Ask Matthew Mittelberg (January 14-18, 2019)

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM,

My friend @Matthew_Mittelberg is available to answer your questions this week!

Matthew is a gifted speaker, but more importantly, he is a compassionate, caring, genuinely loving person. I always look forward to spending time with him, especially if we are going to get to throw a frisbee around.

God has provided him with keen insights into evangelism, particularly in secular environments, and I encourage you to take full advantage of this opportunity to engage with him in Q&A.


Matthew Mittelberg’s bio:

Matthew Mittelberg is a fulltime OCCA Fellow based in Boston, Massachusetts. He was raised in an environment of apologetics and evangelism, as his father, Mark Mittelberg, writes and teaches in these areas. He earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial business from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. During his time there, he started and led the Defenders Apologetics Club for three years and was in a number of leadership roles including Servant Scholar and Senior Senator.

Matthew received his Certificate of Theological Studies from Wycliffe Hall and was trained at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He has spoken at universities, churches, societies, and training events, and has led international missions trips in Europe and Asia.

Matthew loves competing in ultimate Frisbee, eating Japanese food, and spending time with his friends. He’s passionate about helping people understand that faith in God makes sense, removing barriers to belief, and personally introducing others to Jesus.

(Bill Brander) #2

Good day Matthew. How should a church best reach atheists via the social media?

(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi @Matthew_Mittelberg,

What arguments or facts do you recommend that Christians memorize? What are some of the most important points that we need to know at that level to be well prepared to share our faith? Do you have any summaries or other tools you use to keep these essentials fresh in your mind and heart?

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #4

Hello Matthew

Which Christian books (and authors) besides the Bible have helped you in your journey the most? (Theological and/or apologetic?)

(Martin Pitts) #5

Hello Matthew,

I teach kindergarten through fifth grade elementary kids every Wednesday at our church and they’ve been asking some really good questions of me as of late. I was actually teaching them yesterday morning and ran into this question:

If a person sins, asks for forgiveness, and then repeats the same sin and asking for forgiveness over and over again will God forgive them? I told them it all depends on their heart. If it’s a sincere struggle for wanting to do right, but falling short then I think God would forgive them and help them to where they sin less. However, if they really didn’t mean it and made no steps toward actual repentance then no He would not. The question stemmed from me defining repentance for them as the walking toward sin, and then turning away from it to walk toward God instead. This lead to their second question: What about someone who is mentally unstable? If there is someone who psychologically, I’m struggling for the right word here but let’s say…geared toward a particular sin then would God forgive them because God made them that way and they can’t help it. Maybe kleptomania for stealing would be a good example. My response first was that I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist by any means to be able to really understand mental disorders. But I also told them that I believed it would depend on whether they know what they are doing is wrong or not. If the person knew what they were doing was wrong and they never sought help to change then God would hold them accountable for that sin. However, if the desire to change was there and they sought help then I believe God would forgive them.

I’ve been praying about this answer, along with a way to understand how to explain to them the “God made me this way” concept. How would you approach this? I told the 3 individuals who were really digging into this that I would look more into it and come back with an explanation for them as soon as I could that way I didn’t just leave them hanging on the question.

Also, if it’s not too much to ask another question of you, what would you say to “the fairness of being born into sin?” I recently listened to a discussion on Wretched between Todd and a student at UGA, and Todd was asked that question. I kind of understand what Todd was saying, but at the root of it I don’t understand it either and get a sneaking suspicion that will be another question in the near future from the children. Basically the premise is why should I pay the for the fault of Adam? Why did God allow Adam and Eve to procreate instead of saving them, and allowing others the opportunity to choose between eating of the tree or not?

Thank you for your time and I will be praying for you as you look to answer the questions given to you from each of the users here.

(Matthew Mittelberg) #6

Hi Bill! Thanks for this question, this is a big topic! If I could contribute something I’ve realized about approaches to social media, I think there are two extremes worth avoiding.

