According to Vox, the average restaurant meal is four times larger than in the 1950s. Apple will reportedly allow customers to order their new iPhone 7 in the color black. Ikea says that future homes will have vegetable planters lining their kitchen walls, furniture will double as exercise gear, and sensors throughout the house will respond instantly to our actions.
These stories illustrate the first rule of marketing: give the people what they want. Successful businesspeople know that they must connect their products to our interests, needs, and hopes before we will buy what they are selling.
Atheists are learning the same lesson.
Sean McDowell teaches apologetics at Biola University and is the author of over eighteen books. His latest blog post is titled “The New Face of Atheism.” According to Dr. McDowell, this “face” isn’t a person but a movement.
Rather than seeking to eradicate churches, this movement wants to create secular communities alongside them (the growth of atheist churches is an example). It emphasizes relationships and rituals more than rational arguments. While rejecting the truth of Christianity, it focuses more on practical issues than the big questions of life.
These atheists are on to something. Our postmodern culture is convinced that “truth” is personal and subjective. You cannot have a logical debate with someone who doesn’t trust logic. Of course, the claim that there is no such thing as truth is itself a truth claim. Nonetheless, more people than ever are focused on practical issues rather than philosophical arguments. Many atheists are riding the tide of this cultural shift.
This does not mean that Christian theology and apologetics are irrelevant. The opposite is true, in fact. As Dr. McDowell notes, those who are drawn to the church primarily for community may then leave for another community unless they become convinced that Christian community is based on relevant truth. We are still instructed to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
At the same time, it is vital that Christians be like the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Knowing the mind and spirit of our culture is essential to communicating the gospel effectively. A doctor must first diagnose the disease before she can prescribe the cure.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he began their conversation with water and led her to “living water” (John 4:10). When Paul dialogued with Athenian philosophers, he began with their statue to “the unknown God” and led them to the God they could know personally (Acts 17:23).
Let’s get practical: With whom do you have influence today? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand their needs and aspirations. Ask the Lord to give you his compassion for them. Then act and speak in ways that show your Father’s love in yours.
Ken Medema is right: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”