I saw a quote recently from a Christian author who was disavowing the ministry of evangelism because it meant Christians had to “be right” about everything. And if you’re certain you’re right, then everyone else must be wrong, and it’s your job to convert them to your viewpoint, lest they wind up in hell.
If that was biblical evangelism I’d agree with the author and toss it out.
But surely this is not the way of the gospel. In my view the gospel is about conviction, not necessarily “certainty.” If an attitude of certainty can come off as a bit arrogant, conviction is humble, and points beyond itself to a greater reality.
A few years ago at a college in the Midwest, I met up with a zealous young Christian who was gifted as an apologist (defender of the faith). Since I aspire to this calling myself and am much older, I was able to provide him with a training session in the art of apologetic dialogue.
A day later in the Student Union I was eager to observe the apologist in action. A professor came to his table for a friendly chat, but things went south quickly as the student went into attack mode. Every observation or protest from the professor about religion was met with a sledgehammer argument. As the dispute escalated, heads turned at surrounding tables, appalled at the spectacle.
Myself, I felt sorry for the professor and was embarrassed for the cause of the gospel.
A word, then, about certainty: Among philosophers, the idea of certainty is handled cautiously. One could be psychologically certain of something, such as a spouse’s faithfulness, but be totally wrong. Or one could be right about something, with much supporting evidence, but still have doubts.
Many combinations are possible. When it comes to religious belief, I’m not convinced the word certainty is the way to go. Certainty is usually too strong a claim for fallible sinners, saved only by grace.
I’d rather be known as a man of conviction. Conviction is a visceral, “heart-mind-soul” response to Jesus. It marches forth not in triumph but in prayer and humility. It cannot remain silent about the gospel but must, absolutely must, share it with the world.
Otherwise, the stones will cry out.