Ask Mark Mittelberg (November 26-30, 2018)

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM,

I’m delighted that we have the opportunity for a Q&A with Mark Mittelberg. He is the father of @Matthew_Mittelberg, an OCCA Fellow with RZIM in Boston. I have been encouraged to see how Mark’s life and witness has nurtured his children to live faithfully for the Lord.

Mark has collaborated with Lee Strobel for many decades. One of their latest initiatives is the Making Your Case for Christ training course. Altogether, Mark’s writings and projects have influenced tens of millions of people to consider the gospel for themselves.

Please join me in asking your questions about evangelism - and reading along to be encouraged!


Mark Mittelberg’s bio:

Mark Mittelberg is the best-selling author of The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (with answers) and The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense. He is also the primary creator of the celebrated Becoming a Contagious Christian curriculum, which has been translated into more than 20 languages and used to train 1.5 million people around the world. Mark was on the leadership team at the Willow Creek Association in Chicago for many years, and now co-directs (with Lee Strobel) The Institute at Cherry Hills in Denver, Colorado.

(Bill Brander) #2

Good day Mark, I previewed session #1 of the videos just now.

Question: You say that your philosophy lecturer challenged you. Can you please expand upon that? What did they say to you? In hindsight how would you reply to them today?

Thank you


(Danny Doyle ) #3

Hi Mark!

My question is what is the most convincing/effective argument that you have come across during your experience and could you explain how you would articulate that response.

Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you!

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #4

I like to ask this question to leaders in the christian community, so I’ll ask you as well:

What books besides the Bible have influenced you the most?

(Carson Weitnauer) #5

Hi Mark, we’ve talked at length about why apologists - why Christians - need to be distinctively respectful, while still remaining committed to sharing the truth as it is.

But this seems like something much easier said than done. Perhaps it is easier to learn a new argument than to learn a new approach to conversation?

Can you share with us some practical thoughts about what it looks like to be remarkably respectful? Or by contrast: what behaviors would you encourage us to stop doing?

Further, how can we self-diagnose if we are being respectful?

(Mark Mittelberg) #6

Hi Danny –

Great question! My short answer is that it really depends on who I’m talking to. I think the nature of our task is to help each person move from where they are now, to where they need to be in relation to Christ. So if they already believe in God (but are not committed to Christ) and agree that the Bible is God’s Word, then the best argument might be a key Bible passage or two (like, for example, Romans 10:9-10) that will help clarify what God wants them to know about trusting in him.

Or maybe the person believes in God, but isn’t sure about Christ or the Bible. In that case the best argument might be to present some of the historical data for the resurrection of Jesus (e.g., his tomb was EMPTY; the risen Savior APPEARED to many of his followers; they wrote these things down in EARLY records; etc.).

Or perhaps the person you’re talking to isn’t sure God exists at all. You might want to start with some of the broader arguments from science (the cosmological argument, the arguments from design and fine tuning, the moral argument, etc.) as well as history, Scripture, etc. (FYI, I wrote a book in which I present 20 arguments for the Christian faith from all of the above categories and more … it’s called Confident Faith, in case that might be helpful to you.)

So my broad advice is to start by asking your friend a lot of questions about what he/she believes, why they believe it, whether they’ve always thought this way or had changes along the way, and so forth. Ask and then really listen. As you do this you’ll learn what they believe and what led them to believe as they do, and you’ll earn the right to finally share some of your own thoughts and beliefs with them.

Hope that helps —

(Mark Mittelberg) #7

Wow, Isaiah, there are so many! Maybe I’ll start with a few that I read early on in my walk with Christ that had a formative influence:

Knowing God, by J I Packer (especially what Packer says about God adopting us into his family – so important!)

Fox’s Book of Martyrs (yes, that was one of the first books I read cover-to-cover as a new believer – aged 19 or 20 – and it helped me to see that any cost we might have to pay in order to follow Christ is worth it!)

