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"How To Respond To Skeptics?"

adapted and posted with permission of Outreach.com from God's Not Dead Movie Event Package

Nov.23, 2014 John 4:27-42


When we broach spiritual topics with someone, often they will quickly raise objections to derail the conversation from getting anywhere close to a satisfactory conclusion about God and His will for us. Jesus' conversation with a Samaritan woman beside a well in John 4 is typical of this. First, in v9, she raises the objection of race: He's a Jew, she's a Samaritan, and the two don't usually talk. Next she questions Jesus' personal ability to get water without anything to draw with: she prides herself on her ancestry going all the way back to Jacob. When Jesus raises to the surface her personal brokenness and need in terms of her multiple failed marriages, she deftly changes the topic to the subject of worship location, on the mountain of Samaria or in Jerusalem - verse 20. Yet Jesus is not deterred or taken in by the attempted diversions of conversation: He succeeds in presenting Himself as One who cares about the woman and is actually her ultimate hope. Once convinced, she tells the whole village, and many others come to meet the Saviour.

It can be both challenging and interesting when having a spiritual conversation with someone: you never know what they're going to bring up next - and whether something is indeed a deal-breaker issue for them, or just a smokescreen. We may not know how to respond to every question that is asked; but in the end, the main thing is to get out of the way ourselves and introduce them to Jesus, who is God's definitive answer to our human dilemma. In Him all the promises of God are "Yes"! (2Cor 1:20)

This sermon series based on the film God's Not Dead answers some of the tough questions posed in it when a Christian college student had to defend his belief in God in his philosophy class. Such difficult questions can seem almost insurmountable. Almost...As it says in 1 Peter 3:15, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence..."

Today we're considering, "How to respond to skeptics?" There are generally two kinds of skeptics: religious skeptics and non-religious skeptics. It can be very frustrating explaining something to the extremely self-righteous, like modern day Pharisees, like trying to communicate to a fish what it means to be thirsty. They are so absorbed with their "water" that they miss the point of it. And non-religious skeptics can be so enamoured with science that it's become a religion to them: they prize intellectual arguments above an objective search for truth, making our task very difficult trying to answer every argument.

Should we even try to do that? There's much more to it than arguments. Rather than focus on apologetics this morning, let's look at some examples of how to discuss our faith, as reflected in the movie. When talking about your faith with skeptics, there are FIVE TIPS to keep in the forefront of our mind.


Finish the sentence: "People don't care how much you know until they...[know how much you care]." 1Timothy 1:5 The Apostle Paul writes,"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Another apostle, Peter, wrote: 1Peter 3:15 "...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

What are the three things that we're warned not to discuss in public? PQRS - the Q or questions to avoid are PRS: Politics, Religion, and Sex. That may be somewhat good advice, but the Bible makes it clear that God wants us to discuss our faith as much as possible. We just need to be wise in how we do that. It has a lot to do with our execution. As a famous football coach once said when asked about his team's poor play, "How do you feel about their execution?" He replied immediately, "I'm all for it!"

We don't want that to apply to us, do we? We want to represent Christ fittingly as equals in a humble search for the big answers to life.

Still, there is some truth in that other adage - discussing sensitive topics can lead to an ugly argument if we're not careful. As believers, our goal should be to love the person - "the goal of our instruction is love" - not just to win an argument with clever points and information. The goal is love, as we see in the father's yearning for the Prodigal son in Luke 15:20: "So he got up and came to his father.But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." If you don't have that same heartfelt compassion, scanning the road every day as the father did longing for his son's return, you don't really get what Jesus was conveying in that parable about God's love for the lost.

It's essential that we be gentle, filled with the Holy Spirit, and manifesting His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, etc.when discussing our faith. No one likes a know-it-all, and it's vital that we be gracious in sharing the gospel...especially when we may have to tactfully point out Biblical differences or misconceptions about God to a skeptic.

If our goal is to be right, to win the debate, and show how much we know - exalting our prowess rather than Christ's all-sufficiency for human need - then we've already lost the person. We don't want to win the battle over a minor point regarding evolution or creation yet lose the war for their soul. So remember...

The goal of our instruction is love.

In the film, one of the loudest critics is Professor Radisson. He opposes Josh vehemently, yet Josh does a good job of restraining his emotions and staying pretty even-keeled. We discover later on that the professor has some deep pain that's driving his anti-God crusade. That can be a very typical scenario in a hurting and broken world. A lot of people have toxic waste from their past that's bubbling near the surface. We need to be sensitive to their unseen hurts, and compassionate like the Prodigal's father. In their past there may be an alcoholic parent, a tragic death, or some other personal injury or abuse, maybe even from a church. If we knew their pain, we'd probably be more compassionate with how they arrived where they are in their spiritual journey.

