Some Thoughts on the Wave of Deconversions and The State of Preaching Today

deconversions

It’s the hope of almost every preacher I’ve ever met that people will embrace Jesus.

That’s been my hope every time I preach.

And yet the opposite seems to be happening: more people than ever before seem to be walking away from Christ. It’s not that they haven’t been to church, they have. And they’ve left.

The wave of de-conversions among Christians seems to be growing every day.

While the stories of high profile Christian leaders walking away from their Christianity and others who are questioning their faith abound, the headlines are symptomatic of a deeper trend: atheism and spirituality not connected to any orthodox understanding of Christianity are on the rise. In fact, as the Barna Group reported, atheism has doubled in Generation Z compared to other generations.

I don’t want to be part of any Twitter mob or comment gang that piles on leaders who share their deconversions publicly. I honestly can’t see what good comes of that. Anyone who thinks judgment and hatred will win people back to the Christian faith needs to think again. Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

Anyone who thinks judgment and hatred will win people back to the Christian faith needs to think again. Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy. Click To Tweet

I feel some empathy for people who are deconverting. I too have gone through some deep questioning of my Christian faith.

Ironically, in college, my questions didn’t lead to an abandoning, but instead to an embrace of Jesus and the Christian faith. Since then, my own questions and my consideration of other viewpoints, faiths, and worldviews keep drawing me back even more deeply into the embrace of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean the questions people are asking aren’t legitimate or real.

The paradox for me personally is that my questioning of Christian assumptions over the years has deepened my faith, not eroded it. But I also realize this isn’t what’s happening for many people. They question, explore, and then leave.

So the question becomes why.

While the answer is complex, I think some of it may have to do with the state of preaching today.

In this post, I want to offer a few reflections on what might be contributing to the rise in atheism, agnosticism and the rather astonishing deconversions we keep seeing—namely, the way we preach. Obviously, that’s not the sole cause of the deconversions happening, but at some level, it has to be a contributing factor.

Preaching is one of the central features of our public worship times, and Gallup indicated that 76% of people still choose a church based on the quality of the preaching. Clearly, the way we teach and preach still has an impact, for better or worse. It’s also why my friend Mark Clark and I put this together for preachers.

There are at least three factors about our preaching that might be spurring deconversions. I share these out not to point fingers, but just to say that our current approach isn’t working nearly as well as it should or could. I also offer them as a preacher.

Preaching should help people find faith, not cause people to lose it. And it haunts me that there are tens of thousands of people who grew up in church listening to sermons who have walked away.

Here are 3 ways preaching is perhaps contributing to the rash of deconversion stories we’re seeing.

Preaching should help people find faith, not cause people to lose it. Click To Tweet

1. Our preaching can seem shallow and unresearched because often it is. 

The Christian faith is hardly simplistic or trivial. But sometimes our sermons are.

People today have access to ideas, insights, arguments, and data most didn’t have access to even a decade ago.

Why? Well, in a single word: the internet.

Think back to the early 2000s. The average person listening to a message didn’t have easy, instant access to information about whatever subject was being covered on a given Sunday.

Perhaps they went to college. Some, of course, were well-read. But the average person mostly only had access to what they saw, heard and read in the mainstream media and what they might here at church.

The Christian faith is hardly simplistic or trivial. But sometimes our sermons are. Click To Tweet

Today, virtually everyone you’re speaking to has a phone with them, and not only are some of them fact-checking you when you speak, but many (especially the unchurched and curious) have also already Googled and more deeply researched what you’re talking about.

Many have read books and even more have listened to podcasts that debate the very subject you’re covering. While you might say that’s not true of Christians in your church (maybe they only listen to Christian media), I promise it’s 100% true of any unchurched people exploring faith and Christians who are questioning their faith.

And please hear me. I am not saying Google is the most reliable or scholarly way to get great information or that the information they’re accessing online is unbiased, research-based or even helpful. But I am saying it’s real.

And compared to the intellectual depth of a lot of preaching today, the other sources people are reading and accessing, it’s not that hard to preachers to come off as shallow or unresearched.

