Ask Mark Mittelberg (November 26-30, 2018)

(Mark Mittelberg) #21

Hi Carson – here are some thoughts on your follow-up questions:

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

I do think part of the problem is what I said earlier: being caught up in winning arguments rather than being driven by love and concern for a person we want to reach (and lead to forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life). If the latter is your goal, then you stop and ask yourself how you can best present your evidence in ways that will help win the person and not just make the point.

I suppose there’s also the problem of many young apologists seeing models that take them down a more aggressive track. That’s part of why I love pointing people to the examples of Ravi Zacharias and your growing group of great apologists at RZIM. You guys do a great job of focusing on the person, showing love and empathy, answering the questioner and not just the question, and yet still boldly speaking the truth in love.

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

Bob Passantino (one of my apologetics mentors) used to always talk about what he called The Golden Rule of Apologetics – and he modeled it well. This means that we should always be asking ourselves if we’d like to be answered in the way we’re about to answer the other person. If not, alter it! And if you’ve already treated that person in ways you wouldn’t want to be treated, then apologize to them. There’s a place for saying, “I feel strongly about what I was trying to say, but I feel bad about how I said it. I’m really sorry.” I’ve done this – and it can be an important step in our learning how to better interact with people (and God can use it to open up the doors of friendship and conversation once again).

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

One criterion response of the other person (assuming he or she is a genuine truth-seeker). If they say something like “I’m not convinced, but I really appreciate you explaining your point of view,” then the interaction was probably handled pretty well. But if they get increasingly angry and defensive, and especially if they comment about your negative attitude or approach, then it’s time to reevaluate.

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

“Two are better than one” we are told in Scripture. Having a teaching partner (or many) – and being active in listening to each other as we speak and later giving honest feedback – is a great way to learn, grow, and improve. Strobel and I have done this for each other for decades (and my son Matthew did it for me not long ago). Often what we bring to the other’s attention is something that we didn’t even mean to convey or sound like, but the mirror of another person’s perspective can really make us more aware of how we’re coming off to people (whether in one-on-one conversations, or when speaking to groups). As the Bible also teaches, “Iron sharpens iron.”

(Mark Mittelberg) #22

Hi Rick! Always love hearing from someone on the old Frontline Team in Chicago (do you, like me, ever daydream about getting the band back together?!).

Here are a few others Twitter people I’d follow (in addition to those you mentioned):


@RFUpdates (William Lane Craig – you were there at the classic WCCC debate, right Rick?)

@Apologetics315 (it’s been restarted)





@Acts17 (David can be edgy, but I’ve learned a lot from him … as did Nabeel Qureshi!)



(to be continued – it’ll only let me mention ten users on one response)

(Michael John Pavia) #23

Hi Mark,
thanks for helping Lee Strobel in Case for Christ… one of my favorites along with Mere Christianity.

I’d also like to add “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. It really opened my eyes to how much more I could do and not being satisfied with what I had done.

Thank you for all you do for Him!
God bless,
Michael John

(Mark Mittelberg) #24

Thanks, Michael. I loved Crazy Love too! : )

Appreciate your encouragement –


(Mark Mittelberg) #25

Here’s part 2 of my answer to Rick Rump:

@Natasha_Crain (focuses on parents/kids apologetics – more needed than ever!)

@alisachilders (newer to the field, but doing great work!)






My apologies to those apologists I’ve overlooked … this is off the top of my head!)

(I guess I should add these two as well: @MarkMittelberg @MattMittelberg : )

(Mark Mittelberg) #26

Hi Kelsey –

I hate to go all Obi Wan-Kenobi on ya, but sometimes our best evidence is not evidence as we usually think of it – it’s appealing to what our friends know deep down in their hearts.

Life really has no meaning or purpose – really? Why do they get up in the morning? Go to school? Work so hard to get a degree? Why does their heart know they were made for more than this?? Why do words like these from Richard Dawkins cause our minds and spirits to revolt? “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Why do we know better than to really believe that in our day to day thoughts and interactions? Why was this song so popular and why does it resonate so deeply?

Purposelessness is a hard philosophy to live out – and the harder you try (the more you purpose to live in a purposeless way) the more it messes with your heart and mind (just ask Nietzsche!). It seems apparent that God has built a measure of intuitive understanding into our souls that just laughs at our philosophical musings! (See: Roman 1:18-20, where it tells us people “suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”)

Add to this internal info the abundant evidence for a Creator from science, history, archaeology, philosophy, Scripture, etc., and it starts to add up to a very compelling case.