Charles Darwin himself is thought to have turned away from belief in God because of the death of his 10-year old daughter. Remember it's not an "Us vs.Them" situation. We are all on the same side, mutual captives, trying to help others come to realize God's love and grace.So answer their questions as Paul said in 2Timothy 2:25, "with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." So remember:

Sometimes the more antagonism, means more pain, calling for more compassion.


Conversion is a fundamentally spiritual process, involving the heart and the will, not just our intellect. So the main "active ingredient" in witnessing has to be the Holy Spirit, convicting people through the power of God's word. Paul noted in Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Pastor Dave, in a text message to Josh when he accepts Professor Radisson's challenge to defend God's existence, reminds him to share the truth not clever arguments. We don't have to know every answer or analogy, but we do need to know the truth...the gospel: as the Samaritan villagers summarized it in John 4:42, "This man [Jesus] really is the Saviour of the world."

It's not about being clever with facts, dates, and figures. It's okay to know some answers to hard topical questions about theories of origin or why there was a Holocaust, but those aren't central: it's about the cross. Your goal should be to love themand the most loving you can do is to share the gospel. As Paul says in Romans 1:16 (above), the gospel is God's power for salvation. The Bible is a weapon - the sword of the Spirit - and you should be able to communicate its basic truths to your fellow human. Ephesians 6:17 counsels us how to prepare for spiritual warfare: "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." It makes no difference if the other person doesn't believe in the Bible - it's still a sharp weapon and like a scalpel it can cut down to their innermost being: Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." If someone has a loaded gun pointed at them and yet they say, "I don't believe it's loaded" - what they believe about the gun makes no difference: it can still affect them! Share the verses with them, if possible pointing it out to them in the Bible and letting them read it out loud. God's word is powerful.

As it says in Ephesians, this isn't just a debate or a discussion: souls are on the line. In the spiritual realm, your adversary is not the person themselves. Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." So remember:

This is a spiritual battle, not a battle of wits.


When sharing the gospel, guard against being smug or cocky, just because you happen to know the King of the Universe and have His truth on your side. That King of the Universe stooped to wash disciples' dirty feet, and endured being whipped, beaten, having His beard pulled out, and being nailed to a cross all for you. 1Peter 5:5 "You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for 'God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'" In the New York Times in 1986, DT Niles wrote: "Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread." Remember that's US! Just one beggar sharing news of a piece of bread with another...You have nothing to boast about because it's all grace that God saved you from your sins. Paul told the early church, 1Corinthians 8:1 "Knowledge makes arrogant [puffs up], but love edifies [builds up]."

It's okay to admit that you don't know an answer to a question. You're not the infinite all-knowing God: you're human [finite, limited] and you don't have to be a theologian or have a PhD to lovingly help others understand God's love for them. People will respect your humility to say that you don't know everything. When Professor Radisson challenges Josh with new information about Stephen Hawking's theories, Josh says, "I don't know...but that doesn't change my faith in God." Don't think you have to know everything to share the gospel or defend what you believe. Just because we don't have all the answers, doesn't mean we don't have enough answers to plot a course, to offer a choice. You can also use those opportunities of not knowing to promise to get them an answer - go away and do some homework and some praying - and then get back with them later on. It's okay not to know every answer. Just share what you do know. So just remember

You don't have to have all the answers.

Now that's not to say you shouldn't have some answers (as if to let you off the hook altogether), because they do exist. Veteran apologist Ravi Zacharias has observed after speaking in forums and on university campuses all over the world, there are half a dozen questions the team can pretty well GUARANTEE will come up: they always do. In a documentary series that started airing in October, Dr Andy Bannister of RZIM Canada tackled six of these "Burning Questions" (that's the name of the series): Is there a God? If so...why is there evil and suffering? Has science eliminated religion? There are thousands of different religions: which one is true? Can we take the Bible seriously, or is it just a myth? And, Who was Jesus of Nazareth and does it matter?

[NEWS FLASH] I just found out this week that the 6-session DVD set is now available to order in Canada for $40 less a 15% discount! So you can order your own or borrow mine after it comes in <grin> OR possibly watch it in a small group! Then you'll be somewhat "beefed up" in at least the common questions people ordinarily ask.