The first is to be extremely quiet and withdrawn with our Christian faith on social media. This isn’t good because we have a message worth sharing, and most people are completely unaware that there are actually good reasons to believe in Jesus. We do our friends a disservice by never bringing these up, or being too afraid to offend anyone.

The second extreme is to spend all of our time arguing with atheists online. In my experience, when you encounter an atheist online, it’s very unlikely you’re going to be able to change their mind or convince them in a social media debate. It’s far more productive to have a conversation in person. So if someone you know interacts with you on a post, ask to continue the conversation in person. And if it’s someone that you don’t know, my advice would be to only continue the conversation if it seems fruitful.

Hope that’s helpful!

(Matthew Mittelberg) #7

Hi Carson!

There are quite a few good things that can be easily memorized. One argument would be the Kalam Cosmological Argument – 1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence, 2. The Universe began to exist, 3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause. This is helpful because it’s a common sense argument that can be easily defended (something can’t come from nothing!), and points to an ultimate creator of the universe.

Another easy to memorize argument would be the four facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, summarized by Lee Strobel as the four E’s. Execution, Early Accounts, Empty Tomb, and Eyewitnesses. These are facts agreed to by the majority of historians, regardless of their religion. Jesus was executed on the cross, there were early reports of his death and resurrection, his tomb was empty three days later, and there were eyewitnesses that believed they saw him alive. It seems like the simplest and best explanation for these fact is that Jesus actually rose from the dead!

Lastly, I think it’s important for every Christian to memorize a Bible verse that explains the gospel message. I personally like John 1:12 because it gives us an easy equation to explain to our friends. The verse is “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” and the equation is “Believe + receive = become.” I like this because it shows 1. We actually have to believe the gospel message is true. We can’t just inherit it because we were born in America or into a Christian family. And 2. We have to receive God’s love and forgiveness. Intellectual assent to a religious idea about the existence of God isn’t enough. We must have faith and receive God’s gift of forgiveness, and we will be adopted into the family of God.

Also, I would encourage anyone who wants to have productive spiritual conversations to think not only about the information we want to share, but how we can help others to think through their own worldview. Greg Koukl’s book Tactics has some great questions it suggests we ask our friends such as “What makes you say that?” or “What do you mean by that?” Asking these kinds of questions is often all we need to get people to think more deeply about what they believe and the rationale (or lack there of) behind it. Most people have never actually evaluated their own beliefs from a logical or evidential perspective, and if we can help people to begin to do this, we’re already halfway there!

(Bill Brander) #8

Wow. That is so helpful. Thank you.

(Martin Pitts) #9

When it comes to the Ontological Argument how do you keep a person from dismissing the idea that God is the first uncaused cause as just being another “god of the gaps” scenario?

(Stephen Livingston) #10

Hello Matthew,

I am new to RZIM Connect. I appreciate your advice about interactions on social media. I am passionate about the ideas of apologetics, but I find myself seldom interacting with actual non-believers in meaningful ways. This is in part due to life circumstances: new to our area, work at home, toddler in the house.

I have a general question that I have been asking myself and others for a while - what is an effective marketplace to engage others productively? In Athens, Paul had the agora. I don’t see myself gifted to stand in the public square and start speaking, and we really don’t have a public square anymore. Social media doesn’t seem to offer true depth or people interested in real conversation. How have you met non-believers and led them to meaningful conversations?

(L Amargo) #11

Greetings Matt,

Thank you for telling about this website. Great to see you. My question is sorta dually-pronged…so forgive me if it seems contradictory.

-My ministry partners often talk anecdotally about Apologetics. While we value logic and also being good stewards of the faith and “. . .being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. . .” but often we are concerned that often Apologetics can get into the “weeds to much” and often be a bit to defensive (IE: some of those who purely argue with Atheists or want to win arguments). I personally have never seen an un-saved person saved from Apologetics (I know there are cases), but generally, from a response that is from their heart and more pathos/ethos driven – followed by logos. What would you say to those Christians who feel called not to study Apologetics?

