The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Donald Johnson. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today’s interview is with Donald J. Johnson. He’s President of Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries, and has served in vocational ministry since 1993, including five years an inner city youth worker, and six as a college-career pastor. You can hear him speak with skeptics on his radio broadcast and podcast, The Don Johnson Show. He’s also author of the soon-to-be-released book, How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics.
The purpose of today’s interview is to learn a bit more about Don and his ministry, discuss his strategies for speaking with skeptics and get his advice for apologists. Well, thanks for joining me for today’s interview, Don.
DJ: Yeah, very—you’re very welcome, Brian. I appreciate it. I’m honored to be on.
BA: Well, Don, I’ve listened to your podcasts since ages past, and have gained a lot from them, and I’m happy to interview you today. And as we get started, would you mind telling our listeners a bit about yourself and your ministry?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely. My name is Don, and I have the very unique ministry title of Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries. I’ve been doing that since about 2003, I think officially, although, many years before that, sort of unofficially. Our ministry has sort of a three-fold purpose and focus. On one hand, we’re a traditional proclamation ministry. As sort of the name indicates, I have hung out with evangelists for years, and when we started, I thought that was going to be kind of my focus, is to hold festivals and preach the gospel in whatever way we could, through media and large group meetings and such. And we do that; we still do that, mostly overseas now, but that was our original focus, and we’re still sort of—that’s the foundation, if you will, proclamation evangelism.
But over the years, we’ve moved into a couple of other areas. We’re heavily into conversational—a conversational ministry now, sort of conversational evangelism. I’ve done a radio show in one form or another since the late ’90s, and we do a lot of open forum events. And I just like talking with unbelievers, face-to-face, over the phone, through email, chatting, text, whatever.
And so, the ministry, yeah, focuses a lot more recently, in the last few years on conversational evangelism. And also then, sort of out of that, we also have an equipping ministry that’s growing month to month actually, as more and more people are running into more and more unbelievers. They’re looking for help, and so I go around to churches and colleges and different places to sort of train and equip believers, and help them talk to their unbelieving friends. So that’s sort of the three main focuses of Don Johnson Ministries.
BA: Well, excellent. You know, you mentioned there starting out with evangelism, and that’s one of the things that got me interested into apologetics. You know, it helped me in my own walk, but after that, I realized that I needed to go deeper because evangelism was very difficult without being able to give an answer. What started you down the road of apologetics in the first place? Was it simply through evangelistic interaction, or how did that come about?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely, I think you know, I agree with you completely. That’s how I got into it as well. My focus has always been missions and evangelism, and still is. And so I sort of backed into apologetics, in that when I was out there, doing whatever evangelism we were doing, whether that was inner city work, or college and career ministry, or going overseas, I mean people had a lot of questions. They had a lot of objections, and I couldn’t always answer, or know even what to do with them. And so, sort of out of necessity, I started studying and have never stopped really.
I mean we just keep studying, keep learning, and yeah, so the apologetics and the evangelism are just intricately entwined for me. In fact, I was listening to Lee Strobel. I was at a conference with Lee Strobel just last week, and one of his opening remarks was, “Well, people think of me as an apologist, but actually, I’m more of an evangelist who uses apologetics to reach people.” And I thought, yeah, that’s me, that’s right on the money, Lee. So, yeah, I’m sort of in that vein. I sort of backed into apologetics, and found that I really enjoy it, but it’s always sort of in a service of evangelism for me.
BA: Yeah, great. Well, you mentioned study, and you have an MA in Apologetics from Biola. And I think our listeners are always interested in hearing about the various apologetics programs that are out there. So what’s been your experience with Biola’s program?
DJ: Yeah, I love Biola. I was sort of in the first wave of graduates out of the program in the late ’90s, early 2000. I think I graduated in ’01, right when it was sort of rising up. And they have—I mean they’ve worked really hard at Biola to make that the best program in the world. Who am I to argue if somebody wants to claim that? I haven’t experienced all of the programs, but I know this is a really good one. I actually live just a couple of miles from Biola, and so I’ve—over the years, have interacted with them and attended those conferences, and know the people there. And yeah, first rate group; can’t say enough about it. And they have distance now, as far as I understand, so you don’t even have to be here in Southern California to take part. So that’s—I love that.
