Ask Nathan Betts (June 18-22, 2018)

nathanbetts

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

I’m excited to share with you that @Nathan_Betts is our featured itinerant! Nathan is particularly dedicated to understanding and engaging with the next generation. He’s based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which brings him into contact with a wide range of disagreement with the teachings and ways of Jesus. I am grateful that we have this opportunity to ask Nathan our questions.

Please reply to this post with your heartfelt apologetic and evangelistic questions.

Carson

Nathan Betts bio:

Nathan Betts is an apologist with RZIM. He speaks frequently across the US and Canada. His focus areas include the interface of faith and culture, digital technology and belief, and youth apologetics. Nathan co-wrote and co-presented RZIM’s Short Answers to Big Questions video series. He contributes regularly to RZIM’s Slice of Infinity and Just Thinking publications and his writing has been featured in Christianity Today .

Nathan completed his undergraduate degree at Tyndale University and his MA in Bible and Ministry at King’s College, University of London. He is also a graduate of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He is an avid percussionist and a keen baseball fan. Nathan and his wife, Brittany, live near Seattle, Washington, with their three young children.


(Nathan Betts) #2

Hi everyone,

It is such a pleasure to have this week to engage with you! As there are so many questions one can ask, let me help you out with what questions I am especially interested in. One of my focuses/interests is thinking through the interface of culture and Christianity. So, if you have particular questions about what Christianity has to say to x cultural issue, those are questions I like digging into.

Of course, don’t feel limited to that. I just thought it worth mentioning one of the areas that I like talking through.

Warm regards,
Nathan


(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi Nathan, could you speak to the prevalence of pornography, and how this is affecting discipleship and evangelism? Do you see any silver linings to how God’s redemptive work in this dark area might open up people to the gospel?


(Carson Weitnauer) #4

Hi Nathan, if we are at a conference where pronoun ribbons are in adoption, how would you recommend we navigate that situation with wisdom and care?
http://www.pronounribbons.org

Would it be wiser to use people’s preferred pronouns - or to avoid doing so?


(Warren Loewen) #5

Our kids who grew up in our evangelistic home/church, who are now in their 30’s with little kids, are starting to head down different paths, and of course we have many questions. One being, how does one respond when they say they no longer believe in a God that was behind all the wars and killings in the Old Testament.


(Sean Joyner) #6

Hi Nathan! Thank you for your time this week! I live in Los Angeles and I’m 26 years old. One question I have is how to engage with the LBGTQ community. I have encountered many homosexual people who have the kindest hearts and most of them believe that there is no place for them with God. Mainly they associate all of the discrimination against homosexuality from the church with God’s view of them.

I guess my main question is how might I find common ground in a discussion with this group? I’ve found that colleagues that I do have in his group respond well to my acceptance of them and will sometimes ask about God. I always focus on God’s love for all people and that As a Christian I am not here to be the judge of their life but to love them. But there are still difficulties in the Christian worldview to address. The sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, etc.

Thanks!


(Nathan Betts) #7

Carson,
Thanks for the great question.

Pornography is indeed prevalent. Through different means, whether it be smartphones or other easy-access modes of technology, the watching of pornography has become normalized.

Here are a few thoughts.

  1. We need God.
    It might be easy to miss, but the struggle that many face with pornography highlights the need for God. Just in the last year, I have been at events at which students have asked me to pray for God to help them to stop watching pornography. Of course, there can be layers and great complexity to how one becomes free from this. But the very encouraging point here is that, more often than not, the people with whom I have spoken are expressing their need for God.(ie: silver lining here.) Sadly, myriads upon myriads do not actually feel or express a need for God. What I have found is that in our culture where the conversation around sex and relationships has become so muddled, people who want to be free from pornography understand and feel their need for God. As Christians, we need to be sensitive and thoughtful in how we respond in these conversations. But make no mistake, if you ever have a conversation with a person struggling with pornography, introducing them to Jesus Christ might just be the best news they have ever heard.

