How to Engage in Spiritual Conversations

February 14, 2017
Darrell L. Bock and Mary Jo Sharp

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Topic Time Codes

00:33
Sharp's journey from skepticism to Christianity
06:06
Sharp's work in apologetics
10:15
How to engage in spiritual conversations
11:43
First, know what you believe and why you believe it
12:36
Second, listen to others
17:28
Third, ask questions
21:07
Fourth, respond with grace
22:47
A Biblical view of tolerance
26:33
Tolerance has been misunderstood
28:31
Understanding religion as a taboo subject
32:51
Christians ground tolerance in Genesis and the Gospels
35:42
A society that ignores sin is unstable
41:58
Advice for Christians who experience hate speech

Transcript

Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. And my guest today is Mary Jo Sharp, who teaches at Houston Baptist University in my hometown, Houston, Texas. I am a Houstonian in exile in Dallas. And she's here to talk about what she does, and I guarantee you it's a surprise.

So, Mary Jo, tell 'em what you do at Houston Baptist and why you're visiting Dallas and why we have you on The Table podcast. Your professional role is you are an...
Mary Jo Sharp
Apologist, a Christian –
Darrell Bock
Apologist.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Now, that doesn't mean you're sorry, right?
Mary Jo Sharp
[Laughs] Yeah, actually, when I went to study apologetics, my dad – he likes to tease – and he said, "Well, it's about time Christians start apologizing."
Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
Mary Jo Sharp
Dad, that's not what it means.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So – I mean most Christians – many Christians know this, but some don't, and certainly other people don't – so, what exactly is that rare breed of person that is an apologist?
Mary Jo Sharp
What exactly are they? Hmm.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
That's an interesting question. Well, the word "apologia" comes from 1 Peter 3:15, and it's in that passage where Peter's addressing a group of persecuted Christians, and he's reminding them not to fear man but to set – in their hearts set apart Christ as Lord. And he says, "Always be prepared to give a defense," and there's your word that we transliterate to "apologetics."
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Mary Jo Sharp
To make a case. And what case are we making? He further says, "For the reason of the hope that is in you." So, our hope in Jesus Christ, resurrected from the dead. Right? So, apologists are making a case, either defensively against objections that come at the Christian faith, or we're making a positive case for belief in the existence of God.
Darrell Bock
Yep. The term apologia – we're in my world, the Greco-Roman world –
Mary Jo Sharp
That's right.
Darrell Bock
– is a technical term for, as you say, making a case, for stating a defense, for presenting evidence for what you believe, etcetera. So, you go around talking about Christianity, but it wasn't always so. Right?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, definitely.
Darrell Bock
So, how does a girl like you end up in apologetics?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, that's a good question. Well, it's funny, because people here – my name, Mary Jo – so they typically think I'm from somewhere in the Bible Belt, and I was born and raised a Christian. Right?
Darrell Bock
You gotta be from Mississippi.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, that's right.
Mary Jo Sharp
But I'm actually from the Pacific Northwest. I'm from Portland, Oregon.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. And I was raised outside of church. I did not have a Christian upbringing. In fact, my parents had left the Church themselves when I was too young to really remember.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, my view of Christianity, growing up, was what I saw on TV and in the movies. It was pretty shallow in fact.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
And I kinda didn't know why you needed religion or why you needed God. And I had a little bit of distrust going on with what I saw, 'cause there was money involved, and people giving tithes, but I didn't know what that was all about.

So, anyway, I, as a later teenager – I mean I had been raised on a steady diet of science shows, like In Search Of and NOVA and things like that. My mom was a fan of the musical arts, and so, I had gone to many symphonies and musical theater. So, I had a rich cultural background.

But I came to a point, in my older teenage years, where I realized that I didn't really have a reason to think that I mattered. And at that time, there was a high school band director who I greatly admired, and he was a Christian. And he had never shared his faith with anyone. I'm the first person that he really felt a strong burden to talk to about belief in God.

So, my senior year, right at the time when I'm starting to think about meaning and purpose in life. He comes along and, in my senior year, he gives me a NIV one-year Bible, and he gives me the baton that we used to – that he used to win the state band contest with. It was pretty cool. If you know what a baton is, it's what your –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah, sure.
Mary Jo Sharp
– band director waves around.

And anyway, he said, "When you go off to college, you're gonna have hard questions, and I hope you'll turn to this."

