How does this strategy challenge unchurched people?
It takes away one excuse not to listen. A Jewish lady once told me she likes to hear me preach because I don't expect her to believe everything. She was basically saying, "If you'll let me accept bits and pieces as I go, without expecting me to accept the whole thing, then I can track with you."
One time I taught with Bill Hybels in South Africa. While he was teaching one day, he told stories about two individuals with whom he was engaging in faith conversations. One of his neighbors said, "Okay, Bill, wait, wait, wait. If you're expecting me to believe the earth was created in a six 24-hour period, let's stop right there." Bill wasn't even talking about that. He was trying to engage this guy about Jesus. The other story was about a woman who brought up the Noah story. Bill told me, "Before I could get them to engage in who Jesus is, they'd already shut me down because they'd said, 'If at the end of this conversation I have to believe in a boat with animals or six 24-hour periods, forget it.'" And Bill, in front of the audience in South Africa, said, "What I found myself saying to [these two people] was, 'Don't worry about that part. Let's focus on Jesus.'"
So my point is this: Why create an unnecessary obstacle—it's all or nothing; it's the Bible—when the real issue is Jesus.
I get pushback on this approach. But the truth is no one had copies of the New Testament until the printing press. If you did, you were wealthy. We forget that for 1,500 years, people had only bits and pieces. They saw only a copy or heard portions of Scripture read. Nobody in A.D. 150 got up in church and said, "The Bible says." They leveraged the Old Testament and then talked about Jesus or read a copy of something Paul said. Using phrases like "The Bible says" is a modern phenomenon.
Do you find the approach of letting nonbelievers off the hook, saying, "Hey, you're not a Christian; you won't believe this and you don't have to affirm this," piques their interest more?
Yeah. Not only that, it teaches Christians an apologetic—how to talk about their faith with unbelievers. Preaching in that way models personal evangelism. In fact, this summer I'm going to do a three-part series on personal evangelism, and most of the elements are taken from what I try to model in my teaching. I really do think it's apologetic preaching, and it helps believers know how to talk perhaps more persuasively about their faith.
It's common for unbelievers to focus on apparent discrepancies in the Bible, conclude the whole thing wasn't divinely inspired, and then say that we can't trust any of it as true. How does your approach address this line of thinking?
This approach allows us to work around all those objections, because you don't have to believe the Bible is without contradiction in order to become a Christian. I went to Dallas Seminary, where we spent a lot of our time trying to smooth out all the apparent contradictions so we could say there were no contradictions. And what I found is once someone settles the issue of who Jesus really is, those apparent contradictions aren't a big issue.