Many of us who preach haven’t changed our study or research methods much. We’re teaching and preaching as though the internet didn’t exist, and as if people should blindly accept whatever we’re saying. I promise you they won’t.

Many preachers are teaching and preaching as though the internet didn't exist, and as if people should blindly accept whatever we're saying. I promise you they won't. Click To Tweet

I’ve found over the last decade in particular that I’m reading more, not less. Not just commentaries and theological books (which, of course, you need to), but far more widely.

Truthfully, at first, I was a little nervous to get outside of my little Christian echo-chamber and school of the already-convinced. I wondered if reading alternative viewpoints would erode or destroy my faith. (It didn’t.)

But over the last decade as I’ve read leading authors as varied as Yuval Noah Harrari, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Eckhart Tolle, Robert White, Dan Harris, Sam Harris, Mark Manson and many others (all of whom are not Christian, and some of whom are scathing in their critique of Christianity), I have a much better appreciation of the questions and objections people are carrying with them when they access a sermon, and as a result can address that.

I’ve also listened to hundreds of podcast episodes featuring people who don’t share my worldview or faith at all (like Tara Brach for example), and, while I may not agree,  it’s helped me understand what other people are listening to, exploring and increasingly embracing.

I’m not sure today’s preachers are winning the intellectual war. To simply offer advice or insight and insight and a clever line or two isn’t cutting it anymore, at least if you’re speaking to people who are exploring other world views, which I assume you are.

And to use the line “just preach the Word and trust God” is a denial of responsibility. There is a power in the text and a power in the Holy Spirit that is undeniable and for which I am deeply grateful and rely on greatly in my preaching. But that doesn’t mean you just fail to prepare and hope it all works out.

But perhaps one of the reasons God used the Apostle Paul so powerfully is that he was deeply schooled not just in Judaism, but because he understood the mind of the Epicureans, Stoics and Greek philosophers. He understood differing world views and used that knowledge to draw people into the embrace of Jesus as Lord.

If God created the mind, then thinking isn’t inherently an enemy of faith. In fact, good thinking can just as easily lead back to Christ as it does away from him. I would, of course, argue even more so does good thinking lead to Christ than it leads away from him.

Thinking more deeply and praying more deeply are both needed in preaching today.

If God created the mind, then thinking isn't inherently an enemy of faith. Thinking more deeply and praying more deeply are both needed in preaching today. Click To Tweet

2. Knocking down straw men doesn’t impress anyone. Shoot for steel.

It’s a classic debating tactic to set up the opposing point of view as a straw argument or straw man (a bad argument), and then knock it/him down to show how compelling your point of view is. A slight variation is to reduce and ridicule the other side until it seems only fools could believe that.

Classic example:

To believe Darwinian explanations of unguided evolution is like believing a tornado swept through a junkyard and randomly assembled a fully functional 747 jet.

That’s actually a moderately decent analogy with some truth behind it, but you have not nearly made your case. Finding a clever metaphor like that can help, but it is not a complete argument. A lot of preachers pretend it is, and with one clever analogy feel they’ve buried unguided evolution.

Hardly.

Leaving it at a simplistic, dismissive level gives the impression that people who believe unguided evolution are unintelligent, which they clearly are not.  Atheists, skeptics and people who embrace alternate spiritualities are not stupid people. Many of them are incredibly intelligent. All of them are made in the image of God.

Atheists, skeptics and people who embrace alternate spiritualities are not stupid people. Many of them are incredibly intelligent. All of them are made in the image of God. Click To Tweet

Taking opposing views seriously is one of the best ways to respect people who think differently than you and perhaps gain a hearing.

I haven’t always done this well, but fast forward to a more recent example of where I tried to engage the opposing view more seriously. Below is the description I wrote for a message I preached earlier this year in a series I called Undrink the KoolAid. The message is about science and faith:

Religion is basically how ancients understood the world, but science has taken us so far beyond that. Between what we know about evolution, astronomy, genetics, biology, and so many other sciences, we’ve explained what we used to attribute to God. If science explains or will explain everything, why do we really need God?

