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Points of Contact Print E-mail

Written by Jerry Solomon

Making Contact

In 1988 at the Republican National Convention, George Bush called for "a thousand points of light" as a part of his campaign for president. His intention was to encourage the involvement of a small but committed number of people who could make a difference. If only a few would answer the call, a thousand points of light emanating from communities large and small would touch the country. The implications of President Bush's phrase remind me of a phrase designed to instill the same concept in the members of a branch of our military: "The few, the proud, the Marines."

These ideas are not far removed from a concept that should be descriptive of Christian communities. We should be "points of light" to the surrounding world, even if we are "the few." After all, Jesus said His disciples are "...the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14). (Of course He did not say we are to be "the proud," and most of us are not Marines. But I think you get the idea.) Jesus continues with this exhortation: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). How can we shine the light of Christ in the surrounding world? I submit that one response to this question is this: We can be points of light by establishing points of contact.

You may be thinking, "Just what is meant by a point of contact?" Good question! Let me attempt to explain. For our purposes in this series a "point of contact" contains several points (pardon the pun).

1. Its purpose is to activate conversation that leads to evangelism.

2. It stimulates dialogue.

3. It enables you to make a transition from a non-Christian worldview to a Christian worldview.

4. It serves as a "bridge" to someone who might not otherwise respond to the gospel.

5. It encourages you to meet a person where "he lives" mentally and spiritually.

6. It provides a positive challenge to use your God-given creativity, instead of relying on a "canned" approach.

7. It stretches you to converse with non-believers in ways that can be understood by them. As C. S. Lewis wrote, "I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one's own meaning."{1} Christians tend to have their own "educated language." We may understand one another. But the non-Christian probably has no idea what we are saying; he is uneducated in our language.{2}

All of these points assume that you are sharing what we will call a "common life" with those around you. What are some of the elements of this common life? You probably share time and space each day with friends, business colleagues, neighbors, sports opponents, people on the train or plane, and a host of other possibilities. But these refer only to the physical portion of your common life. What about such things as the news media, television programming, movies, magazines, sporting events, and many others that are shared, paradoxically, when we may be alone? They too are part of the common life we share, whether Christian or non-Christian. Such things provide points of contact. They can be bridges to the gospel.

Pertinent Points

Have you ever traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge, or maybe the bridge over the Royal Gorge? If so, why were you on such bridges? Usually we assume they have been constructed to transport us from one side of a gap to another. There is a significant gap between you and your destination on the other side. A bridge provides at least one way to get there.

How large is the gap between Christians and non-Christians? Most Christians would reply that the gap is enormous, and in a theological sense they are correct. The Christian worldview is on one side of a chasm, and non-Christian worldviews are on the other. Such a predicament could be left as it is, which is the case for too many Christians. But part of the Christian's responsibility is to "bridge" that gap with the amazing truth of the gospel. Points of contact can provide the raw materials for the building of such a bridge.

Alister McGrath, a great theologian and apologist of our time, has suggested several such points of contact that are shared by all people. These can be useful as you begin to erect a bridge.{3} As we consider such points, use your imagination and think of ways in which you might engage someone in conversation.

First, most people have a sense of unsatisfied longing. We are made in the image of God. We have an inbuilt capacity--indeed, an inbuilt need--to relate to God. Nothing that is transitory can ever fill this need. Created things are substituted for God, and they do not satisfy.

A major portion of my life includes involvement in the musical world. I have performed a wide assortment of music styles. But in particular, I have developed a great appreciation for what most people call "classical music."

One of the more intriguing aspects of classical music history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a "sense of unsatisfied longing." For example, Gustav Mahler continually composed in order to come to grips with that longing. One of his close friends, the great conductor Bruno Walter, put it like this: "Fundamentally, there never was relief for him from the sorrowful struggle to fathom the meaning of human existence."{4} When I hear Mahler's music, I hear that "sorrowful struggle" and think of how I may have talked with the great composer himself.

Second, most people have a sense of human rationality. This resonance of reason with God is a harmony of rationality, hinting that human nature is still marked with the imago Dei [image of God]. Given the Christian understanding of who God is and what He is like, our knowledge of both our rational selves and the rational world ties in with belief in His rational and creative existence.

C. S. Lewis expressed this point by focusing on the probability of a mind. He wrote, "What is behind the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know. That is to say, it is conscious, and has purposes, and prefers one thing to another. It made the universe, partly for purposes we do not know, but partly, at any rate, in order to produce creatures like itself . . . to the extent of having minds."{5}

Third, most people have a sense of the ordering of the world. Modern science has demonstrated that the world is ordered. But its disclosure of an intelligible and delicately balanced structure raises questions that transcend the scientific and provide an intellectual restlessness that seeks adequate explanation. Perhaps the most fundamental of these questions can be summarized in a single word: Why?

