Elevator Apologetics Part 3: Do you need faith to do good?

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? In this series, Rick Mattson shares some ideas from his extensive work in apologetics. Click here for the rest of the series. 

One evening after doing an outreach event at a large campus in the Midwest, I was packing up my gear and a student approached me and said, “I can do good in society without God’s help. I don’t need God in order to be a good person and serve others.”

This is a common objection to faith, and can be summarized as follows: You don’t need God to be a good person and help others.

Problem was, my schedule was tight. I didn’t have time for a long conversation.

What I needed was an “elevator speech”—something short and memorable that would leave an impression on the student and draw him into deeper reflection.

(That’s what this blog series is about. See my two prior posts for examples.)

So I said, “That’s great that you serve! Amen to that. I know you are doing good to others.”

Then I offered my Elevator Reply: “But here is a question I’d invite you to consider: Why serve in your own strength when you could have the power of God on your side, and potentially make an even greater difference to the hurting and the needy?”

That was it. There was no chance for extended dialogue. I never saw the student again.

Had there been time, I’d have delved more into this theological background: “God cares more about the hurting, the needy, the marginalized in our society than we do. But rather than snapping his fingers and making everything better, he calls human beings into service in the power of his Spirit. He calls us to go out and make a kingdom difference in the lives of others. So while we should affirm the great work carried out by persons of other religions or no religion at all, the strongest power for transformation in our society is through humble servants acting in the power of Jesus Christ.”

But since time was short, all I did was pose the question of whether it is better to serve in our own strength or God’s. Sometimes, saying less is actually saying more.

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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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