How Shall We Reach the Secularist?

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS

volume 16, number 14, April 6, 2017

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” -1 Corinthians 2:2

How Shall We Reach the Secularist?

My wife Wini was converted in August, 1972, a couple of weeks before she enrolled at the University of Alabama. That very day she began telling her friends about Jesus. She had no training. She did not need it. She simply spoke from the heart concerning what God had done, was doing in her life. She hasn’t stopped. She regularly finds herself in amazing gospel conversations. How does she do it? Here it is-whatever you love most, you will talk about it. You will always talk about what is on your heart.

In an increasingly secular and even hostile world, how shall we reach the secularist with the good news of Jesus Christ? To sense even the need to raise this question speaks volumes on where we are today in the western evangelical and Reformed church. But here we go-what shall we say to the secularist? Do we need extensive research into the culture of our day? Do we need training in apologetics and philosophy? Many would say “Yes”. One of the most prominent leaders of modern day evangelicalism and Calvinism has said, that in order to reach the secular man we must realize, “Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of ‘common sense’ consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call ‘defeater beliefs.’ Christianity is disbelieved in one culture for totally opposite reasons it is disbelieved in another.” The writer goes further in his essay[1] by asserting that we must deal with man’s cultural problem by understanding that post-modern people come to Christ through process, through relationships, through mini-decisions, through “trying Christianity on.” They are pragmatic rather than abstract in their reasoning.

While I have a great deal of admiration for the author and I am certainly not the theologian or apologist he is, I must respectfully disagree with his assertion and therefore his approach to reaching the secularist. I simply ask the question, “How did the apostles evangelize the Jews and Gentiles of their day? Has anything changed between their day and ours? In answering this question, should we not always begin first with Scripture? What does the Bible tell us about man? The Scriptures make clear the nature of man in any culture, in any epoch.

He is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). He is in the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13). He is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). He lives according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience, and he consequently is under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). He has been blinded by the devil and cannot see the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). He does not understand, does not seek for God, does no good, deceives with his tongue, is full of cursing and bitterness, is swift to shed innocent blood, has no fear of God before his eyes (Romans 3:10-18). He is helpless and ungodly (Romans 5:6). He is filled with unrighteousness, wickedness, evil, greed, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander insolence, arrogance, bravado, idolatry, and perversion (Romans 1:28-32). His method of operation is immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, and carousing (Galatians 5:19-21). For this reason, then, the specific belief construct from one culture to another makes no difference at all. 

So how do we reach such people? How can we convince them of the truth of the Scriptures concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? We cannot. No manner of understanding a culture’s “defeater beliefs” will make any difference at all. We are wasting our time studying such things. We do not need to understand the post modern mind, nor should we buy the notion that the secular unbeliever likes to “try on Christianity” for a while before coming to faith. He cannot, will not do so.  A dead man cannot put on clothing.

The apostles went straight to Jew and Gentile alike and proclaimed the good news, that Jesus came to save sinners, that they must repent and believe the gospel. The apostles did not address “defeater beliefs”. They did not ask people to try on Christianity and find out if it fits. Paul said that he determined, purposed in his heart, though he was a great intellect, to know nothing among the pagan, vile, corrupt Corinthians but Christ and Him crucified. He did not come in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:2,3).

This well respected leader’s approach seems to deny the core principles of our doctrine, that man is utterly and completely incapable of believing the gospel, and that the Holy Spirit must draw him. Secular man is not buying what we are selling. No manner of nuanced, philosophical, or apologetical argument will break through the recalcitrant, blind, and cobra-hearted sinner. Only the convicting and regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit will do. The difference between Paul’s day and our day; the difference between Whitefield’s day and our day is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which attended both Paul and George Whitefield’s preaching. Such power is the need of the hour.

So, what is the remedy, my friends? Of course we are to befriend the unbeliever. Of course we should be gracious and kind to him and answer his questions, if possible. However, we must never forget that he is incapable on his own initiative of coming to Christ, no matter how sharp and penetrating our arguments may be. Therefore we must pray daily, fervently, urgently, and with great faith, asking the Holy Spirit to open the minds and hearts of the unbelieving. We are to speak directly to them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As Leonard Ravenhill repeatedly said, “Little prayer, little power. More prayer, more power. Much prayer, much power.” Spend time in your prayer closet, seeking God for souls, storing the word of God in your mind and heart, meditating on the Scripture so that it comes forth from your mouth with God-breathed power and authority. Your words, stories, illustrations, comedy sketches, apologetics, clever pronouncements and commentary about modern day culture, citing the latest Yale or Harvard cultural study has no power at all. The power to save, to disarm the unbeliever, to break down the citadel walls of his wicked world view, to slay his rebellious, cobra heart, to set the secular prisoner free, to open his blind eyes, is the gospel of grace proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not rocket science, my friends. Be filled up with Jesus and let go what has been welling up in your heart.  

_______________________

1. Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs: Leading the Secular to Christ, Dr. Tim Keller, January 1, 2000, <resources.thegospelcoalition.org>

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