I wrote the summary of the message not from a Christian viewpoint, but from an opposing viewpoint because that’s exactly how I’ve heard many atheists and skeptics talk about religion and science. When they read that, they are far more likely to be surprised and say to themselves A church actually understands what I think? Further, a growing number of Christians in your congregation are thinking the same thing. They just haven’t said it out loud.

Of course, during the message I argue that a deep understanding of science can just as easily lead toward faith as away from it, and quote not only scripture but a number of scientists and then explore the thinking of the 17th-century physicist, mathematician, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. (You can watch the message here if you’re interested.)

Taking the counter-argument seriously and presenting some of its strongest points makes your argument stronger. And, of course, if you can’t counter the counter-argument with strong points, well, that’s a whole other issue.

Taking the opposing view seriously makes people who hold the opposing view take you more seriously. Ridiculing your opponent makes you less persuasive, not more persuasive.

And it makes your viewpoint seem like a far more plausible alternative to theirs.

Ridiculing someone rarely makes them want to embrace you or what you stand for.

For bonus points, think about how this principle could change the current political discourse. It’s really what we all long for, but no one seems to be leading the way. So lead.

Taking the opposing view seriously makes people who hold the opposing view take you more seriously. Ridiculing someone rarely makes them want to embrace you or what you stand for. Click To Tweet

3. Being Closed to Questions and Conversation Closes Doors

Sometimes I wonder how many times people would have stuck around if Christians had been better with questions and conversations. But we seem more interested in making a point, defending what we believe or winning arguments.

Sure, whenever you speak from any point of view, you’re making an argument (hence my first two points).

But ultimately, the point isn’t to win an argument; it’s to win the person. There’s no point in winning an argument and losing people.

Yes, logic matters. Yes, truth and being firm in your convictions matter, a lot. But people matter even more. And you don’t have to sacrifice one to keep the other.

If you win arguments and lose people, have you really won?

There's no point in winning an argument and losing people. If you win arguments and lose people, have you really won? Click To Tweet

The reality is everyone has questions. You do, I do. Everybody who’s ever listened to a sermon has questions.

The issue is: where can you bring those questions? And too often in the church, the answer is nowhere.

You asked about evolution, science, reincarnation or sexuality and got a pat answer. Or no answer. Or worse, you got judged for asking the question.

I don’t know about you, sometimes when I’m asking a question, I’m not really even looking for an answer nearly as much as I’m looking for a conversation or simply for someone to listen.

In my personal conversations with atheists, agnostics and others who don’t share my faith perspective, I’m trying much harder to hold my tongue, listen, not rush in with pat answers, honor their questions (or at least the intent behind them) and show respect. Do you know what happens a remarkable number of times? They talk themselves out of their question or make the point I would have made anyway. They just needed someone to listen long enough.

Further, when you listen, give them credit and tell them they’re really thinking (which in most cases, they really are) and you appreciate the questions, they are shocked to find an open-minded Christian. And usually what they want is another conversation.

Preaching works that way too.

Let people know their questions are important.

If you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up. That does a disservice to God and to them. And if the answer is unknowable (as sometimes it is, tell them that while we can’t be certain of issue X, here’s what we’re thinking about issue Y.)

If they have a good point, tell them.

And of course, in the process, share the hope that’s in you too.

Being open to dialogue makes people open to you. And being open to questions ultimately helps people be open to different answers.

Embracing peoples’ questions makes them far more open to embracing different answers.

So what happens if you can’t handle questions, conversations and dialogue?

Easy. People leave. They’ll take their questions elsewhere.

Someone else will listen, empathize and over time, perhaps even persuade them of a new way to think and believe. And you won’t.

In fact, that may be exactly what’s happening.

And then you’re left with your absolutist friends believing you’re right and everyone else is wrong.

Embracing peoples' questions makes them far more open to embracing different answers. Click To Tweet

3 Things You Can Do

Before I let you go…let me reiterate that I am firmly convinced that Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life and that I hold an orthodox view of the Christian faith.