Second question! What value is it to study those who are non-Christians? I know that the contemporary-Christian faith often has been influenced by Greeks (IE: the reference to the “Soul”). An old Christian teacher I had told me that, “All truth is God’s truth” – I am curious, with what lens we should study – if at all – other philosophers?

(Matthew Mittelberg) #12

Hi Isaiah! Thanks for asking this question, I love reading apologetics books and it’s fun to share recommendations.

Personally I’ve read all of my dad’s books, and they helped me a lot! I may be a bit biased, but I really do think they can help anyone build a solid foundation for their faith. Some of my favorites are his books The Unexpected Adventure (40 stories of evangelism from him and his co-author Lee Strobel), Confident Faith (Evaluating the different ways people choose what to believe), The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (Answering the top questions Christians are unprepared for), and The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense (a book that very clearly explains the gospel message and why we should believe in it).

Outside of those, I really love Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (and just about anything else written by him), The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, and any of Lee Strobel’s books!

(Matthew Mittelberg) #13

I think you mean the Kalam Cosmological Argument, correct? I would say it’s not a God of the gaps scenario because it’s an inference to an explanation that makes sense based on what we do know. For example, we observe in the real world that information comes from minds. The beginning of the world made information come into existence, and therefore it makes sense that a mind brought it into existence.

On the flip side, atheists are actually making an “evolution of the gaps” or a “science of the gaps” argument by trying to insert these processes into an inappropriate situation. Even though they can’t explain how these processes could account for the design, fine tuning, and initial act of creation, they hope it will someday. Does that make sense?

(Rob) #14

Hello Mathew,

I am trying to understand the importance / unimportance of denominations in the Christian faith. I understand the primary christian doctrines and issues that we should all agree on but shouldn’t we also agree on secondary issues as well? Is it just the human sinful factor that does not allow us to be under one true, right umbrella? If one of the purposes in following Christ is to be seeking truth, why do we bend on secondary issues? Why the split into all these different denominations? Is it the lack of proper expository preaching? Is it a failure in pastoral leadership? Is it just that parts of Gods word are not clear to us yet? As I look at a few verses in scripture… 1 Corinthians 12:12, John 17:23, 1 Timothy 4:16…

There are more references and I hope I have not used these out of context. I do not want to be 96% correct on my theology but 100 %. I know my sin prevents me from hitting the target but should we not be be aiming at the right target? God does not want us to be disobedient to his word. He wants us to get it right. When does trying to believe in the true faith and doctrines cross the line into legalism and when is it just the faithful elect obeying Gods word the best they can? Is the verse in Mathew 7: 13-14, dealing with how we treat each other, in some way calling for unity and not separation into different dominations? Again I hope any scripture verses I have cited have not been used out of context. Thank you for any insight or resources you could suggest on this subject. God Bless.


(Steve Rivera) #15

THIS JUST BLEW MY MIND!! Thank you for this!! These points are exactly what I have been looking for. I know this is not improving the conversation in any way. I am grateful for this information.

(Martin Pitts) #16

Yes I did mean the Cosmological argument, I just typed out the wrong thing hahahaha. Yes that does make sense, thank you Matthew!

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #17

Thanks for the book recommendations!

I have not read any books by your father but I have read Mere Christianity and it’s definitely one of my favourites! I’m interested in that book by A.W. Tozer, I’ll look into it. Thanks again :grin:

(Matthew Mittelberg) #18

Hi Martin,

I’ll do my best to help you in your situation. Let me start by saying that it’s so good to hear about a youth pastor who is taking his kids questions seriously and taking the time to give them well-considered answers! We need far more deep discussions of theology in kids ministry, and far less baby-food-eating contests. So bravo!

On repentance and sin, I’d look to 1 John 3. This passage makes it clear that those who make a practice of sinning (I.e. are unrepentant about their sin, and continue in it) show that they haven’t had the inward transformation that the Holy Spirit brings. Those who are Christians will still have a struggle with sin (Romans 7), but it’s just that: a struggle. God is making us new and forming us into the image of Christ, slowly but surely.