Yes, many of our friends will still stay closed. What else can we do? Remain their friend. Show them unconditional love. Serve them. Be there for them when no one else is. And PRAY THAT GOD WILL TOUCH THEIR HEARTS, OPEN THEIR EYES, AND INFLUENCE THEIR THINKING. This is not just a personal or intellectual battle. It’s first and foremost a spiritual one. So pray, pray, pray … then drink some great c☕️ffee, and pray some more!

FYI, in my book Confident Faith (in a later chapter) I list 10 barriers that can keep people from Christ. That section might be helpful to you. Here’s the bullet point list:

BARRIER 10: OVERSIMPLICITY (yes, I made up that word : )

Let me add that I don’t know of anyone on the planet who speaks more perceptively about these issues of the heart than Ravi Zacharias. Here’s a list of videos in which he addresses some of these matters. I would recommend listening to several of them to see if one or more of them might be perfect tools to help your friends understand that they “were meant for something more.” Here’s the link:

May God lead and use you, Kelsey, to bring light and life to those around you!


(Rick Rump) #27

Yup, I miss that community of like-minded and passionate evangelist “trainees”. They were just like my second family. 20 years on still connected with several of them. You know, there are not groups like that in very many places. Like being in a spiritual gifts class where they ask evangelists to gather in one corner of the room?

But thank you so much for your part 1 and part 2 responses. Now to restructure my Twitter following list.

Gal 6:9


(Carson Weitnauer) #28

Hi @mittelm,

What advice do you have for us in terms of sharing our faith with family members?

(Carson Weitnauer) #29

Hi @mittelm,

What advice do you have for us in sharing the gospel with strangers? The proverbial person sitting next to us in a plane, train, bus, at the store, etc.?

(Mark Mittelberg) #30

Carson – concerning the question about reaching out to family members, here are some thoughts:

  • be prepared to talk about it … but don’t talk about it all the time. Pray and look for key moments, and even then be ready to get on and off of the subject. If you force feed your spiritual thoughts and concerns to family members, they’ll either shut you down or avoid future conversations. We want to keep them open and interested (Jesus said we’re the salt of the earth – but salt is only good when used sparingly)

  • look for strategic moments to bring up matters of faith. Usually that will be in private or semi-private settings. Idea: if you’ll be seeing relatives during the holidays, plan and reach out ahead of time to set up some special breakfast, lunch, or coffee appointments together. These can be at home, but often are better in nearby restaurants or cafes. Take them back to places you used to go together, but then in that setting gently bring up the topic of faith. Ask questions. Listen. Then, as you’ve earned the right to speak, share what you’ve learned in your spiritual journey – or what you think they need to know.

  • if you sense resistance, don’t keep pushing. Rather, ask them why they’re resistant or negative when the subject comes up. Ask, and then listen to their story. You want to know what they’ve gone through spiritual, and how it has shaped their opinions and attitudes toward the Christian faith.

  • when you hear their story, look for areas you can affirm and agree with. Find common ground. If they’ve been mistreated by a Christian, a ministry, or a church, empathize with their concerns where appropriate. Acknowledge that often those who claim to represent Christ do so poorly. And assure them wherever there was blatant hypocrisy that Jesus is on their side – at least on that point. When religious people do unChristlike things, they’re no longer representing Jesus. Jesus is much better than that. So encourage them to reject the bad examples, and turn to the Perfect Example instead.

  • if it turns out that part of their problems with Christianity stem back to something you said or did, listen carefully, and let down your guard. Admit where you were wrong, or overbearing, or judgmental, or whatever. Often a sincere apology is the most important thing we can offer – and it can reopen the doors to further conversation and spiritual influence.

  • be aware that for some family members – especially senior ones – it can be hard to hear a strong spiritual challenge from you. They’ve seen you through your ups and downs, and are tempted to think this is just another phase you’re going through … so be patient. Outlast them. Show them through your steadfast faith and actions (over the years) that Christ is real in your life, that he has really changed you and continues to grow you into spiritual maturity, and demonstrate that life in him is better. Make Christ attractive through how you live and speak. Over time, the Holy Spirit might just use your example to open their eyes.

  • don’t carry the whole load yourself. Look for like-believing relatives to collaborate with and actively involve them in your efforts. Team up to reach the family.