I just think we’re losing people like crazy in our new, post-modern reality.

If you want to grow in this area further, try this. They’re easy to understand, really hard to do, but so worth it.

  1. Read, study and understand opposing points of view. Some of the authors/podcasters mentioned in this article are great places to start. You can’t address a different point of view if you don’t understand it.
  2. Become friends with a thoughtful atheist, agnostic or someone entirely different than you. I have a few atheists and agnostics in my life I hang out with regularly. They’re smart, well-read and push me to new levels of my faith and ability to articulate it that would never happen if I didn’t have those relationships. I am learning loads. So, they tell me, are they.
  3. Embrace questions. When you embrace a question, you embrace the questioner. Similarly, when you’re open to hearing people, they’re far more open to hearing you.
When you embrace a question, you embrace the questioner. When you're open to hearing people, they're far more open to hearing you. Click To Tweet

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art of better preaching

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Sunday’s coming. Boost your ability to connect!

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What Are You Seeing?

I know this isn’t an easy subject. What are you learning?

What are you changing?

28 Comments

  1. Travis Henderson on September 9, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Carey,
    I so appreciate this message! I’ve felt this way for some time now. It breaks my heart that it’s difficult to get other Christian leaders to see this. I noticed that last time I read through the book of Acts that the first thing Paul did when he entered a new city was he went to the Synagogue and “REASONED with them that Jesus is the Christ.” The very man who stated elsewhere, that his preaching was not with eloquence or wisdom but with the Spirit and power, still used reason and argument to appeal to the hearts and minds of the people he sought to reach. I have since then started listening to a variety of podcasts concerning different philosophies and world views in order to better understand them and know how to appeal to them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 9, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      Love it Travis, keep it up!

  2. Scott Wright on August 30, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Awesome article. We need to wake up ALL of us.

    First of all atheism and other types of ideologies are well thought out and as you said many of the people who adopt this type of ideology are very intelligent. The main issue our culture is facing and it is an addiction we all have even as evangelical Christians, it is convenience. Everything in our society is so easy to attain when it comes to knowledge. The speed of delivery and execution of it is off the charts. Convenience has become our god. And we worship it. Atheism is built on this premise as is many other ideologies. Most ideologies [other than Christianity, Judaism and Islam (which believe in one and ALL powerful God)] has the assumption that the person is the center of their universe, that everything comes from their own thinking and that they are center of their destiny in some form or fashion, however that is not true and no matter how many people believe it. Make no mistake though in their minds they have VALID reasons for this belief. In the natural state it isn’t hard for any of us to imagine how one could believe this. Our culture has made convenience iconic in every aspect of life. Everything is built on it. The faster and easier everything is to attain in life the more of a shift toward this type of thinking society will gravitate to. It is literally the foundation of what the bible talks about in that people will become lovers of themselves. Unfortunately convenience is the center of how we now view everything and we center our lives around it and it has led and continues to lead to all kinds of other idealogies and the spread of them. Culture is king and convenience is at the heart of our culture.
    This is why we need to continuously learn and relearn our faith. Pray and learn constantly.
    Love is the first response we as Christians need to have toward anyone who has not surrendered to Christ. We also need to have a strong understanding of our faith and it’s components. This is important. However knowledge is not enough. We live in the power of the Holy Spirit. All revelation and revival is led by the Holy Spirit and praying in the spirit for the words and the movement of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life is vital. All great things including great movements both individually and corporately must be preceded with prayer. Another piece to this is discipleship. We can’t just have converts we need growth and maturity in our faith and part of that is discipling others. We must work to this endlessly in making disciples. Jesus didn’t ask us to go and make disciples he commanded us. If we want people to stop walking away from the faith we need to teach them (develop around us a culture) where they get discipled. It is vital. When I say us this is not just pastors it takes all of us as Christians. We all must invest. See John 21:15-17 & Matthew 28:16-20. The overall key is culture and that is developing a culture that incorporates winning, building, sending & continually working with people so they feel part of the what is taking shape. When culture starts to fall apart then an identity crisis occurs and that leads to people searching for other ways to understand and be fulfilled. When Christians lose their sense of identity then they become easy targets to be led away from the faith. Discipling, encouraging and loving those around us must be constant and developing a culture that continually incorporates this is imperative. Sorry for rambling on but this article provoked this response in me.