Battle for the Bible, by Harold Lindsell (this established in my mind how central the role and authority of Scripture is in the life of the believer and in the health and future of ministries and churches. I think many of the battles that are being fought today are ultimately about the question of the Bible’s authority. Will we accept what God tells us about morality, the value and meaning of life, marriage, etc.? The answer from far too many is “no” — but we need to be those who say a resounding “yes”!!

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell; now in a newer edition by Josh and Sean McDowell (this was probably my first introduction to historical apologetics, and it was a good one. MANY have come to faith in Christ through this potent little book!)

Mere Christianity, by C S Lewis (in some ways so simple, yet simultaneously so brilliant!)

I’ll mention one more – one that I think should be required reading for every person on the planet:

The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel (yes, Lee is my close friend and ministry partner, and yes I was involved in shaping the book – but it’s an absolute classic, and it has been and continues to be a powerful tool for reaching people who are resisting the gospel, as well as a fantastic training tool for believers. I’ve given away countless copies myself, and have met hundreds of people who have trusted in Christ after reading it). I should also add that the newest edition of C4C includes a new chapter at the end of the book in which I interview Lee and have him share some of the most unique and exciting examples of how God has used the book.

Many more could be listed, but those are some of the earlier (other than C4C) and more influential books in my life. I’ll simply add that one of the most important disciplines for every believer is to be constantly reading (or listening to) a great Christian book. I think a good goal for most people would be to read at least one book per month (but more than that will increase learning more quickly! : ).

(Mark Mittelberg) #8

Hi Bill. My professor was not an atheist or agnostic – he was a friendly religious liberal who was heavily influenced by the teachings of Alfred North Whitehead (process theology), and he challenged our belief in what he called the traditional understanding of God, as well as the reliability and authority of the Bible. He described his understanding of God as “panentheism” – kind of a mix of pantheism (all is God) and theism. As part of that he would tell us that God is omnipotent, but not in the way we thought he was. For him that meant that God only had the power of persuasion, and that there was no guarantee that he would ultimately win out over evil. Further, God (god?) is caught up in evolution like everything else – but (I guess) just ahead of us.

How did I respond? Well, first I had to do a lot of extra reading (mostly Geisler’s books about the authority of Scripture), and I had to lean on my apologetics mentors (the late Bob and Gretchen Passantino) in order to know what to say and how to present it. More specifically, I didn’t debate my professor philosophically very much about his weak view of God, but rather I went to what I considered the source of his confusion: his weak view of Scripture. In fact, after lots of research and preparation I partnered with the university’s InterVarsity chapter, and spoke for two of their large group meetings in which I publicly challenged this professor’s views – knowing he had already confused a lot of students.

I should add that I went to his office ahead of time, told him what I was going to do, and invited him to attend. He came to at least one of those meetings, but I don’t think he liked it very much. That was okay – it seemed to help a lot of my fellow students. (And to be clear, I treated him with respect while challenging the things he was trying to teach us.)

You asked how I would respond differently today. I don’t think I would do anything very different – other than having a lot more information to wield after many more years of study. Then and now I viewed the truth about the Bible and about God as life-and-death matters that need to be studied in a very diligent and sober-minded way (see: John 8:32).

(SeanO) #9

@mittelm What are some of your favorite Christian books that you would say are ‘off the beaten path’?

Also, how did God’s call on your life shape itself? How did God bring the open doors and mentors for ministry into your life?

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #10

Thank you for the suggestions, i’ll definitely look them up!
I have read Mere Christianity and The newest version of The Case for Christ (along with your interview of Lee Strobel) and I own the newest copy of More Than a Carpenter by Josh and Sean McDowell but have yet to read it.

I am currently focusing my attention to The Cross of Christ by John Stott, which is rich in its analysis of the cross and what it accomplishes!

What are your favourite books (and most trusted authors) on Christian theology? I would like to know your thoughts. Thank you and God bless!

(Mark Mittelberg) #11

Such an important issue, Carson!

The first thing I’d say is that we need to remember that our ultimate goal is not to win arguments, but to win people to Christ. Now, good answers and information are often key components in accomplishing this – but when you care more for the person than you do about winning the debate, that shows in your attitude, your willingness in some cases to back off for the sake of the relationship, etc.

