Context: Ridley Evangelistic Mission Team in Tasmania, during 2002. Doorknocking the local area with a survey about peoples beliefs and views.
U = us (myself and fellow Ridley College student). H = him (early retiree age man). This dialogue is obviously not verbatim, but a summary of the gist of the discussion. Whenever I say ‘etc etc’ I mean he talked for a long time on that topic.
U: Hi we’re from C Anglican Church, and we’re doing a survey in your local community…
H: Survey? Survey? What is your sample size? Do you know the formula for working out an ideal sample size? Do you know how unaccurate your survey is?
[Wow he jumped down my throat with this! Short exchange ensues. He was grumpy and adamant on bagging our survey, he wouldn’t listen to the fact we weren’t planning on generalising the results – so his formulae didn’t apply. I’ve studied university level statistics too.]
U: What do you think of Jesus?
H: Jesus, well we don’t really know a lot about him. As he spoke Aramaic and we have no Aramaic texts from him, so we have no accurate records.
U: Well actually the most common language in the Roman empire in the first century was Greek.
H: No it wasn’t. The Romans hated the Greeks. The Romans spoke Latin and the Jews spoke Aramaic.
U: Actually that is not quite true. The linga franca was Greek, even among Jews. This is evidenced by widespread use of the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament that Jesus used.
H: Anyway, the New Testament documents were corrupted over time. etc etc.
U: What evidence do you have of that?
H: Well all our texts are at least third century. Marginal notes became included in the main text and were taken as part of the original document… etc etc.
U: Well actually there are thousands of extant NT manuscripts with very close correlation much earlier than 3rd Century. They are available in libraries around the world, mostly Europe. The differences are mostly trivial, we have an accurate NT text. I have a copy of the Greek New Testament in my car, I could demonstrate the reliability for you, it has lists of the textually questionable verses. There are not many.
[He changes topic at this point. This happened many times in the conversation.]
H: The OT is even worse. The Jews were not very good at transmitting texts.
U: What evidence do you have of that? There is quite good evidence that the Jews took their texts very seriously. Consider the quality of the 1st C texts found at Qumran, they verified the quality of the OT texts we have been using since the 9th Century.
H: Qumran is a big coverup. With all the politics we don’t know what they found there. Well church history is all about power struggles. How about Henry the 8th? Etc etc.
U: So what do you think of Jesus teaching?
H: Oh I actually don’t mind his teaching, it’s quite good to love one another.
U: But Jesus actually said that was secondary. He said the most important thing was to love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind.
H: Well I think even Jesus got it wrong on that count. How can you believe in an omnipotent God? How could an omnipotent God use something as crappy as the church? Omnipotence is a joke.
U: I’m working hard to consider the claims of Christianity critically and looking objectively at the evidence. That’s what I am doing at Theological College. Are you really considering the evidence?
H: Well why don’t you speak to your lecturers and ask the really hard questions? I think you’ll find it doesn’t all fit together. Ask your lecturers the hard questions and don’t stick your head in the sand.
U: I will and I do. I’m not into sticking my head in the sand. Thanks for your time.
It is easy on recollection to repaint the discussion in my favour. In reality he wasn’t even close to being convinced on any topic. He held the upper hand in most of the conversation, he talked the most, he felt he was informed and I was a naïve gullible Christian. He was fairly patronising in that sense. I was trying to be respectful as I was interrupting his gardening, though I sensed he enjoyed the intellectual engagement of the conversation.
I didn’t actually get to the gospel with this man. The closest I got was talking about Jesus says the most important thing is to love God. Everything else was apologetics.
I felt that he was hiding behind a cloak of intellectualism. He had some half-truths that he used to dismiss the credibility of Christianity. Although he does need to hear the gospel, there are many intellectual obstacles in his way. Given more time and a less controntational situation, I would have enjoyed asking him more personal questions about his own involvement with Christianity and Christians, and how he came to form such anti-Christian attitudes.