There are lots of apologetic books and websites out there to help you with these questions (such as RZIM podcasts and reasons.org). So you should have an idea of what you believe, and why you believe it, on basic worldview issues: Where did we come from (origin)? Why are we here (purpose)? Where are we going (destiny)? And what's the deal with good and evil (meaning)? In terms of Christian doctrine, this involves creation, crucifixion & resurrection (redemption), and judgment.

Naturalism (believing matter is all there is) is a big obstacle for modern people. But in the past, many famous scientists were also believers (Newton, Kepler, Pascal, Bacon, Pasteur, Kelvin, Marconi, Maxwell, Carver, Fleming, Hertz, and Von Braun, to name a few). Say you're encountering considerable pressure from a questioner...Take the formula for pressure, measured in Pa: 1 Pa = 1 N / m-squared. (A Newton is the basic unit of force, a kg-m/sec-squared): Did you know BOTH Pascal and Newton were Christian scientists? Having a tidbit like that in your back pocket can turn a few science-heads who think science and faith are incompatible. You can be both a brilliant scientist AND recognize Intelligent Design when you see it. These scientists did, and they were geniuses.

Sometimes "the answer" isn't what's needed anyway; sometimes what's needed is empathy. Life has hardships that just require real compassion and honesty. "I don't know why your grandparents were killed in that car crash last year, or where they are today, but I know that God loved them, and in Christ gave Himself up for them." We see this very clearly in God's Not Dead when Amy meets The Newsboys backstage. Sometimes folks just need to know that you care. Pray for wisdom as you're interacting; ask God to open the eyes of your heart to see what the real need is in their life so you can demonstrate genuine concern. So remember

But you should have some answersa defence for the hope that is in you.


Do we have our "harvest eyes" on? Jesus said in John 4:35f, "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.Even now the reaper...harvests the crop for eternal life..." Sometimes we get so excited about our salvation as new believers that we lose all sense of tact and want to tell everyone how wonderful it is; this zeal can be refreshing, but it must be accompanied with the knowledge that not everyone is ready to believe. It may take a person about 7 times of hearing the gospel before they respond. So don't tug on "green" fruit. Look for opportunities to talk about your faith, but know when to move on when someone isn't receptive to commit just yet. In the movie, we see several examples of the different stages of a person's spiritual journey in the various characters:

Ayisha's father - some people are not interested in the gospel at all, and are even violently opposed to it.

Professor Radisson - some just want to argue no matter what proofs are presented.

Amy - some are content with their life, as when she dismissed Willie Robertson's invitation to church maintaining, "No thanks, I'm good."

Martin Yip - and some are honestly searching for the truth about God, even a person from a communist country who knows nothing of Christ.

We need to have discernment and respect for where each person's at in their spiritual journey, combined with a genuine love for them no matter what.


The parable of the sower in Matthew 13(18-23) depicts several different ways people respond to the message. There are those who just don't understand - the seed sown along the path. There are the shallow-rooted who quickly fall away in trouble or persecution. There's the person overcome by the desire for wealth or worldly worries. But there's also the seed sown on good soil, those who understand the message and bear fruit.

Once you've shared the gospel with someone, remember to pray that the seed would take root and grow in their heart. This is another way to show God's love to them, by praying for them. Is anyone else praying for them? If not you, then who will? Specifically you can pray: that the Holy Spirit would convict them of their need for forgiveness; that they would be reminded of the truth of the gospel in little ways; that you could develop a friendship with them and ask for divine appointments; and, that other Christians would come into their lives and show them God's love too.

Never underestimate the essential worth of a soul, or the great stakes that hang in the balance regarding one's eternal destiny. C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory wrote: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations...There are no ordinary people.You have never talked to a mere mortal.Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

So let's remember that God our Saviour loves the whole world and: 1Timothy 2:4 "…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." We are all in needwe are all prisoners. It's just that some captives have escaped and are now trying to help show their fellow prisoners the way out. And winning an argument is not as important as winning a soul.

Be in the Spirit as you discuss your faith and answer hard questions about the gospel with humility and gentleness, seeking to win them - the person - and not just a debate. Remember (1Timothy 1:5) - the goal of our instruction is love.


In closing, let's watch a short 3-minute clip from God's Not Dead where Willie Robertson and his wife graciously endure some snide remarks, and still manage to love Amy. Notice that there's no condescension toward Amy; no superiority in their answers, no self-righteous indignation at her jibes...This is a good example of how to interact with someone who doesn't understand, without returning evil for evil. [Film Clip 18:03 to 20:52 (Willie's Ambush)]