Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Witnessing and Misdirection

Most falsehoods don’t come with handy labels
Put them on the spot, and people won’t always tell the truth.

They may throw up smokescreens, use cover stories, ask questions they don’t really want answered, tell outright lies — engage in every variety of misdirection.

This comes as no surprise to anyone with the gift of evangelism, or anyone without it who tries to talk to people about the Lord. Where the subject of faith is concerned, it takes wisdom and experience to discern what really matters.

At least initially, people tend to be least candid about the things that mean the most.

My first encounter with this sort of misdirection was in the mid-eighties with a fellow college student who claimed to be very interested in Jesus Christ, but had a “few” questions about the Bible first. I naturally offered to help in any way that I could. He handed me a list of conundrums along the lines of “Where did Cain get his wife?”

Okay, the issues seemed important to him, so fair enough.

None of the questions was beyond my ability to handle, though one or two required a little research. After a couple of days I gave him back six or seven pages of notes in response. He barely glanced at them before handing over a list of another fifteen to twenty questions of the same sort.

A little frustrated, I wondered aloud which questions were really priorities to him, and how many more he was likely to have before he would give the claims of Jesus Christ serious consideration. He responded that, assuming God exists, as long as he died seeking truth, he expected to be safe from hell.

Interesting theology, that.

But it seemed to me that I was wasting both my time and his, because the arguments he presented me had nothing to do with his real issue, which may have been unwillingness to commit.

The Bradley Effect

If you have never heard of the “Bradley Effect”, you are far from alone.

The Bradley Effect is yet another symptom of living in a post-moral society where free speech is rapidly disappearing, primarily via self-censorship. It is also a symptom of the disappearance of the Christian virtue of honesty from our public interactions.

Tom Bradley was mayor of Los Angeles up until 1982, when he decided to run for governor of California. Bradley, a black, led significantly in the polls yet lost the election to George Deukmejian, a white of Armenian background.

The theory that emerged is that a number of white voters deliberately gave false answers to pollsters, fearing that to state their true preference would open them up to charges of racism.

Social Desirability Bias

The Bradley Effect is just one example of what is referred to as “social desirability bias”. Why don’t I just let Wikipedia explain that one:
Social desirability bias is a social science research term that describes the tendency of survey respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. It can take the form of over-reporting ‘good behavior’ or under-reporting ‘bad’, or undesirable behavior. The tendency poses a serious problem with conducting research with self-reports, especially questionnaires. This bias interferes with the interpretation of average tendencies as well as individual differences.”
Now of course social desirability bias and the Bradley Effect refer to responses to surveys, but it seems to me that any believer approaching someone ‘cold’ — whether on a plane, train, at their front door or in the street — is in a position not wildly dissimilar to that of a pollster. In trying to probe for some way in which Christ can be effectively communicated, he or she frequently asks questions and the conversation proceeds in good faith on the basis of the answers received.

In that situation, some people are going to tell you more or less what they think you want to hear.

Wikipedia has a short list of things about which people tend to bend the truth a little in such personal or potentially confrontational situations with strangers, a few of which might interest Christians: things like religion (surprise, surprise), things like feelings of low self-worth and powerlessness … and even things like sin (which of course Wikipedia simply refers to as “illegal acts”).

If everybody doesn’t lie outright, many do. These sorts of fabrications may influence the way all but the most spiritually perceptive among us respond.


Many moons ago on Too Hot to Handle, Immanuel Can and I discussed Justin Buzzard’s book The Big Story. Mr. Buzzard’s point is that effective evangelism involves connecting with the “stories” people tell themselves about their lives. IC and I disagreed. We both feel such stories are often, if not always, doled out with a large helping of fiction, intentionally or otherwise.

Quite often we deceive ourselves more frequently and more convincingly than anyone else.

Self-deception may well be the biggest potential hindrance to evangelism.

Depending on Ourselves

With all these potential “truth landmines” to navigate, attempting to go too deeply into the minds and hearts of those we have just met seems to me a bit of a fool’s errand. I don’t mean that it is of no value at all to use our own experience and spiritual judgment to assess the truth or falsehood of a person’s responses to the word of God or the level of their interest in what we are saying, but the fact is that we are often easily fooled. I know I am.

This is where I am discovering that the Holy Spirit’s work is infinitely more important than mine. I am discovering that I need to pray before, after and during every encounter.

