As a medical student I attended a 'Confident Christianity' day conference led by Dr Andrew Fergusson and Dr Peter Saunders. The conferences train doctors and medical students in the art of 'dialogue evangelism', and over fifty have been held all over the UK and Ireland since 1989.
To anyone involved with CMF the idea of dialogue as a form of evangelism is unlikely to be a new concept, but what is dialogue? It is certainly different from the idea of inviting our non-Christian friends into the often unfamiliar environment of a church service. Instead it involves a two-way traffic of ideas in pursuit of mutual understanding, but not compromise, and enables us to uncover misconceptions, confusions, doubts and dilemmas as they arise. For after all, it is not so much what we say that is important but what the other party hears, and dialogue gives us the opportunity constantly to receive feed-back and thus alter our approach. Indeed, Paul himself recognised the value of dialogue and set us an example.
Presenting our faith
In order to become effective 'dialoguers' we need to be able to express the fundamentals of our faith quickly and succinctly. At the conference we were challenged to explain to our neighbours what they must do to be saved, within the context of the fact that the four minute warning had been sounded and there were only two minutes left until the end of the world. I, for one, was somewhat stumped; I do not think that my companion would have been persuaded! Having realised our ineptitude we then drew out the essential components of any gospel presentation, including the seemingly less attractive aspects such as the reality of judgment, while looking to the apostles as an example, in particular Acts 5:29-32.
One way to improve our technique is to learn a well-developed gospel outline which ensures that all the salient facts are covered, without resorting to the use of the jargon which so often pervades our Christian conversations. We examined an outline developed by Canon John Chapman which breaks down the Christian faith into five basic propositions:
- God-the ruler
- Man - the rebel
- God - the call to repentance
- What if I don't? - unforgiven
- What if I do? - forgiven
Preparing for questions
Of course the whole idea of dialogue is that the other person then has the opportunity to come back and question you on your gospel presentation. If, like me, you are not exactly full of confidence, it could be this very fact that discourages you from ever getting this far. For after all, whilst you agree that it is within all of our capabilities to learn a gospel outline, you wonder whether you would ever be able to answer seemingly endless questions. Paul Little, in his best selling book, How to give away your faith suggests that most non-Christians' objections can be divided into seven basic questions:
- Is Christ the only way to God?
- Isn't the Bible full of errors?
- How can miracles be possible?
- Isn't Christian experience only psychological?
- What about those who have never heard the gospel?
- Why do the innocent suffer?
- Won't a good moral life get me to heaven?
If I knew what the questions would be on any of my medical exam papers then I wouldn't hesitate to learn the answers. That's exactly what we were encouraged to do with questions about faith. Not only that but, just as in an anatomy oral exam, we can, to an extent, direct the questions onto the subjects that we feel most comfortable with. So what excuses are left?
Putting skills into practice
Before putting into practice our new found skills in role play with 'Agnostic Andy' and 'Pagan Pete' we learnt about the common pitfalls that we might encounter. One of these affecting Christians is the circular argument, whereby we use Jesus to justify our belief in the Bible and vice versa, rather than using a linear argument, reasoning from history that Jesus is the Son of God. The other is a central heresy of our culture, relativism, to say that one thing may be true for me and another true for you. That may avoid argument, but either the earth is flat or it is round, either God exists or he doesn't. One of us must be right and the other must be wrong.
Aware of these pitfalls, we then moved into role plays which, although somewhat intimidating, beautifully illustrated the advantages of what we had learnt. Also, for me at least, they showed how much more I should know about things such as the historical evidence for the Bible. We also saw the need to be careful not only in what we say but in how we say it; confrontation may be all very well in response to a question about contradictions in the Bible, but someone asking about suffering may well have a hidden agenda, hiding a very personal hurt.
Finally, we moved on to taking what we had learnt back into our everyday lives, including the possibility of organising dialogue suppers for our non-Christian friends. Although I didn't host a dialogue supper myself, I was able to use my new-found skills in conversation in college. Although I still do not believe that I am a gifted evangelist, 'Confident Christianity' gave me more confidence in my ability to 'be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have' (1 Peter 3:15).
Confident Christianity Roadshow 1999-2000:
- 16 October Birmingham
- 23 October Cardiff
- 30 October Dundee
- 6 November London
- 13 November Belfast
- 20 November Leicester
- 27 November Manchester
- 29 January Edinburgh
- 5 February Newcastle
- 12 February Sheffield
- 19 February Southampton
- 26 February Oxford