Christians typically seek to adapt religious ideas to modern
science. Their goal is to make Christianity "relevant" to
modern man. By elevating science to supreme authority, they
assume the Bible is a fallible human document, approach
Scripture with an antisupernatural bias, and dismiss miracles
as the fantasies of ignorant people in biblical times who did
not understand the laws of nature. They also view humanity as
fundamentally good, with no real sin problem.
Jesus is not viewed as God incarnate as God incarnate or as a
divine Savior. Rather, He was a man supremely full of God and
was characterized by ethical and moral excellence. He is an
example to - and moral teacher of - the human race. He didn't
die on the cross for our sins, but His death nevertheless has
an uplifting "moral influence" on people (setting an example of
God's primary attribute is said to be love. His holiness,
judgment, and wrath are practically ignored. Thus, it is not
surprising that liberal Christians hold out the hope of
immortality for all people. The idea that any will spend
eternity in hell is rejected.
Confronted with such a plethora of unbiblical ideas,
conservative Christians might wonder how to begin in
evangelizing their liberal counterparts. Following are some
guidelines I have found helpful when dialoguing with liberal
Be loving. Liberal Christians sometimes view evangelicals as
narrow-minded and unloving. For this reason it is all the more
important that all of your personal encounters with liberals be
marked by love. Be courteous, tactful, kind, and humble.
Debunk the caricatures liberal Christians often have regarding
evangelicals. As a case in point, some liberal Christians think
typical evangelicals believe in the dictation theory of
inspiration (the view that God literally dictated the Bible
word for word to the biblical writers). Emphasize that typical
evangelicals reject this view.
At the same time, however, be ready to explain and defend the
correct view of inspiration. Biblical inspiration may be
defined as God's superintending of the human authors so that,
using (rather than bypassing) their own historical situations,
personalities, and writing styles, they composed and recorded
without error His revelation to humankind (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet.
1:21). (Space forbids a detailed apologetic defense of
inspiration, but good resources are available for this.)
A necessary consequence of this view of inspiration is that the
authority of Scripture cannot be separated from the authority
of God. Whatever the Bible affirms, God affirms. Since the
written revelation from God has been recorded under the
Spirit's direct superintendence, that revelation is
authoritative - just as authoritative as the One who gave
Now, besides dealing with inspiration, you should also address
the liberal view that because the four gospel writers had
theological motives (the intent to convince readers of Jesus'
deity, for example), their historical testimony is
untrustworthy. This is clearly faulty reasoning. As scholar
Craig Blomberg put it, "The fallacy...is to imagine that
telling a story for a purpose, even in the service of a cause
one believes in passionately, necessarily forces one to distort
history. In our modern era, some of the most reliable reporters
of the Nazi Holocaust were Jews passionately committed to
seeing such genocide never repeated."
Another caricature you may need to deal with is the liberal's
misperception that evangelicals interpret Scripture too
literally. Point out that evangelicals do not hold to a "wooden
literalism" - the kind that interprets biblical figures of
speech literally. Explain that what is understood to be
symbolic and what is taken literally should be based on the
biblical context itself - such as when Jesus used obviously
figurative parables to communicate spiritual truth.
Emphasize that a literal approach to Scripture recognizes that
the Bible contains a variety of literary genres, each of which
have certain peculiar characteristics that must be recognized
in order to interpret the text properly. Biblical genres
include the historical (e.g., Acts), the dramatic epic (e.g.,
Job), poetry (e.g., Psalms), wise sayings (e.g., Proverbs), and
apocalyptic writings (e.g., Revelation). Point out that an
incorrect genre judgment will lead one far astray in
Even though the Bible contains a variety of literary genres and
many figures of speech, the biblical authors most often
employed literal statements to convey their ideas. And where
they use a literal means to express their ideas, the Bible
expositor must employ a corresponding means to explain these
ideas - namely, a literal approach. Such an approach gives to
each word in the text the same basic meaning it would have in
normal, ordinary, customary usage - whether employed in
writing, speaking, or thinking. Without such a method,
communication between God and humankind is impossible.