I know, Witnessing 101, right?

Convicting the World

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. I’m just the person through whom he may elect to speak about Christ. The Holy Spirit was given to address three issues that, in one form or another, everybody needs to deal with:
  1. They do not believe in Jesus Christ. The fundamental sin; the sin that sends people to hell, is not homosexuality, adultery, divorce, greed, idolatry or any of the Ten Commandments. It is the rejection of the Father’s gift of his precious Son. If we want to preach in harmony with the Spirit of God, we will point directly to Christ. All the rest is mere detail. Many preachers often forget this in their desire to tweak the consciences of their hearers and convict them of their need. But where we (at best) may tweak a conscience, the Holy Spirit can pierce a heart. We do not need to know everything about our audience to speak faithfully about Christ.
  2. The Lord Jesus has returned to the Father, and cannot be visibly seen. This means another visible, living example of righteousness is useful, but only to the extent that this example accurately reflects the righteousness of Christ. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I of Christ”. To the degree that we reflect him in our speech, conduct and display of genuine love, we give the Holy Spirit something tangible to work with. We do not need to know everything about our audience to model Christ.
  3. The ruler of this world is judged. Two things: First, the nicest unsaved person we will ever speak to about Christ, even the ones nicer than we are, remains subject to the “ruler of this world” and stands with him under judgment. This is true despite outward decency, pleasantness and charm. Second, the execution of that judgment is looming and inevitable. To the extent that we catch the urgency of this, we recognize that all the decent, moral behavior in the world without Christ as its motive and energy cannot save. We do not need to know everything about our audience to feel the same sort of compassion for them and desire for their salvation that the Lord Jesus feels.
What to Do When We Don’t Know

We cannot know what the Holy Spirit is doing in any individual heart, at least not until it is made clear to us through confession of faith or obvious rejection. And even obvious rejection may be only striking an intellectual pose on the way to a major breakthrough.

It’s good to listen, but we should not put too much stock in the answers we receive. They are often the last gasps of rationalization, self-justification and fear. We do not need to know everything about a person’s thought process to give them what they really need.

Someone recently pointed out from the platform that we are not called to convict the world of sin, or righteousness, or judgment. That is the Holy Spirit’s work. We cannot, like the Lord Jesus, expect to be able to prophesy on the spot in order to produce conviction. Conscience, the word of God and the activity of His Spirit are more than adequate to show each sinner that they have a problem that needs addressing.

What we are called to do is share the solution.


  1. Comment 1:
    "To the extent that we catch the urgency of this, we recognize that all the decent, moral behavior in the world without Christ as its motive and energy cannot save."

    The above might be a sensitive touchstone for protestants, however, I will engage in it anyway. I agree with a lot in this blog but, in my opinion, there are some grey areas here that warrant discussion. The above statement makes perfect sense to protestants (and perhaps to most Christians) but it is one of those grey areas. My reason for saying that is something that I mentioned before and that is extremely important to me. It ties in with my desire to see the world as a place that can and must be rationally explainable when all things are said and done. There is nothing that could convince me of adhering to religion (of any persuasion) if I would not be convinced that there is a rational basis for its existence. And that's why I eliminate religions and select Christianity in that it embodies that rationality the most.

    Being rational means that it adheres to comprehensible rules and methods that would otherwise demand a fairy tale type of faith that is totally unrealistic and not grounded. Christian faith is grounded because of Christ appearing in history, his life, the moral content of his teaching, and the continuity and fit of its propositions with the natural order of the physical world and the psychological order of the human spirit. Now, the above lead statement (in quotes) is not fully grounded in such a way and therefore somewhat suspect to me. Here is what I mean.

    I, you, and all people know that people who lived before Christ must be exempted from that statement since God is not arbitrary. Also, even after his birth it is only in our time that we can approximately suggest that the plurality of people should at least have heard about Christ. This is far from being familiar enough with his teaching to permit the rational choice test for adopting a religion as I mentioned above. It is clear to me therefore that Peter's insight applies were he states that all men/women are acceptable to God if they (based on observation from natural law)
    acted in a manner that is acceptable to God. Now, I realize that this whole thing is addressed as one of the first topics in Theology 101, but I never took that course and am wondering if the teacher would have had a hard time with me :-).

