By Grace Thornton and Jennifer Davis Rash
The Alabama Baptist
Alex McFarland has spent the past 25 years sitting down with people who don’t believe in God and asking them, “Why?”
“Some are unchurched. Others are de-churched — they have grown up in church and have an evangelical background but have intellectual barriers to knowing Jesus,” he said.
But McFarland, director of the Center for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina, said there’s often a common thread. “Emotional pain is usually the catalyst for intellectual doubt,” he said.
It can be: “My dad was a deacon and he abused us, how can that be?”
Or it could be: “We were a good church-going family and my mom got cancer; we fasted, we prayed and she still died.”
The questions begin emotionally, but as life progresses they lead into intellectual questions, McFarland said. “This is true for even the most well-known atheists.”
That’s why apologetics, the discipline of defending the faith through reason, is so important — Christians need to be ready to answer those intellectual questions, McFarland said.
And that’s the message he brought to those participating in the Feb. 27 opening session of the two-day Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference held at First Baptist Church, Pelham.
‘Will be held accountable’
“We need to help the world get ready to meet Jesus,” McFarland said as he developed his message from 1 John 2. “Let tonight be a regrounding of your priorities.
“The Word of God says, ‘Don’t love the world.’ … We better be about the things of the Lord because we are going to face Him one day. … How many unsaved people are you praying for by name?”
The ultimate indictment is to love darkness more than light, he said, noting that “even as born-again believers we will be held accountable for what we did with what we had. We know Christ is the one and only Savior.”
But “the mindset, the spirit of the anti-Christ is to deny that Jesus is the one and only unique Son of God, the Savior,” McFarland said. “To say He is ‘a’ way and not ‘the’ way is the mind of the anti-Christ.”
In a postmodern world, people believe everyone is entitled to their own set of facts, he said, noting four realities of ministry in the 21st century:
- The number of people with recurring spiritual doubts will continue to grow in the western world.
It is intellectual skepticism, he said.
- Those with spiritual doubts increasingly defy categorization.
“What we are witnessing is largely ignorance of the Word of God,” he noted.
- Familiarity with apologetics is a necessity. The most fruitful evangelizers and disciples will be Christians who have both social and apologetic savvy.
- Building reciprocal, authentic relationships — though time-consuming — is the key to helping lead people into an authentic, saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
“We’ve got to invest in people with no expectation of return. We’ve got to befriend people.”
Before Christians begin to spout the answers, they need to establish friendships, he told The Alabama Baptist prior to his slot on the evangelism conference program.
“The evidence is clearly on our side and it really is compelling textually, historically, psychologically and biologically. From many compelling vantage points we can defend that the Bible is real, that the gospel is authentic,” he said. “But we have to build relationships in order to have the opportunity to share the answers to the questions.”
Great relationships, McFarland said, are built on three things — trust, honesty and respect. “I believe with all my heart we have to invest in people with no expectation of return. If people are your project, they can spot that a mile away,” he said. “Do we want them to turn to Christ and be saved? Of course we do. But we have to live out our faith authentically, not just deliver a debate and walk away.”
‘Invest our lives’
It’s going to take time and it’s not going to be convenient, he said. “But what better way to invest our lives than on behalf of Jesus?”
Then when the questions come, the foundation is laid, McFarland said.
Since 1997, McFarland has been writing, speaking and traveling on topics of defending the faith. And as he’s spoken at more than 200 colleges, he’s written in a journal the questions students asked each time.
He compiled those questions — and the way he would answer them — in a book called “The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity.”
“For 20-somethings and younger, the questions are about science,” McFarland said, noting that often students come in armed with a professor’s claim that God’s existence can’t be proven.
Other questions frequently asked, he said, deal with the reliability of Scripture or topics like “how could a good God send somebody to hell?”
These are not easy questions but compelling information exists to answer them, McFarland said.
“The good news is we truly live in the golden age of apologetics,” he said. “In the 1950s there were two apologetic books in print in America, one by C.S. Lewis and one by Edward John Carnell. Now it seems there are two released every week.”
He recommended that every Christian have “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell on their bookshelf as well as “The Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel.
“The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook” also contains “a lot of good apologetics” and is available as a free downloadable PDF, McFarland said. “It is kind of an A to Z on everything from adultery to AIDS to doubt and immorality. It helps you have a biblical view on all areas of life.”
But before you go out and read Graham or Lewis, McFarland said the best place to start is simply the Bible.
“That should be our No. 1 starting point — to be thoroughly biblically literate,” he said. “You can answer three-quarters of people’s questions if you know the Bible well. And we can’t really call ourselves followers of the Living Word if we’re not really reading and immersing ourselves in it.”
For more information, visit alexmcfarland.com.