BA: Yeah, well, excellent. Thanks for sharing that, Don. Now one thing I want to talk about in today’s interview is some of—are some of the ideas in your new book, which is yet to be released here in just a month or so. It’s called How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics. So you’ve had your good share of experience doing call-in radio programs. You’ve mentioned missions and evangelism, speaking with those who are skeptical of the Christian faith. So what’s your goal in writing the book? What’s your overarching theme?
DJ: Yeah, well, you know, the reason—I guess one of the first questions even I had when I thought about writing the book is, you know, why do we really need another apologetics book? I mean there’s a lot of them out there, and do I have sort of anything to add to the conversation? And how it came about actually, was—I mean as you know, Brian, the last five to ten years, it feels like in doing ministry, that the skeptics that I talk to—first, there’s become more of them, and they’ve become more emboldened, if you will, more aggressive. They’re much more antagonistic towards Christianity. And so I felt that in my own ministry, and at the same time, I was noticing I was getting a lot more emails and questions from other believers who were also feeling that.
They’d go to the family gathering, you know, they’re hanging out at Thanksgiving, and the uncle, who usually was quiet about religion was now antagonistic. They’re getting posts on their Facebook pages from people who they haven’t heard from for years, saying how stupid they are to be a Christian, this sort of thing. And so I was getting all these request, how do I deal with this Don, how do I deal with this? And I’m trying to figure it out myself. I’m like yeah, we’re in a realm here where the skeptics are—you’re facing them more and more in everyday life, and it’s becoming more difficult, too. And so, you know, I was trying to answer these questions and think about what I was doing, and how I was doing it. And sort of over the years, a seminar developed.
I was asked to give a seminar on this topic, and so I put together some notes, you know, and talked about all the mistakes that I’ve made, and what not to do, and this sort of thing, and put the seminar together. And the response was overwhelming. I was just shocked by it. People were like, “Man, we need that. Do you have the notes, please? I’ll send you an email. Send me the stuff.” And I got more requests for seminars, and I kept doing it. And eventually, it just struck me that well, the need is there. People do need this tool, and so I ended up—I never set out to write a book, I’ll tell you that. It seemed like too big of a job to me. But sort of out of all this teaching, a book sort of grew out of it, and here it is, sort of based on my—sort of on the mistakes that I’ve made and what not to do, I came up with sort of a model of well, here’s what to do.
BA: Well, I like it a lot, and I want to recommend people get their hands on it. It’s—I guess if I’m comparing it to anything, I might think of it as along the lines of Tactics by Greg Koukl; although, totally not that same—it’s not just a rehash or a different version of that. It’s more. It’s more content along the lines of how to interact and the content of your interactions, the tone of your interactions. So we’ll talk a bit more about that, but let’s talk about this. What do you think are some of the big, or maybe recurring mistakes that Christians tend to make when they are speaking with their skeptical friends about faith?
DJ: Yeah, you know, just going on the mistakes that I made, and I did end up—I would you know, as a radio show host, I would—after a conversation, I would tend to think about man, what went wrong there, because that didn’t turn out well, you know. And after each show, I’d sort of think—or even interaction on the street or through email, I’d think man, that—something went wrong there. And so I tried to really look at what I have done wrong. And so I’m hesitant to say what other people—I mean people have good hearts and they’re doing their best. I think what happens is they tend to get inadvertently sidetracked or bogged down in a conversation because of—of yeah, I guess we could call them some mistakes.
Here’s a few. I talk about these more extensively in the book, but I do think we tend to go into conversations sometimes with unclear goals, or maybe even bad goals, and so you think about—you know, you’re going to talk to a skeptic, you’re going to have coffee with that unbeliever, and you know, what is it you’re trying to accomplish there? And for me, I mean often it was hey, I want to win an argument or defend my pride, or convert this person right here, or convince them of something. I mean, and often, I just didn’t really know what I was doing in the conversation. I didn’t really have a proper goal. You know, maybe in the end, I’m just trying to make you realize how stupid you are for that. And you know, sometimes it’s actually sinful.
