By Scott Evans
I remember it so well. It was the year 2000. The embers of the faith I had inherited from my parents had been stoked into flames by local youth ministry and annual Christian camps. I made up my mind to be an evangelist in my school — to obey the “Great Commission” and make disciples.
At first, I was afraid. How could I argue against my indisputably more intelligent classmates? How could I convince them of something that I could not prove?
Not to fear. Help was at hand. I was living in the age of accessible apologetics. It began with Frank Morrison’s Who Moved The Stone? in 1987. Josh McDowell followed up with Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Then, in 1998, Lee Strobel blasted naysayers with The Case for Christ (though he may have been a little overzealous in following it up with The Case for Faith, The Case for Grace, The Case for the Real Jesus and The Case for Christ for Kids).
Stuffed with the highlights of these tomes, I swaggered through my school believing I had all the answers, that in five minutes I could dismantle everything from evolution to Islam. The truth was buried treasure, and I knew where it was hidden.
What I didn’t know was that for every Morrison there was a Richard Dawkins; for every McDowell there was a Hitchens; and for every Strobel there was a Stephen Fry. I wasn’t aware of the New Atheists and their (often well-founded) critiques of both historical religion and modern-day Christianity.
There is a wonderful Irish folk story about a man who caught a leprechaun. According to folklore, when a leprechaun is caught, he must obey your commands to the letter — which explains why they are so crafty. They will fulfil the words literally but will also exploit any possible loophole. Such was the case with this man who demanded to know where the leprechaun’s treasure was hidden.
Begrudgingly, the leprechaun led him deep into the forest, pointed to a tree and said, “There, beneath the roots, is where my gold is hidden.” The farmer now faced a quandary. He could not dig up the treasure by hand nor could he trust the leprechaun not to move it, so he tied a ribbon to a branch on the tree and said, “I must get my shovel. I command you not to move your treasure and not to touch my ribbon.”
When the man returned with his tools in his hand and his heart in his mouth, he found that every branch of every tree in the forest was adorned with an identical ribbon.
Such is life for a Christian in the 21st century. In the modern era (1500-2000 or so), the pursuit of truth was like seeking a leprechaun’s treasure in an unknown forest. At the turn of the century, I believed I had found it and was ready to share it with my friends.
Heartbreakingly, in the short amount of time it took me to race home and get my shovel, I found that the ribbon no longer marked the spot. Instead, it marked every spot. We had entered the age described by the Manic Street Preachers album This Is My Truth. Tell Me Yours.
I had only turned my back for a moment and the world had changed. No one was interested in debating the facts. No one cared who moved the stone. No one wanted to hear the case for Christ. As far as my world was concerned, the evidence no longer demanded a verdict.
For many of us, this was a jarring, disorienting experience. It took the wind out of our sails and knocked our feet out from under us. Over the last ten years I’ve spent in youth ministry, however, I have learned that this new era offers us new possibilities for mission and ministry.
A Heartfelt Conversation
A few years ago, my team and I were volunteering at a youth festival in Wicklow. Joining us for that weekend was a work experience student - one of the most insightful and deep-thinking young people I’ve ever met. He wasn’t a Christian, but he was fascinated by the youth ministry we did and the potential it had for impacting people’s lives.
Sitting around a fire one evening, we began to talk deeply about our faith and how it shapes our lives. Later, I asked the student how he felt about what was said and if any of it resonated with him.
He answered, “Yeah man, it’s really interesting stuff. But I’m not really into the Christian thing. I’m more of a believer in reincarnation. What do you think of reincarnation?”
I had been well-prepared but poorly trained for this moment. So much of my Christian training and experience had told me that I should immediately lambast reincarnation as unbiblical and correct his philosophy with sound teaching.
But he didn’t ask me what the Bible said about it. He asked me what I thought of it.
I replied, “I know I don’t believe in reincarnation... But I haven’t really thought about why. Let me come back to you.”
The next morning, I picked him up on the way to the festival. As we drove, I told him: “I’ve been thinking about reincarnation and I’ve figured out why I don’t believe in it. I understand why it would be a compelling belief about the next life but, for me, it ruins life in the here and now.
“If reincarnation is how the world works, then everybody I meet is getting what they deserve. So if they’re rich or beautiful or healthy or happy, they probably deserve to be and I should honour that. So too with the poor, the hurting, and the disenfranchised getting the life they deserve.
“If that’s the case, then reincarnation calls me to resign myself to the world as it is. Christianity, however, calls me to live in opposition to the way the world is. The Kingdom of God that the Bible describes calls Christians to revolution and transformation.”
His response was brilliant. “I guess I can’t really believe in reincarnation any more, can I?”
This was not an intellectual argument about religion. It was a heart-filled conversation about living in tune with the God who made the world.
A Different Kind of Evidence
I wrote earlier that ‘the evidence doesn’t demand a verdict,’ but perhaps it’s not as simple as that. Perhaps the world is looking for a different kind of evidence, a different kind of declaration of the truth of the risen Jesus. This evidence will not be found in the bones of lives long past but rather in the flesh of lives here in the present; not in apologetics and archaeology but rather in servanthood and sacrifice.
As we seek to share the truth, we must acknowledge that the world in which we live is more likely to look at our financial statements than our doctrinal statements. As John Ortberg said, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me how you live and I’ll tell you what you believe.”
It is scary living in a world that is uninterested in our logical answers, but if we can get past that fear, we will discover that people are fascinated by those who live the Jesus life in beautiful and compelling ways.
Scott Evans is an Irish speaker, blogger, and author of three books: Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes, and Failing from the Front. You can find out more about Scott and his work at www.scottevans.ie, or find him on Twitter at @notscottevans.