A third caricature you may have to deal with is the notion that
evangelicals are unaware of - or are not willing to deal with -
so-called contradictions in the Bible. Challenge this charge.
Put the burden on the liberal, and ask him or her to cite
specific contradictions. Use resources like Gleason Archer's
Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties and Norman Geisler's When
Critics Ask to demonstrate that there are alternative
explanations that make good sense.
Debunk the liberal's charge that miracles are the fantasies of
ignorant people in biblical times who did not understand the
laws of nature. People in biblical times did know enough of the
laws of nature to recognize bona fide miracles. As C. S. Lewis
put it, "When St. Joseph discovered that his bride was
pregnant, he was 'minded to put her away.' He knew enough
biology for that. Otherwise, of course, he would not have
regarded pregnancy as a proof of infidelity. When he accepted
the Christian explanation, he regarded it as a miracle
precisely because he knew enough of the laws of nature to know
that this was a suspension of them."
Moreover, Lewis observed, "when the disciples saw Christ
walking on the water they were frightened: they would not have
been frightened unless they had known the laws of nature and
known that this was an exception. If a man had no conception of
a regular order in nature, then of course he could not notice
departures from that order." Nothing can be viewed as
"abnormal" until one has first grasped the "norm."
Don't let the liberal get away with saying that science
"disproves" the biblical miracles. Science depends upon
observation and replication. Miracles - such as the Incarnation
and the Resurrection - are by their very nature unprecedented
events. No one can replicate these events in a laboratory.
Hence, science simply cannot be the judge and jury as to
whether or not these events occurred. The scientific method is
useful for studying nature but not super-nature.
Scientists are speaking outside of their proper field when they
address theological issues like miracles. R. C. Sproul
observes, "Today when somebody steps outside of his area of
expertise, people tend to follow and believe him. That is the
basis of much advertising. For example, a baseball star may
appear on television and promote a particular brand of razors.
If that star were to tell me how to hit a baseball, he would be
speaking with authority. But when he tells me the best razor
blade to buy is a certain brand, then he is speaking outside of
his area of expertise." Scientists do the same type of thing in
regard to miracles.
The skepticism of liberal Christians notwithstanding, there is
good reason to believe in the biblical miracles. One highly
pertinent factor is the brief time that elapsed between Jesus'
miraculous public ministry and the publication of the gospels.
It was insufficient for the development of miracle legends.
Many eyewitnesses to Jesus' miracles would have still been
alive to refute any untrue miracle accounts (see 1 Cor. 15:6).
One must also recognize the noble character of the men who
witnessed these miracles (e.g., Peter, James, and John). Such
men were not prone to misrepresentation, and were willing to
give up their lives rather than deny their beliefs.
There were also hostile witnesses to the miracles of Christ.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, for example, none of
the chief priests or Pharisees disputed the miracle (John
11:45-48). (If they could have disputed it, they would have.)
Rather, their goal was simply to stop Jesus (vv. 47-48). Remind
the liberal that because there were so many hostile witnesses
who observed and scrutinized Christ, successful "fabrication"
of miracle stories in His ministry would have been
Demonstrate that nature and Scripture, properly interpreted, do
not conflict. God has communicated to humankind both by general
revelation (nature, or the observable universe) and special
revelation (the Bible). Since both of these revelations come
from God - and since God does not contradict Himself - we must
conclude these two revelations are in agreement with each
other. While there may be conflicts between one's
interpretation of the observable universe and one's
interpretation of the Bible, there is no ultimate
We might say that science is a fallible human interpretation of
the observable universe while theology is a fallible human
interpretation of the Scriptures. If the liberal challenges the
idea that science can be fallible, remind him or her of what
science historian Thomas Kuhn proved in his book The Structure
of Scientific Revolutions - that is, science is in a constant
state of change. New discoveries have consistently caused old
scientific paradigms to be discarded in favor of newer
Here is the point: it is not nature and Scripture that
contradict; rather, it is science (man's fallible
interpretation of nature) and theology (man's fallible
interpretation of Scripture) that sometimes fall into conflict.