And I read that Bible cover to cover. In fact, I didn't stay on the one-year plan, because it really wasn't what I expected. It wasn't what I was seeing in Hollywood or on TV. And reading that Bible brought me around to belief in God. But it wasn't until I went off to college, and I heard the Gospel – I actually heard my position as in need of a Savior – that I understood and was willing to trust Jesus and to commit to him.
Darrell Bock
So, you really were the beneficiary of what we sometimes call "friendship evangelism" in many ways.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I mean you – this person had built a relationship with you in the context of working with the band, and in the midst of the trust of that relationship, took a chance in some ways.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And – boom – changed your life.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, and it's really neat. In talking with him now – I've kept up with him – he's a professor at a university, and he tells the same story but from the opposite side about being careful about giving your testimony to kids. And he said – he actually told me that when he gave me that Bible I didn't respond well. And he thought that I might cause him some trouble over that testimony that he gave. So, I think it's interesting how we both perceived that one moment in time.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Huh. So – okay, so, you went off to college and obviously found an answer in Jesus and then coming to faith. And then – but that doesn't explain – I mean a lot of people come to Jesus without ending up being apologists. So, what's Part 2?
Mary Jo Sharp
Oh, that's great, because after becoming a Christian, I rapidly got involved with ministry – youth ministry, helping out. I met my husband. He became involved with ministry as well. We landed into a youth ministry position as a married couple. And when I start noticing, in the church, that what I'm reading in the Bible is to consistently displayed in the lives of the believers –
Darrell Bock
Well, imagine that.
Mary Jo Sharp
Oh, wow. But being that I'm not – you know, I'm not raised in the Church, and I don't have any deep understanding of sin, I begin to question, "Well, does anybody really believe this?" 'Cause I saw so much ugly – and not just towards us, but towards each other.

And so, it caused me to begin to have emotional doubt. I would say it was emotional doubt. But that led to intellectual questions such as, "Well, why do I believe in God?" I'm not sure. I don't have a response like, "I believe in God because of X."

Now, I do believe I had a real experience, but what I've noticed is that experiences fade over time. You know? It's hard to remember what it was I did back then and why I did it. So, that fact of not – the experience fading, not having anything to really say, "This is why I believe in God," not having that foundational evidence.

So, I began to say, "Well, I'm not sure if there is a God, and I need –" But for some reason, I decided that I needed to find the answers, and I needed to look at both sides.

So, it wasn't just enough to go out and read all the new atheist material to see all the arguments against; I had to hear what the rebuttals were as well. And so, I started listening to debates, like William Lang Craig. I started – I read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. And I came back around to a point where the arguments for Christianity seemed to make the best sense to me. You know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
Those arguments brought me back around to belief in God. And then I thought, "Oh, my, if I had these questions, I'm sure a lot of other people in the Church have them; they're just not talking about 'em." Because I had never heard anybody talk about doubt before in the Church.
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh, interesting.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, then I taught a class on it in my church. I just created a class based in a survey. I was surveying church members as they were leaving worship like, "Well, of these topics, what interests you?" And so, I built a class around that.
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow. And so, eventually you went and, I take it, got training in the area. And so – and then landed at Houston Baptist.
Mary Jo Sharp
I did.
Darrell Bock
With a whole crew of people, by the way, who are there. I mean there are lots of people who teach there who – you know, Craig Evans, for example, is a very, very good friend. And there's just – you've built a really solid faculty that covers a wide variety of areas in terms of what you do. So, it's been exciting to see, particularly since it's in my hometown. So –
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, yeah. It's a great place. I mean they have apologetics right there in the middle of the country as well.
Darrell Bock
Exactly. So, you're here to talk to us about conversation, really, and doing apologetics in the sense of how we engage and how we engage with people whose worldviews are different than ours, that kind of thing.

And you're also going to help us think through how we deal with the culture that's around us that claims a certain tolerance but really doesn't reflect it. So, we kinda want to work through those two parts.

And your approach represents something I'm pretty familiar with, because I've just come from a weekend myself of doing apologetics with Greg Koukl, who is a common friend. And the whole idea of rather than debating, as we engage in apologetics, engaging and asking questions and drawing people out. I call it getting a spiritual GPS on someone. Okay? You know?
Mary Jo Sharp
That's great.
Darrell Bock
I say there are two rules at the beginning. You get a spiritual GPS on someone and you turn your truth meter down so it doesn't hit tilt.
Mary Jo Sharp
I gotcha. That's a good way of saying it.
Darrell Bock
And so, the point here is is that I really sit to listen and figure out the way in. So, let's talk a little bit about that for a minute.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
You know, most people, when they get the opportunity, when the door finally opens, they have a chance to talk about Christ, they get a little excited.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And in the midst of getting excited, they say, "All right, now I'm gonna stand up for God and make the case," and they tend to – almost like a bull in a china shop, just roll in and try and control the discussion and that kind of thing. And you really have a different, I'll say, strategy – Koukl would call it a different tactic –

\
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– m-kay? –
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– in dealing with this. What – how do you advise people to walk into those conversations? And what should they be seeking to do in starting off?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. I do sound a lot like Greg Koukl, by the way, in his book Tactics.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
He asks a lot of the same questions. So, one of the – I always call this like conversational apologetics. My goal, before I roll into a conversation, is to actually care about people. You know, the first thing that I want to demonstrate to a person is that I care about them. So, my – what we're about to discuss is all wrapped up in, "Do I really want to serve this person?" Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
I've had a few atheists tell me that they felt like Christians came in and made them a Jesus project. Like they just wanted to throw their points at 'em, and then if they weren't ready to accept those points, then they just walk away, and that makes 'em feel like a project rather than a person.

