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The One-on-One Starbucks Debate

February 15, 2014

He came into the Starbucks and purposefully headed to my table.  He was still angry over the school debate.

It was obvious he was ready to argue.  Not debate.  Argue.

“What gets me about you Christians,” he started the minute he sat down,  “is that you act you like you have the answers.  Me, I’m aMen Sitting at Table Drinking Espresso relativist. Everyone has their own right and wrong.  There are no absolutes.”

“None?” I asked.

“No,” he shook his head.  “I tell that to my daughter all the time.  There are no absolutes, that these are relativistic times we live in.”

“But you just made an absolute statement, Jim,” I replied.

He made no response to that statement, but shook his head and said, “There are no universal laws.  Cultures dictate behavior, you know that. One society says a man can have one wife, another society says a man can have ten wives.  You act like God has rules for all men for all time.  Things change from area to area, and no laws hold true for all people groups.”

“I’ll borrow a thought from C.S.Lewis and ask you a question,” I replied.  “True, cultures may say a man could have more than one wife, but was there ever a culture that said a man could steal another man’s wife?  Think about it, and let me ask you another question:  Which tribe, nation, or people group rewarded cowardice on the battlefield?”

“You’re nitpicking,” Jim argued.

“Yet it holds,” I answered.  “Tell me, if there are no universal truths in any society, at what time in history was it ever accepted to sexually abuse a child?”

Jim looked down and shook his head.

I looked down at my Bible.  “Jim, if you want to talk about faith, logic, science, whatever, we’ll do well if you leave anger out of this.  Emotions are okay, but if we’re going to have a discussion, then let’s discuss and not growl.”

He sat back, took a deep breath and nodded.  He managed a smile and I immediately knew that I liked this guy.  We were going to have a good discussion.

We talked about the Crusades.  We talked about the atheism of Hitler and Stalin.  We talked about Cain and Abel. We talked about the how guilt separates man from the animals.

“Your whole belief is based upon a myth, Brad,” he chuckled.  “There never was a historical Jesus.”

“Jim, that might be the easiest challenge for me tonight,” I replied.  “You might want to argue about the divinity of Christ, but to say there never was a historical Jesus is not doing your history homework.  Tacitus, Josephus, Seutonius  – none of them Christians – all verify that there was indeed a historical Jesus. Look, even the skeptic professor Bart Ehrman admits that every reputable scholar agrees that there was a Jesus of Nazereth who walked the earth.”

He gestured with his cup toward my Bible.  “You make a big deal about that book.”

“Yes,” I replied. “My faith is centered on what is revealed by God in its pages.”

“What makes it so special?” Jim asked.  “It’s no more supernatural than a book of Shakespeare.  Myths, fables, unreliability…”

“Let me show you something,” I said, flipping through the pages.  “See this here in Psalm 22?  This is known as the Messianic Psalm.  Verse 1 gives a cry out to the Father and asking why the writer was forsaken.  King David wrote this , but it was prophetic.  Jim, Jesus cried the same thing on the cross over in the book of Matthew in the New Testament.”

“Look, anybody can plan on their final words before death…” he countered.

“True, true, Jesus could control that aspect of the crucifixion,” I agreed.  “But He couldn’t control this … look at verse 12 – ‘they pierced my hands and my feet,’ and verse 18 ‘they gambled over my garments…'”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with that,” said Jim.  “Jesus was nailed to the cross and the soldiers gambled over His clothes…”

“Here’s the sticking point, Jim,” I said.  “These lead to only one form of execution.”

“I know, I know,” he waved a hand.  “Crucifixion.”

I pointed at the page.  “But at the time this was written – and carbon 14 dating backs this up – David penned these words over seven centuries before the Persians got the idea of a killing a man by crucifixion.  Rome adopted it in the first century.  At the time of this writing, capital punishment was by stoning, hanging, even beheading… but there was no such thing as crucifixion.”

Jim didn’t say anything. He was thinking.

“Prophecies make this book above the norm,” I continued, flipping the pages.  “Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah will be born in a cow town called Bethlehem, and five hundred years later it happens.  Zechariah 11:12 says that Jesus will be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver – not one hundred, not ten, but thirty.  Centuries later it comes true.  Look, the Bible is filled with these prophecies and the fulfillment of them.  Zechariah 9 says the Messiah will enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey  – a humiliating animal – and it’s exactly what Jesus did…”

We went on for three hours.  Oh, so much I could tell you, but there is not enough space here.  Three hours of discussion and debate.

Finally, Jim leaned forward and – God as my witness – he put his hand on my Bible and looked me in the eye, saying, “I agree that this is a supernatural book.  I do not argue that these prophecies and miracles are true.  This is a special book.”  He leaned back.

“I just choose not to accept it.”

I sighed inwardly.  So close.

“Jim,” I said as we rose and shook hands.  “We Christians have a funny thing about witnessing, and that’s the fact that we don’t headlock anyone into a decision.  No arm wrestling here, but I want you to know something.  If this is all true, as I believe it is, and the future unfolds as stated in these pages, then one day you will stand before God and you will clearly remember this day and this hour that you and I discussed this… and you chose to reject it.”

I would leave the story right now but there is an important footnote that I must add.  About three months later a friend in the local church ministry met me and shared that someone came to his church to talk.  “He was that guy you debated,” said the pastor.

“Jim, the atheist?” I was thrown.  “He came to talk about what?”

“It’s sad, really.  You see, Jim told me that for years he instructed his daughter on relativism, that each person had their own right and wrong.  He told me how he hammered home this to her, that she could not put trust in a universal truth, and that was why he was an atheist.”

The pastor continued.  “One weekday morning he was sitting in the kitchen and his 16 year-old daughter walked to the front door with her suitcases.  ‘Why aren’t you going to school?’ he asked.

‘I’m not going back to school,’ she replied, ‘I’m going to move in and live with my boyfriend. ‘

‘You can’t do that,’ he replied.

‘Why, Dad?’ she asked.  ‘Is it because you say it’s wrong?  You’ve spent my whole life teaching me that each person makes up their own right and wrong.  Well, this is right to me.’  Jim told me she turned to the door but hesitated.  She spun around and added one more thing.  ‘Unless you didn’t really meant what you said,’ she sneered.  ‘You claim you’re a relativist, and I’ll go along with that.  If you admit you’re wrong, I’ll stay.'”

“Jim did not respond, and she left.'”

The pastor looked at me.  “Now he’s coming in for counseling.  Maybe he’s got a few changes of heart he wants to make.”

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