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Over on Scot McKnight’s blog, Jeff Cook argues that one of the fundamental flaws in our apologetic encounters with non-Christians is that we’re playing completely different games - the Christian is attempting to argue for the reasonableness, probability, even certainty of Christianity, while the non-Christian is primarily dealing in categories of emotion and preference. In the example debate provided, the Christian wins on logic and argumentation, but ends up losing because the non-Christian excels at arguing from desire and preference, ridiculing God as distasteful and altogether unworthy of respect and admiration. This is a worthwhile observation. It’s not very persuasive to exhort someone to believe in a God who is altogether undesirable. As it was said of the Greeks and Romans of the first century, “It was not that men became so depraved that they abandoned the gods, but that the gods became so depraved that they were abandoned by men.” If you look at many Christians today, there is not much in their actions or demeanor that would commend their God. An non-believer looking in from the outside may very well conclude, “if that’s what their God is like, no thank you.” When the joy, the love, and the freedom that comes in Christ is missing in a Christian’s life and example, it detracts greatly from the power of their message. When the God they preach is abstract, or impersonal, or other than the God who came down and took the sin of the world upon himself on the Cross, it detracts greatly from the power of their message.

But could there be more to the question of why non-Christians often find our God unappealing other than that we make him appear so? In his book, the Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs identifies several things that people find unworthy about Christianity and use to judge it immoral and our God unworthy of worship:

  1. The Problem of Truth - the fact that Christianity makes a claim to be the truth - objectively, for everyone - is considered arrogant and offensive.
  2. The Problem of Christ - Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth, and the life, the only means of reaching God the Father is inherently exclusive, and is therefore to be considered intolerant and unloving. It is disrespectful to even imply that someone else might be wrong in their beliefs and need to change them (ironic, to be sure).
  3. The Problem of Moral Law - it is considered immoral and offensive to claim that a moral law applies to others. “My values” is just fine, but when it becomes “you ought” then a line has been crossed.
  4. The Problem of Judgment - that God should be the judge of human behavior is seen as outrageous and an affront to the idol of freedom to do as we wish.
  5. The Problem of Authority - the notion that there is an authority that is binding on all us is foreign. That Christianity should claim to speak on God’s authority through his word is unacceptable.

What should be our response to these challenges? Ruling out fear, judgment, retreat, and separation, Barrs commends three responses:

  1. Prayer for the Spirit’s conviction, for laborers to be sent, for open doors to speak the gospel, and for courage and clarity to speak.
  2. Love our neighbors and count it as a blessing to receive their ridicule, turning the other cheek and serving through giving of ourselves to them.
  3. Be prepared to speak his word with “grace,” “respect,” and “gentleness” (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15-16)