When should we share our personal experiences in evangelism or apologetics as opposed to offering evidence (i.e., facts or arguments)?
Dealing with the Lost Tomb
During the “lost tomb of Jesus” debacle in the spring of ’07, I tuned into my local Christian radio station and heard them discussing the issue and the drama surrounding it. The DJs then asked people to call in and tell them “when Jesus first became real to you.”
I thought this was a poor way to approach that topic, and I told them so. I objected to dealing with it by discussing subjective issues (i.e., “when Jesus first became real to you”) when the documentary (and anyone talking about it with a Christian) was discussing very objective issues (i.e., whether or not this tomb had ever contained the remains of Jesus and His family).
The Problem with Experience
When we meet objective claims (e.g., Jesus never rose from the dead; we have his body to prove it) with subjective claims (e.g., Jesus is real to me), we do two unfortunate things:
1) We perpetuate the stereotype of Christians as brain dead fanatics who follow blind faith in spite of contrary facts.
2) We perpetuate the anti-intellectual bias in the modern church by teaching the next generation that feelings trump facts.
Objective statements have to be met with objective statements. When someone brings up, for example, the “tomb of Jesus,” we should launch into the weaknesses of this so-called documentary (and they are legion) as well as offering the evidence for the historical reliability of the resurrection story and the NT as a whole first.
The Place for Experience
Voddie Baucham, in The Ever-Loving Truth, asks why we believe the Bible. He argues that if we say we believe it because “it works,” we have to deal with people who say the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the Tao Te Ching work.
If we say we believe the Bible because “it is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eye-witnesses to supernatural events that took place in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating that the Bible is divine in origin, oh, and it works,” we have given the other solid, objective reasons to trust the Bible supplemented by our subjective experience that it works.
When defending the resurrection of Christ, we should give the evidence for the empty tomb, the appearances to the apostles and other disciples, the transformation of the apostles, and the appearance of the early church. And then we tell them how we’ve encountered a very much alive Christ who fills our hearts and our lives with joy and meaning.
Christianity is an experiential religion. Our feelings are important to us and to those we want to share the gospel with. Raw data alone will not do. But sharing mere feelings without some of that data will not do either.
Your testimony is the icing on the cake, the gravy on the steak, the boat on the lake, but if you don’t have something underneath it, all you have is an unwholesome, unfulfilling emotional experience.
Combined with solid evidence and sound arguments, though, your experience can make facts accessible and attractive to the thinking, feeling human beings around us.
Do You Know Why You Don't Believe?
"Fact, Faith, Feeling" as Ancient Wisdom @ Scriptorium Daily