Never Make This Assumption: how my awkward talk taught me a lesson I’ll never forget

I was going to be presenting on why the New Testament documents were reliable to a group of extremely bright university students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. We’re talking cream of the crop here – some of the brightest minds get accepted to UW Madison

I needed to step up my game. 

I mean, some in the audience are PhD students. Here I am just with a Master’s degree in Apologetics, walking onto a campus in a highly skeptical area. After all, Madison is the home of the “Freedom from Religion” advocacy group. They tend to foster skepticism in the city. 

I was comfortable with the subject matter because I had presented on it several times before. I did change the presentation a bit to include more academic details that I thought these students might enjoy. “I got this,” I said to myself upon entering the room.

One of the guys who invited me, a leader in the Ratio Christi group that met at the Upper House, greeted me enthusiastically by saying, “I wanted to let you know that we sent out an email to the whole campus inviting them to see you tonight!” What? I thought it was just going to be the Ratio Christi crowd. 

At that point, there was nothing I could do about it. I’d do the best I could, with a little help from above. Heaven knows the prayers started flowing in my head as soon as I heard the invite went out to the whole campus! 

Thankfully, the audience wasn’t huge. The room was small to begin with, and so there were only enough seats for probably just a couple dozen students. And that’s about how many showed up. (I guess the rest of the campus wanted to spend their Monday night doing something other than listening to a ‘middle-aged mama’ with a Master’s degree.)

I had a slide show complement my lecture. I chatted about skepticism and why many doubted the accounts in the Gospels – miracle stories. I mean, who believes a dead man can rise in three days from a sealed tomb after being brutally murdered? Yeah. There is a lot of skepticism about those stories.

I covered the reliability of the transmission of the texts, in that we can be confident we have what the original authors wrote nearly two-thousand years ago. I talked about the thousands of Biblical manuscript evidences we have, and then briefly touched on atheist New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, and how he feeds the false idea that we can’t know what Jesus really said. 

Ehrman goes on to attack the memory of the disciples. Yet, Jesus told his disciples that they’d remember things with the help of the Holy Spirit. I told the audience that, even though this is true, you can’t use this a skeptic—John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” A skeptic won’t buy it. 

At the end of my presentation, which I thought went good, I asked if there were any questions. The first hand to shoot up was from a young lady, sitting in the back row. 

“First off,” she said, “I’m an atheist.” 

Gulp… awkward!

She criticized me on how she thought I wasn’t being open minded by suggesting we not read Bart Ehrman’s stuff (but I read some of his stuff, which is why I wasn’t recommending it). 

I listened and replied, “Well, I am glad you’re here.” And that was sincere! I want skeptics to hear why the Bible is reliable, and the fact she attended was a good thing. 

I briefly spoke with her and her boyfriend (also a skeptic), and by the end of the night, they told me that: “I guess you’re pretty cool.” I made an honest attempt to explain myself well to them, and I think they were impressed by that. 

All this to say is that after that presentation, I realized that I can never assume only believers will be in the audience. There may be flat-out angry atheists in my audience, too, and so, I should word things to be more inclusive with language. What I mean by ‘inclusive’ is that I should probably refrain from saying things like, “Well, you can’t tell a skeptic this but…” 

It was an awkward moment. I should’ve known when the host told me that an email went out to the student population that this may include skeptics. My bad. 

But God used it to teach me a great lesson – I will never assume that everyone I speak to knows Him. I am just a ‘seed planter of truth,’ and only God can make those seeds grow.

Moral of this awkward apologetics story? Never assume everyone is a Christian in your audience, or Bible study or wherever you present apologetics.

2 Comments

    • LisaQAuthor May 8, 2024 Reply

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