By: Akos Balogh

Many Christians feel we’re losing the ‘culture war’.

From SSM to euthanasia, the traditional Christian perspective has lost ground in much of mainstream society. We’re a minority.

And yet, I want to suggest that far from getting down about the marginalisation of Christianity, we should look to the opportunities that minority status brings. Now is a good time to re-evaluate how we engage our post-Christian culture.

And after finishing author and evangelist Sam Chan’s brilliant new book, How to Evangelise a Skeptical World – How to Make the Unbelievable New About Jesus More Believable, I’ve had my eyes opened to alternative ways we can bring the gospel to our society – even if we’re on the losing end of a culture war.

Here are my thoughts based on Chan’s book:

1) Christians Need to Go Beyond the Culture Wars

We need to show how Jesus is the ultimate answer to people’s underlying desires.

I’m all for challenging bad ideas and bad policies in the public square. Whether it be compulsory gender fluidity education for children, eroding religious freedom, or post-modernism. Bad ideas have consequences, and out of love of neighbour, we should challenge them lest they take root and fester.

But if as Christians we merely challenge bad ideas, then we miss a big opportunity: an opportunity to show how Jesus is the answer to the desires that lead people to adopt bad ideas. People need Jesus – the only one who can satisfy their deepest needs, whether they realise it or not.

And so, we need to go beyond the culture war.

But how can we do that? Do we just need to remain silent when all sorts of bad ideas spill out into the public square? Do we give up our God-given responsibility as citizens to speak up in public?

Not at all.

We just need to tweak – or at least expand – how we engage. And there is where Sam Chan’s book is so helpful.

Chan gives us a useful method to engage our culture. It’s not a new method – in fact missionaries use it all the time when entering a new culture. And it’s a method we need to learn, because Australian Christians are rapidly becoming ‘foreigners’ (culturally speaking) in our own society.

So here are the 4 steps that allow us to engage our culture well.[1] They’ll allow us to go beyond the culture war.

2) The 4 Steps to Going Beyond the Culture War

Step 1: Seek first to understand the other person’s view
Describe it better than they can.

When a friend, colleague, family member raises an issue that you happen to disagree with, your natural inclination will probably be to get into fight or flight mode: you’ll feel like disagreeing straight away (paving the way for an argument), or you’ll possibly just let the matter drop.

While there is wisdom in letting an issue ‘go through to the keeper’, I think there’s a better way.

And the first step is simply to understand – to really understand – the other person’s position is.[2]

Here are a couple of things to note:

  • Don’t assume anything. Assuming you know what your opponent believes (and why) can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings – and conflict.
  • At this point, you’re not defending or arguing for any position. You’re simply giving them the space to open up and share exactly what they believe. They’re in the ‘hot seat’, not you.
  • Don’t be surprised if people don’t really know why they believe what they believe. People (including Christians) usually take on board what sounds good, without thinking through what it means.

Once they say ‘Yes! That’s exactly what I mean – you’ve got it!’ , you’ve understood.

Step 2: Resonate
Understand the underlying desires that make them hold their view

Once you’ve understood their position, you’re now ready for the next step: resonating with their viewpoint. The gospel doesn’t just challenge a culture, it also connects with it: [3]

Resonating means feeling the God-given ‘existential cry’ behind the other person’s position – and understanding why their position appeals to them.

  • What fundamental desire leads them to hold the position they do?
  • What is its ‘storyline’ about reality? (E.g. the storyline of the pro-SSM supporters was one of an oppressed minority being given equality.)
  • What makes that storyline so attractive?
  • Why would I want this message to be true or real?

You know you’ve done a good in resonating when you feel the emotional burden of their position. When your friend says – yes, you’ve got it, that’s it! – then you’ve resonated well. Now they will want to know how you’re going to answer their objection. They’re ready to hear from you.

As Chan points out: Try to dig a deeper hole than the hole your friend dug for you so that your friend will be thinking, ‘I wonder how they’re going to find their way out of this!“[4]

Up until now, you haven’t challenged the other person’s point of view. You’ve simply understood them, and felt the emotional attractiveness of their position. If you’ve done this well, chances are your friend will now be much be open to the next step: challenging their position

Step 3: Challenge

Only now do you challenge their point of view, by asking some tough questions:

  • How is their message deficient?
  • What is lacking?
  • Can it deliver the happy ending that its chasing?
  • Or how is the message dissonant? What is clashing? Does it have messages that can’t be true at the same time?

Notice this is similar to the standard ‘culture war’ approach, but this only takes place after you’ve understood your friend’s position. Not only does this minimise misunderstandings (you’re responding to their actual point of view), but the emotional temperature of the conversation is likely to be lower as well: people are more willing to listen after they’ve first been heard.

But your job isn’t completed when you’ve shown the deficiency of their point of view. Your next job is to show how the gospel answers their deep existential cry in a way that nothing else can.

Step 4: Show How Jesus Fulfills Their storyline
That is, how Jesus is the better solution to their cry for meaning, purpose and justice.

Everyone wants a happy ending to life. That’s why people get so passionate about politics, economics and other social issues. However, only the gospel can provide the ultimate happy ending that people are really searching for. Jesus is the fulfillment of their God-given existential cry.

And we can show them that.

So for example, to the pro-choice activist living out the storyline of freedom and equality, only Jesus provides the acceptance and freedom that no right to abortion could ever provide. To the neo-Marxist dreaming of a world without poverty, only Jesus promises a world without suffering – and a world without end.

Jesus is the perfect answer to their deepest hopes and dreams.

The gospel is the answer our friends really want, but don’t know it (yet).

All our non-Christian friends have an internal God given longing: a longing that life be just, meaningful and fair. They might not say it out loud, but that’s the way they live. And so, if we can show our friends how despite what they say, deep down they really want there to be a rich, meaningful, transcendent reality, we can begin to show them how God is the answer to their deepest need.[5]

And the opportunities for us to do this will only grow. Let’s pray we’re ready for them.

[1] I’ve taken Sam Chan’s methodology, and slightly modified it by making the ‘seek first to understand’ component it’s own first step. See Sam Chan, Evangelism in a Skeptical World – How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable (Zondervan: MI, 2018), 157-172.

[2] For more on how to understand your ‘opponents’ position using questions, see my other blog post ‘The Unexpected Lesson from my flooded Lismore house.’

[3] We can look to passages such as Rom 1:18ff for the way it challenges culture, but Acts 17:23,28 shows that there also points of connection. This is due to our being made in the image of God, and the common grace that means human culture is not utterly depraved.

[4] Sam Chan, Evangelism in a Skeptical World – How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable (Zondervan: MI, 2018), 256-257.

[5] Chan, Evangelism in a Skeptical World, 274.

Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.

About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.