So, I want to try to avoid that sort of a situation. And I break down just having an effective conversation into four elements. And the first one is knowing what we believe. And I think people don't talk to other people about their faith because they don't know their faith. They are not trained in essential Christian doctrine. They don't – they're not comfortable in their Christian skin. Right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
I always tell people, "If you talk to me long enough, really getting Star Wars, the Bible, Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia, 'cause that's my skin."
Darrell Bock
Take your pick, yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. That's what's gonna come out of me, 'cause that's what I talk about and I care about. So, we have to become the kind of people that actually know what we believe and why we believe it. See, that's one of the reasons, early on in Christianity, I felt intimidated to share my faith with others, 'cause I didn't know why I believed it. And that's just vital to having an effective conversation where you don't get defensive is just knowing your own beliefs. So, that's the first part. Right?
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Mary Jo Sharp
And then the second is to truly listen to others. And that's – we emphasize that a lot today is truly listening to find points of communication. 'Cause just like you're not gonna talk about what you aren't comfortable talking about, the other people aren't either. If you push them into an area where they have no knowledge, they have nothing to talk about with you.

So, I want to find points of communication by really listening to minister to them. And not only am I gonna find points of communication with them, I'm gonna maybe get a chance to hear their story. So, how did they get to this point of accepting these beliefs as true? Very important.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I tell people, you know, if someone hasn't had much exposure to the Church – well, there are really two kinds of people: the people who haven't had much exposure to the Church, and the people who have and have walked away. And so – and – but if a person hasn't had much exposure to the Church, their perception of Christianity is gonna be like what you described earlier. It's gonna be what they've picked up in the culture.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And then I like to say to our audiences in the churches, "And how would you like to be – that to be the definition of the Christianity you believe?" You know, there's a disconnect there. So, there's a lot of – there's a lot of static to work through in a conversation if a person is coming from that kind of a place.

Whereas the person who has come out of the Church because, in many cases, they've had some type of a bad or even traumatic experience in the Church, they're coming from a completely different place with a completely different set of needs, and they also come with some elements of understanding about what you're gonna be talking about. So, it's a completely different conversation in many ways.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. I like that you pointed that out, because if you're coming – if there's a person that's coming at you from a Christian experience, but it was a hurtful one, you can expect that that person may be hostile to the Christian faith, because they had been told that this was the truth; they've been told to trust, and then a lot of times that trust was greatly broken within their church experience.

And so, they – sometimes they feel like they were swindled or they were bamboozled. There's a good word. And so, you're dealing with – you have some back work to do with them, because they don't trust the Church.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it's interesting. Craig Evans – we talked about earlier – did a book a long time ago about historical Jesus studies. And in the first chapter, he went through the biographies of the people who tend to be writing in a hostile way about, "We can't know the historical Jesus; we don't really know about him."

Out of the 13 people that he profiled, 12 of them grew up in the Church and had a bad experience.
Mary Jo Sharp
Wow.
Darrell Bock
And so – you know, so, you sit there, and you go, "Whoa, this are people who are going, 'I was hurt by something that happened, and now I'm going – I'm writing so that someone doesn't have to go through what I went through.' "
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
That's basically – and that's a part of what's motivating them. And you look at that, and you go, "Man, that's amazing."
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And it shows how important our communities actually are, that they be authentic, that they have integrity, that we be careful about how – about the potential damage that we do to people, 'cause some of that damage can be very, very hostile.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right. Which means that, well, there's a truth to be told, as far as like propositional truth, but there's also relational excellence in how we present it.
Darrell Bock
Yep. Well, and this is what I love about what you're doing, because it is this relational element that I think – I like to summarize the evangelistic process or the mission call of the Church in kinda this way. We're engaged in challenging people about where they're living, and the Gospel challenges people, challenges all of us. Okay? And challenge is uncomfortable for people; they don't like to be challenged.

But we also have to offer an invitation. Well, I can't have a chance of them hearing the challenge unless they know I care. You know? And so, like I say, they won't care about your challenge unless they know you care.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And once you earn that space, then people might be willing to talk to you about anything. But without that space, you're not going there, and you're not getting there.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
So, this relational element, this issue of tone that comes alongside what we believe, is extremely important, and the Scripture talks about it all the time. You were in the passage 1 Peter 3. With gentleness and respect is what that passage says. That's how we're supposed to set Christ apart in our hearts and have a defense within us.

