The Pascal Two-Step

I really first started following hard after Jesus when I was in college and, for better or for worse,  I was also a philosophy major. I loved the department, but it tends to draw more people who are hostile to Christianity than say, the math department. So I developed an affection to apologetics akin to the affection that a deep-sea diver has for the little plastic tube that is attached to his oxygen tank. Give me an hour and a cup of coffee and I’ll be more than happy to tell you why I think that the existence of the universe necessitates a God, why I think that there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and why I think the New Testament is reliable. 

But I noticed something, if someone does not want to believe in what you are selling, facts can rarely change their mind. As Oscar Wilde once noted, whoever labeled man a rational creature did so prematurely. If someone wants to disbelieve in Christianity, they can find a way. Add to that the fact that outside of the world of the college campus, people are set not to disprove God, but just not to care about him. Now, I rarely have to convince people to believe in God, instead I have to convince them to think about him. Apathy seems to have replaced hostility.

This is why I think Christians need to learn what I call the Pascal two-step. Blaise Pascal was a Christian apologist who recognized that a person who does not want to be convinced of the truth of Jesus generally won’t be. His two-step method is simple. First, make people want to believe that Christianity is true, and second, show them that it is. So much of my problem has been that I want to start with Step 2. I machine-gun fire all the reasons that Christianity is true while the other person is doing everything they can to avoid hearing any of it. So they either ignore me if they are apathetic, or throw up a smoke screen of questions if they are hostile. 

How much better to make someone want to believe. If someone is passionate about care for the poor, does it not make sense to show how in Jesus’s kingdom, material wealth does not confer status? If someone thinks that people should not be oppressed, might it be worth our time to show that the most secure grounding for human rights is that people are made in the image of God? Maybe the guilt we carry around is because we are actually guilty, and the good news of Jesus is he took our punishment instead of us. Jesus is objectively beautiful, and much of our job is to simply and cleanly present him in all his splendor. Then, once people are drawn to the beauty of Jesus, apologetics does the clean up work of clearing away all the debris that makes it hard to believe. So aim first for the heart, and maybe you will find that the work of the head is a little easier.

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