by Matt Erickson
(Editor’s note: This is the 7th post in an 8-part series called “What’s Your Evangelism Style?“)
Between the ages of 2 and 5, there is a persistent question that children ask teachers, parents, grandparents, and other adult figures. It is a little one-word question that can be asked again and again: “Why?”
Now, what’s amazing about this question is that it shows how deeply curious children are about the world in which we live. The ‘why’ question is one of the primary ways children attempt to put things in the world together for understanding. A recent study showed that when adults answer a child’s ‘why’ question with a non-explanatory answer, children are more likely to ask the ‘why’ question again. For example, if a child asks, “Why do birds leave Wisconsin in winter and return in the spring?” and an adult says, “Because that’s just what happens,” then the child is much more likely to once again ask, “Why?”
The ‘why’ question is persistent for children, but also lingers around for adults. Nearly everyone has our own ‘why’ questions bouncing around in our minds about deep things of life. Some of the questions are personal, like the person this morning who posed this question to me, “Why is God punishing me through this ongoing physical pain?” Some of our questions are more general, like the college student who asked me last year, “Is it really possible for Jesus to be the only way?”
The questions people ask—in fact, the questions we share with many around us—are powerful opportunities to witness to who Jesus is. When someone shares his or her deep questions about life and God with us, he or she is opening a doorway into the deep places of his or her spiritual journey with us.
As followers of Jesus, we should take full advantage of that invitation to step inside the questions with him or her and consider the questions with rigor, transparency, and love. As we engage in thoughtful dialogue with others about their questions, it becomes an opportunity to love our neighbor as ourselves, as well as seek to introduce them to a God who calls us to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:34-40).
For those we know and love who are far from God, it is crucial that we “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). This is an essential aspect of sharing our faith, and is usually referred to by the term ‘apologetics.’ A.J. Hoover describes apologetics as “a systematic, argumentative discourse in defense of the divine origin and the authority of the Christian faith.”
Unfortunately, some Christians have emphasized the “argumentative” tone as opposed to a thoughtfully constructed argument (i.e., concise framework of thought). This is why Dave Short mentions the importance of being “less defensive and more honest about our failings.” In fact, this is why Peter’s words mentioned above continue with this statement: “But do this with gentleness and respect.” We must offer the truth of Christ in a manner that reflects the character of Christ.
Let me share an example. I love to hike. Sometimes, based on the terrain, there are points on the hike that become more rigorous than others. At times, I’ve found the pathway going from flat stretches of easy hiking to more difficult bouldering that requires handholds and footholds to continue.
As we go on a spiritual journey with God, there are many points at which our pathway may be more level and refreshing. At other times, we may face more difficult climbs where we are confused about where the next handhold or foothold will be for our ongoing journey.
Apologetic evangelism offers handholds and footholds for those who have questions that often go unanswered. As we engage with the spiritual questions of our friends who are far from God, we enter into their story, helping them find solid answers for beginning their faith. If we don’t step in with God’s truth and the Holy Spirit’s leading, we may leave them standing at the bottom of the mountain with no clue how to begin the journey with Jesus.
So the next time someone asks, “Why?” let’s step inside and begin to share the reason for our hope.
 A. J. Hoover, “Apologetics,” in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Dictionary of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993), 68.