    • Mrs. Paul Owczarek on August 31, 2019 at 5:00 am

      I left the Catholic Church because it wasn’t SAFE!

      The response of the clergy to the pedophile crisis was essentially – They are male. They are ALLOWED to rape anyone they want.

      The entire ‘pro-life’ movement has the medical competency of the anit-vaxers and are actively trying to do everything possible to INCREASE the fetal and maternal death rates. Why would the millenials stay in an organization that is LITERALLY TRYING TO KILL THEM?!

      I was a 3-4 X/week,50 year plus, cradle Roman Catholic watching the pedophile crisis in horror, especially when the previous entity in possession of the vatican compared women who want to be priests to pedophiles. Then the PA bishops ordered all the priests to blatantly lie about PA Bill 1947 which extended the statute of limitations on pedophiles. I complained to my local priest; who handed out the “Catholic’ League’s Essay “Women’s Moral Descent” with its theme that men have the right and moral obligation to decide which women deserve to be raped. I called my daughter at college, crying, saying that all the priests were depraved perverts totally dedicated to worshipping their dicks. Her response, “Duh, Mom!. I’m sorry you had to figure it out in such a painful way.

      From what I can tell, this campaign was led by Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput (Slap You). – Archbishop Chaput is listed as a major supporter of Bill Donahue’s ‘Catholic’ League.- Bill Donahue’s opinion was the “the Bill had only ONE purpose – To Stick it to Catholics” – implying he believes pedophilia is right exclusive to Catholics. Bill Donahue is a believer in ‘Catholic astrology.. Archbishop Slap You has singlehandedly done the most to jeopardize Catholic Youth and their faith. He was just chosen to go to the vatican’s Youth Sin Nod
      I will NEVER set foot in a Catholic Church again

      because I will LITERALLY BE DAMMED IF I WORSHIP THE GREAT PENIS IN THE SKY TO WHICH YOU MUST SACRIFICE CHILDREN! “Men Explain Religion to Me’ subverting God to promote paganism, rape, murder, homophobia, and pedophilia.

    • Dawn on August 31, 2019 at 8:05 am

      “When culture starts to fall apart then an identity crisis occurs…” This is an insightful statement. I think there is much truth there. People who de-convert are different than those who were never “churched” at all; they know the arguments/apologetics, they have read the right Christian books, they grew up in a culture where faith was the norm.

      An then an identity crises occurs. One is forced to choose between seemingly opposing, dichotomous identities… person of faith or science? LBTQ or Christian… feminist and advocate for women, or turning a blind eye to the permitted sexism that still exists within the everyday status quo of the church (where “feminism” is a dirty word…)? Reconciling these identities is, and continues to be, my great challenge. We can argue that the world supports these, in my opinion, false dichotomies, but I believe the church was the one who started them (we like to make Christian movies now about the hostility to faith in academia, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was the church that forced Galileo to choose between his data that the world was round, not flat, and being excommunicated from the church).

      What if the gospel could be “simple”; not housed in a social minefield of judgement and social exclusion? Better arguments doesn’t work for people facing this challenge. Relationship and understanding helps a lot…

      These are my thoughts of course. I realize this thread is now a few days old. But that statement resonated with me…

  3. Dawn on August 28, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    Really enjoyed this post. Thank you. Best response I have read or watched on this topic yet.

    I identify with the journey of those who have “deconstructed” much of their previous approach to faith, and although I ultimately did not “deconvert” , I really can say that I don’t believe that there is ever just one, or even a few, simples reasons why an individual experiences such a massive change in perspective; instead, I think there is almost always a culmination of reasons, big and small, that add up over time (even more so, I can imagine, when one was previously a leader in the church). Some of those reasons may be intellectual, but I think it is rarely that alone. It is frustrating for me to hear religious leaders be quick to add hasty judgements and explanations rather than try and understand. Thank you for not doing that in this post (such magnanimous responses seem so far and few between….)

