by Mark Slaughter
Does truth still matter? Are people – especially younger adults – still interested in truth questions? How can we proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ – publicly or with individuals – in our post-modern, divided, often hostile world?
Frequently, I encounter these questions – verbally or assumed – among followers of Jesus as I speak at conferences, churches, or on college campuses for evangelistic outreaches. Are we really in a ‘post-truth’ era where truth doesn’t matter?
For the past two weeks, I participated in two separate Mission Weeks at leading universities, where the Christian worldview and the truth claims of Jesus Christ were presented clearly, relevantly, thoughtfully, and with great love, grace, and humility.
First, for five days at prestigious Cambridge University in England, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s sister movement of Christian Unions (UCCF) hosted daily free lunches with a talk followed by a question/answer time.
Each day, students packed the church, hearing clear messages on “Who is Jesus?”, “Is there evidence Jesus rose from the dead?”, “Where is God in our pain?”, and “Are all religions the same?”, and then continued spiritual conversations afterwards.
In the evenings, students again filled the room as esteemed scholar Dr. Michael Green (age 87!) thoughtfully and clearly spoke with great passion about the real hope and life found in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Atheists, agnostics, and students from other religions came, and many responded by following Jesus or choosing to explore him further with their Christian friends.
The following week, I participated in a Mission Week at the University of Florida, led by team members from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). Similar to Cambridge, five days of free lunches and talks were held twice per day (plus two faculty lunches), as well as evening messages.
Again, students from Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and atheist/agnostic backgrounds packed the lunchrooms, where we addressed our common questions (science vs. faith, the uniqueness of Jesus, God and suffering, etc.). Most speakers were in their 20s and 30s, presenting Jesus and the Christian worldview with truth, love, and grace, and seeing many students take steps toward Jesus through countless conversations and some beginning to follow Jesus.
At both of these weeks, I saw Christians – younger and older – living out 1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
From these two weeks, here are some takeaways for us in proclaiming the truth of Jesus with love and grace, both publicly and in individual conversations:
- Truth still matters! The gospel addresses our deepest questions and longings of the soul, so we need to be prepared to give some reasonable responses to the most common questions of our day. Both objective evidence or reasons, combined with subjective illustrations and stories, can connect with people from various backgrounds.
- Provide a safe place for real questions. Whether as a church, ministry, or with an individual friend, we need to be welcoming and hospitable. People need to be free to ask real questions without pressure or judgment to explore Jesus at their own pace. At both Cambridge and in Florida, individuals and their broader community were welcoming and patient with those farther from God, and showed gentleness and respect. I certainly see this at ‘Question Mark’ open forums where I respond to students’ spiritual questions for over an hour.
- Expose holes in other worldviews. In the sport of judo, it’s not the strongest person who wins, but the one who can leverage the other person’s weight against them! In evangelism, the ‘Judo Principle’ means asking questions and helping people see the implications of their current beliefs. For example, asking atheists how they can call sexual assault or a mass shooting inherently wrong (if there is no God with moral absolutes) can reveal their own internal sense of right and wrong.
- Keep Jesus central. Listening to people and responding to questions is important, but ultimately be intentional about keeping the focus on Jesus. The goal is not to win an argument, but to allow the Holy Spirit to remove intellectual, emotional, or volitional barriers, allowing people to clearly see the real Jesus and respond to his invitation to follow him.
In the midst of writing this post, today we learned about the death of Billy Graham. Throughout his life, he faithfully lived out these principles. Whether preaching in a stadium or sharing Jesus individually, he communicated truth with gentleness and respect, anticipated people’s objections, gently revealed the futility of faulty beliefs, while always keeping the focus on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
In covering his death, one broadcaster asked, “Who is there today with his kind of messaging that is uplifting, joyful, faithful, helping me get reconnected with God without shaming or guilting me, who is non-partisan, full of love, not covered in scandal, and not trying to rip me off?”
Today, I’ve renewed my own commitment to communicate the truth of Jesus with love and grace in this generation. Our world – our friends! – desperately long for hope only found in Jesus Christ. Let’s be those gracious signposts who point to Jesus!
Mark Slaughter (@MarkASlaughter) is an InterVarsity evangelist and national facilitator of Emerging Generations for the Mission America Coalition. He is a former pastor who is passionate about empowering the next generation of evangelism leaders and raising the evangelism temperature. Learn more: markslaughter.org.