Think of the newspapers, books, and magazines you read. They consist of ordered arrangements of ink on paper. "Neither the chemistry of the ink nor the shapes of the letters determines the meaning of the text. In short, the message transcends the properties of the medium."{6} The message requires a messenger.

Fourth, most people have a sense of human morality. Most humans realize the importance of moral obligation or at least they have an awareness of the need for some kind of agreement on morality.{7}

Perhaps this is noticed most easily when sensational crimes are committed, as when Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate and her friends. Even though the public may not agree on how justice should be carried out, seldom do we hear that the crime was a good thing. Invariably there is a sense of moral outrage and a cry for justice.

Fifth, many people struggle with a sense of existential anxiety and alienation. This reflects a deeply rooted fear of meaninglessness and pointlessness, a sense of the utter futility of life, even sheer despair at the bewildering things that threaten to reduce us to nothing more than a statistic--ultimately a mortality statistic. While it seems trite to talk about "the meaning of life," it is a question that lingers at the edges (and sometimes squarely in the center) of reflective human existence.{8}

The twentieth century is replete with famous examples of this point. From the philosophical intricacies of people such as Jean-Paul Sartre, to the expletives of punk-rocker Johnny Rotten, many have struggled with anxiety and alienation. Even a German word, angst, has entered our vocabulary as a statement of such states of mind. "Man has a sense of dread (Angst); he is a being thrust into the world and headed for death (nothingness) with no explanation [that] ‘there is something rather than nothing at all.'"{9} Contrary to the openness of those such as Sartre and Rotten, this point of contact is one of the more "quiet" ones, in that it is not openly stated. Anxiety and alienation generally are not easily seen and heard; one has to be sensitive to what lies below the surface.

Sixth, most people have an awareness of finitude and mortality. The fear of death, often voiced in terms of a radical inability to cope with the brute fact of human existence, runs deep in human nature. As the writer/director/actor Woody Allen said, "I'm not frightened of dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Physical death, perhaps the most universally realized truth, may be the least discussed. It is inevitable, but its mystery so often stirs terror or resignation. Listen to Shakespeare's Macbeth:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.{10}

If you could talk with people like Charles Manson, Johnny Rotten, Woody Allen, or the fictional Macbeth, how would you respond? Would you consider how these points of contact could be used to engage them in conversation? Would you think carefully about how God may use you to get their attention?

Biblical Points of Contact

Mustard seeds, hidden treasure, vineyards, debtors, fig trees, sheep, money. What do such things have in common? You probably recognize such terms from the parables that Jesus used to teach spiritual principles. We could add many more phrases, because the Gospels contain many instances when Jesus used His favorite teaching device as a point of contact with His listeners.

Just what is a parable? Literally, the word means, "to throw alongside." Parables "...were used by Jesus to teach a truth, illustrate a doctrine, or move His audience to a moral attitude or act."{11} Apparently they were used spontaneously in light of an immediate situation or conflict, and they focused on what was familiar to the audience.{12} These characteristics are indicative of how Jesus was able to get the kind of attention that opened doors to important truths. When we attempt to find a point of contact, we are following Jesus' example. We may not use a parable, but we are responding to an immediate situation spontaneously in a way that is familiar to our audience.

So a parable is one device found in the Bible that can be used as a point of contact. When we read the Gospels they are hard to miss. But Jesus used other devices as well.

One example of this is found in the story of His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Both Jesus and the woman initially were at the well for water, but Jesus quickly engaged her in conversation concerning something beyond physical water. His point of contact was the water, but He quickly used that as a "springboard" that drew her focused attention. He said, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10). Imagine if you had heard such a response! Don't you think your interest would have been piqued? This encounter provides an example very different from a parable. Let's call it a "curiosity contact." That is, Jesus raised the woman's curiosity about whom He was and what He had to say. Her life was forever changed as a result.

At this point you may be thinking, "Yes, I see what Jesus did through points of contact. But obviously, I'm not Jesus. I can't do what He did." To a point, you are correct. You certainly are not Jesus, but you can follow His example. The book of Acts contains instances of this. Let's consider two of those.

