Faith at the Edge

Discerning When to Engage Bible Skeptics

When I was sixteen years old, I encountered my first Bible skeptic. As student at Bob Jones Academy, I was passing out tracts and witnessing to people in downtown Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was the last Friday night before Christmas break and unusually cold for South Carolina. There were even snowflakes in the air. My partner, Oddvar Cuvas, ran out of tracts and said, “I’m going to go in this drug store and get warm.”

I passed out my remaining tracts and then joined him. Oddvar had engaged the proprietor of the drug store in a conversation. The man seemed extremely knowledgeable and had twisted my friend into a theological pretzel. I violated a rule of two-by-two soulwinning and interrupted the conversation. In no time there were two theological pretzels twisted on the drug store floor. This man knew verses in the Bible I’d never read. He quoted from the Koran. He quoted from the Book of Mormon. I went home totally discouraged and defeated. I thought, “I’m not going to do this anymore until I have answers for all the skeptics.”

I decided I would learn how to answer the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Catholics, and any other groups I was likely to encounter. Then and only then would I go back on the street and tell people the gospel of Christ.

There are, it seems to me, two kinds of skeptics. There are scornful skeptics, “A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.” (Proverbs 13:1). And there are simple skeptics, “O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart” (Proverbs 8:5). The Scripture teaches this in Proverbs 26:4–5, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

In other words, there are times we are to engage those who reject God’s truth, and there are times we are not to do so. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is necessary to help us discern when to speak and when not to. A simple skeptic can be instructed; scornful skeptics cannot. Here are some thoughts about how to deal with them.

Give Them the Gospel

I recommend this whether they are scornful or sinful. We are commanded to, “Hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). It does not matter whether or not they believe, the gospel can still have an effect. After all, the Bible is the “Sword of the Spirit.” Whether or not you believe the Sword I have is real is irrelevant to the effect it has when I stick you with it. Spurgeon said, “Defending the Bible is like defending a lion in a cage. We simply need to open the cage and let the lion out.”

Have Them Read the Bible

I challenge skeptics to read the book of John. I tell them there are twenty-one chapters in the book of John. If they read one chapter a day they will be done in three weeks. If they have a measure of sincerity about them, ask them to pray, “God if this is your book, show me its truth.”

God will reveal Himself through His Word and not through the word of man. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

If they seem sincere and open, I ask them to tell me where they find the Bible to be in error.

I have yet to find anyone who tells me that there are mistakes in the Bible who can show me a single one.

Show Them Evidence

If they seem open and interested, I show them biblical evidences of the accuracy of Scripture.

Example one is the number of stars. Man has for centuries been fascinated with the heavens. Brahe at one point counted 777 stars. Ptolemy counted 1,020.

And yet God challenged Abraham, centuries before either of them lived, by saying in Genesis 15:5, “And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.”

God having created the earth knew and told Abraham that man was not capable of numbering the stars. Now scientists believe there are over 250 billion stars in our galaxy and 100 billion galaxies like ours and would agree that no one could give the exact or total number.

Example two is that the earth is round! Until about the third century before Christ there were many who believed the earth was flat. This would include the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians who portrayed the earth as a disk floating in the ocean. And yet far in advance of man’s “discovery” that the earth was round Scripture said in Isaiah 40:22, “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.”

Example three is gravity. The idea of gravity was unknown to many in the ancient world. Some believed that the earth rested upon the back of a giant turtle which rested on a larger turtle which rested on a larger turtle. Others thought the earth rested on water. Some in ancient India believed that it was held up by a gigantic elephant. However, Job, the oldest book in the Bible written before the Pentateuch, tells us in chapter twenty-six and verse seven, “He hangeth the earth upon nothing.”

I have found these verses helpful in dealing with a person who is simple and teachable to show them the wisdom of God in advance of more modern science.

After my experience with the drug store skeptic, I went home for Christmas vacation. Upon my return, I did not go with my fellow teens to Spartanburg, South Carolina to pass out tracts. Many weeks had gone by since I had encountered the skeptic.

One Friday night, my friend Oddvar came back from his soulwinning efforts running down the hallway of the dormitory, shouting out my name. He burst into the room and said, “Do you remember George Vassey?”

Of course, I remembered George Vassey. He was the man in the drug store. My final words to him had been, “Mister, I don’t know what to tell you. All I can say is if you’re not saved, you need to get saved. And if you are saved you know better than what you are saying.”

Oddvar went on to explain that the man had read the tracts we left. He had, as a result of our feeble but faithful efforts, trusted Christ as his Saviour. He had stopped selling indecent magazines and had plans to turn the unused portion of his building into a rescue mission!

Why did this skeptic get saved? Was it the brilliant, insightful, Scriptural defense of two teenage boys? Was it our answers to all of the arguments? No. It was because a couple of kids decided to obey God’s instruction to, “Hear the words of my mouth and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17).

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