without love, I am nothing.”
Eventually I started to wonder.
Maybe the philosophical sort of
apologetics that have been dominant
for so many years are not the only
ways to arrive at and share faith.
Here’s how Michael Spencer, a
Kentucky blogger who called himself the Internet Monk, put it. “I’m
convinced the game is not primarily
about arguments anymore. [Tim]
Keller is still great. C. S. Lewis is still
helpful. [William Lane] Craig is still
impressive. But I’m not sure their
arguments are on the right channel.
Vast numbers of people aren’t asking
for philosophy. Pay closer attention.
The game has changed” ( www.inter-netmonk.com/archive/reatheism).
So what are people asking for?
Personal faith begins with a
North Americans today tend to speak
of God in terms of our own personal
values, rather than using traditional
philosophical or biblical concepts.
This shouldn’t surprise us. We all
start our stories with what we know
best – our own lives, our own experiences and our own histories.
These multiple, subjective starting
points do not disqualify us from the
Traditional apologetics is not
rendered useless in this context - we
can still debate ideas and conclusions – but debate-style approaches
that try to poke holes in other
people’s ideas and stories often
undervalue the skills and tools of
dialogue that are so crucial today.
Here are three to start thinking
Recognize that you went through
a process to arrive at your current
beliefs about God. Share the truth
that even now you don’t have all
Each of us should speak frankly
about our own story of faith. Many
people are genuinely open to hearing our story in the context of
conversation, but if we are not able
to share our faith with its highs and
lows, its victories and failures, its
certainties and doubts, we sound
like we aren’t being honest.
Our goal should be to share in
easy, normal, personal or relatable
ways – conscious of the reality that
there is still more to be written.
Accept that people with different
beliefs have also gone through
a process to arrive at their
convictions. Listen to understand
where they started from, and
the events and ideas that shaped
their spiritual journey.
This means listening to someone
else’s story differently, looking not
for errors, but for connections and
new information that can enhance
our own journeys.
Most people aren’t engaging in
debate when they share their stories of faith. It’s actually counterproductive when we trot out our
well-prepared rebuttals because we
sound like we’re saying their story
can’t be trusted.
Dr. Jennifer M. Shepherd is founder of the
Faith Fingerprints and Same Seed, Different
Soil training programs (www.engageconsulting
services.com). She has taught at Columbia Bible
College, Masters College & Seminary, Summit
Pacific and Trinity Western University. Her first
book Faith Is the Story You Tell will be published
Go online to
to try out a quiz
designed for Faith
who want to
think more about
these: When you
tell your story,
where do you
start? What kind
of an apologist
are you – what
confident story do
you tell about God
– and how does
that set you up to
hear other stories
Instead of looking for ways to
discredit other people’s stories, let’s
start listening to what has led
others to believe what they do and
be willing to wonder aloud about
our own journey (rather than focusing on our current theologically
Recognize the many starting points
for faith. Embrace the reality that
imperfect ideas and experiences
shape these starting points.
In today’s world it’s acceptable that
everyone has a story to tell. You
have a chance to hear other stories.
Your story does not have an advantage over others.
Most people are not concerned if
their story of faith is shaped by
philosophical, well-reasoned biblical arguments. So if we insist faith
is best understood in certain ways,
it sounds like we are saying our
story is better.
If God is as big as we say and desires relationship more than we can
imagine, let’s stop trying to make
someone else’s story match our own.
Are we prepared to consider the
faith journeys of others and ourselves without trying to lurch ahead
too quickly to a supportive chapter
and verse or to a theologically correct destination?
As I wrote this article, my goddaughter Macey told me that she
believed in God and Mother Nature.
Five years ago I would have told her
she had to choose between the two.
Now, I began where she started and
we talked about faith in a God who
both creates and nurtures. It was