Otherwise we might win the argument and lose the person. They might walk away saying to themselves (and others), “The guy was pretty smart and admittedly made sense – but in light of how he acted toward me I never want to be like him!” When that happens, EVERYBODY LOSES.

The way I often challenge fellow believers is by explaining that we need to do both halves of 1 Peter 3:15:

First Half: Get prepared and give great answers! Second Half: Do this with gentleness and respect!

When we do both halves (mixed with asking the Holy Spirit to guide us while drawing the other person to himself), God can use us in a big way, and many lives will be impacted for eternity.

(Mark Mittelberg) #12

Hmmm… off the beaten path? Well, SeanO, these aren’t really obscure, but I get a lot of encouragement from biographies of Christian heroes. One I’ve read a couple of times in the past few years is Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (someone needs to make a movie about this man – a self-taught young missionary from England who almost singlehandedly led the efforts that brought the gospel to the interior of China). I also loved A Passion for Souls (about Dwight L. Moody) by Lyle Dorsett, Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas, and Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias.

Some more recent books I thoroughly enjoyed: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus from my late friend, Nabeel Qureshi (everyone in the world should read it – along with The Case for Christ). A couple newer ones from Lee Strobel: The Case for Grace (stunning stories of life-change via the transforming power of God) and his newest, The Case for Miracles (jaw dropping accounts of God’s supernatural activity). One more I read recently that I found inspiring was Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn’s JESUS REVOLUTION: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today. I also thought Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God was poignant and important (about the Holy Spirit).

God’s call on my life came (and is still coming) incrementally. I wish I could’ve been one of those who got a clearcut assignment at the beginning. Instead, God seem to lead be down a curvy path, one bend at a time. Anyone relate?

The mentor question: I’ve mostly found mentors by seeking them out, getting to know them, asking questions, seeking to learn from them but also to add value to their lives. I think becoming a friend and ministry partner to key people (rather than a fan) makes a huge difference in how you’re perceived and interacted with.

(Mark Mittelberg) #13

Hi Isaiah. You mentioned John Stott. He was another hero of mine, and I got to hear him speak my first time at Trinity Seminary in Chicago, right after he wrote The Cross of Christ, which he told me was his magnum opus. I also got to spend some private time with him on later occasions. He was warm, witty, fun, and (of course) brilliant and super articulate. A model of a devoted single man who gave his life to serving God and people.

Concerning the question of trusted sources on theology, my mentors prescribed to me (as a very young Christian) to read and try to master the content of Buswell’s Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion – especially since Buswell had degrees in both theology and philosophy, with a firm grip on both. I read it cover to cover, and frequently went back and studied it in key areas. I also later mentored others using it, and found it to be a strong influence on my understanding of the atonement, which was later reflected in my work on the Becoming a Contagious Christing book and training course.

FYI, I still like Buswell, but it’s a generation or two past – and often argues with people who no one knows anymore. These days I really like Millard Erickson’s systematic theology. I find him very helpful in how he fairly presents the array of possible points of view, but then weighs in on the one he thinks best reflects the teachings of Scripture. I’m also a fan of Craig Keener’s works – though he’s written far more than I’ve had time to read so far. One more mention: even though it’s pretty brief, I really like the one-volume Moody Bible Commentary, edited by my friend Michael Rydelnik who is a very clear-thinking (and clear-writing) Messianic follower of Jesus.

(Bill Brander) #14

Yes Mark, I can relate to the curvy path - with a number of potholes along the way. And me wrestling to change direction. God just will not listen to me! :wink:

I’m not too happy with Francis Chan. When I read his books and watch him on YouTube I come away feeling… embarrassed? As though I am shortchanging God. (I’ve just downloaded the Hudson Taylor ebook you named. Thank you.)