Hence the liberal cannot simply dismiss certain parts of the
Bible because "science and the Bible contradict."
Also keep in mind that the allegation that the Bible is not
scientifically accurate is sometimes related to the Bible's
frequent use of phenomenological language. Ecclesiastes 1:5,
for example, refers to the sun "rising and setting." From a
scientific perspective, the sun does not actually rise or set.
But let's be fair. This is the same kind of language weather
forecasters use. "Rising" and "setting" are accepted ways of
describing what the sun appears to be doing from an earthly
Demonstrate that Jesus was not a mere example or moral teacher.
No mere "example" or "moral teacher" would ever claim that the
destiny of the world lay in His hands, or that people would
spend eternity in heaven or hell depending on whether they
believed in Him (John 6:26-40). The only "example" this would
provide would be one of lunacy. And for Jesus to convince
people that He was God (John 8:58) and the Savior of the world
(Luke 19:10) - when He really wasn't - would be the ultimate
Certainly, if Jesus had intended to teach doctrines compatible
with liberal Christianity, He was a dire failure as a teacher.
Indeed, His words led all those who followed Him during His
earthly ministry in the precise opposite direction than He
supposedly intended. All His followers ended up believing in
miracles, that man is a sinner, that Jesus died on the cross to
save them, and so forth.
In proving that Christ is the divine Messiah He claimed to be,
one good approach is to demonstrate Jesus' fulfillment of
messianic prophecies in the Old Testament - including ones He
couldn't have conspired to fulfill, such as His birthplace
(Mic. 5:2), being born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), and the
identity of His forerunner (Mal. 3:1). (This is what first got
my attention back in the 1970s when I was attending a liberal
church.) Since liberals respect science, mention that the
science of statistics shows there is something like a 1 in 1017
chance of one man fulfilling just eight of the hundreds of
messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Peter Stoner, author
of Science Speaks, provides an illustration to help us
understand the magnitude of such odds:
we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of
Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now
mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass
thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him
that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up
one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What
chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same
chance that the prophets would have had of writing these
eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one
man, from their day to the present time, providing they
wrote using their own wisdom.
Jesus fulfilled not just eight but hundreds of messianic
prophecies in the Old Testament. Besides this, Jesus is
referred to by the names of deity (e.g., "God," Heb. 1:8;
"Lord," Matt. 22:43-45); has all the attributes of deity (e.g.,
omnipotence, Matt. 28:18; omniscience, John 1:48; omnipresence,
Matt. 18:20); did the works of deity (e.g., creation, John 1:3;
raised the dead, John 11:43-44); and was worshiped as deity
(Matt. 14:33). You should thoroughly familiarize yourself with
these and the many other biblical evidences for Jesus'
Don't be surprised if the liberal suggests that Jesus is just
"one of many ways to God." If they propose this theory, you
should contrast the doctrine of God (the most fundamental of
all doctrines) in the various religions. Jesus, for example,
taught that there is only one personal God who is triune in
nature (Matt. 28:19). Muhammad taught that there is only one
God, but that God cannot have a son. Confucius was polytheistic
(he believed in many gods). Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (a
Hindu scripture) believed in a combination of polytheism and
pantheism (all is God). Zoroaster taught religious dualism
(there is both a good and a bad god). Buddha taught that the
concept of God was essentially irrelevant. Obviously, these
religions are not pointing to the same God. If one is right,
all the others are wrong.
Emphasize that Jesus claimed that what He said took precedence
over all others. Jesus said He is humanity's only means of
coming into a relationship with God: "I am the way and the
truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through
me" (John 14:6). One either accepts or rejects this claim, but
no one can deny that it is exclusive.