So I think one of the first things we need to do, mistakes we need to avoid if you will, is to have a—not have an unclear goal. You need to have a very proper goal and specific goal going into a conversation. That’s one of the big ones. Another is that we tend to let the skeptic dictate the topic of conversation, and the various rabbit trails that a conversation will go down, and so we end up playing defense all the time. Whatever topic the skeptic has, we’re going to address it. All right, let me answer you that question. And then before you’ve gotten two minutes into your answer, they’re off on another one. “Oh, okay, well, let’s switch to that one.” And the Christian ends up just being led around in the conversation, and always playing defense. And I think yeah, we really need to avoid that. That’s the death knell to an effective conversation, I think.
And so you know, on the other hand, I mean I think this is less common now, but sometimes we’ll go into it with sort of a script, you know. “Well, if you say this, I’m going to say this,” or, “Whatever you say, I’m going to present these truths to you.” And so it’s not very natural. The conversation sort of doesn’t really flow naturally. So, that’s another big mistake I think is that either we’re followed—the conversation flows naturally for the skeptic, but we’re just following along, or we’re trying to impose an unnatural order on the conversation. And either way, you know, you run into a lot of trouble, I think.
BA: Yeah. Well, I’m thinking about apologetics books in general, and I think tend to associate them with information mostly, but yours is part of those breed of apologetics books that I don’t think information, I think insights. And I love those, and one of my goals in doing interviews is not just to get information, but to get insights for us as soul winners, as Christian case makers.
BA: One thing that I want you to elaborate on is something you talk about in your book, how unbelievers might tend to think that Christians are just trying to—you know, just out there trying to sell them something. How do you go into that in the book, and what’s a better approach?
DJ: Yeah, I think one of the first things we need to realize—this is one of the opening chapters in the book—is about—is that the skeptic is probably going to treat you as a salesman, as—understand that that’s your project, you’re trying to sell them something. The reason for this is that, I think a lot of Christians are essentially sales people. And by that, I mean they think of Christianity as a consumer product, and as we all know, as people who buy consumer products, the reason to buy a consumer product is that it provides a service to you or it meets some need or desire that you have.
And so, I mean if you think about it, if a skeptic came to your town and went to all the various churches or religious gatherings in town and said, “Hey, you know, I’m just kind of on the search here. I’m just looking around. Why should I join yours,” chances are, they would get the list of benefits that they would receive from joining that congregation or whatever. Or you go to somebody’s website, right, these church websites, I mean what are you going to see? We have children’s ministry and great worship, and a good coffee bar, and we’ve got all these things that you will benefit from, that you’ll receive, if you come and attend our church, right. And the problem with the consumer mentality, I think, is that it just fundamentally understands the nature of religion. And I, of course, expand on this a little bit more in the book.
But the first thing I think we need to realize is that religions are not there to meet our needs. They’re not consumer products, they’re world views. They tell us—they answer the big questions about reality. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why is there evil in the world? Is there a solution? What is that solution? How then should we live? What happens when we die? Religions answer those questions, and as such, they are much more like a roadmap, or they make claims about the nature of reality. And as such, we shouldn’t choose religions based on whether or not we like them or we find them appealing, or they meet some sort of need in us.
I mean the only reason ultimately, to accept or reject any religion, including Christianity, is that it’s true, is that it’s accurate. And so I think fundamentally, we need to have that worldview understanding of Christianity in approaching a skeptic. I mean I think of Sam Harris. He wrote his book The End of Faith, in the mid—I don’t know, 2004 or something like that, mid-2000s. And he got a bunch of—obviously, he got a response from Christians, and one of the responses was, “But Sam, if we reject God, we won’t have any morality; we won’t have moral people.” And he rightly responded, I thought, with that. He says, “You know what, even if –even if atheism resulted in immoral people, that still is not ultimately the question.
The question is whether or not what I’m saying is true. I mean even if atheism resulted in chaos, if it’s true, it’s true, and that’s what I want in a worldview, in a religion, is that it be true, so don’t try to sell me your Christianity based on the benefits,” he says, “I want to know whether or not it’s true.” And I think that’s the right attitude because if you approach it as a product, as something to be sold, and you—the first thing you do in your conversation is present all the benefits of Christianity to the person. Well, what if they decide they don’t want those things? You know, I don’t really like coffee, I don’t really like music, and I’ve got enough friends, so I don’t really need your church. What are you left with? I mean in selling, the customer is always right, right? So that’s—I think we need to frame the conversation as one of competing worldviews, and that’s sort of essential and fundamental to the conversational endeavor, if you will.
