?” “No, go right ahead.”
Here’s the first question, I asked, “Do you think that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished? In other words, the people who do bad things, should they pay for them?” And he said, “Well since I’m a prosecuting attorney...” Yeah, I got lucky on the attorney part. You know. But most people have this sense, this deep intuition that people who do wrong things should not get away with them. Ok. And so I agreed with him. I agree the people who do wrong things ought to be punished. So now we’ve got a piece on the table, he put it there. Because I asked the question.
Second question. “Have you ever done any wrong things?” That’s personal right? What do you think he said? He said, “Yeah I guess I have.” If he would have said he didn’t do any bad things, I want to talk to his wife! You know? Of course now we all know we’ve done wrong things. I agreed with him, so have I. And then I said now we’ve got another piece of the table. And so I said to him, “Look at where we’ve come just in two questions. We both agree that people who do bad things ought to be punished and we both agree that we’ve done those bad things. You know what I call that?” I said to him. “What?” he said. I said, “Bad news. This is not a good picture for us.”
Now, do I need to tell this man, he’s a sinner? No. He just told me. Do I need to tell him that he’s under judgment? No he just told me. He wasn’t thinking about that when he walked into the Barnes and Noble. But when I asked him a couple of simple questions that brought these moral intuitions, moral common sense, really to his awareness, he laid them right on the table. Now I’ve got something to work with. And then I went from there and I explained, “It’s as if the judge is about to lower the gavel on the two of us in the dock, and we both know we’re guilty, and we both know we deserve what we’re going to get, and then the judge pauses and says, ’by the way, are either of you guys interested in a pardon at this point?’”
Look, when you know you’re guilty you’re much more open to an offer of forgiveness and that’s exactly where I wanted to bring him and then I explained in very simple terms about substitutionary atonement. That the judge took off his robe and got in the dock and took the punishment for us so that we could be set free. I didn’t use the language of substitution, I just explained it, because that’s what God has done in Jesus and that’s why Jesus is the only way. He’s the only one who solved the problem. Nobody else could do this. Only Jesus could. And that’s why we have to put our confidence in him.
So what I’ve done now is I’ve taken a very tricky situation, THE question, and I’ve approached using a tactical approach. Getting help from the other person to get my pieces on the table, so that when I’m going to make my case, now it’s much easier to do so in light of what he’s helped me to establish. And, I don’t know if that attorney trusted the Lord or not, but at least I was communicating the Gospel to him, at least in a way that he could understand, because now it just wasn’t a matter of believing in God and living the best way you could live. We both realized, that’s not enough. If we’re really guilty then there’s got to be a solution to the guilt problem and that’s what Christians offer in Christ. God becoming a man to take the guilt upon himself so that we can be forgiven that’s the reason Jesus is the only way. He’s the only one who solved the problem and this is one way of getting to that vital point by using a tactical approach.