I have been chewing on a concept that has been slowly percolating in my mind for the last several years. Who knows exactly how it got there. Only the Lord knows. But, as I have been finding my steps in my walk with Christ, there are a couple of things that I have learned pertaining to evangelism and apologetics. One is that not everyone deserves an answer. Both Proverbs and Jesus attest to that. Evangelism and apologetics are not simply about providing the best answer to a challenge or giving the best prepackaged presentation of the Gospel, or even quoting some great verses from Scripture at the “right” moment. This is not a game where you just need to press the perfect combination of buttons at the right time on your controller. This is life and death. This is someone standing on a cliff. And this is you trying to talk them down.
Brothers and sisters, when we are either sharing the Gospel with a nonbeliever or engaging in apologetics, we must remember one crucial thing: We are not answering the question, we are answering the questioner. Notice the difference? Answering the question is simply providing information in a context-less vacuum of sorts. Answering the questioner is dealing with a flesh-and-blood human being with real doubts, fears, and concerns; someone who does not need an excellent comeback but eye contact, a caring heart, and a winsome attitude. Oh, how many times I have witnessed answering the question with sneers, sarcasm, and mockery for those who do not agree with us! Every time we do this, folks, we fail. We fail the nonbeliever who continues down his destructive, eternal path, we fail our duty as ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20; Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15-16), and we fail to please God.
In an essay on what he calls “Applied Apologetics” Dr. Greg Ganssle discusses this notion of answering the questioner. We must think deeply about the nonbelievers we are engaging. What are their influences? What do they value? Do any of these things help or hinder the Gospel message? How so? These questions (and more like them) treat those with whom we engage not as fill-in-the-blank test questions but real human beings that should be treated as such. Notice this requires a lot more work than simply talking to someone about God. This entails reading the person you’re talking to, understanding his rationale, empathizing with his fears and doubts, etc. Since evangelism is a process over time, Ganssle has developed what he calls “The Diagnostic Scale” showing where, in this process, someone could be at any given moment. I think this is a great reminder of the real work we are here to do in this world and what it should look like. Here is an excerpt from that essay:
“The Diagnostic Scale (Inspired by the Engel Scale)
-9 Suspicious of any truth claim— thoroughly secular, whether postmodern or otherwise.
-8 “God is completely irrelevant to everything I value or to which I aspire.”
-7 Suspicion of theism and Christianity in particular.
-6 Engages with believers: “Even if there is truth, it is not found in God.”
-5 Believers begin to shake up smug secularism.
-4 “Christianity is plausible. I still do not believe it.”
-3 “I can begin to see myself as a Christian.”
-2 “I want to be like you.”
-1 “I see my need for Christ.”
** REPENTANCE AND FAITH IN CHRIST
1 Still largely secular and postmodern but committed to growing as a Christian.
2 Further involvement in the community of believers.
3 Sees how the life of Christ is lived out.
4 Begins to think biblically about relationships and issues of integrity.
5 Growing reliance on the Word and the Spirit of God in daily life.
6 Begins to think biblically about life and career.
7 Develops spiritual gifts, mentors others, engages the contemporary mind one person at a time.
… a person needs to see that Jesus connects to his deepest aspirations. In order for him to see this fact, he may have to have his aspirations reshaped. He needs to see that the best life is not comprised of the pursuit of pleasure. It involves virtue and deep relationships. The deeper his sense of what it is to flourish as a person, the better able he is to see that the gospel does take up his deepest concerns. In this way, rehabilitating a robust view of human flourishing is a downstream task. Most of the people we hope to reach live in an environment that does not help them to think of human flourishing in this way. Rehabilitating a robust view of human flourishing is also an upstream task. It consists in many smaller pieces such as undermining reductionistic views of the human person…
To think about applied apologetics, then, is to think about how to connect the general features of the broad and cumulative case for Christianity to the particular needs and challenges of the individual person in front of you. No amount of knowledge of the technicalities of the academic issues will help us if we cannot show how these issues touch the very things he cares about most. The conceptual tools can help us by training us to ask the kinds of questions that might reveal fruitful paths to pursue. Becoming a good diagnostician is part of the task of becoming a faithful follower of Christ. It is an element that requires careful and persistent thought and prayer. Our aim is to be faithful to articulate the riches of the thick gospel and to show its intrinsic relevance to the deepest hopes and dreams of those God brings into our lives.”
 Gregory E. Ganssle, “Making the Gospel Connection: An Essay Concerning Applied Apologetics” in Come Let us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 13-16.