BA: Yeah, well, unpack this idea, how you would actually go about that because in the book, you talk about the importance of making conversations about worldviews, and not just their objections to Christianity. And I can think of so many times when, as you say, it’s just objection after objection, and maybe the Christian is being led around, back and forth. And you’re not getting anywhere, you’re just—things popping up here and there, and you’re chasing them all around. How might someone go about steering things in the right way? How do you go about making it about the worldview?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I—no matter what the objection, unless the person actually is—I mean some people genuinely have a question about a particular topic, and it’s not so much that they’re presenting as an objection to Christianity, they’re just genuinely confused about this issue, then we can talk about it. But in general, what happens is you enter into a conversation with a skeptic, and they’ll throw out an objection, and you start to answer right away. I never do that anymore, at least not in that context. I will say, “Listen, I’m glad to talk about that. I’m glad to address your question, but first we need to establish a broader topic for conversation.” Sometimes I’ll just even say that.
If you listen to the shows at all, I often just either establish that before the guest comes on the air, like this is the topic of conversation; or I will make sure that we make it the topic of conversation. [We need to] talk about worldviews. We need to talk about the big questions of life. We need to talk about the big questions of life. We need to establish this as our topic, so that all these other conversations that you want to have about these various topics, so that they can make sense, because if you just go off on a conversation about the resurrection or whatever, well, that person—I mean one of the reasons not to do that is that person is holding to a particular worldview. And he will interpret all of the conversation within that context. And you are approaching it from a Christian worldview, and you will interpret the whole conversation within your context. And ultimately, you’ll be talking about two completely different things.
You’ll talk way past each other because you haven’t established sort of the fundamental truths about the—fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality first. And so the conversation really can’t go anywhere because you have all these presuppositions about the nature of reality that are influencing the way you think. And so what I like to do is, “Listen, first we need to talk about those fundamental things.” First we need to get to some bedrock questions about the nature of reality, talk about those, and then we can talk about some of these other topics. I mean this doesn’t—not only does this help provide the context for the rest of those conversations, but it also makes sure that the skeptic understands that you want to deal in the realm of reason and evidence, and you welcome an examination, and you want to think about these things deeply because I mean as you know, Brian, often the skeptic thinks well, you’re just being irrational, you’re just believing things on faith, and you don’t have any reasons. You say, “No, I have plenty of reasons. I have plenty of good evidence to support my worldview, but we need to talk about those. We can’t just jump ahead to some of these other topics.”
I think an example I use in the book of this is you know, if you talk about 911 with somebody, or even the moon landing, some of these sort of—most people understand, I think, what happened. They have certain beliefs about what happened. But there are others, there’s skeptics. There’s moon landing skeptics, there’s 911 Truthers. They come into those conversations with pre-existing ideas, with presuppositions. And so you could argue about—you could argue with a 911 Truther—and I’m assuming the audience kind of knows what that is, that it was an inside job, and that the planes didn’t really land there or whatever, explode the Twin Towers. And you could argue about how steel melts and some of these other data points, but ultimately you probably want to back up and look at some more fundamental beliefs about the world in general, you know, what kind of people do what kind of things, and have those discussions first, so that then you can look at the data later on.
And that’s what I do sort of with worldview discussions. “Listen, we need to talk about some of these big questions of life first, have an understanding of what you believe about them and what I believe about them, and then debate those. And then as we do, we can get into some of these other issues.” I mean think of the resurrection as an example. Well, if you go into a debate about the resurrection with someone who is convinced that matter is all there is, and that miracles don’t happen, and that they couldn’t possibly happen, and even if they did happen, we couldn’t possibly know, and they’d have all these presuppositions, well, your debate of resurrection is going to go nowhere with them, right.
I mean there’s nothing you can say to them with them holding those presuppositions, that is going to make a difference. So what I like to do is, “Well, listen, before we can talk about the resurrection—and I’m glad to do so—let’s talk about these bigger questions.” And so there’s a lot of benefits to making worldviews the topic of discussion, rather than just go off on a specific tiny topic within sort of Christian/skeptic debates.
