It is a challenge to start conversations about faith with non-believers. It seems we often have so little in common.

  • How do we begin to talk about Jesus with colleagues and students who differ from us in almost all categories–religiously, politically, socially, or morally?
  • What if they are simply agnostic or just plain apathetic about spiritual things?
  • What if they voice a deep antagonism toward evangelicals?

We can take a lesson from how the apostle Paul handled some pretty irrational pagans in Lystra (as recorded in Acts 14). Paul appealed to what he and his audience had in common – the blessings of God’s common grace.

Because God had used Paul and Barnabas to heal a man, the crowd in Lystra wanted to worship them. In looking for a way to correct the crowd, Paul encouraged them to turn from idols to the living God by pointing out that God has “shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; that he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 15, 17).

In other words, he appealed to their experiences of joy and pointed them to the giver of the things that bring such joy. The theological category for this is “common grace.” It is closely related to another category – God’s general revelation – the ways God has declared truth to us in addition to his specific revelations of the scriptures and the Incarnation.

The Bible reminds us that God causes “the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Jesus looked to birds and flowers as illustrations of God’s truths (see Matthew 6:26-30).

Whether your colleagues or students share your belief in Jesus or not, they are recipients of common grace, surrounded by His general revelation.

In fact, professors, in particular, are recipients of even better than common grace.  They daily focus their attention on studying God’s general revelation – through botany, biology, astronomy, sociology, physics, history, and hundreds of other disciplines. If the heavens can declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), so can cells, societies, and systems engineering.

I recently began a conversation with an Art History professor simply because I love the work of Van Gogh.  I was frustrated by a recent biography that wrote disparaging things about his faith and I wanted to hear what this professor thought.  Our common appreciation for art, beauty, and Van Gogh’s unique ability to celebrate color led to other topics closer to the gospel.  A shared appreciation for a common grace opened up a new door to a new relationship that, hopefully, can introduce someone to new life.

As we look for the “common graces” that bring us joy, we’ll  often find a door open for significant conversations.  

In these conversations, it’s often fairly easy to turn the conversation to the source of joy, the giver of gifts, the teller of truth, and the one who does more than just reveal – he redeems!

— Randy Neuman, author of Questioning Evangelism