So, I love the relational emphasis that you have, and I love the call to walk into a conversation. And my first assignment, should you choose to accept it – okay? – is to listen.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Is to actually get oriented to where the person is coming from so you begin to get a sense of, "All right, what is causing this person to be where they are, and how do I think about addressing that?"
Mary Jo Sharp
Exactly. And because you've done that, you've listened to them, then you find these points of communication where you can start asking questions, and that's the next element that I'll include is – and this is where Greg Koukl and have a lot of similar questions in that you – when you hear people say things, you ask them, "What did you – what do you mean by that?"

You don't just let it fly by and try to answer and respond right away, "Well, I don't agree with that because..." Rather you give them a time to clarify their statement. Because what I have found is that sometimes I don't understand what they're trying to say, but sometimes they don't understand what they're trying to say.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, asking, "What do you mean by that," that's a point of clarifying – helping them uncover, "Well, when I say that Christians are intolerant, what do I mean when I say that?" You know? So, it helps them to uncover the truth of their own belief. That helps both of us.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Mary Jo Sharp
That helps both of us.
Darrell Bock
And the more you're able to talk about that, the better the grounding is. I mean I see it as a kind of way of drilling down. You're drilling down beyond the surface. 'Cause one thing that you want to know is, "Is this person just repeating this because this is the way they engaged with Christianity and it's all they've heard?" You know?

"This is the objection. I play this card, and that usually puts people off, and I can keep them at arm's distance by saying this." That may be all that they're doing. They may not –
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, beyond the question of, "What do you mean by that," – and I know another question that Greg likes to ask us, something like, "And why do you believe that," or, "What's behind that?"
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Those kinds of questions, where you actually are drilling down to figure out, "All right, where's this person getting this from?"
Mary Jo Sharp
Right. And that's – I sort of have a process of questions I go through before I engage in answering – in responding. I say, "What do you mean by that?" And my next one's gonna be a, "How do you know that," which is what you were just talking about. "So, where are you getting that from?"
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
Sourcing their beliefs. And that's really important, because I think that's where you're gonna see a lot of people haven't sourced their belief.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Mary Jo Sharp
They haven't spent that time –
Darrell Bock
Again, you're gonna meet up kinda two kinds of people: the people who simply have absorbed, like a sponge, what the culture has said about Christianity, and that's what they're giving you. And then, when you probe deeply, you understand that they – they say, "Well, that's just the way," or, "That's what I've heard," or, "That's what I've seen in the paper," whatever – you know, "That's what I've seen on google," whatever, you know, the answer is there.

But then there are other people who will answer that question, and they'll start using names and books. And then you know: different conversation.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yes. That's gonna be different.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
Greg Koukl says, you know, sometimes if you encounter a person that's done – has done more work than you, you let 'em be the expert.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right? So that you can learn from them and be –
Darrell Bock
Just let 'em draw out and see where they're coming from, etcetera. I really do think – you know, like I said, I call it getting a spiritual GPS.
Mary Jo Sharp
That's great.
Darrell Bock
You do a lot of listening. You're just getting them located on a map so that you have a sense of what motivates them, what drew them in. Did they have an experience that gets in the way? All those kinds of features that frame what they're telling you, the content of what they're telling you is really what you're after. So –
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And what's the fourth area?
Mary Jo Sharp
Oh, well, before I move into the fourth area, I would say the last question is, "Why do you believe that," which you brought up.
Darrell Bock
Okay, right.
Mary Jo Sharp
And the reason I want to make sure we hit this one is because the why gives you their backstory.
Darrell Bock
Right, exactly.
Mary Jo Sharp
And because we're dealing with a human being made in the image of God, their story is important.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
It's important to God; it's important for us to minister to them. So, I don't want to miss out on a chance to really know them and why they're at this point. So, I'm gonna say, "Not only clarify for me what do you mean by that, where are you getting this from, but now I want to know who you are, where you've come from," and get that backstory.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
And then the fourth area is respond. And I gave some ideas today about different responses that we can give, 'cause Christians typically have this, "Well, I gotta lay out my testimony," or, "I've gotta give the Gospel in this manner."
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
But there's a lot of things that you can discuss. You can give – you can point out a problematic statement that you've heard. So, I gave an example of a guy who told me he was Buddhist, who was sitting next to me on a plane. So, I said I didn't know much about Buddhism, why don't you tell me what Buddhists believe.