Emphasize that Christianity is a religion of history. The
apostle Paul warned the religious men of Athens of an impending
objective event: the divine judgment of all humanity. And he
based this warning on the objective, historical evidence for
the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17:31). It was this historical
resurrection that instilled such boldness in the disciples.
Initially, when Jesus was arrested, "all the disciples forsook
Him and fled" (Matt. 26:56). But following Jesus' resurrection,
these fearful cowards became steel bulwarks of the faith. They
remained unflinching in their commitment to Christ, even in the
face of great personal danger and death.
There have been various attempts (especially by liberals) to
explain away the resurrection of Christ. One of the most
popular of these is that Jesus' followers made up the
In response, point out how hard it is to believe that these
followers - predominantly Jewish and therefore aware of God's
stern commandments against lying and bearing false witness -
would make up such a lie, and then suffer and give up their own
lives in defense of it. Moreover, if Jesus' followers concocted
events like the Resurrection, wouldn't Jesus' critics have then
immediately come forward to debunk these lies and put an end to
Christianity once and for all?
It is worth noting that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians
15:1-4 speaks of Christ's resurrection as part of a confession
that had been handed down for years. First Corinthians was
written around A.D. 55, a mere 20 years after Christ's
resurrection. But many biblical scholars believe the confession
in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 was formulated within a few years of
Jesus' death and resurrection.
Paul noted that the resurrected Christ appeared to more than
500 people at a single time, "most of whom are still alive" (1
Cor. 15:6). If Paul had misrepresented the facts, wouldn't one
of these 500 have come forward to dispute his claims? From a
historical perspective, it seems clear that the evidence for
the Resurrection is as strong as (or stronger than) the
evidence we have for any other accepted event of ancient
Emphasize that Christianity ultimately is a relationship, not a
religion. Christianity is not just a set of doctrines or creeds
- a "dead orthodoxy." Rather it involves a personal
relationship with the living Lord of the universe. This is the
most important truth you will want to leave the liberal to
ponder because this is the ingredient of true Christianity that
the liberal "Christian" is most painfully lacking.
Jesus said His words lead to eternal life (John 6:63). But for
us to receive eternal life through His words, they must be
taken as He intended them to be taken. A liberal
reinterpretation of Scripture that fails to recognize man's sin
(Luke 19:10) and yields another Jesus and another gospel (2
Cor. 11:3-4; Gal. 1:6-9) will yield only eternal death.
The paradox underlying the liberal attempt to make Christianity
"relevant" is that for everyone to whom Christianity is "made
relevant" (those who believe miracles are unscientific), there
are likely thousands for whom it is made irrelevant. For,
indeed, the liberal version of Christianity lacks an
authentic spirituality to help people and give them hope in the
midst of life's problems. Former liberal Christian Alister
McGrath said that, among other things, liberalism's "pastoral
weakness became especially evident to me." He said "liberalism
had little to offer in the midst of the harsh pastoral
realities of unemployment, illness, and death."
In addressing the spiritual bankruptcy of liberalism, you can
use the liberal's recognition of God's love as a launch-pad to
emphasize that God loved humankind so much that He sent Jesus
into the world to die on the cross to rescue humankind from
hell. Be sure to note that Jesus - love incarnate - spoke of
God's wrath and the reality of hell in a more forceful way than
any of His disciples ever did (see, e.g., Matt. 25:46). Hence,
God's love is not incompatible with the reality of hell. Jesus
affirmed that His mission of love was to provide atonement for
human sin (for which there is plenty of empirical evidence in
our world) by His sacrificial death on the cross (Mark 10:45;
Inform the liberal that if he or she really wants to experience
the love of God, the place to begin is a living relationship
with Jesus Christ. Then tell him or her about your relationship
with Jesus. There's no better way to close a discussion with a
liberal Christian than by giving your testimony, focusing on
how your personal relationship with Jesus has changed your life
(This article was originally published as an "Effective
Evangelism" article in the Christian Research