  2. From an apologetics standpoint, since pornography has become so mainstream/normalized, there might be many contexts in which it might be helpful to ask clarifying questions about what we think to be right and wrong. What used to be deemed flat out wrong in our culture has slowly become acceptable or ‘okay for them’. This provides us with the possibility to have deeply meaningful conversations in which we discuss the nature of morality.(ie: what is right and what is wrong) Of course, how we approach these conversations is shaped by the context, so let me make one suggestion. Since the topic of morality is contentious and often disagreed about, do engage the topic, but start by asking questions. (ie: Questions like "What do you think about that? “Do you think that is okay?” “Where does it come to the point at which we say something is wrong?” can be a helpful start.)

  3. This is a spiritual discipline.
    It is helpful to remember that meaningful conversations of faith/effective evangelism are not dependent upon our intellectual prowess! The Lord uses what we have, so we do need to put in the time to think, read and prepare intellectually. But we need to have these conversations immersed in prayer. We need to ask the Lord for (a) courage to obey and engage well, (b)wisdom to know when to listen and when to speak. Amazingly, God uses us in these conversations of faith, but it is helpful to remember that in the midst of our intellectual preparation, we need to have our answers immersed in prayer.

I hope this helps. We are only scratching the surface.


(Nathan Betts) #8

Hi Warren,
Thanks for this important question.

As the answers we give always need to be contextualized, let me give you a roadmap as to what might be helpful.

First, I would suggest that when kids share that they no longer believe in God, I think the most meaningful way to approach that is to ask a question. In this case, if they are saying that it is because of the violence/killings in the Old Testament, I would ask them what it is about the killings and violence that makes them not believe. As a general rule, questions are always better than statements. Of course, there will come a point in the conversation when we need to give an answer, but the starting point should be questions. As has been mentioned by Ravi Zacharias and several of our team members, questions:

  1. Make people think.
  2. Expose Contradictions.
  3. Open up a person within their own world view.

Generally speaking, questions enable our conversations to be thoughtful and civil as opposed to turning into heated debate. The former is what we are after, of course.

So let’s work out how this conversation might develop. If the Old Testament is truly the issue that is keeping one from belief, I think it might help to look at specific texts and do a case-by-case study.

Let me suggest a few books and then give you a few principles that I have found helpful on this topic.

Helpful Books:

God Behaving Badly, David T. Lamb
Is God A Moral Monster, Paul Copan
Hard Sayings of the Bible, Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, Brauch

General principles that I apply when I read the Scriptures are:

  1. The Bible is a very sophisticated book that was written by a specific person, to a specific audience, in a specific context. Since this is the case, to understand the meaning of passages in the Bible, I need to understand the context in which the passage I am reading was written. I remember the Bible Scholar John Walton saying that we not only need to translate the language a text was written in, we need to translate the culture. We can apply this same rule of understanding how historical events have taken shape; if we fail to understand the culture in which a certain event took place, we will not understand the full meaning of the event itself. The books I cited above give helpful contextual background to some of the tricky passages in the Bible.

  2. When I find a tricky passage that causes me to question God’s character, I remind myself to let the things I do know about God illuminate the things I do not know about him. There are many things that we do not know about God, but there is so much that we do know about him. When we come into hard places in which we question God, we ought to be encouraged that God does not discourage our questions! But more, we should not forget that he is one that has revealed himself to us in history and through the Scriptures. Despite having much we do not know about him, we need to let the things we do know about God shed light on the things we do not know. Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, Nicky Gumbel has a great line that is important here: “Don’t doubt in the dark what you know to be true in the light.”

  3. Let me just add one more principle: Do not be afraid to admit that there are indeed hard passages of the Bible. So often we can get into this ‘robo-Christian’ mode of thinking that we have all the answers and that faith is clean and clear. Life is not like that, relationships are not like that, and the Christian faith is not like that. It can be like a whoosh of fresh air to have a conversation and hear a person say that they have a hard time understanding things. The reality is, there are some passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. There are very meaningful ways of answer the questions! But the point here is to simply acknowledge that are hard passages to interpret.

These are just a few thoughts for now, but I hope you find it helpful!


My Question:History vs allegory
(Nathan Betts) #9

Hi Sean,

Thank you so much for asking this question. It is an important one.

