A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interacting with fellow apologists in an online forum. I thought I’d share some of the questions and my responses here on Theorems & Theology.
Sean posted the following thoughts and questions:
My question concerns sharing the faith with other scientists. I am a researcher and I find that many of my colleagues are curious when they discover I’m devout, but I am still learning how to try to deepen that curiosity.
How do you go about witnessing to your fellow researchers? Do you have some examples of how you have kindled that curiosity?
Hi, Sean. Thanks for the question! It’s great that you’re an insider! And that your colleagues are curious when they learn you are devout or serious about your beliefs and life as a Christ-follower. I would say that any sign of curiosity on their part suggests a much deeper curiosity and openness to know more than you might imagine. But it’s really important to remember everyone you encounter will be coming from different experiences and levels of understanding, curiosity, self-examination, awareness, and longing.
So, some things may work well with some people and different things with others. Aside from that important nugget, another one is to realize that every encounter you have with a person is a chance to scatter seeds of the gospel into their lives, and you do that both by the life you live and the words you share. Be praying that God puts other Christians in their lives that will be scattering seeds, too!
Often it requires time—time to build a relationship, time to understand where they are, and what touchstones God might be using to reach them. In other words, don’t anticipate mass revival and response after a single conversation! Although God could do this, most of my witness with colleagues is long-lived and ongoing.
Ask Good Questions
Learn to have confidence in God and the truth of a well-lived and well-thought-through Christian life and faith. Pray. Invite the activity of the Holy Spirit into the other person’s life and your relationship with them. Listen to the promptings of the Spirit and to the other person. Ask good open-ended questions. Researchers love questions and problem solving, so phrase your questions to engage their problem-solving mode or their curiosity to deeper levels. Drop small, meaningful spiritual content. If they respond positively, keep going deeper until they change the topic. I offer suggestions on these kinds of questions and some related insights in a talk I give. (See below.)
Live Out Your Faith Honestly
I can’t overemphasize the significance of living authentically in your ups and downs, in your own questions, failings, frailties, and consistent pursuit of forgiveness and deeper understanding and deeper Christlikeness. My greatest witness to my friends in science has often been in times of my deepest struggle and calling out to God or clinging to him while I wait for clarity.
But in our times of flourishing, our message of hope and purpose and meaningful life in Christ is also very powerful. I have had opportunities when colleagues are struggling to simply say to them, “I’ll be praying for you. Is there anything in particular you’d like me to pray for as I do?” And they often do, to my surprise!
I think another really important thing you can keep in mind and act on is to be authentically curious about their lives. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions about what they think or believe. Ask them and then listen.
Create Space and Deconstruct False Views of God
A couple more suggestions. Help make space for them to step back from the busyness of their work and other commitments. Invite them to dinner or go on a hike together, or something like that. Creating space can help them take time to ponder deeper questions and reflect on life away from the urgency of deadlines and work. And help deconstruct false views of God, Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian/Christ-follower. I’ve given a talk where I unpack some of these ideas and offer several insights and suggested questions that I think are helpful. You can check out part of that talk here. (The suggested questions begin at time signature 1:02:20.)
And remember not everyone will be hungry or curious; that’s okay, treat them with respect and kindness. That respect will matter to those who are curious already and may just cause others to become more curious as to why you are that way in the midst of a pretty competitive field.
Additional Thoughts and Resources
Here are some additional ways to respond to inquiries about our Christian faith. “How Would You Introduce Your Faith?” is a blog post by Kenneth Samples where he suggests books you could share with others.
Also, helping others to see that there is no conflict between science and Christianity and that the conflict instead arises between opposing philosophical commitments can be helpful. I do that in this blog post: “Failures to Philosophize, and in these YouTube videos: “Models for the Relationship between Science and Religion (Christianity): Introduction,” “Models for the Relationship between Science and Religion (Christianity): Conflict,” “Models for the Relationship between Science and Religion (Christianity): Independence,” “Models for the Relationship between Science and Religion (Christianity): Dialogue,” “Models for the Relationship between Science and Religion (Christianity): Integration, Pt 1,”and “Models for the Relationship between Science and Religion (Christianity): Integration, Pt 2.”