  2. Comment 1 contd.:

    Here is another iteration on this point. In one of my previous comments I mentioned that, in my opinion, it is a mistake to suggest that there is no continuity from this world into the hereafter. Given that there is continuity, that demands that human interaction and relationships will continue in a normal manner familiar to us all including if and when we meet Christ. Now, I know that normal people who are social and gregarious will have no problem shaking someone's hand and will be friendly and courteous to a newcomer they are being introduced to. This regardless of whether they have or have not heard of this newcomer before. There are plenty of those people around who have lived a decent live and, if you asked them, would probably be happy to meet someone like Christ and shake his hand. Undoubtedly we cannot suspect that Christ would be less friendly towards them in turn, can we? These people must of course learn that there is a different modus operandi when meeting Christ that demands some other adjustment on their part, namely the fact that meeting God also calls for worship, which many will not be prepared for. Now, the Catholic Church and other Christian faiths accommodate that through the notion of purgatory where you may have to spend some time to learn the essentials about your new life. But quite frankly am I to assume that I am friendlier than Christ by not tossing out half of our acquaintances who are all decent people, many of whom are contending with difficulties and suffer but nevertheless have not taken up our example of trying to live a Christian life? I don't think so and I for one am looking for the rational basis that can certainly integrate all of Christ's teaching without having to toss out 80% of humanity.

  3. Qman, I'm almost lead to ask if you're trying to be funny with this post, but I realize you are serious and that is disturbing in so many ways it's baffling. First, I want you to know I am praying for you as I type these words that you will allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you in a supernatural way that leaves no doubt about who God is and is not. I have no idea why I'm going to wade in here, but I'll just share a few things for you to consider. I'm also surprised, based on when you posted this last night, that the blog hosts haven't commented.

    1) Christ is NOT a compromiser - Luke 11:23 is an either/or proposition from the mouth of Christ. You'll want to read the entire chapter to get the context, but you won't find a middle ground in this statement and many others Jesus himself teaches us in these Gospels. I have several friends that are former catholics so I have some perspective and am not lost to the fact that catholic and universal are synonymous. But Qman, it doesn't work like that. Please ask God to reveal to you what being born again (John 3:3,7and 1 Peter 1:3) means. Jesus is stating that the 80% you are trying to get to heaven through some manmade fundraiser called purgatory is a lie invented by men and concocted by the "father of lies" (John 8:44).

    2) You will not "meet and shake hands" with Jesus - This is just so preposterous I can't believe I'm even having to refute the insanity of it. I don't have adequate time to go into detail here so just read these passages before you respond, please.
    Exodus 33:20-23 - This conversation between Moses and Jehovah God will give you a small clue as to what it might look like when we actually get to meet His Son.
    Matthew 17:2 - Qman, when you meet THIS Man in Glory, whether you are one of His or not, you will be on your face in total adoration. There will be no "meet and greet" as you have implied above. That concept is just such a gross mischaracterization of what will happen whether you meet Him at the Great White Throne of Judgment(Rev 20:11) or the Judgment Seat of Christ(2 Cor 5:10) that it sickens and saddens me to think you really believe in some sort of "meet and greet" to get to know Him better. Sad.

    Read Rev 20:11 carefully, do you believe that if "the earth and heavens fled from His presence" that you are going to shake hands and get a few minutes to decide if you like Him? Is this typical of what is taught in a catholic mass or God forbid taught to children in a catholic school?

    I almost hope your post was a hoax or someone is trolling by and used your name.

    Really? "purgatory?" "friendlier than Christ?" "integrate all of Christ's teaching without having to toss out 80% of humanity?"


    1. Eureka, it's finally getting a little livelier over here. Yes, Micah I do try to be funny or tongue-in-cheek when there is a reasonable opportunity. Humor is a gift from God and I make use of it without overdoing it, I hope. But you are right, I was expressing my opinion in earnest in that comment.