First, you should be encouraged in how you have engaged with your friends. I think that focusing on God’s love is a great way of embodying Christ’s character.

To your question about how you might find common ground with the LGBTQ community in your area, here are a few thoughts:

  1. When interacting or responding to questions from the LGBTQ community, remind yourself to think of how the gospel speaks to any community. What God offers the LGBTQ community is what he offers us all. He extends his love, peace, grace, forgiveness, and a personal relationship to everyone, irrespective of our sexual orientation or how we identify ourselves sexually. One of the challenges I face is that when someone says, ‘But what would God say to me, a gay person?’, I often feel as though I need to look in the Bible to see what God would say to a gay person. The good news is that Christianity has profoundly good news for the LGBTQ person and that is because it carries good news for every person.

  2. One of the beautiful aspects of the Christian God is that he takes us as we are. I have had many conversations with friends who do not feel they can become a Christian because they will have to change the way they live.(in some cases, they have referred to their sex life.) But God does not invite us into a relationship once we finally get ourselves cleaned up. If that were the case, we would never enter into relationship with God. God takes us and he shapes us, molds us into his likeness as we engage with him in relationship. We become more like him within a committed relationship to him.

  3. My colleague Sam Allberry has written a helpful book entitled Is God anti-gay? I would encourage you to get it, if you have not already read it. In the short book, he discusses verses from 1 Corinthians 6. In verse 11, Paul writes, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” I like what Sam writes after citing this verse:

“These forms of behavior are not appropriate for the Corinthian Christians precisely because it is not who they are anymore. Some of them clearly had been active homosexuals. They did once Iive in these ways. _But no more. They have been washed, sanctified and justified; forgiven, cleansed from their sins, and set apart for God. They have a new standing and identity before him.”

I think this is so powerful and also genuinely helpful news for all of us who at times face questions about who we are. When we are in Christ, we have been washed and made new. This is really good news, not only for the LGBTQ community, but for everyone!

  1. Thinking of your question from a 30,000 feet level, I think the big point that needs to be conveyed to your friends is that they are accepted by God. They are accepted and they are invited into a relationship with God. But like marriage-which our relationship with God is often likened to in Scripture- our relationship with God requires cost, commitment, and sacrifice. But the cost, commitment, and sacrifice make complete sense when we capture a glimpse of who God is and all he has done for us. However, if we have not understood something of the wonder and amazement of the Christian God-full of grace and truth- commitment, cost, and sacrifice will be drudgery. But when someone truly captures the goodness, truth, love, and beauty of Christ, one cannot help but worship.

  2. Maybe a good starting point from here would be to pray for the Lord to give you wisdom as to how you can continue to embody his character so that your friends would continue to ask you about what Christianity has to say to them. The four points I mentioned above are more content-driven, but I think the starting point must be prayer. We really need the help of God’s Spirit to breathe life into these conversations. I would also encourage you to meet with your Christian friends (perhaps at your church) and pray about these conversations of faith you are having.

I hope this helps.

Again, great question. Thank you for asking.

Nathan


(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi Nathan, one of the greatest barriers to evangelism that many Christians face is apathy. To many, it just seems that among their friends, there is little to no spiritual interest in discussing Jesus or the gospel.

My questions:

  1. Do you often meet people who are apathetic about spiritual conversations?
  2. Whenever you have experienced this, what are some approaches that you take?

(Matthew Linton) #11

Hey Nathan. I have a co worker who is an atheist and a skeptic. We have had a few good discussions. His apprehension towards religion is mostly political, with a lot of “what about all the evil done by christians” mentality. He is moving soon and I would like to give him either a book or dvd. Do you have any recommendations?


(Sean Joyner) #12

Thank you so much for your response Nathan! I’ll definitely pick up the book you mentioned and start thinking about the points you brought up. I especially appreciate your emphasis on prayer and working to represent Christ in my daily interactions. Thanks again!


(Nathan Betts) #13

Sean,

It is my pleasure! You are asking such good questions.

