Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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TROPE: a useful mnemonic for apologists

If you have trouble remembering (or sticking to) the most important issues when witnessing, this may help.

When you’re doing apologetics on the ground, it’s easy to get stuck on the issues that unbelievers want to talk about. Often they have pet talking points they want to press, or an endless network of rabbit-trails they want to retreat into any time they feel cornered. In either case it can be hard to get the conversation on a track that will actually lead somewhere constructive, rather than spiraling into a pointless debate over trivialities.

Over the years, I’ve developed a semi-automatic reflex to try to steer discussions toward what you might call the “ultimate questions”—fundamental issues every worldview needs to be able to address and adequately explain without contradictions, falsehoods or other absurdities.

These ultimate questions are valuable to apologists because they expose the key “structural points” where worldviews break down. This is because of a simple fact:

Every non-Christian worldview tries to make sense of the world while eliminating judgment for sin.

Since this is an impossible task without recourse to the God of the Bible—who demands an account of everyone for their sin—the more you can press people on the inconsistencies of their worldviews the better chance you have to show how God is the answer. This then opens the door to talk about judgment, and that in turn to talk about escaping it.

But if you don’t want to spend years trying to subconsciously develop some half-assed “sense” for where to steer a conversation so you can get to these ultimate questions, you might find my attempt to systemize what I’ve developed helpful:

TROPE

Truth, Reality, Origins, Purpose, Ethics. Each of these represents a logical progression along a continuum of interrelated ideas. I’ll explain them briefly below, with examples showing how they apply to common non-Christian worldviews.

Truth: how do we come by it, and how can we be sure? It’s often helpful to bring a conversation back to this question before it goes too far if you suspect there’s a disagreement here. (Even when you’re talking to other believers—it’s alarming how many Christians can’t adequately answer this question.) Some examples:

Reality: what does it consist of? You can see how this builds upon the question of truth. The nature of reality (ontology) is a key worldview issue. It’s often helpful to know what someone thinks about reality—what kinds of things possibly exist—before getting into arguments that rest on those sorts of assumptions. If you disagree here, you won’t come to any agreement on “higher level” issues. Some examples:

Origins: where did the universe—and ourselves—come from? This is closely related to purpose, below—but of course, also to the question of the nature of reality. This makes it a good halfway point to use for getting at both those questions if necessary. But it is also an important question in its own right, particularly since it bears on both the origin of the universe (a key proof for God) and the origin of man (a key line of attack against Christianity). Some examples:

Purpose: what are we doing here, and where are we going? It’s important to remember the second half of this question, because death comes to us all. This is basically asking about the meaning of life. Even the most vapid, thoughtless people think about this once in a while. Death is a certainty for everyone, so knowing what happens after it is a pressing concern.

Ethics: how ought we to act, and why? You can see how this is closely tied to purpose. Both deal with issues of teleology: what human existence is aimed at or directed toward. Discussing morality is key to any apologetic debate because it is not only a critical feature of human experience, but also is fundamental to understanding sin. If we don’t understand sin, we can’t understand the gospel, and if we can’t understand the gospel we can’t be delivered from judgment.

Obviously these are not the only issues you can discuss. There are other major questions you need to be ready for—particularly concerning the truth of the Bible, since that is where we learn about God and about salvation. But these ultimate questions are very useful for keeping a random discussion aimed in the right direction, so you can eventually bring it to Jesus.

1 comment

  1. Bret Roberts

    I like your TROPE trope. It is very helpful. Thanks.

    Bret

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