Be careful of the facts!
Samuel C. Degner
I was lingering in the plumbing aisle when an employee noticed me. “Can I help you find something?” he asked. I explained what I needed. He picked up a part and told me it would do the trick. I had put in a few hours of work that morning and two trips to other stores. I had learned enough to know that he was wrong. So I politely thanked him and kept looking. He had lost my confidence. It’s not that I thought he was deceiving me to make a sale. But his error led me to question his ability to help me.
Can we, as ambassadors of Christ, have the same effect on people?
Our conversations with the unchurched of this world can be far-ranging. Our goal is to proclaim the gospel, but often witnessing opportunities arise in the context of back-and-forth discussions. People ask tough questions. They are skeptical—or even hostile—toward what the Bible says. In those kinds of situations, we may want to reach for outside facts that can help us defend biblical truth.
Make sure of the facts
While I think it’s rare for Christian witnesses to be purposely deceptive, it’s probably not as uncommon for us to be careless with the facts we present. That fact that you read, the one that supports your biblical point of view—what’s the source? Where did you hear that statistic? The internet is notoriously fraught with misinformation. That something comes from a Christian source doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, no matter how much we want to believe it. A person may have a PhD, but that doesn’t make him an expert in everything. It may not even mean he is respected in his own field.
This isn’t about biblical truths that can only be accepted by faith, like a six-day creation or life after death. This is about facts that have to do with observation and reason. Ask yourself: Is this information reliable and respectable? You might even go a step further and ask whether non-Christians will find it persuasive—or at least worthy of consideration. If not, that doesn’t necessarily make it untrue; it just might not be useful in your witnessing.
Last summer I took my family to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. This full-scale model of Noah’s ark was built to persuade skeptics of the plausibility of the Bible’s flood account. The interior is outfitted to demonstrate how the eight passengers could have lived and taken care of the animals on board. Displays describe how the biblical flood could have caused the geological and fossil records we see on earth today. The experience helped us appreciate how big the boat was. It was heartening to see fellow Christians unabashedly proclaiming the Bible’s truth—including the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Nonetheless, as I walked through the ark, I found myself wondering what a scientist or skeptical layperson would think—not about the biblical message, but about the science they use to support it. I had the sneaking feeling they might shake their heads at some of the theories presented. And while these were offered only as possible explanations of what happened in Genesis, I wondered how many Christians would go home and repeat them as facts in future evangelistic conversations. That might not seem to be a problem. But what if the person they’re speaking with finds valid holes in those “facts”? What if those particular models are refuted by solid science? It wouldn’t make the flood untrue, but it would make the ones who shared those theories look untrustworthy.
This is just one example. Consider others, like the statistics Christians sometimes present on the effects of divorce, homosexuality, or abortion on people and society. Think of archaeological evidence that speaks to biblical accounts. Certainly, it’s refreshing to hear a Christian perspective in fields like science and history—especially for our young people in secular schools who are constantly bombarded with anti-biblical points of view. It can be gratifying to see God’s wisdom for human thriving confirmed by secular studies. It’s good for people to hear legitimate interpretations of data that are compatible with Scripture. Still, caution is in order.
In our day, many consider truth to be malleable (like the presidential counselor who coined the phrase “alternative facts”). This is one result of postmodernism’s creep into every crevice of our society. But that doesn’t make it okay to play fast and loose with facts—especially for us who follow the one who calls himself the Truth. It doesn’t excuse laziness in vetting information before passing it along. In fact, it means we ought to be more careful than ever. People are wary of the spin. They know they’re constantly being marketed to. If we’re careless with the facts we present, people may see us as untrustworthy and be less likely to listen to the gospel we want to share.
Use the one fact we know
Yes, we need to be careful about the facts . . . but not so cautious that we avoid conversations for fear of saying the wrong thing. Remember, the sacrifice of the Savior who never once spoke falsely atones for all the times we have done so, even if unintentionally. His resurrection guarantees forgiveness for our imagined need to prop up his gospel with feeble facts. Moreover, that same Savior gives us his Word of truth, with which we can navigate this whole issue of facts without fear. Trusting in that Word, we can look for—even patiently wait for—opportunities to unleash its power.
We have an objective standard like none other. We have a Scripture that “cannot be broken” (John 10:35 CSB). This means that we can compare anything we hear to what God has already said. If it contradicts his truth in any way, we know we need not be influenced by it, no matter what “authority” decrees it. If what we hear is not in conflict with Scripture, we can consider it. We’re cautious, of course. We use our God-given reason and resources to evaluate it. But we need not be afraid of it nor enthralled by it.
Furthermore, our Spirit-worked confidence in the inspired Word frees us from the need to latch onto any extra-biblical facts that seem to support our message. We don’t have to search for science that backs up our belief in a six-day creation or a global flood. We aren’t waiting for the latest archaeological finds to confirm that what God said happened or for studies that show God’s commandments are good. These kinds of facts can be valuable for starting or prolonging conversations with skeptics. But our witness in no way depends on them. God’s truth stands on its own. The gospel is God’s power to change hearts. Jesus died and rose for us—you can never go wrong with that fact!
Unlike me in the hardware store, many people in this world don’t know what they’re really looking for. We have it—eternal salvation in Jesus—and want to help them find it. That desire to share the truth heightens our concern for truth in everything we say.
Samuel Degner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.
This is the tenth article in a 12-part series on sharing your faith.
What’s your story? How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear from you. To whom in your life did you reach out? How did you respond to a know-it-all? E-mail responses to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “How I shared Jesus.” Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231.
Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.
Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.
Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us