Nathan

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NathanGBetts

Description: http://www.rzim.org/images/RZIM-LOGO%20EMAIL.jpg


(Nathan Betts) #14

Hi Carson,

Great question. I think this is indeed a major obstacle that Christians face when it comes to evangelism. It is something I have encountered many times, so much so that I wrote an article about it a few months back. Here is the link to that article, in case it is of interest: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/channel/utilities/print.html?type=article&id=140467

In the article I discuss that much of evangelism and apologetics focuses on credibility. Credibility addresses the ‘is it true?’ questions. The credibility questions are immensely important. As Christians, we have to be able to explain to our non-believing friends the answers to the evidential questions they might be asking.(ie: “Is the Bible true?” “Is it true that Jesus existed?” “Is it true that Jesus rose from the dead?” etc.) The credible claims of Christianity are precious.

But here’s the problem many of us face today: what happens when our friends are not asking the credibility questions? Yes, we might be able to explain to them that Jesus was God incarnate and that he rose from the dead, but those truths will simply wash over them if they are not asking those kinds of questions. What do we do then?

I think a meaningful way of addressing these situations is looking for ways in which, not credibility, but the case for plausibility is made. Plausibility explores the question, ‘Might this be true?’ If we can somehow move our friends to just considering or wanting the gospel to be true, it is then that we can start exploring some of the credibility issues. But making a case for plausibility is where we need to start before we move to credibility.

So what does this look like? What might the fine print look like?

  1. Making a case for the plausibility, I think, starts with the life of the Christian. Do we live a life that so embodies Christ’s character that others would say of us, ‘Wow. I want that.’ Ravi Zacharias often quotes the Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith who once said, “There are five Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, an the Christian, and some people will never read the first four.” The culture in which many of us live today is one that needs to see something compelling before they will listen to the meaning behind it.

  2. Asking good questions can have the power to awaken the apathetic soul to God. I remember speaking with a friend years ago who expressed that she was not interested in any religion or faith. After listening to her, I said, ‘but have you ever thought what it would be like if there actually was a God, and that same God was one who offered forgiveness, hope, and love?’ I did not even complete my thought before she interrupted and said, “Ooh, now that is a God I would want.” Not always, but sometimes our friends just need to be asked the right questions.

  3. We need to remember that salvation truly is God’s business. We have to do our bit, put in the thought, care, and seek the Lord for guidance and anointing, but the saving power comes from the Lord. This should encourage us that even though God could do it all by himself, he includes us and invites us to get involved. That should encourage us and empower us.

  4. We also need to remember that the spiritual battle is real. Just yesterday, I was reading Matthews account of Christ’s resurrection. Just before Christ gives the great commission, we read these words in Matthew 28: 16
    “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. v17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

A bit of context helps. Leading up to these verses, Matthew tells of many seeing the risen Christ. Yet, even for those who saw the risen Christ, there were some who still doubted. Many worshiped, yes, but some doubted despite seeing him. Many points can be drawn from this excerpt of Scripture. But for the topic at hand, this story should remind us that we should do as much as we can in helping our friends see the plausibility and credibility of Christ. We should seek the Lord to work and then leave it to him to draw our friends into relationship with him. Some will not receive the Lord, but we just need to ensure that it is because of the message of Christ that they are turning away and not because of our lack of care or thought.

  1. One book recommendation I would offer is Acedia & me_y Kathleen Norris. Years ago, when I was putting together a talk addressing the challenge of apathy, I found this book helpful.

This really is just a start to a big question, but I hope it provides good food for thought.

Nathan_emphasized text__emphasized text_


(Nathan Betts) #15

H Matthew,

I would recommend a book by Rodney Stark called _The Rise of Christianity.

Stark is a professor of sociology. In his book he looks at the very early days of Christianity and how a staggeringly small movement became a world-changing faith. Perhaps what I find most compelling about the book is that Stark started writing the book as a non-believer. By the end of writing his book, he had become a Christian in large part because of the in-depth research he had done on, what he calls, the rise of Christianity.

Chapter by chapter describes the distinguishing factors between those who follow Christ versus the pagan community or other groups. It is a fascinating read!

I would highly recommend this book to your friend.

Nathan


(Carson Weitnauer) #16