      Without going into all the details of your comment at this time, I will try to more clearly explain, from a bird's eye view, why I make these types of comments and observations. Maybe that can help a bit. I did mention that there has to be (must be) a rational basis for all things in this world (humanity is currently, and always has and will be) paying a steep and sad price on account of irrationality, if you watch the news. Consequently, I think it is fair to state that God is fully aware of all human history and future (a basic Christian assumption, some atheists will debate you on that), so that he is also fully aware of our capabilities for dealing with the daily chores and challenges in our lives. E.g., if you were born to parents in the Chinese hinterland who raised you as a Buddhist, or you were born in Canada to a mother who did not really want you and gave you up to be raised in the public square, then how will you meet your criteria for knowing and relating to Christ, as you propose here? I think not very well. Thus many if not most people on this globe will have to fall back on the charity of Christ, and the person fortunate enough to be in his fold already will have to be careful to not be uncharitable. It should be clear to you that God is fully aware of the current state of planet earth and definitely expects us to be his hands, eyes, and ears and get the job done in a manner that reflects well on him. That means there is and will always be a lot of handshaking and expression of human concern and love to get the message across that that is how Christ is.

    2. That's a very sad bird's eye view you have IMO. You've put God in a box living in the earthly realm. God lives in a heavenly realm that we can't begin to comprehend and can reach the spiritual heart of each type person you've described.

      It's almost as if you have no biblical background or are blinded about what the Word says about entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

      God bless

    3. Hi Micah, I came across this portion of an interview given by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mary Neal who died for 30 minutes in a kayaking accident and was then sent back by Christ. She is an Episcopalian Christian.

      Interestingly she is addressing exactly the point that got you upset with me. According to her, I got it right. Here is that portion of the interview. I read her book and it is great and extremely informative concerning the hereafter, Christ, angelic beings and coincidences like this one that are not coincidences because of the intervention of these angelic beings (their job according to her).

      Here is the interview portion.

      "Many Christians remain skeptical of near-heaven experiences like yours because so few people experience judgment or hell-like conditions. Instead, all manner of people, even non-Christians, are overcome with a sense of God’s unconditional love."

      Dr. M. Neal:
      Well, first, I would say that I know what I know. I know what I experienced. And I am not going to pretend to know what I don’t know or didn’t experience. I don’t know what other people’s experience would be. Mine was a Christian experience. There’s no question. There are people, very few people — and those people are even less motivated to talk about it — who have experienced a hell or a darkness, an emptiness. That wasn’t my experience, and so I don’t know anything about it.

      God is way greater than anything we are able to conceive of. I think human beings want to create a box and put God inside the box, because that way they can define God and control the outcome. But I’ve come to realize that God is way bigger than that. God truly loves every one of us, even the people that we don’t love and don’t think should be loved. God loves that person just as much as he loves us.

      It’s a very complex discussion, but many human beings would like to think that justice means, “I’m in and you’re out, and you’re out because you haven’t done what I understand should be the thing that gets you into heaven.”

      But God knows the heart of each one of us, and the God of the New Testament is not going to turn his back on a person who, for circumstances out of their control, has not developed that relationship in the here and now. It is outrageous to think that a just and loving God is going to turn his back on the person who is so mentally handicapped that they don’t even know what you’re talking about when you talk about faith. Or the young altar boy who is so in love with God but gets abused, and he turns to a life of drugs and alcohol. It would be very easy to say, “That boy is out.” Well, God understands that boy’s heart and life. For that matter, God understands the heart of the priest who abused him. I think it’s time for us to get out of the business of judging.

      It’s easy to be a Christian in America. It’s really easy. But I think that most of us, if we grew up in a devoutly Muslim household in Afghanistan where 98 percent of the people are Muslim, would be Muslim. That’s just the reality of it. And for us to pretend that God doesn’t love those people because they happen to be in that situation is putting our own narrowness on a God who is bigger than we are.

      That is not to say that everything is good and everything is accepted and we’re all in. But I’m not going to pretend I know the answers to all the questions. And I think it’s disingenuous for us to claim the God of the New Testament and the covenant of love and forgiveness, and at the same time turn our own backs on people who haven’t had the opportunity to understand what that means.

      "I like that line about us getting out of the judging business."

      I think that’s part of the concept of giving up on trying to control the outcome. I know what I know, and I have accepted what I don’t know. And I accept that there are things that are above my pay grade. It’s not my job. I have jobs to do on this earth, and my job is to try to figure out what they are and to do them to the best of my ability. I will let God be God.

  4. Hey Q - not entirely sure I grasp all of what you're suggesting but let me have a run at things and perhaps ask a few questions:

    You say ", it is a mistake to suggest that there is no continuity from this world into the hereafter." And I would have to largely agree - it WOULD be a mistake to say there is NO continuity at all - clearly many things with which we are comfortable and familiar are present in heaven though in a better and purified form. I've got my fingers crossed about golf....

