The apostle Paul modeled “joy-based apologetics” when he proclaimed good news to pagans in Lystra and Derbe, as recorded in Acts 14. Having seen Barnabas and Paul heal a crippled man, the crowd bowed down and worshiped them, calling them Zeus and Hermes. The evangelists would have none of it. They told them to “turn from these vain things to a living God” (Acts 14:15), claiming they were bringing them “good news.” We can learn much from what they said next. They pointed to good gifts as reflectors of good news.
How do we witness to happy people?
Telling miserable people that Jesus can meet their deepest needs seems easy compared to warning satisfied people about the wrath to come. I’m talking about people who, from all outward appearances, seem just fine without God. They don’t appear to feel guilt or shame about anything. They don’t seem to long for something transcendent to add meaning to their lives. They don’t mind sleeping in on Sunday morning and lingering leisurely over brunch. In fact, they look forward to it.
We could try to convince them that, deep down, they’re really not that happy. But I don’t recommend that tactic. To be sure, we do have biblical warrant for telling unhappy people there is something else — Someone else! — that can really satisfy them. I call this “misery-based apologetics.” Jesus modeled this for us when he told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13–14).
But when people don’t seem all that miserable, it’s hard to get them to feel something we think they should feel.
Meet the Relatively Happy
Despite our best efforts, we rarely convince people that their lives really do stink. I imagine the frustrating interchange between a Christian and a happy non-Christian might sound like this:
Aren’t you looking for something more in life?