1) those who have been exposed to it before, and
2) those who have not been exposed to it.
We can further sub-divide category 1 into at least three groups:
b) agnostics (heard it but never really studied it in depth or if they have, have not reached a conclusion, and
c) heard it, but reject it for any number of reasons.
One of the difficulties many face in their approach to evangelism of group C is not having adequate “touch points” within which to build a basis for sharing the gospel. We want to grab a person, quote from scripture to tell them they are hell-bound without even appreciating that they place no truth value on the scriptures. This is like a member of the LDS church quoting to us from the Book of Mormon. We reject the book, so any statement from it fails to motivate us. What we lack is a way to get behind the person’s own view to help them work toward placing a truth value in scripture.
One approach to sharing with a skeptic (I am going to group skeptics and atheists together just for brevity, one could argue there are distinct differences between the two, but for the purpose of this I am going to set those aside for discussion) is the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts approach takes a view of only holding to those minimal facts that the overwhelming majority of scholars would assent to accepting as true. A simple list of those facts is:
- Jesus died on the cross and was buried
- Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body
- Jesus’ disciples believed they saw the resurrected Jesus after his death
- Jesus’ disciples were transformed following these sightings of him
Given these minimal facts, we can reach a number of possible conclusions:
- The disciples were simply wrong about His death
- The disciples lied about the resurrection
- The disciples were delusional
- The disciples did not see Jesus, but either an imposter or someone like Him.
- The disciples were influenced by limited spiritual sightings
- The disciples’ observations were distorted later
- The disciples saw the resurrected Christ
Is it possible to eliminate any of these potential conclusion to arrive a the most likely conclusion given the minimal facts and what we know of the disciples reports? While scripture can surely be used as a building block in our approach through minimal facts, we can’t just simply point at the text and say, “there, see”. To the skeptic, that approach would suffer from the same reasoning by which we would deny a claim from the Book of Mormon or the Koran. We need to be able to demonstrate that our answers and elimination of possible conclusions is rational and follows the accepted criteria of the minimal facts framework — noticeably missing in that framework is that the biblical texts are independently truth.
In saying that, i want to provide a caution. The minimal facts approach does not in any way deny the veracity of scripture. As Christians, we simply have the ability to employ the minimal facts approach to meet the non-believer/skeptic where they are. We don’t require them first to assent to the truthfulness of scripture, although we are confident that if examined sincerely, the scriptures withstand reasonable challenges and can be trusted as God’s revelation to us.
(This work draws heavily from the Minimal Facts Approach as demonstrated by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and most recently in J. Warner Wallace’s book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’ published by David C. Cook. This work is available at http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Case-Christianity-Homicide-Detective-Investigates/dp/1434704696.)