What can we achieve by establishing common ground with our detractors? Simply, we can gain their ear. R.C. Sproul illustrates, in his lecture Christ: The Only Way, how to connect with people through searching for an agreement. After a skeptical professor singles him out, Sproul gets the opportunity to dialogue with the individual in a private conversation concerning the exclusivity of the Gospel. He begins his apologetic by connecting with the professor on an intellectual agreement. He asks hypothetically, “Do you believe that Jesus could be at least one way?” By asking this simple question, Sproul has extended a bridge to conversation instead of erecting a wall that would stifle dialogue. Sproul then has the ability to share his reasoning with a listening audience.
The Apostle Peter writes, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”(1Pe 3:15 KJV). Many people know the reason for our hope, but forsake sharing it in a spirit of meekness and fear. Although, the person may object to the truth claims of Christ, the individuals we are speaking with are made in the image of God and we must remember their intrinsic value. By establishing a common ground, we demonstrate that we value the individual’s thoughts. This aids in our receptivity.
For a biblical example, the Apostle Paul utilizes this approach at Mars Hill. The Bible records,
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you (Act 17:22-23 KJV).
Paul could have verbally assaulted the audience for their polytheism, but he builds a bridge by using their superstitions. After gaining their ear, he launches into sharing the truth of the Gospel. This is exactly the technique R.C. Sproul used in dealing with a skeptical scholar.
Am I saying to candy-coat the message? In a sense, I am. Please put the stones down and allow me to explain. Unequivocally, we should share the truth of the Gospel without compromise for eternal souls hang in the balance. However, we can package it in a manner more appealing to the ear of our audience. For illustration, when my dog was sick it needed medicine to heal. I attempted to force feed the pup a pill, but time after time a saliva-covered pill plummeted to the ground. So, what did I do? I put the pill in a spoon of peanut butter and the dog gobbled it down. Now did I reduce the amount of medicine given to my canine companion? No. I merely presented in a manner he would receive. The same principle, when applied to our exchanges with skeptics, should not be found illegitimate.
In conclusion, I am not opposed to given the hard-hitting meat of the word, but are they ready for it? By finding common ground, it allows the delivery of truth to be more palatable. Of course, there comes a point of no return and truth is either accepted or rejected, but as we see in Sproul’s (and even Paul’s) example they attempt to establish a foundation for reasonable dialogue to progress. Our wit will never bring salvation to anyone, but we can in a loving and respectful way present God’s word to others. In my opinion, if we can continue the conversation, they will continue to ponder our position and remember truth is on our side.