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6 May 2015

A warm howdy to all y'all, from the very southern state of Mississippi! Here a local congregation, modestly named The Jackson Church, has asked me to repeat a talk I gave in Knoxville, Tennessee last week, Reaching the Religious South.

Tonight I'm presenting 10 strategies for connecting with people in the Bible Belt. (How did Jesus address the most religious of his own day?) If you're reading this before 7 CT Time (Weds), please say a prayer for me -- that I may be be both humble and helpful, so that the brothers and sisters may be even bolder in their outreach for Christ (Philippians 1:14).

Now, to the topic at hand. I've been wrestling with faith issues for 40 years, trying to answer others' questions (and my own), and as a result have much to share. So in the coming months, we're going to explore the field of Christian evidences. Every suggestion in the series Answering Skeptics comes from actual conversations in my own evangelism. Each week we'll consider practical responses to common challenges from skeptics, atheists, and other critics of faith.
Playing offense v. playing defense
Christian evidences has two sides, one offensive and one defensive. The offensive side involves the presentation of reasons for faith. The defensive side deals mainly with objections, for example "Bible contradictions." In this series we'll be playing a bit of both.

Responses fall under 10 broad areas: Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion. Our approach is going to be simple -- if you want to go deeper, there's lots to read (click here). Our goal: to offer responses that you will be able to try out immediately. This week we'll address one of the more common allegations, which is...
"There are so many hypocrites!"
Looking at the church, sadly the charge rings true. Recent polls suggest that even in the religious United States only 15% are serious enough about their faith to attend church every Sunday, and other polls turn up a deplorable level of Bible knowledge. Christian families are often a wreck (with a divorce rate over 40%), while the surveys reveal the majority of Christian men indulge in pornography.

The critics' point may be valid, yet it's hardly original. Unbelievers are usually unaware of it, but the scriptures challenge hypocrisy with white-hot intensity. Jesus lambastes the hypocrites (Matthew 7:1+, 23:1-36). Paul echoes the charge, reminding his readers, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Romans 2:1-24; Isaiah 52:5). This is a point the Bible takes with devastating seriousness.

Here there's an important logical point to be made. Critics routinely confuse the messenger with the message. A salesman might be a poor representative for an otherwise great product. Perhaps he's selling memberships to a health club, but he is lethargic or obese. There's no direct connection between his physical condition and the health club -- though no one doubts he's turning off prospective members. He may simply be in the wrong line of work. Or a physician might abuse his authority, or prescribe the wrong medication. Would we be rational to reject all of medicine just because of a bad experience or two? Of course not. A messenger may discredit the message, but that's not the same as disproving it.

Let's steer our friends towards the message, reminding them that instances of failed faith are no excuse for ignoring God. At the same time, we enhance the credibility of the gospel by living it out in our own lives.

It should be noted that in the case of some skeptics, they're crying from their heart. They have been deeply wounded by church or religion. For others, the claim is just an excuse. We should aim for sensitivity, so that we may discern which is the case.

Finally, when someone says "No thanks, I'll pass on your invitation to church -- too many hypocrites," maybe quip "There's always room for one more." After all, hypocrisy isn't the special province of the religious. It's everywhere! Hypocrisy may even be lower among believers, given that the Lord took such a strong stand against going through the motions. So let's not just roll over when the skeptic claims the high ground.

In short, there's no perfect group. And even if there were, the day you or I joined, it would cease being perfect.
Coming up...
Next the series Answering Skeptics will consider what to say when skeptics claim the Bible has been changed, is missing books, is irrelevant to today's concerns, is only the word of man, or is all a mere matter of "interpretation." 

Please reply to this email if these thoughts have been constructive, especially if you've been able to use these lines of reasoning in your own conversations.

Till next week...

Your fellow messenger,
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