BA: Yeah. Well, a lot of good insights there, Don. Also, in the second section of your book, you start to describe—one thing you do is you start to describe the basic understanding that a typical skeptic might have about Christianity. So what do you think that is, and where should the Christian go from there?
DJ: Yeah, you know, one of the—before we even get into any debates, what I encourage people to do is ask a lot of questions, and find out what the skeptic is all about, what they believe, you know, what they believe about their worldview, and what they believe about Christianity. I mean before any debating happens, before any really presentation on your part happens, you should do a lot of listening, and a lot of just asking questions, and seeking to know where the skeptic is at. And one thing you want to understand then, is what that skeptic believes about God, and about Christianity.
And inevitably, I think what you’ll find is that they have a far different view of God than you do. And in fact, their view of God will be one where he is probably a mean, vindictive deity, who makes people jump through hoops for no good reason, sort of the capricious bully in the sky who lets some people into heaven for no good reason, and punishes other people for eternity for no good reason. And they’ll have a view of God that—I mean hopefully, you wouldn’t recognize. And so a large part of the conversation—again, before you get to any debating parts of your conversation, before you’re talking about the resurrection or anything, I think you’ve got to help them understand sort of traditional Christian orthodoxy.
And so I spend a large portion of the book—the middle section, which is, I don’t know, probably four or five chapters, just talking theology, like this is what the skeptic needs to know about God, some essentials. You know, why did he create? Why does he want worship and sacrifice? What’s the Bible all about, like why do we have it, and how should we understand it? And heaven and hell, is heaven going to be boring and is hell unjust? And I talk a lot—I think go rather deep into these subjects, but I think that’s essential to get those things clarified with the skeptic, so that they’re not reacting against a God that is false. And I mean it’s just sort of we skip over this step so often.
We think that well, I’m going to debate Christianity with this skeptic, but the Christianity that the skeptic holds is a ridiculous—I mean maybe it’s held by some Christians somewhere, some small subset. Richard Dawkins, in his intro, in his paperback version of The God Delusion, he says, “Well, people have accused me of setting up a straw man,” you know, this is the Christianity—it’s sort of this very—he calls it fundamentalist. I’m hesitant to use that term, but that’s what he calls it. It’s a small subsection of Christianity. Well, maybe it exists somewhere, but it’s false. And I think—I mean I’ve got blurbs—like I said, there’s a large part of theology in the book, and I think something that makes my book sort of distinct from other apologetics books maybe is the theology part of it, but it’s just standard Christian orthodoxy.
I mean I’ve got blurbs from Southern Baptists and Catholics. And I mean it’s not something that people should have to dispute about, that Christians would really dispute about. It’s just fundamental facts about God and revelation, and his love for us, that skeptics don’t always get. And I think I didn’t—in my early ministry, I didn’t always take the time to make sure that the skeptics understood the good message of the Gospel, if you will, before I started debating with them. And so, just understanding that they don’t have the right view of God, and that you need to clarify that before you get into a big debate, I think is essential to talking with skeptics.
BA: Yeah, I mean just finding out where that person is. You know, I think it’s easy to learn all of the different arguments or content, but if you can’t even maybe get along with other people, or you can’t interact, you lose your temper, you’re argumentative, it’s like you’re sunk. So, I mean, Don, how important to apologetics and evangelism is simply being good at conversations, learning how to talk to people?
DJ: Yeah, absolutely, I mean that’s essential. That’s point number one, right, is that you’ve got to be able to relate with that person and care about that person. I mean even the art of asking questions. You know, a lot of like you said, I think people shy away from apologetics sometimes because they think that they have to memorize a lot of facts and arguments, and then present them in a certain order, in a certain way. And so, it becomes this scary proposition. “Well, I could never do that, and when I try, it sounds ridiculous.” Well, I try to avoid that really.
I mean one of the keys to talking with skeptics, I think is to one, be authentic, be yourself, and be living with Jesus, have that relationship. And then genuinely care about that other person, and ask enough—be able to ask questions. And so you know, based on—and not even based on their answers—it’s not like it has to be robotic, like you ask a question, and then they have an answer and then you say this. No, it’s just learning where they’re coming from. And what you’ll find is that they have a bad understanding of God.
