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Evangelism and Worldview

by Seth Pierce

Excuse me, Pastor?” asked a student who had been fidgeting throughout my lecture.

“Yes, Chrissie?” I replied, smiling even though I knew what was coming.

“You say that we just ‘sleep’ when we die—that we don’t go anywhere, right?”

“Correct” I replied again.

“Well,” said Chrissie, doing her best to be respectful, “it’s just that I didn’t grow up with that belief. I’ve always been told that when we die, we go to heaven or hell. I see verses such as Luke 23:43, where Jesus says the dying thief will be with Him in Paradise, and it looks as if he goes straight to heaven.”

I looked at my freshman college Bible class and could see several Adventist kids tuned in to this question. How would I respond? Flat out tell her she’s wrong? Just accept her view as another acceptable interpretation among many? My class was particularly interested in my response because another teacher, teaching another section of the same class, had a reputation for shouting down opposing views. I needed to speak truth, but I didn’t want to break my student’s spirit, or ruin our relationship.

“I can see you have spent some time studying this question,” I began. “I really appreciate that. Most people don’t put the effort in, much less engage others with different viewpoints. Thank you.” I could see her relax a bit. Christians, particularly Adventists, have a bad habit of demonizing anyone who doesn’t think as we do—as if everybody else is dumb.

Truth be told, everyone from atheists to fundamentalist Southern Baptists can ask good questions—and we need to treat them with gentleness and respect even if we disagree. And in this case I did disagree, but I decided to do it in a different way than expected.

“So here is my challenge with the text,” I said. “In John 20:17 Jesus says to Mary, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ’ ” (ESV).* I let the text sink in a moment before continuing. “What bothers me is that Jesus says the thief will be with Him in Paradise, but this Gospel says He has been in the tomb—not Paradise. So where is the thief?” I let the question linger a bit.

“I never thought of that before,” said Chrissie with a puzzled expression.
“So you see my issue then?” I asked. “If I am to come over to the belief that we go straight to heaven when we die, then I need you to help me get over this hurdle—plus a few others.” I then went back to my lecture, demonstrating how the Hebrews thought of the soul, how Greek paganism crept into the church, and how many modern evangelical scholars have abandoned the idea that we go straight to heaven when we die.

I simply asked her for help—to give me proof for her beliefs so that I might believe like she did. However, she couldn’t do it, and as a result a whole new world of study was opened for her—and that’s how worldview, apologetics, and evangelism work.

We first establish our worldview, then we can practice defending it (gently and respectfully), and as a result people are compelled to adopt the truth we have found.


You can’t do evangelism when you don’t know what you believe; you’ll only confuse people—including yourself. So after we have built our worldview, how do we practice apologetics without creating an angry conflict that kills evangelism?

Here are some tips:

1. Never engage in an angry conversation with the intent to “win.” There is an old saying, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” You may win an argument, but you may also lose a friend. It’s better to withdraw from a hostile conversation politely than to engage angrily. Many times I have privately messaged people on Facebook, rather than jumping into a war. The results are much better.

2. Ask good questions rather than making dogmatic statements. Do your best to let the other person reach conclusions on their own, rather than shoving them down their throat with quotes from the Bible and Ellen White. Make it about them helping you to understand, rather than lecturing them.

3. Never be condescending—people will hate you. Phrases such as “Well, I’ll just pray for you” or “Some of us just don’t take the Bible seriously” are obnoxious and make you look like a jerk. No one likes jerks or listens to them. Be direct, respectful, and gentle.

4. Accept good questions about what you believe with grace. Thank the person for asking a good question and admit if you need to do more study to answer it. There is no shame in saying “Good question; let me think about it a little.” Giving half-baked answers to things you haven’t thought about is always a disaster.

5. Use sources and language that will make sense to the person you are talking to.  Likely your non-SDA friends have no use for Ellen White, and will not respond well to King James language. Adapt your speech, illustrations, and metaphors to universal things—like Jesus did.

6. If you sense the Spirit leading, and your friend is really coming around to your perspective, ask “decision questions,” such as “What’s the next step for you on this issue?” “So does this make sense?” “Do you have any other questions?” or “What’s holding you back from accepting this?”

May God bless you as you create your worldview, defend it, and win people for Jesus!

* Scripture quotations marked ESV are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Seth Pierce is a pastor and author residing with his family in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys Warrior Dashes, Spartan Races, reading, and collecting crazy stories, which he keeps in a secret file. You can connect with him at

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