Oh, this is a big question! Not just long, but important also! Lack of evangelism is in one major sense due to pride. We fear rejection—pride. We fear ridicule—pride. And of course we fear being asked something we cannot answer—major pride. We don’t want to look like fools, so the fear that we could be wrong or left standing dumbfounded after we begin to share our faith is almost too much to bear. J.D. Payne’s discussion on this topic in his book Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s Questions is poignant and helpful for personal evangelism.
Payne answers this question in four ways. He begins by stating an important caveat: “There’s no excuse for remaining ignorant in our knowledge of the Scriptures and how to better respond to questions” (110). Admittedly though, no one knows everything! And while being asked a question to which you have no answer seems imprisoning, Payne writes that there is great freedom and liberation in evangelism in these cases: “God does not need you or me to be his bodyguard. He does not need us to be his defnse. He is big enough to take care of himself. So when someone challenges you with a question you can’t answer, don’t freak out” (110).
Ok, so, don’t freak out. Got it. But what are we to do? We have this plan of how we are going to share the gospel and then, BOOM! Someone drops a tough-question bomb on us and we are struck dead. How do we respond? Payne offers four helpful things we need in such a situation—honesty, humility, sincerity, and relationality.
First, Payne writes it is important to be honest. I have noticed children, youths, emerging adults, and adults struggling with this. They want to appear superior to others and would rather make up an answer than say the dreaded phrase, “I don’t know.” I must admit that I struggle with this at times. As a theology student, it is a shot at my ego to admit I do not know something about God or the Bible. However, Payne urges readers to be honest in conversations about Jesus. During evangelism, if you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, just admit it!
Secondly, Payne says we should be humble. “When you admit that you don’t know the answer to a question, you reveal a humility that is a witness to the power of the gospel” (111). That is helpful to think about. Admitting you don’t know an answer to a question is a powerful witness to the gospel itself. So, saying “I don’t know,” is not robbing Jesus, but rather pointing to him. Trying to show you know every answer to every question is not a sign of super Christian knowledge, but deep sinful pride.
Thirdly, sincerity is needed. Showing a willingness to seek an answer to a difficult question demonstrates genuine compassion for the person you are evangelizing.
Finally, relationality is important because when you admit you do not know the answer to a question you have the opportunity to set up a future time to discuss the question, which offers more time to share the gospel.
Being asked a difficult question during evangelism is paralyzing, but it can be an opportunity for vibrant gospel witness both in word and deed. As you share the gospel, be prepared to be asked difficult questions and while you may be able to answer some, do not be slow to honestly and humbly say, “I don’t know.”
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.