You’ll also find—and this is something we’ll get to in a minute probably, but you also find that often, those intellectual sort of barriers that they throw up are not the real issue. And a lot of times, after we’ve kind of gone through the first part of the conversation, I mean my conversations never get to the debate part because we realize that well, the intellectual stuff isn’t really your issue, is it? I mean you’ve got these other problems. You’re mad at God because of something that happened, or etcetera. But yeah, you’ve got to be able to relate with people. This is not a—this is not like a computer program that you can download and then interact. That’s not how relationships work.
BA: Yeah. Well, to talk about this next final section of the book, we talk about a couple different sections in there, and you’ve got one here that’s called Dealing with the Data. So what do you address here?
DJ: Yeah, ultimately, my apologetic model is something that Doug Groothuis and his—I think masterful work, Christian Apologetics—he employs it. It’s Christian worldview, hypothesis, and evaluation. Basically, you want to present the Christian worldview as a large scale narrative of the world, how it answers all those big questions we talked about, and then compare it to whatever worldview the skeptic throws up. And one of the things you want to do is make sure that they have one, that they can understand and defend, or at least try to.
So you want to compare worldviews, what you believe to be true about those big questions of life, versus what the skeptic believes to be true about those big questions of life. And a large part of the model is just getting them to think about what they believe. I mean a lot of skeptics, they’re just—they’re just anti-Christian. It’s not like they’ve got a positive model that they hold to themselves. They just know that Christianity must be false. And so what you want to do is, “Well, let’s think about that. I mean I get that you reject Christianity, but what do you think is true?” Well, once you’ve got them to explain or think about what they believe to be true, then you can compare them. And you just say, “All right, I mean what’s the best explanation for the facts that we have?”
And so what I like to do is say, “Listen, I’ve got all of these data points, if you will, all of these facts that we can both agree are true about the world. And I think the Christian worldview is the best explanation for those facts. It’s the most comprehensive. It takes into account most comprehensively, all these pieces of data. And I’m open to having you present your data that you think is best explained by your worldview. And then what we can do is we can just look at these facts.” And so, what I try to do is present facts that we can all agree on. So I don’t try to throw out—I wouldn’t start necessarily with the empty tomb, if they don’t agree that the empty tomb happened. I actually more emphasize something that occurs every day in our personal experience, and this is something—I mean I have nothing against any other apologetics works.
Like I say in the book, this is about how to use all the other apologetics works effectively. I want it to be a tool that we can use. But sometimes, we tend to get very distant, I think, in our apologetics, and we don’t—listen, God’s working today. There’s evidence today of God’s existence, not only existence, but that he’s alive and well, and doing stuff in the world. Let’s look at some of that stuff, and see what the best explanation for that might be. And so yeah, we just—I try to—I present my data, have them present their data, and let’s examine who has the best explanation for it. And ultimately, of course, Christianity I think fares very well in those sort of examinations.
Frankly, a lot of times, the skeptic would never have thought about having evidence to support his view, and I mean if you go back and listen to the archives on the show, I’ve asked that question a lot, to a lot of different people. Very seldom do you get a very comprehensive answer from people, and I find that to be true in day-to-day life, too, if I’m just talking to somebody. They’re not thinking that way, so we want to get them to think, listen, what does the evidence suggest here? Not even just ancient evidence, but what is the evidence of our day-to-day life suggest about what is true about the world, and Christianity certainly has the better answer I think.
BA: All right, well, so you’d go through your approach, and one—you were talking about dealing with data there, and one thing that comes to mind is the idea that sometimes we can give skeptics all kinds of information, arguments and the data, but what about the personal element, and that’s to say, what are some of the personal reasons that people might actually reject God, not because of the data. No matter—it’s like sometimes no matter what sort of content the Christian can wield in his case for Christianity, there’s still just objections for the sake of objections, it seems. What else might be going on there, and how do you talk about that in the book?
DJ: Yeah, you know, and there’s usually something else going on, right. I mean those of us who have experience in apologetics, I think we kind of know that it’s not all that often that you actually argue people into believing, into repentance and following Jesus. It happens sometimes, and hey, great. But more often than not, what I think happens is—at least if you follow the model, and things go well—what you’ll find is that those intellectual things, addressing them will help the person towards Jesus, but ultimately, there’s other things keeping them from Jesus. And I list a few of these. So I spend the last chapter of the book just listing a few of those, and it’s not a comprehensive list at all. But a lot of times, for instance, skeptics have had bad experiences with Christians.