So, he tells me there's no right or wrong. And then later on, he gets into politics. [Chuckle] It's already funny.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I know.
Mary Jo Sharp
And he says, "Like the war in Iraq is wrong."
Darrell Bock
Okay, all right. So, we obviously turned a page.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right. This is a problematic statement from his worldview. If he's gonna claim to be Buddhist, then he can't claim something is absolutely wrong like that.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, I asked him that question. You know, "How does a Buddhist reconcile this?" And because I pointed that out, he stopped talking, and he just kind of looked at me, and he was figuring out that inconsistency, that he had an inconsistent worldview. He couldn't say this and then not adhere to it.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, I think that's important because it shows people if their worldview's livable, if it makes sense in the reality of the human experience, and his did not. So, that's a –
Darrell Bock
I call that "giving people pause." I think Greg Koukl calls it "you want to put a stone in their shoe."
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
You know, you just kinda, "Ooh, what's that doing there?" You know? It kind of is a – and people do learn, in the midst of those conversations, on both sides of the conversation sometimes. But now I want to talk about kinda what frames that conversation, and I kinda want to set it up this way: you know, religion – well, there's an old line that says, "There are two things you don't talk about: you don't talk about religion, and you don't talk about politics." All right?

So, we got 'em both going these days.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
But anyway, and part of the reason for that is that religion is such a deeply personal element. And what our culture has done with religion and religious discussion is to throw up this idea of tolerance, which is a way of talking about, "Let's not challenge each other too much in some ways."

So, I know you've given a lot of thought to the way tolerance does and doesn't work in our culture and in our society. So, I'm just gonna – that's just a wide-open question. Talk to me about tolerance so I can be tolerant or intolerant. What am I supposed to be?
Mary Jo Sharp
[Laughs] Yeah, I actually – there's so many ways we can go with this. Well, first of all, I want to point out – and I'm gonna be discussing this today – later today with a group that I'm speaking to at DTS – on how tolerance is actually set up by Jesus himself in the sermon on the mount from Luke 6, the passage on doing good to those who don't necessarily do good to you. Right?

This is – he gives a clarion call, basically, for what we view as tolerance, putting up with others. But he goes beyond that. He's not just putting up with people, he says that you have to do good to those who persecute you and do good to those who hate you. Because he says, "What good is it if you only do good to those who do good to you?"
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Mary Jo Sharp
And what we're seeing in our current culture is this idea of tolerance has shifted to where we have to accept other people's views. So, there's no possibility of doing good to those with whom we adamantly disagree with, because tolerance is morphing to mean, "I only do good to those who think like me. I only do good to those who act like me. I only do good to those who agree with me."

And unfortunately, if we go to Matthew 5:43, this is the kind of attitude that Jesus was specifically teaching against, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." He flips that, right?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
He says, "You do good to those whom you disagree with. Love your enemy."
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, when I talk about tolerance, I want to root it squarely within the Scripture, and Jesus is teaching. In it he presents the only sort of environment in which hatred will starve, and that's a radical, unconditional love, which is the Christian basis for tolerance.

And so, that's where I start with Christians.
Darrell Bock
So, you start with a – you start with a biblical view of tolerance. And I'm sensing in the background there is a challenge to the unbiblical view of tolerance which is so dominant around us –
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Which tends to say, if I can – it's almost like the old flag, "Don't tread on me" – "Don't go into this territory when it comes to religion, and don't mess with the way people think." And yet, again, because the Gospel has challenge built into it, you can't do mission without challenge. It doesn't happen.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
So, how do you do this? So, you're really putting together two things that we constantly talk about here as well, which is this combination of what we might call compassion and conviction. You have convictions on the one hand, but you want to deliver theme with a compassion, with an understanding, with a sensitivity so you aren't just bashing people where they disagree, but you actually are communicating your care for them as you engage.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right. And – well, I – there's sort of a groundwork for why intolerance has become like a catchword and why it's in the area of religion. We don't talk about this, you just have to tolerate. You know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
And that goes back to the idea of the sacred-secular split that has become so prevalent in our culture. So, you have that some ideas belong in this – like what we would call the upper story. It's a fictitious story. You know, two different realms of existence, and in one is where values – all values like religious morals, things like that, are relegated to what we call a sacred realm, and that is private to the individual and subjective to their view.

And the you've got this other realm which is the public realm, and that's being said as, "This is the cold, hard fact realm. So, basically, anything we can empirically observe without going too far into that.

So, that, I think, is at the basis of this. We don't talk about this; we just sort of tolerate. Right? And I think that that sacred-secular split has caused us to think – even Christians to think, "Well, I wonder if I shouldn't talk about this because it belongs in the private realm. It's the sacred."
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
And we're starting to see that Christians are adopting this view that some things in life are public and religion is not one of those things. And I think that's what causes Christians to be sort of bullied by this idea of intolerance that if you discuss your beliefs in public, you're not being tolerant of the Muslim; you're not being tolerant of the atheist.

