Elevator Apologetics, Part 2: Religion equals ignorance?

Are you new to graduate school and looking for ways to respond when people around you ask questions about faith? Or searching for some helpful shorthand to distill your years-long study of apologetics into a brief conversation? Sometimes we only have a moment to share a question or idea that can be a springboard to later conversations. In this new series, Rick Mattson shares some ideas for these moments from his extensive work in apologetics.


In my prior post I noted that in apologetic dialogue (making a case for Christian faith), conversations with skeptics are often brief, leaving us little time to explain our points.

Thus we need a quick “elevator speech” that provokes reflection and curiosity in the other person.

Jesus modeled this approach many times. In Mark 2 (NIV), for example, the Pharisees ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ reply is both succinct and provocative: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now that’s cutting to the chase. In just a few words Jesus reveals to the Pharisees how they exclude themselves from God’s blessing.

Ignorance?

So let’s consider a common skeptic’s objection:Religion is nothing more than superstition and ignorance.”

How could we respond to this critique with a brief statement that draws the skeptic into deeper reflection and engagement?

First, some theological background (not actually verbalized on our part): In fact, a very good case can be made for Christianity. It’s called a “cumulative case“ or “inference to best explanation.” This method pulls together evidence from a variety of disciplines—such as science, philosophy, history and psychology—to argue for the truth of Christianity.

It’s like a lawyer in a civil lawsuit who collects various pieces of evidence and fits them together to build an argument. Any single element by itself might not be persuasive, but when all the pieces interlock in a coherent pattern (like a completed puzzle), the effect can be very convincing to a judge or jury. That’s what we mean by a cumulative case.

Elevator reply (what we actually say to the skeptic. Remember, he/she said, “Religion is nothing more than superstition and ignorance.”):

You’re entitled to your opinion, but many Christians think a very good case can be made for Christian faith from science, philosophy and history. It’s like a lawyer who brings together evidence from a variety of sources to make a convincing case to a judge or jury. It’s called a “cumulative case,” and can be very convincing.

Parting question to the skeptic: “You seem like a person who values knowledge. Would you like to learn more about the case for faith?”

* * *

The question at the end is meant to linger in the mind of the skeptic, offering a gentle challenge to consider the truth claims of Christianity.

To learn more about the cumulative case for faith, see Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2011), or C. Stephen Evans, Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Baker Press, 2015).

For a deeper look at how to use the cumulative case in actual conversation, see chapter three of my Faith is Like Skydiving: And Other Memorable Images for Dialogue with Seekers and Skeptics (InterVarsity Press, 2014).

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Rick Mattson

Rick Mattson is a national evangelist and apologist for InterVarsity, speaking at over fifty campuses the past few years. He lives in St. Paul, MN with his family. As part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Rick Mattson's call is to strengthen and encourage Christian students and faculty in their faith, and invite seekers and skeptics to consider Christ for their lives. He studied at Bethel Seminary of St. Paul, MN, where he received his masters in the philosophy of religion. Rick's committed to compassion, reason, and respect in his interactions with both "friend and foe" on campus. He's also highly committed to InterVarsity's value of multiethnicity. Rick loves talking with students and faculty about the great questions of life! What could be more fun??? At home, Rick's a committed family man, serious golfer, and plays e-guitar in the band at his church. . . . And of course he spends a lot of time reading theology and philosophy :)

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