They have been treated hypocritically or just meanly. Christians have treated them badly, and they’ve been turned off from the church. And there you go, I mean they just don’t like their experience, and so they have rejected God because of that. I give some examples of that. Also, I mean heartbreak—I talked about—listen, people are angry at God because their mom died when they were young or whatever, I mean legitimate, painful stuff in people’s lives, that they just—maybe they don’t understand why God did it. Often, they’re just angry at God, and so it’s more a matter of the will. Ultimately, always, of course, following Jesus requires an act of the will. It’s not just intellectual.
A lot of times, I mean and in our culture today, this is going to become huge. In fact, I preached a sermon a little bit on this, that’s online, about fatherlessness and the breakdown of the family. And when the family breaks down, and especially when people don’t have a father, it is incredibly hard for them to grasp the idea of a heavenly father who loves them. I mean some people do. Thank God, you know, some people, they never had the good dad, and they welcome the good dad from heaven. But oftentimes, they just don’t get that, and I think it has something to do—and this is what I preached about a few weeks ago—it has something to do with the fact that the family is the very image of God on earth, and that’s why Satan hates the family so much. And when the family breaks down, it’s much more difficult. It’s like you’re inoculating people against God. It’s much more difficult for them to follow Jesus and to accept God.
The cost of discipleship is one I talk about in the book, that it’s just tough, you know. Jesus didn’t convert everybody he met, and oftentimes it was because he said you had to leave your family and give up your money and all the rest of it to follow me. And people are like, “Nope, I’m not going to do that,” and so away they go. And that happens today. And then, I think the big one—this is what I end the book with, but immorality.
I mean people don’t want to change their lives. They are invested in their immorality, particularly sexual immorality, and because they don’t want to change, or because it has them enslaved and they don’t think there’s freedom available, which of course there is, they won’t follow Jesus—you know, for those reasons and many, many more. But often then, they put up these intellectual roadblocks—sometimes I think as a justification for not following, and sometimes as a result of not following, that they sort of grasp onto these intellectual arguments based on these other issues.
And when you break down—you know, you walk through the whole conversation, and maybe this conversation takes months or years sometimes. And you walk through it all, at the end of the day you realize, okay, you know, this is—here’s your issue. You know, you’re mad at God or you’re sleeping with your girlfriend or whatever, and—so now we can deal with that, and we’ve got to that point. So at least, you know, I don’t want to disparage apologetics. I think apologetics sometimes reveals those, and so is beneficial in that way.
BA: Uh-huh. Well, you’ve listed a number of things why, or reasons or causes for people to reject the data, or reject God, and I’m thinking about the other end of that, where you’ve got someone who is trying to be an evangelist or an apologist. And you know, maybe someone is out there listening, and they’re thinking well, I’ve dealt with skeptics, and you know, they’re coming away simply burned out or discouraged. They’re feeling like what’s the use? So Don, have you ever felt that way? Should they quit, or is it worth it to continue? What’s your encouragement or advice for those who might be going through that on various occasions?
DJ: Yeah, you know what, yeah, you got to keep at it. God is good. God is using—I mean I think of—I was talking to Rick Schenker not too long ago. He’s the President of Ratio Christi, a movement that is exploding in the US, and I think around the world here soon hopefully, on college campuses. And the need for apologetics, and a rational—not just defense of the faith, but a rational explanation of the faith, and good, sound theology, supported by good, sound arguments—I mean the need has never been greater.
Not only is the need great, I mean but—but there’s no real good alternatives at this point. I mean this is something—I think I end the book with this—but there’s no real good alternative world views out there right now. It’s not like materialism is just—materialism is burnt out. We saw what it did in the 20th Century, and it’s still hanging on, but there’s no real great alternatives that people are flocking to, I don’t think. I mean we have a great opportunity to go and present the gospel and do it in a reasonable, rational, evidentially supported way. And people are turning to it. People are longing for it. And I think you know, stick with it. If you do it in a natural, relational way—I mean grab the book, you know, hopefully, you’ll get a few hints from it. No, we can see fruit from this.