So, I want to make sure that we have that understanding that that's going on in the background. We tend to split things up as a society. But what concerns me even more is that this has gotten into the Church, that Christians go and serve their time, but that's their view. So, they don't want to go push their religion on others, and that's coming out of the sacred-secular split.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, there are two things that are going on here simultaneously. I'm gonna see if I can remember 'em both. And the one is, one of the reasons why religion has tended to be a taboo subject, there actually was a, in one sense, a good cause for it, and that was what helped to trigger the enlightenment and make it work culturally was all the religious war that had preceded it, the people had fought to the death – you know, in not little wars; one of 'em's called the Hundred Years' War. I tell people, "That's a long war."
Mary Jo Sharp
That is.
Darrell Bock
You know? [Laughs]
Mary Jo Sharp
That was a long scar.
Darrell Bock
That's right; it leaves a long scar. And so, you've got – so, what the enlightenment is, we're gonna put religion out of bounds so we don't end up in this such terribly hostile space that religion, in our recent history, has tended to produce.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Now, I can understand a society that reacts that way, when religion, in the broadest sense of the term now – of course, what's difficult here is that you had the way the faith was handled, but you also had the nationalism and then the statism that came with it that actually was probably more responsible for the violence than the religion was, although people thought they were fighting over truth.

And so, I understand those origins. But then the other thing that happens – and this is the "sinister" part of it, and I mean that word – and I'm thinking about what T. S. Eliot called "chestless people." You know?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
That we end up engaging the world, but we don't end up reflecting on our values. You know, values aren't just personal; they are societal.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so, when you pull that out of the equation, and you end up with this vacuum, this empty-chested life, no wonder you get chaos.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
That's where we end up unless we talk about what drives us and what we can share in common and what we may differ on that makes – that will make us better neighbors. And the only way we can be better neighbors with one another is to have those serious conversations.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. And, you know, you brought up T. S. Eliot.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
And that's also in The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis, the first chapter being called "Men without Chests." And what he was reacting to was he had received a grammar book to review because of his profession. So, he's reading through it, and he's noticing that moral relativism is being taught in this grammar book for children, who are high school age and under, without being – the students aren't being told that it's moral relativism, that all statements of value are meaningless. You know? But that's what's in there.

So, he's saying, "Before the student, before the boy or the girl is old enough to understand that they have engaged in philosophy, even the potential to understand this is being cut out of their soul." So, you're developing like what you said, like T. S. Eliot says, C. S. Lewis also says, "Men without chests." So, you expect of them honor and virtue and all these things, but you're not gonna get it. You kind of laugh at virtue, but then you expect it."
Darrell Bock
Now, I grew up in a high school that was very deep in the humanities. As I said, I didn't become a Christian till I was in college. So, this is not a Christian school. But it was interesting; in our English class we were reading stuff like T. S. Eliot. We were reading the poem called "The Hollow Men," That's actually what the title of the piece is.

And the point that was being made – this is in a secular context – the point that was being made was that we do need to think about our values and how our values impact people. So, at least we were being taught to think about how we're interacting with our neighbors, even in a context of a secular situation. But I went to school – you know, I was in high school in the late '60s and early '70s. So – and I'm not sure we're doing as much of that now.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
And I actually think we pay for it. We pay for it in our – we pay for it across the board in all our societal rhetoric, because we tell people, "These are spaces into which you may not walk," and yet they are spaces that actually are formative for how people think and act.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, how can you stay out of that space?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, you can't. Right? And I think this is a problem that has come from a lack of critical thinking skills. We are not teaching critical thought. And I'm worried that we're teaching what to think instead of teaching critical thought. Because on the issue of tolerance, you have to – the reason I start with the Scripture is you have to ground the idea of tolerance somewhere. Where are you getting the idea that you should tolerate another person? What's the basis for that?

Well, Christians are gonna say, "Well, there's Jesus' teaching," like we already discussed, but they're also gonna say, "Well, look at Genesis 1:26-31. Every human being is made in the image of God. And they share – they have that image equally. They're given – so, there's something about each individual that needs equal respect, that demands that respect.
Darrell Bock
There's something sacred about each person that's been created. In fact, that's what makes life sacred.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, there's a emphasis there. Not only is there a creation emphasis in that God made them in his image, but then when he's done, when you get to Genesis 1:31, he makes a value judgment, and he says that his creation is very good.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, we see that humans have value from being made in the image of God and also from God giving that – you know, making a value statement on humanity, that it's very good. So, this is an impetus – this is a grounding, a foundation for why we tolerate: because people are worthy of respect. They're worthy of our tolerance towards them due to the kind of thing that they are.