    This will sound cliche, no doubt, but “being” the answer to me is more important that “having” the answer; interacting with other Christians who were comfortable with questions rather than needing to have all the “answers”, and who were interested in understanding and listening rather than “judging” or arrogantly assuming they knew it all, and who were willing to accept individuals with diverse opinions rather than enforce blind conformity, meant so much to me on my own journey. I really hope these former Christian leaders find such people on their journey too. It’s amazing how much healing comes from that alone.

    Thank you again. Loved the piece.

  4. Kevin W on August 28, 2019 at 9:07 am

    What we are missing is a true “Move of God” — as the old Pentecostals would call it. I feel that what you have posted here is valid, and much of what you say is a gateway to that “move of God” in our services.
    But we must understand is that we must be hungry for His Presence, and move away from our business as usual. It isn’t working. The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman: He never comes where He isn’t truly invited. There are also a few prerequisites that must be addressed before we can see such a Manifestation — of which we ignore.
    There is a vast difference in ’emotionalism’ and a true Visitation. Many cannot tell the difference. Rest assuredly once you’ve been touched by a “Move of God” in your services, you will be hungry for more. There’s no mistaking when the Spirit permeates the atmosphere. Even the ungodly sense it. (I’ve experienced this too many times in my 50 year walk with the Lord.) People need to come to church hungry for God, hungry for a special Word from God. A Special Touch. It’s a spiritual need. The thirst will never be quenched from good words. People have Spiritual issues, that can only be met Spiritually.

    Our worship plays a big part in how we enter into His Presence. The Word tells us to worship Him in ‘Spirit (worship) and in Truth (Word).’ Too often our worship teams try to conjure the Holy Spirit — which was once considered in the Old Testament as unacceptable by God. We invite His Presence into His house with thankful hearts and with one mind and accord (unity of purpose). Our people must be hungry for it. More importantly, our leaders must preach it, and live it — under the Power of the Anointing (a message lived out, backed with a true conviction).

    Only the Spirit can break the chains. Anointing breaks the yoke. That covers a lot of ground. We need the Move of God.

    This can be a long discussion, and many would write me off as one of those old time Pentecostals (of which I am..proudly.) What we’ve written off in the past 35 years in the Body of Christ may be just what we desperately need today: the Move of God. We can come up with all kinds of reasons why we experiencing such a ‘falling away’ today — as we continue to lose out and lose touch with those who truly seek the Lord, saved and unsaved.

    • Dawn on August 28, 2019 at 9:00 pm

      I can firmly attest to the fact that even individuals who have experienced and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit can “fall away” too. I have seen charismatic churches that do experience God, and yet are so immensely dysfunctional in terms of their culture, it ultimately detracts from what God wants to do and creates a non-sustainable environment.

      My point is simply this: there is no one simple answer as to why some people leave, and why some of those who leave ultimately come back, and why some leave and never do. Listening, though, and not assuming, is a great place to start…

  5. Mark Hicks on August 27, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Hi Carey – Your interview with John Ortberg and his comments about Dallas Willard and Eternity is Now in Session made my heart sing. For me, that episode exemplified much of what you’re advocating in this post. It worked for me and my bet is that it will resonate with many who sometimes struggle with our traditions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 27, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      So glad to hear it was helpful!

  6. Kevin on August 27, 2019 at 7:19 am

    “Taking the opposing view seriously makes people who hold the opposing view take you more seriously. Ridiculing someone rarely makes them want to embrace you or what you stand for.”
    Just out of curiosity if ridiculing people doesn’t work to win someone to your side can you explain how Dawkins and other well known atheists have found such large followings? There are full of condescension and ridicule of Christianity and anyone who disagrees with them. Do they take “seriously” the opposing view of others? I totally agree that as believers we are called to a higher standard but the above statement is simply not true or else atheism would not have much of the traction it has. The atheist speakers who have the largest crowds are those who are deriding and mocking those who dare question them.

