I spoke to a group of students at The Ohio State University on Monday evening at the request of their Ratio Christi chapter director, Eric Chabot. If you aren’t familiar with Eric’s work, you probably aren’t following my Twitter feed, where I feature Eric’s blog often. Prior to the event, I had dinner with Eric, Pastor Matt Rawlings (another Case Making warrior you need to follow) and the infamous Wintery Knight (a giant among Christian Case Making bloggers). We talked about the importance of Case Making and shared stories of our experiences online. But it wasn’t until I got to the event that night and met Josh Bertsch of Created Equal Ministries that I realized the importance of distinguishing between the people we are trying to reach so we can have reasonable expectations about the outcome of our efforts. Josh serves in a pro-life ministry on college campuses and takes an outspoken approach to defending the unborn. As a result, he encounters people who are either already committedly pro-life, doggedly pro-abortion or still undecided. Josh told me he hopes to have the biggest impact on those who are still “on the fence”. In many ways, his efforts are not unlike those of any of us who make a case for what we believe as Christians. Once we understand our goals with each group we are trying to reach, we can effectively impact the convinced, the opposed, and the undecided.
You may not think there’s much value in trying to reach those who are already convinced Christianity is true, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more I speak across the country, the more important this group has become to me. Many of us, as Christians, are convinced Christianity is true, but take this truth for granted. We live as Christians the same way we might live as Californians, and we fail to see the connection between evidential certainty and confidence. In essence, many of us are accidental Christians; we happen to believe something true, but have little or no idea why it is true. My goal with this group is to encourage them to do some “heavy lifting”. I want to challenge them to examine what they believe so they can have a much greater impact on our culture.
If you’ve ever interacted with hostile atheists online, you’ve probably been frustrated at times and wondered if your efforts were worthwhile at all. At times like this I try to remind myself of the three reasons anyone “shuns” a truth claim; many of us are committed to our position for other than rational evidential reasons (that’s true for everyone, including Christians). It’s important to see your efforts to reach the opposed as a baseball game rather than a tennis match. The goal isn’t points, it’s advancing people around the bases. You’re not alone on the court, you’ve got help on the field. I’m not always trying to hit home runs with people who disagree with me. Instead, I am simply trying to be faithful to my Master, reflect his image, and leave people with something to think about.
In many ways, this group holds the most promise. People who are undecided usually fall into two categories. Some have never really given the issue much thought. They’re neither for nor against; they’ve simply been living unaware. You may be the first person to introduce them to the issues you are trying to share. If so, remember the importance of a first impression. What you say or do will have an impact on the work of those who follow you. The second group of “undecideds” are people who have given the issue some thought, but are just beginning to make their decision. For this group of people, your defense of Christianity may very well be the deciding factor. The responsibility you and I have with the undecided is daunting, but it’s a privilege to play a small part in their decision.
When we first meet someone and begin sharing what we believe, we may not even know to which of these three categories they belong. But once you find out, you can then set appropriate expectations. Don’t get discouraged when you seem to have no impact on someone who is opposed to Christianity. Don’t skip over those who are already believers. Don’t short shrift those who are still trying to make a decision. Once we understand our goals with each group we are trying to reach, we can effectively impact the convinced, the opposed, and the undecided.