That's a grounding. But if you remove that sort of grounding, you say that human beings are just reducible to their material matter, they're a higher order of animal in the Animal Kingdom, now what's our grounding for tolerance.
Darrell Bock
Now it's survival of the fittest. I mean you create the environment for what we're getting, which is tribalism. You know?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yes.
Darrell Bock
You get every group standing only for what it represents and what it believes, and anything that attacks that is an opponent to be resisted with all possible means.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
And we actually have that going on in our society, on a regular basis now, because that's what fills the vacuum is an intense self-interest and self-preservation which ultimately eats at your society.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. And that's – I think that, yeah, you hit it right on the head. I mean we don't get some utopian society where everybody's viewed as equal. You get more of a survival of the fittest feel. And I think that's one of the great myths is that when you remove a transcendent moral authority, when you move – remove an objective standard of goodness, that people are going to, by instinct, act right and good. And that's not the case.

And so, I think that that's part of what's underlying this problem with the new tolerance because it's not really tolerance because it doesn't have its grounding anywhere. It doesn't have a basis, like we were talking about, with being made in the image of God.
Darrell Bock
And then the other thing that's very much in play here that's important to say at this point is, is that the other thing that this vacuum doesn't recognize sufficiently is the fact that we tend to be sinful creatures, that what drives us to this selfishness is this tendency to sin, to look out for self-interest and that kind of thing.

And so, the society – the society that thinks that it can be neutral and ignore the presence of sinfulness really sets itself on an – in an unstable – with an unstable foundation. And the interesting thing is is that the founders of at least our country were very conscious of the presence of sin and sinfulness, which is why they set up a system of checks and balances, because they didn't want too few people to have too much power.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
'Cause they knew they'd abuse it.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so, what goes into this vacuum isn't a neutrality – okay? – but this kind of self-focus. I actually think – this isn't supposed to be a political discussion; it's a religious discussion – but the point here is is that it is the self-focus that we tend to fall into by default if there isn't an accountability to a God who sets my values for me, that then puts me up against other people as opposed to being with them and alongside them.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. And that's – I mean that was the point, and if you get to the third chapter of Abolition of Man, you'd see that it's the values of some men. So, the idea of we can make ourselves whatever we want, whatever we please, ends up being that some men make other men what they please. And it boils down to the man with the biggest microphone and the most influence.
Darrell Bock
Or the biggest stick.
Mary Jo Sharp
Or the biggest stick.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it's an interesting conversation, and I think that – I do think that one of the areas where we have really missed it, in terms of our public discourse, is misunderstanding – I want to say misunderstanding tolerance, which is kind of what you're pushing towards.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, yeah. Misunderstanding it in that it's not agreeing with every view, but that it's actually putting up with something with which you disagree. Right? Because on a basis of all human beings are worthy of respect and have value, but you have to ground that. You have to ground that human beings have – are worthy of respect and have value, and that you have a moral obligation to human beings because they have value.
Darrell Bock
So, public space is gonna become contested space.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
M-kay? But then the question becomes, "How do you contest in the space?"
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
And so, now, putting kind of both pieces together that we've been talking about, on the one hand there's this probing, this listening, this engagement style that has gentleness and respect tied to it on the one hand, but it isn't that it's stepping into a vacuum. There is a goal in this conversation, and that's a kind of an attempt to gain a kind of mutual understanding about what ought to be valuable to human beings.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And what they ought to care about. I like to say that the Church has been used to being able to say, "It's true because it's in the Bible." But what we now have to learn to say is, "It's in the Bible because it's true."
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And we're contending for the truthfulness of why God puts it in the Bible. That's actually what we're engaged in trying to do. And if we can do that well and effectively, we actually do what we're called to do in mission.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
And that's why you care about the way people think.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
'Cause you care about truth.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
Definitely. And that's why we want to not just present propositional truth, which we can present in any manner. Like angry – we can look as aggressive as somebody who doesn't believe in God. A person who doesn't believe in God can come off more relationally excellent than a believer when you just focus on arguing propositional truth.