    • Tom Lundeen on August 27, 2019 at 3:44 pm

      I always appreciate what you have to share, Carey, and there are good things in this post to reflect on, for sure. I do think that Kevin does bring up a very valid point, one that I had thought of while reading your post, and his comments are very succinct and I think important to grapple with, as well. So while I’m not advocating we use the type of tactics these well-known atheists use, I also don’t think we can make a blanket statement that says if we just listen and play nice that that also will change people’s minds. When I watch Ravi Z. and other apologists speaking to critical crowds, while there is always grace and politeness in their tone, they are also not afraid to directly confront false thinking, premises, and ideas in clear language with the idea of persuasion. Since the purpose of preaching is not to simply convey information (that’s teaching), but to also persuade people to make a choice/decision/take an action, there has to be that element in a message, or it’s not preaching. Paul understood Greek philosophical thinking and paganism, but he also wasn’t afraid to say to the cultural and intellectual elite of Athens, “You worship what you don’t know”; he didn’t shy away from using the term “ignorance” to describe where they were at spiritually; he pointed them to a resurrected Jesus; and he called them to repentance.
      We live in such interesting times, don’t we? The challenges and opportunities to share the greatest good news ever are unique in some ways, and common (historically) in other ways. Thanks again Carey and Kevin for your thoughtful words and challenges.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on August 28, 2019 at 6:05 am

        Ravi is a great example of relentless intellectual and spiritual honesty and winsome tone. 🙂

    • Andrew on August 28, 2019 at 1:52 am

      Perhaps they don’t Kevin, but they don’t have the grand responsibility to win men to Christ. We do. Thus we are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Our approach is different from theirs for a reason

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 28, 2019 at 6:05 am

      Kevin,

      That’s a really good point. I think the debate is changing a bit, and I don’t think that in the end that’s the long game that will win.

      And even if they do it, studying the hermenutic and approach of Paul in say, Acts 17, or Romans, there’s a respect for opposing views and an understanding of them that does us well.

      Sam Harris (who is very mocking of Christians) debated with Jordan Peterson (who will not publicly identifying as a Christian, has many sympathetic views and is clearly a theist), and Peterson I think carries the day because he acceeds more points to Harris than Harris would to those who oppose him.

      Regardless, we have the command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And we are supposed to be motivated by the power of the Holy Spirit, who I really don’t see riddiculing, shaming and writing off people.

      I’ve also found in my personal interaction that respect gets you a long way.

      So I think you’re absolutely right in one sense, but I’m also arguing we need to change the tone. Curious about your thoughts.

      Carey

  7. Mark on August 27, 2019 at 7:05 am

    Where are the Christian scholars? The church forgot about making them or they all turned inward. There are 2000 years of people asking questions of Christian scholars and probably 4000+ years of Jews asking questions of the rabbis. Jesus took questions. Why are those responses ignored or intentionally forgotten? Why do the few people who speak out dumb down their answers and bash the educated question?

  8. Paul Allen on August 26, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks, Carey, very interesting topic.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 27, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      Glad you like it!

  9. Daryl DeKlerk on August 26, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks for a timely topic, as a friend just defected from ministry and his marriage. I loved the line, “(Sometimes) They talk themselves out of their question or make the point I would have made anyway. They just needed someone to listen long enough.” Just had that yesterday after church with someone who’s been reading a lot of Buddhist resources. After seeking to understand him thorough, he was thrilled to see 2 Peter 1, that in Christ we “participate in the divine nature.” That really resonated with him, the big difference that getting to ‘nirvana’ isn’t up to him anymore but already accomplished by Jesus!

  10. Bill Berger on August 26, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Carey,
    Wow, nailed it! Thank you for this post. I agree with you 100% Living in Seattle, this is a great challenge. At our church, we say we are a church for all who believe, doubt, and seek. We understand that we don’t have the market on certainty. So, like you so eloquently stated, acknowledging and engaging people who are smart, and educated is a value we should all embrace.

