Thank you for your terrific question!
My sense is that in many Western cultures people today often do not get to the point of asking whether Christianity is true. Why?
I can see two reasons:
First, secularization has shaped many of our contemporaries to the point where they think that Christianity is not at all plausible, and therefore also not relevant to them. Naturally, claims that appear entirely implausible to us, are usually also seen to be irrelevant. And so we typically don’t bother to try and find out whether they are true or not.
Second, many people in Western cultures today do not only think that Christianity is almost certainly not true. Worse, they think that if it were true, it would not be good news, but bad. Bad news for minorities, bad news for women, bad news for the weak and vulnerable, bad news for our planet, etc., etc.
So what is an evangelist to do?
The seventeenth century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal faced a context that was not too dissimilar. We can learn much from his advice, published in his famous Pensées:
“Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.”
So, Pascal’s step one would be to address the plausibility question. I think this can best be done by demonstrating to others in what way knowing God in Jesus makes a practical difference to our own personal lives. And also by explaining why our faith is a matter not only of the heart but also of the mind, how it satisfies our intellectual questions as well as the deepest longings of our heart.
Step two would be to show what terrific, joyful, wonderful, good news it would be, if the gospel were actually true. Great news for the person we are talking to. Great news for minorities, great news for women, great news for the weak and vulnerable, great news for our planet, etc., etc. To do this well requires deep thinking about the questions of our day and the answers of the biblical gospel of Jesus.
Finally, once people have seen that the gospel is beautiful and good, we would move to show them that it is, in fact, true. Here, classical apologetics would come in, from scientific evidence pointing to a creator to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
I think this three-step pattern makes a lot of sense in Western cultures today.
Finally, three tips for emerging evangelists:
- Take Jesus as your example: become known for your love, your humility, your kindness, your meekness, your welcome of outsiders.
- Take Jesus as your example: ask lots of questions; listen; discern; pray (a lot); live in step with the Spirit; know your Bible inside out; be diligent in your preparation; and don’t be frustrated when the time of preparation seems to take too long (Jesus prepared some 30 years for some 3 years of ministry)
- Take Jesus as your example: learn to discern when you need to be bold, and when to be gentle; depend on the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life; surrender your will to the will of God; expect great things of him.
I hope there’s enough in there for you to chew on for a while
All the best from Vienna,