And I mean to me, the response of the people that I even talk to just in training with this material, I mean always I get people coming up to me after the seminar, like, “My son has—you know, he grew up in the church and then he rejected it, he went off to university, and man, I really—I need that. I didn’t have this for him when he was a kid, and now I can give him some stuff.” And so, yeah, you got to stick with it. This is—I think we’re—some people have called it a golden age of apologetics coming up. I think we’re on the verge of something really big, and I think we see it. I mean there was a conference in Sacramento a couple weeks ago, we got 3000 people at an apologetics conference. I mean it was at a church so—no, stick with it. This is—we’re doing a lot—God is using it in big ways, and I think he’s going to continue to.
BA: Great, well, thanks for that. Now, Don, I often try to make sure that I ask those I interview their advice for doing apologetics, but that’s what this whole book is about, so I’ll just go ahead and I’ll tell them to get the book.
DJ: Yeah, exactly.
BA: From your experience though, what might be maybe some of the main keys you’d want everyone to come away with, you know, after they read How to Talk to a Skeptic? Now I know you’ve just thrown a whole bunch of different keys out there, but maybe just one point that you’d want them to come away with above all, or something that you think is maybe missing most of the time.
DJ: One of the things is that we—you can do it, that apologetics and talking with skeptics is something that you don’t need to be a PhD to do it. You don’t need to get your MA, as good as the MAs are in apologetics. You can do this, and you don’t need to be unnatural. You don’t need to be like the door-to-door salesman who comes with his card, and he’s reading the facts, or you know the missionaries that we run into sometimes, and it’s sort of the set spiel. It can be very natural. It can be done by non-experts. But you do need to learn a little bit. I guess I would say, you know, on the other hand, it’s not like you can avoid scholarship entirely, but you don’t—it is something that can be done naturally and effectively, and you can build relationships with people.
And I can’t overstate enough the sound theology part of it, I guess, would be my second thing. It can be done, and let’s make sure that we are giving the skeptic some really good, sound truths about God and the Gospel, and how much he loves them. If I could get people to read just one section of the book—I mean I think the first section of the book and the third section of the book are integral and important, and you’ve got to read those. But if you were just going to read one section, I’d want you to read the second section, which is really just the Gospel, and some of the main points of it. But getting that—I mean the skeptics don’t know God they way they should, and they’re rejecting a false view of God. And I think if we could just clarify that for them—it doesn’t have to take that long.
Again, you don’t need a theological degree, but there are some essential truths that skeptics are missing that we could help them understand. And it seems to me, as I read sort of conversion stories—I’ve been reading a lot of conversion stories, and a lot of then come down to, “I spent all these years rejecting a God that was false, and when I started to realize what God was actually like, oh, well, it made a whole bunch of sense, and why wouldn’t I come to him?” And so getting that Gospel message right, I think is key to the apologetic endeavor, if you will.
BA: Well, great stuff, Don. And can you point people to your resources online? You mentioned the archives, and your radio show, and I’m sure people want to dig into that and hear your interactions, so point people to your resources, if you would.
DJ: Yeah, I think the central website we have is DonJohnsonMinistries.org, and you can basically find everything from there. The Don Johnson Show is there. You can also—I think the DonJohnsonShow.com still works, although we’ve been having some issues with that. But it’ll get you there, too. But DonJohnsonMinistries.org has all the archives. It has articles. It has links to the book, and some other stuff that we do.
You can find out about our work in India. I think really that’s the key. If you want to find the book, How to Talk to a Skeptic, is—it’ll be published by Bethany House. October 15th, as far as I understand, is the date that it will be in stores, hopefully, all over the world. So you should be able to go down to your local Barnes and Noble, or Christian bookstore, or wherever books are sold, and find that on October 15th. You can pre-order it already from Amazon and all the rest of the websites. There’s a link to that on the website as well, so yeah, give me an email. Don@donjohnsonministries.org. I’m glad to interact with believers and non-believers alike.
BA: Well, Don, thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview. It’s been great speaking with you today.
DJ: Brian, I appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time. Keep up the great work. As I said, I’ve been a big fan of yours for years, so I appreciate it. Thanks for letting me on.