    Thank you for your encouragement and timely help with these issues. You are a great coach!

    Press on!
    Bill Berger

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 27, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks so much for the encouraging words Bill!

      Carey

  11. Geoff White on August 26, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    Good topic. I find it interesting that you classify the opposition as post modern, yet it would seem that the arguments of e.g. Richard Dawkins appear to be rational (whether or not well grounded) rather than emotional/experiential in nature. Classification notwithstanding, the naturalistic hypothesis is vulnerable on two fronts: 1) Scientific and 2) existential. On the scientific front, your readers might want to refer to the work of the Discovery Institute which argues in (IMHO) a rather compelling fashion that real science points to a Designer. There are many excellent videos on YouTube by e.g. Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe and James Tour. On the existential front, Tim Keller (The Reason for God), Ravi Zacharias and others do an excellent job of exposing the bankrupt social outworkings of atheism. Bottom line, neo Darwinism is not in accord with the entire body of scientific knowledge, and it’s practical implications are manifest in a chaotic and decaying world. With tools like these one can confidently and lovingly engage the most arrogant and hardened skeptic.

  12. Dennis on August 26, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Great points and completely valid! My experience has been that even when the preacher, teaching pastor, whatever they’re called do all the right things to make unchurched, anti-church, etc. people feel welcome despite their views there are people in the pews who don’t. My church is a prime example. It is only 25 years old and was launched as “a new way to do church.” It is focused on leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus, not giving them an ultimatum to “follow or leave.” However, many of the regular attenders over the age of 40 came from other churches. Some of those churches had/have very different views on welcoming those who don’t look, act, or think the way WE do when their feet first walk down the aisle to a pew and are even less tolerant of those who would dare question their beliefs. Most of those transplanted Christians are able to make the transition to a church model that is different from where they came from, but for some it is more difficult. Those are the ones who, perhaps unintentionally but very effectively, “run off” new people by clinging to the practices and beliefs that were a part of their old church and doing some of the very things their new pastor(s) have stopped saying and doing or maybe never even did.
    We all (not just the teaching pastor(s) ) need to be aware of how we respond to people whose beliefs may be very different from our own. I’m not saying to compromise your beliefs or “just go along” with anything and everything in order to keep the peace, just be intentional about responding to them in a way that reflects the love of Christ for them even if that love isn’t shining back just yet. Easier said than done? Absolutely! Worth the extra effort? Definitely!

  13. Fr. Jeff on August 26, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Thanks Carey. While I know there’s a lot that needs reforming in the Catholic Church, especially in regards to evangelism, one of the things I truly appreciate about Catholicism is the intellectual depth and tradition. It doesn’t always translate well in a Sunday sermon, but striking the right balance is key. As a younger man what I loved about John Paul II and Benedict XVI was their relentless courage to tackle the big questions.

    My own observation of the recent Hillsong apostate is that evangelism always needs to be wedded to catechesis. Without one or the other we get a very unbalanced and unhealthy view of Christianity. “Always Be Ready to Give a Reason for Your Hope” (1 Peter 3:15).

  14. Joanna Chapman on August 26, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Wow .. so good! Thank you so much for speaking on this current subject!!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 26, 2019 at 11:52 am

      Glad to help!

  15. David Levandusky on August 26, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Great article, well stated, and needs to be read by hundreds of Pastors. I have befriended and dealt with a local intellectual agnostic for about twenty years. He is the main writer on the local editorial page and enjoys bashing conservative people whether ministers, evangelical movements or conservative politics. I took him out for lunch one day and faced him with his bashing and hatred and he befriended me ever since. We still have lunch together from time along with the former local newspaper editor. I feel like the elementary school age kid when with them but listen, learn and share my biblical convictions which they might not agree with but highly respect. They see it lived out more than just talked or preached.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 26, 2019 at 11:51 am

      Wow!

      So good. Keep it up!

      Carey

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