  • bring them to church services or events (especially during this time of the year make the most of Christmas Eve services), where they’ll hear biblical truth presented in clear and relevant ways, and see it lived out in the worship and the attitudes and examples of the congregation. Also, don’t forget about the potential of Christian movies and concerts.

  • if they won’t go to these services or events, consider bringing those to them. For example, watch a great Christmas service together online or on TV. Bring a DVD of The Case for Christ movie (it’s also on Netflix), and watch it together as a family. A number of people have come to faith just through watching it! Or what about I Can Only Imagine or others? Pick whatever you think will best speak to your family members at this point in their life.

  • Again, since it’s Christmas, it’s a great time to give gifts that can have an impact. My advice is not to only give them a Christian book or DVD – rather, give them a great sweater or other natural gift, but add to it what I call a “Spiritual Stocking Stuffer.” That might be a Christian music CD in a style they’ll like, or it could be a Christian book that addresses their areas of interest. Don’t forget great testimony books like The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel), or Cold-Case Christianity (J. Warner Wallace), or I wrote a little introduction to Christianity called The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense. I’d also write them a note in their card or in the front of the book telling them why you picked it, and urge them to read it soon and let you know what they think. Always try to give them next steps so they’ll keep moving forward on their spiritual journey!

  • one more thought: Don’t give up. Don’t assume they’ll never come around. Don’t stop praying for them. God delights in reaching unlikely candidates – especially when one of his favored children is fervently praying for them and seeking to reach them with the gospel.

P.S. My friend Nancy Grisham also wrote a helpful article on this subject for Christianity Today, called “High Stakes Sharing: Reaching Out to Family” – check it out here:

(Mark Mittelberg) #31

Advice for talking about your faith to strangers?

First, pray for God to orchestrate serendipidous meetings with people who will be interested and open. Pray and then watch for them. Look in people’s eyes and see who wants to engage in conversation. Just say hello, and engage in sincere but casual small talk. But then, if it seems appropriate and you sense green lights from the Holy Spirit, toss out a comment or question that can help you get to spiritual matters. If you’re on your way to or from a Christian event, nonchalantly toss that fact out there. See if that raises interest or resistance. Either way, ask them what they’re thinking, what their background is, whether they’ve ever really looked into the teachings of Jesus.

Start with any topic, but then try to steer the conversation to what’s central: Jesus, the gospel, and your own testimony. Pray as you speak, asking God for favor and wisdom – and for the Holy Spirit to open the other person’s heart to what you’re saying.

If it’s a long ride or flight, I’ve found it helpful to engage for a while, then move on to other topics or just give it a break (lots of people just want a nap!), but then to reengage again later in the journey. This alone lets them know I’m not going to hound them with the topic, and they often become more open.

Also, reading a good Christian book next to a stranger can open up spiritual conversations.

Last thought: One of the most helpful habits I’ve developed is carrying a couple small Christian books or booklets that I know and truth and feel good giving to people. This time of the year The Case for Christmas is great (and The Case for Easter in the spring). Also, I mentioned my little evangelistic book, The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense. I ALMOST ALWAYS carry copies of that when I’m traveling (and before I was writing my own books I was almost always carrying other books). What’s great about this habit is that it’s much easier to get into a conversation – even when you know you just have a moment – when you know you’ve got spiritual backup in the form of a good book you can give the person. And when I do this I usually write my email address in the front of the book and encourage them to let me know if they have any thoughts or questions they’d like to discuss later (they rarely do so, but when they do it can lead to real progress in their journey toward Christ). And occasionally I hear about one of them putting their faith in him (including a local doctor I gave The Reason Why to recently!).

SO: Pray for guidance and open doors; Take a small risk and see who wants to talk; Ask lots of questions and really listen; Be willing to get on and off the subject of spiritual matters … and back on again; Give books or other tools (you can also write down helpful websites), trusting that as you plant seeds God with bring other workers into the mix and help the person go next steps.

Do these things faithfully over time, and you will see real spiritual fruit – fruit in the form of changed lives. People who will be on your arm for eternity, thanking you forever for taking the risk to reach out and share the life-giving gospel message with them! (1 Cor. 15:58)

(Bill Brander) #32

What a post. Thank you for sharing.

Carson. what would we have to do to repost to our congregation?

I have been asked this question often, but this is better than any response I have ever given.



(Carson Weitnauer) #33

Hi @billbrander, please just send along the link to the post! Be sure to credit Mark for his wisdom.

(Mark Mittelberg) #34

(… and please fix anything that needs fixing! :- )

(Carson Weitnauer) #35

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