Question of the Day: "In your opinion, what do you believe it takes for a person to go to heaven?"
Though the above question is quite simple, I like to use it because it allows the person being questioned to feel as though they can offer their thoughts freely without consequences. For my benefit as the evangelist/apologist, it allows me to get an idea on what a person believes and then use follow-up questions to determine more information about their particular worldview.
"My friend recently committed suicide . . ."
My first notable conversation was with a pleasant and cordial young lady that seemed a little distracted at first because someone was texting her. Once I got to issues of eternity she started listening intently. After giving her a full gospel presentation, she asked what happens to people that commit suicide. She seemed like she wanted to tear up a little bit while telling me that her best friend recently committed suicide. She noted that she had contacted the UNCG associated campus ministry and I lovingly cautioned her about who she talks to in that building as I cannot guarantee that all of them can offer her hope in Christ since their building displays varieties of banners from denominations that are theologically liberal to non-Christian religions. I wanted to hug her as if she was my own daughter and I grieved for her as she obviously was hurting and looking for comfort. I told her that suicide is essentially self-murder and that those who commit suicide in their right mind give evidence that they have no hope in Christ; i.e., they are lost. I explained that the taking of one's life is God's prerogative alone, and to arrogate that authority to oneself is to assume a right that only God has. I also told her that my view is that it may be possible for a true believer to commit suicide if they aren't in their right minds due to the negative influences of medication, mental states caused by biological problems, etc., but that in general, Christians cherish life as a gift from God and that because of this, they don't take their own lives or the lives of others. I then told her that genuine Christians have different views on the issue of what happens to professing believers who commit suicide and then focused on the fact that she is still alive, has just heard the gospel from me, and that she needs to repent and believe while there is still yet time.
"We're atheists . . ."
These two young ladies weren't in the slightest bit interested in having a conversation after I introduced myself and asked the question of the day. They responded to the question by saying ". . . we're atheists". I then asked them if they believed in absolute truth and one of them stated, "no" and I immediately responded, "Is that true?" Then I pointed out that she made a self-defeating statement and it was then that she seemed to get flustered. I then asked, "So, you've realized that you have to affirm absolute truth in order to deny it; so where does it come from?" At this point, they both looked very uncomfortable and their body language seemed to be saying, "Leave us alone, we think you're a crank, so take off." After picking up on that I cut right to the chase by asking, "If the God of the Bible exists offers salvation through Jesus Christ, would you want to know how you could be reconciled to Him and have peace with Him?" They both adamantly said "NO". I then thanked them for their time, attempted a somewhat failed handshake since they reluctantly reciprocated, and was on my way. The entire encounter took less than three minutes. I spoke to another evangelist-apologist friend about this encounter and he suggested asking next time, "If I could prove to you that God exists, would you worship Him?" That's a great question indeed, and I'm sure these young ladies would've given the same response.
An Interaction with an Atheistic Ehrmanite
The next notable conversation was with an atheistic young man that had a Catholic school background and had read Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. He was conversant enough with Ehrman's claims such that after I demonstrated the vacuous nature of his atheism, he essentially argued that I'm no better off since, according to Ehrman, they have been changed, copied, re-copied, changed, and re-copied so much that we can't know what the originals said. It was at this point that I took the time to discuss the issue of textual criticism and gave some facts about the manuscript evidence for the New Testament. He then noted that he had never heard this before, and I said, "I know, that's why I come out here every Wednesday." I then told him, "Ehrman has given you some information about textual criticism that conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical scholars have known about for over a hundred years. What he doesn't tell you, is that out of the near 400,000 variants in the manuscripts, the largest variant is what is known as a 'moveable nu' and of the remaining variants, none of them affects any cardinal doctrine of Christianity . . . none of them." I then gave some of the following facts re: the textual integrity of the Bible in general:
- Scholars possess Dead Sea Scrolls with the earliest extant copies of O.T. books dating from 50-150 B.C. Two copies of the book of Isaiah were recovered from that find that read almost exactly word-for-word as the Hebrew Leningrad codex that was produced in the 9th-10 century A.D.
- Scholars use the Septuagint (OT Greek translation) with extant manuscripts dating from 50 B.C. to 150 A.D.
- Scholars work with 5700+ Greek NT manuscripts with near complete N.T. books dating from @ 180-200 A.D. and fragments from 115-125 A.D.
- The writings of the Early Church Fathers that have been translated quote the N.T. over a million times and the entire N.T. could be reproduced with the same accuracy as our current critical Greek texts from their quotations alone except about a half a dozen verses out of 3rd John.
- Thousands of copies of translations of N.T. manuscripts into other ancient languages exist dating from the 3rd to 7th centuries. Old Latin N.T. manuscripts number to 10,000+ copies. Hundreds of copies also exist in other ancient languages such as Coptic, Ethiopian, Georgian, Slavonic, and Armenian dating from the 2nd to the 5th centuries A.D.
I then noted that given his naturalistic materialism, he can't even account for his demand for reliable N.T. manuscript evidence in the first place, since the concept of evidence presuppposes the validity of the senses, the inductive principle, that the laws of logic necessarily hold, that I have a moral obligation to be rational, and that there is a general uniformity to experience. I then explained that the reason he rejects the teaching of the New Testament isn't because he doesn't have enough evidence but its because he really doesn't want it to be true. I discussed the gospel with him and though he was reticent to listen, I had earned enough respect during our conversation that he listened anyways. We shook hands, parted company, and I was off to speak with the next person.
IN CONCLUSION, being ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within you requires more than quoting Scripture and having a canned response to every answer. It requires patiently, respectfully, and genuinely listening to people so that you can intelligently and strategically interact with what they are saying and when you do that, most reasonable people are willing to listen even though they strongly disagree with you.