I looked awkwardly around the restaurant, pleased that it was mostly deserted. The few customers who were there were staring at our table and I had to admit that I couldn’t blame them: I’d be doing the same if the shoe were on the other foot. My friend had risen from her seat and in a voice that was far from conversational, was letting me (and everyone within a city block) know exactly how she felt about my Christian faith.
At some point during your evangelism adventures, you’re likely to encounter an adversarial situation. The person may get angry and start yelling or calling names (as my friend did) or they may simply listen to you and then disdainfully walk away. They may present you with rapid fire questions and allow you no opportunity to answer any of them or, if they do, may show an unwillingness to actually listen to the answers that you give. Such people may be hard core anti-Christians (those who are unwilling to examine any evidence in favor of the faith and who are committed to its extermination) or they may simply be hard cases (those whose opposition is rooted in genuine questions and concerns about the faith). While both may express themselves through similar words and actions, each must be approached differently. For the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at what it means to be “hard core” or simply a “hard case” and discuss a few methods for defusing conflicts with both.
Before I begin, however, I need to take a moment to differentiate between “hard core” and “hard case”. It is important to realize that true “hard core” anti-Christians are a rarity, despite their unique ability to attract the attention of the media. These are people who really mean exactly what they’ve said against the faith and if Jesus Christ, Himself appeared before them, they’d spit in His face. They may or may not have done their research, but they’re certain that nothing will cause them to ever become a Christian and their aggression towards those who are is truly genuine. They view Christianity as a threat to a well-ordered and tolerant society or a truly religious society, depending upon which part of the world they hail from. This doesn’t mean that it’s a waste of time to share the Gospel with them, just that the techniques you use will be a little different. Our God is big enough to convert even the most adamant of His opposition – just look at the Apostle Paul!
The more common of the two, however, is the “hard case”. Such people often have sincere intellectual or moral questions about Christianity. Their belief that these questions cannot be answered may lead to very adamant and direct statements such as, “Even if you could prove to me that it’s true, I will never become a Christian”. What is usually meant by this is that they genuinely don’t believe that you can provide them with any serious evidence to that end that Christianity is true, not that they actually would reject the faith if such evidence were provided. Many times, these are the true intellectuals among the “opposition” – they try to think things through and they aren’t going to bite unless a substantial case is made in favor of a given position.
It is also likely that their objections run deeper than what they’re expressing. They may have had some unpleasant encounters with Christians in the past (face it, some who claim the name of Christ are a bit aggressive, themselves) and may feel awkward around those who appear to have proven themselves incapable of living peaceably with anyone who disagrees with their world view. “Hard cases” may have grown up in a professing Christian home that failed to live up to the Biblical vision or have “done time” in a church seemed to do more harm than good. It’s also quite possible that their understanding of Christianity is limited to what they’ve seen on PBS and the evening news – two generally reliable sources. (It is important to note that such people aren’t getting their information from conspiracy websites. “Hard cases” are not a part of the lunatic fringe and should never be treated as though they are!)
Taking the time to determine whether your friend, co-worker, or family member is simply “spouting off” or is quite sincere in what they’re expressing is the key to determining whether a person is “hard core” or a “hard case”. It requires a delicate touch, a loving heart, and an immense amount of prayer! Next week, we’ll begin taking a look at how to handle “hard core” situations and I’ll be sharing the rest of the story with which this article opened, but for now, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!