Growing in our Ability to Persuade and Convince

This past Sunday, we talked about the fact that faithfully communicating the gospel involves our active efforts of persuading and convincing people of its truth. We see this clearly throughout the book of Acts, and Luke’s description of Paul’s effort in Corinth is a good example: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

Toward that end, I briefly ran through a handful of ways we can grow in our ability to make a compelling case for the gospel. I thought I’d reproduce that list here and expand on it just a bit.

1. Read the Bible on a consistent basis. This is fundamental, but it might not be something we immediately think of in this context. But here’s the point: if you want to be able to make a compelling case for the truth about who Jesus is and what he’s done, then it becomes much easier if you have a mature knowledge of those things. And the entire Bible, in one way or another, is an elaboration on Jesus and the gospel (see Luke 24:44).

2. Ask yourself this question: can I explain the basic message of the gospel to someone else? If you can’t answer this affirmatively, then this is an obvious place to begin learning. It’s one thing to know the gospel yourself, but it’s another to be able to explain it accurately and succinctly to someone else. Want a helpful primer? Check out this creative video from Southern Seminary, as well as John Stott’s classic book, Basic Christianity.

3. Ask yourself another question: if I had to explain the gospel to someone without using biblical vocabulary or “churchy” terms, how would I do it? I had to do this as an exercise in one of my seminary classes and the experience remains in the back of my mind whenever I talk about the gospel with someone. Given the fact that so many people in our culture don’t have much familiarity with the Bible at all, it’s vitally important that we think through how we can explain it in understandable terms.

4. As you interact with people outside the Christian faith, identify areas of belief that you have in common. Ask yourself how those areas that might be bridges to help explain the gospel and make it resonate with that person should you get the opportunity. This is exactly what Paul does in Acts 17 in his speech before the Areopagus. There, Paul approvingly quotes pagan poets to build his case. He also carefully interacts with (sometimes affirming, sometimes challenging) some of the more prominent philosophical/religious ideas of the day (see a discussion of any good commentary). Obviously, none of us will start out with anything approaching the skill of Paul in this regard. Still, the more you do this the better at it you become, and we’ve all got to start somewhere.

5. Similar to the previous point, when you run across challenges to Christianity, wherever you find them (TV, movies, books, magazines, on the web, conversations, etc.) think about how you would respond. If you’re not sure, try to pursue it. Ask a mature Christian about it. Or try to find a book that speaks to the issue. This leads to the last point.

6. Read books by authors who are gifted in presenting the gospel message in a compelling fashion and defending the truth of Christianity. And there is no shortage of such works—we have several available in our bookstore, including the following list.

A few classics:
Basic Christianity—John Stott.
The God Who is There—Francis Schaeffer
Mere Christianity—C. S. Lewis

A handful of very helpful recent works:
The Heart of Evangelism—Jerram Barrs
The Reason for God—Tim Keller
Finding Common Ground—Tim Downs
The Case for Christ—Lee Stroebel

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