The gospel message is not weak but its messengers all too often are and it is a very difficult thing when apologetics must turn into apologizing.
In an incident that has become rather commonplace in the U.S. a public school has covered up a school prayer displayed in the school auditorium after a controversy brought about by an atheist group and particularly by student Jessica Ahlquist (see “Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer” at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/us/rhode-island-city-enraged-over-school-prayer-lawsuit.html ) The prayer has been covered pending a decision. But the local – and many non-local – Christians have lashed out at Miss Ahlquist with an inexcusable vitriol. They have attacked her verbally and even threatened her safety to the point that the police now protect her at school.
What is always key to know about many atheists is that while they have rejected the belief in a soul they still have a soul and it can feel pain. Many tell stories of rejecting a belief in God after some very difficult event in their lives. Jessica Ahlquist became an atheist at the age of ten when her mother became rather ill. She said that the public prayer in her school made her feel marginalized as an atheist. However a Christian might feel about the legitimacy of an atheist’s response to life’s hurts is nowhere near as important as how the Christian’s life responds to the hurting atheist. When someone rejects their idea of God because of pain we have such a powerful opportunity to be used as the God of all comfort reveals His true self to the searcher. The hurting heart is where apologetics becomes personal and the gospel proves itself powerful.
But when self-styled Christians behave as if they didn’t believe in the God of the Bible either evangelism breaks down. When Christians become more concerned that they are “suffering” for their beliefs and respond by making someone suffer for theirs they have lost all ground in the conversation. 1 Peter 4:14-15 says “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” We should be happy when we are persecuted (and while we do not know the meaning of the word in the U.S. that is a topic for another time) and yet we become the persecutor. And why should Jesica Ahlquist want to give her life to the God these people claim to hold so dear? May the Lord undo their work so she can find the true God.