Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Philosophy in Evangelism

I’d like to tell you about an encounter I had yesterday with a guy I’ll call “Marv.” I was out to get something to eat, and for some reason I just believed I should talk to this young man. I didn’t know how, so I prayed something would come up naturally. Well, at first, it didn’t, and he was about to leave. So I just approached him and said, “This is something I like to ask people occasionally, and I’m wondering what you think about Jesus.” He politely responded, “Oh, I’m a nihilist.” That piqued my interest, so I told him that I was a PhD student in philosophy. Then he received his order, and headed out the door. Well, I thought, at least I tried.

After I received my own order a minute later, I headed out the door. Marv happened to be sitting outside, and as I bid him a good night, he said something like, “Good luck on your studies!” I took the opportunity to come back to him and began discussing nihilism and its attendant philosophy. He was very receptive to what I had to say, and I listened to Marv as well.

Ours was far more of a discussion than a debate. His story was that he grew up in a Southern Baptist home, but the youth group didn’t really do anything. He found himself not believing in what he had been taught at all, and at age 18 he faced an ultimatum: go to church seemingly every time the doors were open, or else move out. He chose to move out, and it sounded as though the relationship with his family and Christianity is still rough.

This was one of the few times that I have been able to use philosophy explicitly and in person in an evangelistic conversation. Marv eventually admitted that it seemed that there really is something we sense that is right or wrong about something, and not just for our culture, but for everyone; and that if there is such a thing—indeed, if there is anything beyond the physical in any way at all—then nihilism as a comprehensive worldview is false. He agreed that the world is broken due to the evil that we all commit, and he listened as I explained the Gospel.

In the end, he agreed to read the Gospel of Mark and pay attention to Jesus in it. He also appreciated any prayer. Near the end of our discussions of epistemology, ontology, morality, the will to power, brokenness, and the Gospel, I told him, “I’m telling you this because I care. In fact, I was praying about how to talk to you naturally about this, and you study philosophy and I study philosophy. Now it could be just a coincidence, but maybe, maybe, God is trying to tell you something.” He agreed to think about what I said.

He’s twenty years old, is respectful, and readily admits that he doesn’t know everything. He could really use our prayers. This post is not to toot my own horn—please understand all glory goes to God. Instead, this post is to serve two functions: 1. Please be obedient to try to share the Gospel. The worst thing to take place is that you won’t know something (and you can always find out and get back to them!) or that you’ll be rejected, just like Jesus. 2. Philosophy can easily be used in conversational evangelism, like it was with “Marv,” by asking people questions about their worldview, and then asking follow-up questions. For example, when people say morality is nothing but a social construct, you can ask their reasons for thinking that. Or else, ask if there really is a sense that some things are wrong for all, and if that might point to something greater than ourselves. In any case, philosophy really does help, as our God is a God of truth!


  1. Awesome post, Randy! I love seeing professional Christian philosophers engaging in evangelism. You're an inspiration to us all. I'll say a prayer for "Marv."

    1. Praise God! I was just happy I could use my philosophy training in real life. :)

    2. Also, for what it's worth, I don't consider myself to be a professional philosopher. At least not yet! :)


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