But we have to couple that, like we were saying at the beginning of the show, especially in such an environment as we have now, we have to focus on that relational excellence. It has to truly be about caring about those people if we're gonna be able to show 'em that they do have a vacuum or a void going on.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. This is so important, because I actually think the churches err in significant ways in this area. I think we've done a relatively decent job of trying to defend what we believe, but how we have done it has actually put a lot of people off –
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– and, in the process, distanced them from the invitation that we ultimately seek to try and deliver. You know, I tell people, "If you do a – if you do such a great job in making the challenge that people aren't interested in the invitation, that's not a success."
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. That's right, yeah.
Darrell Bock
I mean you – and the other half of it is is that Jesus does tell us, "People are – some people are not gonna like your message. You're gonna get pushback."
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
"But don't complain about it. You should expect that." You know?
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
Don't complain about it, you should expect it. In fact, I tell – he spent the second half of his ministry telling the disciples, "Look, isn't this thrilling? I'm headed for a cross, and you're in the same line."
Mary Jo Sharp
Yay.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right?
Darrell Bock
You know? So, we have to be prepared for that. But we are to do it in a way that says, "God so loved the world, he gave..." And so, that tone is to be at the core of what we do.
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah, exactly. And it's tough, because Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, where he's laying out the foundation there of what I would call a true tolerance, which is doing good to those who don't necessarily do good to you – doing good to those who don't do good to you – that's hard. I'm not sitting here saying, "Hey, we should all go out and be the best people ever." And it's so easy if we just listen to Jesus, that is a very difficult thing to do.
Darrell Bock
That's why he gives us the Spirit of God to enable us to do it, because it doesn't come to us very naturally.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right, yeah, yeah. And especially when you're being attacked or you're being called a bigot for your views – for a traditional Christian orthodox views. You just – it's getting harder and harder for people just to kinda keep their cool and not get defensive.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Let's do an example. This will kind of be a good way to wrap up our time.
Mary Jo Sharp
All right.
Darrell Bock
And that is I suspect that if a person, who's a Christian goes out in the culture and speaks their mind about where they are, and even does it gently, etcetera, they will still be accused of issuing a form of hate speech or something to that effect.

So, what kind of advice do you have for us, when you're in that environment and someone plays that card and says, "You must really hate people because –" and then fill in the blank however you fill in the blank in light of – because you exclude people or whatever it is. How do you – what kind of advice do you have for people who find themselves dealing with that kind of pushback?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. I think that's a good one to focus on, because I actually think part of the problem with tolerance is a redefining of hate speech. But I would say what do you – I'm back to the question, "What do you mean by hate speech?"
Darrell Bock
Yeah, let's apply what we've been talking about.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
"What do you mean by hate speech?" And I want them to – I'm looking for their definition. Or, "What do you mean that I was using hate speech? So, tell me how, in this instance, you see this as hate speech."

And make the person who's accusing you of it actually bring the evidence to bear, "This is why it's hate speech, and here's what hate speech is."
Darrell Bock
So, you might be pushing them to think about there's a difference between saying I disagree with you on something and attaching a motive to that that represents hate.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
I mean that's one of the distinctions you want people to make.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
'Cause some people who have made the equation "disagreement, at least in certain areas, equals hate," and it may not.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right. And hate is the – we have to remember "hate" is one of the most negatively charged words that we can use in the English language to represent an attitude. So, you have to be careful just flinging it around.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right? Just we have to remember that. But yeah, we want – I want them to be pushed back towards, "Where do you get an idea that hate speech exists at all?" I think this is important because, for me, hate speech assumes a standard of goodness.
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right?
Darrell Bock
Right.
Mary Jo Sharp
There's a standard.
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
Mary Jo Sharp
This is how I know what's good, and this speech over here doesn't match that standard of goodness.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Now, where does that come from? And we're off and running.
Mary Jo Sharp
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.
Mary Jo Sharp
That's exactly right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, you're – it's interesting, 'cause you've got a person who could well be a moral relativist, playing this standards card.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Okay, all right, hmm. That's an interesting game.
Mary Jo Sharp
Right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, where are you getting the idea that there's something – you seem to be accusing me of something like hate speech that you think has real existence, but you haven't told me on what grounding you think hate speech is a real thing at all. That doesn't exist. You can't just say the laws of men, because those can change. Right? They have changed.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
So, we need to know on what basis you think this has a real existence.
Darrell Bock
And so, you're pushing for the reaction background that if you're gonna say this, then you better have some basis for the standards that you set, and now the conversation can turn.
Mary Jo Sharp
It can turn, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Mary Jo Sharp
Towards that standard of goodness.
Darrell Bock
And where's that come from?
Mary Jo Sharp
Right. And I talk to –
Darrell Bock
And who's responsible for it?
Mary Jo Sharp
Yeah. And I talk to 'em about how Christians believe it's God and how because he is the standard of goodness, we can say there actually is speech which does not manage that – or [chuckle] manage – does not match that standard of goodness.

So, there's actually speech that robs human beings of the goodness of speech that speech was intended for. So, we can say things like this to people. But then, you still need to support your view.
Darrell Bock
Well, this has been fabulous, Mary Jo. I mean I really have enjoyed the time. It's flown by. We've talked about two very important topics: how to listen to people and how to think about tolerance and intolerance in our time. It's just a beginning conversation on what apologetics is about.

I have no apology for bringing you on the air. It's been great to have you with us and to have you help us kind of negotiate this space.
Mary Jo Sharp
Thank you. I've really enjoyed it, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And we thank you for joining us at The Table. We hope you've found the conversation fascinating, and we hope you'll be back with us again soon.

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