The eighth chapter of Acts includes Philip's famous dialogue with an Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit had led Philip to the eunuch, but it appears that Philip creatively and spontaneously addressed the man. He saw that he was reading, so he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30). What a wonderful point of contact! Philip then was given an opportunity to direct their conversation towards the gospel. Such an encounter reminds me of a question most of us have asked: "What are you reading?" In addition to asking that question, today we may ask, "What are you watching?"

Paul's defense of the faith at Mars Hill in Athens provides another illustration of selecting a point of contact. The city was filled with thousands of idols. Paul had noticed one such idol that was inscribed, "to an unknown god" (Acts 17:23). An idol became his point of contact! Thus he began to proclaim the truth in response to their admitted ignorance.

What are some of the points of contact in your daily life?

Contemporary Contacts

You are taking a walk around your neighborhood. As you turn a corner a few blocks from your house, you see an old friend whom you have not seen in a couple of years. She is riding a bicycle in your direction. As she gets closer she recognizes you and stops. The two of you strike up a conversation that revolves around the kinds of things that usually are discussed on such occasions: Have you seen Sally lately? Did you hear about Jim's divorce? How are your children? Then you realize that God's Spirit is encouraging you to guide the conversation toward Christ. You are thinking of a way to do this when you suddenly notice that she is wearing an especially beautiful necklace with a cross. You comment on her jewelry, then you ask, "What does the cross represent?" She responds by saying it's just a nice piece of jewelry that was given to her by her daughter. But it has no "religious significance." You respond to her statement by sharing the true meaning and significance of the cross.

This fictitious story demonstrates how a point of contact can lead to an opportunity to share the gospel. In order to bring this discussion to a conclusion, we will give attention to six ways points of contact can give you an open door for God's truth.

First, be attentive to your God-given imagination. Of all people, Christians should creatively interact with the world around them for the glory of God. This may mean you will need to practice the habit of "sharpening your focus" on the world around you. Maybe you can begin to see with new eyes and hear with new ears.

Second, be attentive to the things most people have in common. A piece of jewelry was the common element in the illustration that was used to begin this program. Jewelry is something most people have in common. But whether it's jewelry, clothes, houses, cars, children, sports, or a long list of other things, you can find a point of contact among them.

Third, be attentive to those things that are most important to the person with whom you are sharing. For example, most people think of their immediate family as the most important part of their lives. Points of contact abound when you are sensitive to what is most important in a person's life.

Fourth, be attentive to the subjects that occupy someone's conversations. If the person with whom you are conversing talks a great deal about movies, find a point of contact there. If another person is fanatical about sports, find a point of contact there. If a hobby is the center of conversation, find a point of contact there. Such a list virtually is endless.

Fifth, be attentive to areas of greatest immediate need. Some people may dwell on their poor health. Others may concentrate on failures in their lives. Or maybe you will find yourself in conversation with someone who is bitter about something that happened in the past. Again, such a list of possibilities virtually is endless. All of them supply points of contact.

Sixth, and most important, be attentive to what the Spirit of God is telling you. He is not silent; He will bring appropriate things to your attention. Any point of contact will only be effective as the Spirit guides you to respond.

The world around us is starving for contact. People need to hear what God has to say through us. He will guide us to make contact for His glory. We are God's messengers of hope. I hope we get the point.

Notes

1. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 98.

2. See my article Christian Cliches.

3. Alister McGrath, Intellectuals Don't Need God & Other Modern Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993),30-47.

4. Bruno Walter, Gustav Mahler (New York: Vienna House, 1941), 129.

5. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 31-32. Quoted in McGrath, Intellectuals Don't Need God, 35.

6. Stephen C. Meyer, "The Explanatory Power of Design: DNA and the Origin of Information." In Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design, ed. William A. Dembski (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 135.

7. I recommend that you read the opening portion of C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1943) for a brilliant exposition of this point. Actually, you should read the entire book; you will benefit from it. It has become a classic.

8. See my article The Meaning of Life.

9. Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 48.

10. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene V. In The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Vol. 2, W. G. Clark and W. Aldis Wright, eds. (Garden City: Nelson Doubleday, n.d.), 813.

11. Leland Ryken, The Literature of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 302.

12. Ibid.

© 1999 Probe Ministries International



About the Author

Jerry Solomon, former Director of Field Ministries and Mind Games Coordinator for Probe Ministries, served as Associate Pastor at Dallas Bible Church after leaving Probe. He received the B.A. (summa cum laude) in Bible and the M.A. (cum laude) in history and theology from Criswell College. He also attended the University of North Texas, Canal Zone College, and Lebanon Valley College. Just before Christmas 2000, Jerry went home to be with the Lord he loved and served.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565

info@probe.org
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