It was an early start for the Solas team as we headed North to see our great friends at Kiltarlity Free Church. Kiltarlity is a small village of less than a thousand people in the Scottish Highlands, a few miles west of Inverness. The Free Church near the centre of the village is deeply committed to mission in their area, indeed their website has the strapline “Sharing the good news of Jesus in the rural Highlands”. As part of that, their minister Stephen Allison invited Solas to lead a half-day Confident Christianity conference on everyday evangelism.
Andy Bannister was joined in the speaking team by Clare Williams, who had travelled up from the south of England to speak in the Highlands for the first time, and I had the privilege of addressing a Confident Christianity conference also for the first time. What was on offer was a blend of apologetics, theological reflection and practical training all designed to equip God’s people spiritually, intellectually and practically for the exciting task of evangelism today.
Andy Bannister spoke first on the increasingly relevant topic of engaging the apathetic in spiritual conversations. There are huge numbers of people who say they “don’t do God”, and wouldn’t come to an overtly Christian event – but who are passionate about many important things. Andy explained that many Christians are drawing these people towards considering the gospel – not by confronting them directly – but by exploring what matters to them most, and then helping them connect that to the gospel. Human Rights, environmentalism, and love are just three important examples of these passions which make little or no sense in atheism, but are explained most clearly in a Christian worldview. The bridge Andy uses to help these folks start to join the dots between these convictions and the gospel is “Have You Ever Wondered” questions. You can find out more about this here, and there are more Have You Ever Wondered questions to consider here too.
Clare Williams spoke next and she took us into some very helpful apologetics. The truth is that when we engage people in spiritual conversations, or even get as far as inviting them to consider trusting in Jesus themselves; many people have all kinds of objections. Learning to respond helpfully to people’s questions and push-backs is an important part of evangelism today and something that Solas is really passionate about. Obviously we need to distinguish between different kinds of objections; objections to what the gospel is are rather different to those based on misunderstandings or misinformation. Equally people can raise objections for different reasons, from painful life experience to playing philosophical games to heartfelt searching for truth.
A very significant, and genuine objection that many people raise today is that the Christian faith is unjust, and is a tool of oppression. This, Clare argued is a subject which has been overlooked by classical apologetics, but is a pressing concern in the Black majority churches of which she is a part. “Does Jesus matter in an age of moral outrage?” was her title, and Clare achieved several important things in her short talk. She affirmed that a sense of justice and moral outrage was a vital response to oppression, showed that the oppression of Black people in the (sometimes in the name of Christianity) was itself an outrage, and a violation of Christianity; and then showed that justice points us to the God of the Bible. She landed her talk with a quote from the brilliant Lisa Fields who pointed out that we need deliverance from both “the sin of slavery” and the greater “slavery of sin”. True liberation from both those things is found in Jesus.
After the break I had the privilege of doing a bit of theological reflection on the way in which we share the gospel today. Apologetics has had a bad press in some quarters, as it has been regarded as trying to argue people into the kingdom of God, and reliant too much on human reasoning and pride and not enough on the Holy Spirit. I sought to outline a biblical approach in which we use apologetics in the way the Apostles did in the New Testament, to lead people into truth – as a work dependent on the Holy Spirit. All true conversions, I suggested, need to convince the mind that Jesus died for us and rose again, and are also completely miraculous works of the Spirit in giving New Birth. As such, our task as Christians is to learn to be as good as we can at evangelism and apologetics; but to pray unceasingly for the lost and our witness too. Our Solas colleague Gareth Black summarized it neatly when he wrote:
In the Q&A, we had all sorts of interesting questions about everything from prayer, to how to prepare an evangelistic message, to several pointed questions about parenting teenagers. It was good to meet people from all over the Inverness region, catch up with several old friends and renew fellowship in the gospel. It was a smaller crowd than last time we were up in Kiltarlity, but a really worthwhile occasion which it was a privilege to contribute to. That evening Clare and the team returned to the church to do a youth event which was packed with young people from youth groups across the area. After Clare had picked up some themes around God and justice, she was bombarded with questions sent in via text and social media platforms. It sounds like a great night, which I was personally sorry to miss. I was driving back down the A9 preparing for a Solas event in Perth the following day!
Many thanks to our great hosts at Kiltarlity and to Clare Williams for travelling all the way up from the south of England for these events. It’s our prayer and desire that beyond just keeping evangelism on the church’s agenda, that these events will embolden and encourage the church in her mission – and that we might be able to bring an event like this to many more towns and villages all over the country.