(Mark Mittelberg) #15

Yes, Bill, I can relate to potholes and wrestling, too. Sometimes I wish I had a better spiritual nav system! : )

Chan is often direct and convicting. But I think it emanates from a love and passion for God and his truth. And in the case of The Forgotten God, it’s a challenge many of us need (:raising_hand_man:t3:) – because we’ve neglected the vital role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world, and tried to operate out of our own vision and strength. (Then we wonder why we lack the guidance, spiritual power, and fruitfulness of the Acts church!) Chan’s book is a needed challenge back to a biblical balance in terms of how we relate to the full godhead – Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit.

Enjoy the story of Hudson Taylor – one of the most courageous and effective Christian ministers who has ever walked the planet (and one who was so clearly led and empowered by God’s Spirit!)

(SeanO) #16

Mark, thanks for the book recommendations! I went to Moody and always found it engaging to learn about the school’s founder - he was certainly all in for Jesus. I followed Francis Chan’s ministry when he was still at Cornerstone and really benefited from his straightforward approach to sharing the Gospel and ‘Just do it’ attitude. As @billbrander pointed out, very convicting.

I can certainly relate to the curvy road - a lot of trusting God’s heart when not being able to trace His hand. And I think you’re advice for mentors is very practical - it is also the case in computer science that the relationship needs to be a two way street. You get to know them and then the relationship is give / take both ways - like any normal business relationship or friendship.

(Carson Weitnauer) #17

Hi @mittelm,

Thanks - that’s really helpful. As a way of digging a little bit deeper, my concern is that a large majority of apologetics books discuss this topic in the introduction or the first chapter, when covering 1 Peter 3:15.

Yet, at the same time, apologists seem to have developed a reputation for triumphing over their foolish, irrational enemies through superior argumentation.

E.g., “Of course I’m caring for my friend by showing him that his arguments are lame and that the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming…”

That leads me to some more questions…

  • What do you think accounts for this gap between one of the more famous verses on apologetics and the reputation of apologists?

  • How do we diagnose self-deception on this point?

  • What are some diagnostics you have for evaluating if an apologist - or anyone, really - is being gentle and respectful?

  • What else can we be doing to more practically and specifically nurture a respectful culture among apologists?

(Rick Rump) #18

Hi Mark,

What a privilege to be taught by you in the early days of my evangelism training. Thank you!

Now, Twitter is my go to source of evangelism and apologetics information. It drives the books, articles, blogs I read and the YouTube videos. So besides you, Lee Strobel, Ravi Zacharias and Sean McDowell of course, who would be in your daily, can’t miss list of Tweeters?


(Kelsey Rose) #19


As a Philosophy major at a secular university, I am coming across scores of university students who not only suppose that there is nothing supernatural about the universe, but they are convinced to the very core of their being that that is so. Even more so, most of my classmates are convinced that, following the logical consequences of their worldview, life has no meaning, no value, no purpose, which is indeed true. However, it weighs so heavily on my heart that they have resigned to this meaninglessness and nothingness that their worldview has led them to, and are entirely convinced that there is no other way. It breaks my heart that they would rather keep the hopelessness that living a coherent atheist worldview provides, rather than seek truth above and beyond materialism.

For me, on the other hand, the nihilist, materialist, atheist worldview is absurd, and does not correlate to the reality that each of us truly does seek value and purpose and meaning in our lives. For me, it is clear that to say “there is no God” is folly - but for them, with all of the sincerity of their hearts, to say “there IS a God” is folly. It makes no sense to them. Nothing makes sense to them.

I am a little dumbfounded at this phenomenon and I do not know what to do to cause them to see the absurdity of nihilism and help them see that there really can be hope based on solid truth. I know a lot of arguments for the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ and the coherence of the Christian worldview, but I do not know how to build a bridge from nihilism to the evidence for Christianity.

I’m not sure that I have expressed myself well, but I guess my question is: How can I build that bridge from coherent atheistic nihilism to evidence for Christianity? How can I help guide them toward a search for truth-based hope, when they have already resigned and are totally convinced that there is no such thing? How can I help them not only see that the coherent consequences of atheism lead to nihilism, but that nihilism in itself is absurd?

Thank you for your time.

Kelsey Rose

(Mark Mittelberg) #20