    But I would go on to add that it would equally be a mistake to suggest that all things with which we are familiar here will be present in the life to come. Yet this is exactly where you go with your next line:

    "Given that there is continuity, that demands that human interaction and relationships will continue in a normal manner familiar to us all... ". Respectfully, there is no such rational demand that is obvious to me! As an example, we are explicitly told that a very fundamental relationship - marriages - will not be carried over at all - it is entirely possible (I'd suggest likely) that other relationships will be severed or fundamentally altered as well.

    But as to the larger point of the original post, you seem to be taking issue with the idea that those who remain unaccepting of Christ are unable to please God with good actions. I think this is perhaps largely a semantic disagreement so let me ask a couple of questions to flesh out where you're at:

    1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

    People born after Christ was physically present on planet earth have one way and one way only to God - that is through Christ and only through Christ. Without accepting Christ, all our righteousness appears to God as "filthy rags" despite how it may look from the outside to other men. It is possible to appear to be a wonderful human being and do some amazing things but ultimately to hear God say "depart from me, I never knew you". In other words, good works do not now (nor did they ever) qualify a person for entrance to heaven.

    2. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

    Old Testament characters came to God through the effective work of Christ - despite not knowing Him personally or by name. God the Father applied the work of Christ at Calvary retroactively and dealt with them not on the basis of the blood of bulls and goats they offered but instead, those sacrifices only pointed forward to the one effective sacrifice that would be offered by Christ in a day that was then yet to come. In other words, the work of Christ is retroactively applied and is effective even for those who didn't specifically know His name or meet Him personally.

    1. Hi Bernie, let's address your main concern first. I don't think that there are golf carts in heaven, but you will probably be able to float instead of ride? :-)

      Agreed, of course, not everything can be the same. By relationships I had in mind everyday typical routine human interactions and behavior not legalistic or other formal arrangements. The link below by Dr. Mary Mc Neal, who died while on a kayaking vacation with her family, went to heaven and was sent back 20 minutes later to be resuscitated to report on heaven, is probably one of the most current, concrete descriptions of heaven by a competent person available nowadays and shows something about relationships. The strong emphasis here is that God is indescribable love and wants us not to worry. In addition, she interestingly describes that the heavenly beings she encountered took her to a beautiful place, a dome shaped building, where arriving souls had to make a final decision as to whether they wanted to spend eternity with God, or not. I researched her and she is solid and also wrote a book about her experience in which she provides the details that Christ wanted her to pass on (the reason why she was sent back). I am bringing this up because in my methodology, this adds points to my assignment of probability that God and a hereafter are feasible.

      To your point 1: I don't agree with you but only because of the way you are stating it, namely inaccurately. Please read my response to Micah's comment above. You and I know that we have to deal with constraints imposed by time and space and also intellectual, emotional and spiritual factors. It is a mistake to assume that God imposes situations on us or makes demands that we cannot always deal with because of these constraints. Let me press your argument, how about the person who was born 1/100 th of a second after Christ was born, or 1/10, or 1 sec., or 10 min. ? You get my point. My answer to Micah shows that this can be extrapolated even to our current time, 2000 years later. What you might have wanted to address (and maybe that is really what you meant) is the persons (friends and acquaintances) that I mentioned, and we have them all in our life, that simply live their life day by day, even often with great obstacles, and yet show no interest even in the idea of God. And yet, you basically hang out with them because they are school buddies, neighbors, relatives, etc., and because they are not really bad or evil people. My point is here, of course, that we are not better than Christ and if we can continue to hang out with them, it is my contention that God must have a way to not throw them overboard unless they really deserve it. That to me is rational even though I do not know what arrangement on God's part could take care of that except perhaps for purgatory (or what Dr. McNeal describes in the above link). But you could call it wishful thinking if you want and that's where we would differ.

      To your point 2: I haven't paid much thought to that but it seems reasonable since God obviously is not constrained by time and Christ was there from the very beginning. Although I have, like many people, especially nowadays (think animal rights activists) silently wondered why in the world killing an innocent animal is something that God would want in the first place. (I of course see the connection to Christ as the true living sacrifice, but tell that to secularists).