When it comes to psychological propensity to sin, that applies to all of us. We each have temptations and tendencies in our lives that we are naturally drawn toward just because of the way that we are. This is influenced by our biology and our environment. That might help explain our sin, but it doesn’t excuse it. We always have the ability to resist sin (1 Corinthians 10:13), no matter the factors that influence our temptation. So even someone with kleptomania is able to resist stealing (with God’s help, and perhaps with the assistance of friends or accountability partners who are invited into the situation), and would therefore be morally accountable if they continue in it. “God made me this way” doesn’t cut it when God also gave us free will, and especially when he offered to help us all find a way of escape.

However, there are situations where someone isn’t in control of their actions, such as someone with Tourette syndrome who cannot stop swearing. I think it’s clear that any time someone is doing something that they cannot control, they cannot be held accountable for it. We’re accountable for our freely performed actions, not our uncontrolled activities or predetermined attractions.

Concerning the question about Adam, many would say that we don’t inherit the sin of Adam, but just the propensity toward sin. We’re then accountable for what we do with that. (Others would say that we do inherit the guilt of Adam, which raises interesting questions like the ones you mentioned – and my response to that is that it’s not worth arguing about since, obviously, we’ve all contributed to our own sin reservoir, and are therefore complicit and culpable for that.) As Romans 3:23 says, we all fall short of God’s standard because of our own sin. We’re all in need of a Savior to rescue us from this broken state.

Whew! Weighty matters! Does that help answer some of these questions for you? Let me know what you think!

(Matthew Mittelberg) #19

Hi Stephen, thanks for your question! If only more Christians were asking this.

If you want a more comprehensive answer to how to share your faith in a way that fits your personality and in the context that you’ve been placed, I’d recommend my dad Mark Mittelberg’s book, Becoming A Contagious Christian.

That being said, I think for most of us evangelism is going to happen on a one on one basis. But how do we get in spiritual conversations with people? I think a similar principle applies to what I said about social media. We need to be open and up front about our faith, without bashing people over the head with it. The majority of Christians lean toward never talking about it at all, so most of us need to be more bold. This could be as simple as asking someone what they did for the weekend. If they reply with the same question, you could mention how you went to church, and that you really enjoyed the pastor’s sermon on the story of Lazarus. That could spark a discussion right there. Or being willing to ask someone one question further than usual.

One example from my own life, I was at a bus stop recently and asked for directions from the girl that was standing there. We started talking, and I asked her what she did for a living. She said she was an artist, so I asked her what she likes to make art about. She said she usually does art on the theme of identity. So I asked one more question: “Where do you think we get our identity? Is it something that’s given to us, or is it something we have to make for ourselves?” And just like that, we were off to the races!

I find these conversations easiest to start when I’m spending time learning and growing myself, as well as asking God for opportunities to share my faith.

Is that helpful for you? Let me know what you think!

(Matthew Mittelberg) #20

Hey Luke, good to hear from you on here my friend! Let me give these questions a shot.

I think you’re right that becoming too heady or argumentative are dangers for apologetics. But I think an awareness of that danger, mixed with a true love for God and for people can prevent our witness from being that way. At the heart of apologetics is a desire to meet people where they’re at and answer the doubts and questions that are stopping them from believing. Most people have things that are preventing them from faith, whether it’s an intellectual objection, an emotional hurt, or a moral shortcoming. Those barriers need to first be knocked down if someone is going to be free to walk across the bridge of faith. When apologetics is done with this mindset and intention, it can be very effective at bringing people closer to the Lord, and I’ve seen many people come to faith through it. I also believe that this is what we’re all called to do in our own way (1 Peter 3:15, Col 4:5-6, 2 Cor 5:11, 2 Cor 10:5, 2 Tim 2:24-26).

As far as studying the philosophy of those who are non-Christians, I think it’s definitely worth it! There can be a lot of truth and wisdom found in these places. We always need to test it by the Bible, but Paul was very familiar with the philosophers of his day, and used their arguments to show the truth of Christianity (Acts 17).