C. S. Lewis knew what non-Christians thought and believed because he himself had thought
and believed those very things. He countered the popular notion that morality is just “herd
instinct”—something different societies formulate differently—by highlighting examples of
universally held ethics. He unravelled the theory that New Testament stories were mere
fables by comparing them to works of fiction, a collection he knew well. He articulated and
then dismantled the common notion that Jesus was a mere man or just a very good teacher
by listing the many extreme claims he made. One by one, he articulated common obstacles
to belief even better than sceptics did; he took them seriously and carefully removed them.
We need to develop that same flow in our evangelism.
Getting ready to respond to objections may seem overwhelming. But it works well to break
the task down into smaller steps.
1) Know Your Abilities
First, it’s helpful to examine our own abilities to respond to objections. Has there been
someone in your life who has shaped your thinking? Perhaps your training for your
profession has made you a more logical thinker or a more sceptical inquirer—or more
curious to learn, or more able to see connections between things that other people only see
as separate. Or perhaps God’s call on your life involves more practical tasks than academic
ideas. Perhaps you serve people in very tangible ways.
How have your experiences shaped your compassion for people or your capacity to show
care? How have years (or decades!) of accomplishing physical tasks or fixing broken things
expanded your patience or common sense? Your job, if you have one, is not just a vehicle
for making money. Your vocation (a much better word than job) has shaped you in ways you
may not have examined or appreciated.
Based on all of this, think about what kind of discussion you’d be best placed to have. What
common objections do you feel most confident to challenge? What settings do you think you
could most easily challenge them in? Ask God to allow these God-ordained strengths of
yours to connect with God-implanted longings in your friends.
2) Know the Objectioner
Next, it is worth taking another look at the list of non-Christians you pray for. What objections
are they likely to raise? Are they questions about suffering? Exclusivity? The Bible?
Morality? Hypocrisy? Something else? Have they raised some of these objections already?
How have you handled them in the past? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by trying to tackle all
of them at once. Pick one and try to find answers online or in good apologetics books. Think
of one or two statements you can make as part of an answer. Start the conversation there
and take one step at a time.
Prepare for more of a long hike than a short stroll. What about those friends who never ask
questions about faith or God or religion? That may account for most (or all!) of the people on
your prayer list—but don’t assume there’s no drama going on inside their heads. You may be
surprised how they’ll respond if you wonder out loud with something like “You know I’m
interested in spiritual things, right? Do you ever wonder about those kinds of topics?” or “If
you don’t want to talk about this, that’s ok. But I’m curious about your spiritual beliefs. Have
you ever been interested in faith or things like that?” Invite them to air their objections by
asking what stops them from investigating faith more—or even start by wondering aloud
what they think holds people back from belief in general.
3) Know What You Don’t Know
Here’s another idea. Don’t be afraid to restart dialogues. You may feel you missed an
opportunity when someone asked you a question. Perhaps you did! But asking for a second
chance does not hurt. In fact, it could communicate to your friend that you care about them
enough to mull over their question. It might also display a kind of humility that they rarely see
Returning to a previously blown opportunity could sound like this: “Do you remember that
time you asked me that question about God and I didn’t know how to answer? I’ve been
thinking about it. I think it’s a really important question. Would you be up for discussing it
again? I still don’t have all the answers, but I’d love to talk to you about it.”
One final caution: I do not think this process of responding to strongly held objections is
easy. Neither did C.S. Lewis. In God in the Dock, he warned, “This is very troublesome and it
means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential.”
When we read through the book of Acts, we don’t get the sense that spreading the gospel
has ever been easy: Peter, Paul, and other early believers racked up an impressive catalogue
of imprisonments, beatings, and straightforward rejection. But, in addition to presenting the
most important message we could offer, honouring people’s objections can be one of the
greatest expressions of love we can extend. It also helps to remember how this rigorous
process might end:
“There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke
15:10). Remembering this will help us as we endeavour to keep meeting our challengers with gentleness, respect, and honour.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Mere Evangelism. In the book, Randy Newman
shares 10 insights from C.S. Lewis to help you share your faith. Available here.