Last week, we discussed the difference between “Hard Core and Hard Case” objectors to Christianity. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the first (and rarest) of those and discussing how to handle the sometimes aggressive situations which can develop when others adamantly oppose our Christian faith. We’ll examine what provokes such people and consider some ways to maintain a Christian witness without escalating the conflict into an all-out war.
In Matthew 7:6, Jesus says: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
I confess that for years I found this passage to be puzzling. Given the Scripture’s emphasis on the importance of evangelism, it seemed odd that something so apparently anti-evangelism would have come from Christ’s mouth. It was not until I was sitting in a restaurant, trying to blend into the booth as a very hard core anti-Christian loudly berated my faith that I began to understand.
The friend with whom I was sharing was very quick to explain that she was well-versed in the case against Christ. She was convinced that anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence could readily be talked out of Christianity. Unfortunately, her conversation revealed that she hadn’t actually done her research. She had spent a great deal of time reading books written in opposition to Jesus, but had never read the Bible or anything else written in favor of the Christian point of view. Her case was made in complete ignorance of Biblical teaching or traditional Christian theology. In order to cover for this, she’d change her position a thousand times during a single debate – sometimes being in favor of the very thing which she had adamantly opposed just moments earlier! It often felt like I was speaking to a moving brick wall with built in cannonade. Try to expose her error and “Kapow”, you were flat on your back.
It even reached a point where I began to hesitate to pick up her phone calls. I didn’t want to spend time with her because I knew the only thing that would come of it was further attacks on my faith. She was not sincerely interested in discussing the case for or against Christianity, but was merely seeking an argument.
It was then that my father sat down with me and had a talk about “casting pearls before swine”. I had presented the gospel message to my friend and given her a Bible to read as well as access to other information in favor of Christianity. To continue the pursuit, especially with her expressed disinterest in earnest discussion, was counter-productive and verging on Bible thumping. It was wasting my time. And it was wasting hers.
So what was I to do? In Matthew 17:14-21, a man came to Jesus’ disciples and asked them to cast out the demon which possessed his son. The disciples were unable to do so and when they asked Jesus why, He replied: “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
While I don’t believe my friend was demon possessed, I’m not ready to discount the activity of demons when it comes to holding someone in such bondage that they are both unwilling and unable to have a rational, controlled conversation with someone who sees the world from a different angle. (And yes, there are some Christians who are equally as bound.) This is what you might call hard-core evangelism and the only way to deal with it is through intense, ongoing prayer. No fancy arguments or acts of love will win over someone like this; only the supernatural power of God is capable of doing that. He must be the One to break down the barriers.
Meanwhile, keeping the conversation from exploding into a profane rant requires a bit of finesse. Most hard-core anti-Christians have trigger points – those things which bring the Christian faith so much to the forefront that they are incapable of restraining themselves from sharing their thoughts. In such situations, it pays to learn those trigger points and, when possible, do your best to avoid them. If that news story about abortion or the Gay Pride parade is going to send your friend, family member, or co-worker into a tirade, have the good sense not to mention it. If you’ve arranged to get off a bit early to attend a Christian conference, they don’t need to know. Keep your discussion of religious issues to a minimum. Live your faith and leave God free to work in their heart.
There will be situations in which a trigger point can’t be avoided without our falling into sin. In such cases, you will likely have a heads-up about what’s coming. More often than not, your best bet is to sit and listen. Hard core anti-Christians are used to those who are Christians attempting to answer each of their questions or rebuff their statements. These activities only fuel the flames of indignation. By sitting quietly and hearing what those opposed to our faith have to say, we indicate that their opinion does matter to us. And by not responding we avoid getting embroiled in a conflict that will yield neither good will nor an honest examination of the case for Christ. Proverbs 23:9 admonishes, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.” Remember that even our Master kept silent at times. (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 26:59-64)
Next week, we’ll be taking a look at “Hard Cases” – those who object to Christianity for genuine moral, ethical, theological, or intellectual reasons. Meanwhile, feel free to share your own accounts of “Hard Core” evangelism in the comment box below!