I have argued for a method in apologetics that shows an unbeliever the shortcomings in his own worldview before inviting him to look at the world from a Christian perspective to see how it best interprets reality. How does that work in practice?
Basically, I believe there are two ways we can expose the fallacies of a non-Christian worldview:
(1) We can show someone how his worldview is self-contradictory at some point.
(2) We can show someone how he cannot live consistently with his own worldview.
In fact, we could probably do both at once in some cases, but I will take these points one at a time to illustrate.
(1) Let’s say you encounter someone with a rather postmodern outlook on the world. He believes that truth is relative to communities and that any claim that attempts to explain everything is nothing more than a power play. Christians can have their truth, Muslims can have their truth, and agnostics can have theirs. But no one, under any circumstances, can claim to have the truth that is universally applicable to everybody.
If I were in the context of a conversation with such a person, I would look for an opportunity to ask ever so gently, “Is your claim about truth not being absolute and universal itself an absolute, universal claim?” In an attempt to remain consistent, he may say, “No” in response, in which case I would simply reply, “Oh, okay. So you are saying that I shouldn’t believe it, since it is not in keeping with the truth claims of my own community.” If he agrees with me on that one, then I may press on with my absolute claims about the Christian faith, because he has given me permission to do so by saying I should not agree with his relativistic view.
On the other hand, if he says that his particular truth claim (about all truth claims being relative) is the one truth claim that applies to everybody, then I have an opportunity to show how blatantly self-contradictory such a worldview is. It collapses in on itself.
(2) For the next example, I will share a real life scenario. The great Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer once had a conversation with an atheist (this story is given in Schaeffer’s book The God Who Is There). As Schaeffer got to know him, he could tell that he was an intelligent man who had thought deeply about the implications of his own atheistic worldview. The conversation went on for some time, and as Schaeffer was preparing to leave him for the evening, he said something to this effect: “When you hold your woman close to you tonight, can you be sure that she is really there?”
At first sight it may not be obvious why that would be such a devastating question to pose to an atheist, but if you think through the implications of atheism (as both Schaeffer and this man had done), you will see why it is. Atheists must believe that we are nothing but matter plus time plus chance. That’s it. On this view, how can we know that we truly know anything about the world? How can we trust the reliability of our senses, of our reasoning capacity, of our affections? If there is no intelligent mind behind the design of who we are, then who is to say that we experience the world as it really is? Did the blind, unknowing, impersonal, uncaring universe have a design in mind when it allowed us to evolve into the animals that we are? Did the universe want us to be the kind of animals who would be able to have genuine knowledge about the external world and so give us reliable sensory and reasoning capacities to make that happen? Of course not. The blind, uncaring universe is blind and uncaring. There is no plan, no design, no purpose. We just “are” for a short time, and then we’re gone, and it’s like we were never here.
If this is the case, do we really encounter other human beings? Can we really love them? And what is love in an atheistic universe? It has to be nothing more than a certain combination of chemicals in our brains, operating according to mechanistic, deterministic laws, of which we ourselves are merely pawns.
This is the logical conclusion of atheism. And yet, atheists go on loving their spouses and children and treating other people as though they know they truly exist and can be objects of love. Atheists often believe in ideals like justice and equality. And none of these things can be explained on the basis of atheism. If an atheist cannot live consistently with his own worldview (because to do so would be to deny his own humanity), then it would seem that atheism as a worldview is seriously deficient.
Neither one of these strategies is a magic bullet that will guarantee that someone will abandon a non-Christian worldview. Our hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit would bless our words to that end, but we must recognize that unbelievers suppress the truth about God because of a moral condition, which cannot be changed by intellectual arguments alone. I have had several conversations with non-believers who were not willing to abandon their non-believing positions even after I had exposed some flaws in them, but my hope is that they were a bit more uncomfortable in their unbelief than they had been before. You never know what might result from a little spiritual restlessness.
In the next post I will show some ways we can present the Christian worldview as a satisfying alternative to unbelief.