The God Conversation

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Preface to Expanded Edition      

Despite all of our differences, Americans are remarkably similar.  In record numbers we tune in Sunday nights to watch cable television’s highest rated show, The Walking Dead, to see how humans negotiate a zombie apocalypse.  We pack theatres and make Star Wars: The Force Awakens the quickest film to make a billion dollars in cinema history.  The Affluenza Defense—a juvenile convicted of vehicular manslaughter serves no jail time because his rich parents spoiled him—continues to spark national outrage and images of the Syrian refugee crisis break our collective hearts.

These cultural references dominate social media and water cooler conversations.  They also help us fulfill Peter’s command to give a reason for why we hold to a Christian worldview (1 Pet. 3:15).  The topics that fill our conversations also open the door to talk about apologetic themes.  Questions surfaced by characters in The Walking Dead help us explore morality.  In the absence of organized religion or a justice system, do humans now dictate what is right or wrong? Or, is there an objective moral law that would even survive a zombie apocalypse?  Could the Jedi mind trick used by the characters of The Force Awakens be used by God to stop evil?  A would-be mugger approaches an unsuspecting couple, God simply swipes his fingers and says, “Move on!”  If so, what could be drawbacks to such divine intervention?

Using films, books, television shows, social media, history, and current events to explain and illustrate our faith was the genesis of The God Conversation.  It resonated with Christian communicators who wanted to use pop culture as a conversational starting point.  So much so that InterVarsity Press now celebrates its 10th year anniversary by re-releasing this special edition.  In the following pages you’ll find new and timely illustrations sprinkled throughout the book and two new chapters exploring what we think is unique and compelling evidence for God—the argument from desire.

When asked why she chose to write a novel about the horrors of slavery, Harriet Beecher Stow responded to her editor:  “My vocation is simply that of a painter . . . There is no arguing with pictures, and everybody is impressed by them whether they mean to be or not.”[1]  As Christian communicators our goal is to paint a robust picture of our faith through vivid and memorable illustrations and stories.  While your non-Christian friends, co-workers, or neighbors may not always agree with your perspective, there is no denying that the illustrations you share will make a lasting impression the Holy Spirit can use long after the conversation is over.

May God bless your illustrative paintings.

J.P. Moreland & Tim Muehlhoff

[1] Joan D. Hedrick, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 129.

“Most conversations, let alone ones about God, are either dull, single-sided or competing monologues full of smoke. It simply shouldn’t be. Carrying on a vital, passionate, engaging conversation with another human being is an art that has been sufficiently lost that we need wisdom and perspective on how to engage well. The God Conversation is a gift to the church to invigorate our conversations with believers, seekers and unbelievers. J. P. and Tim walk with us through the use of story and authenticity with such masterful delight that one ends by sensing the authors have given us the very gift we are to give to others.”


“Today’s culture is increasingly a story-based culture. As Tim and J. P. help to show, a story-based culture does not have to be a culture without truth. This book is an excellent tool to learn how to better communicate the great truths about God, the world, our faith and human nature through stories, modern-day parables, and by listening and teaching like Jesus. It is a must-read for all who want to help others find faith in Jesus Christ.”


“I love stories and illustrations because of the impact they have had on me. If they have had a similar effect on you, this book is for you. It will reinforce your faith, hone your ability to share your relationship to Jesus Christ and delight your imagination. I cannot give it a higher recommendation.”


“If you are a headhunting evangelist or an intellectual who must have the last word, put this book down and go home. If you love your pre- Christian friends and want stimulating resources to engage them in meaningful spiritual dialogue on hard questions, J. P. and Tim are the mentors you seek.”


“Moreland and Muehlhoff have written a unique and engaging book. The style is casual, yet the topics are treated with sufficient detail and nuance to be helpful. I commend The God Conversation to anyone seeking to discuss these matters in meaningful ways with family, friends and colleagues.”




It finally happened. For weeks you had prayed for the chance to talk to your coworker about God, and then a door unexpectedly opened. Over lunch, amid talk about work and sports you had it: The God conversation. For thirty minutes you discussed God and how he fits in your life. Your friend asked a few questions but spent most of the time listening.

Now the conversation is over.

Back at your workstation, you are flooded with questions: What did he think about what I said? Did I make sense? Will he avoid me next time we meet in the cafeteria? What did my friend take away from the conversation?

The answer to this last question is not encouraging. Research in communication says that when people leave a conversation, they immediately forget half of what was said. Half! And worse than that, eight hours later they will remember only about 20 percent of what was discussed.

What makes up the part they do remember? It’s examples.

The illustrations, stories and quotes you sprinkled throughout your conversation will stay with your friend long after the conversation ends. According to communication experts, the most important part of any conversation is when you say, “Think of it this way . . .” or “For example. . .”   Illustrations are like calling cards salespeople leave with you after the sales pitch. The calling card you take with you serves as a reminder of the case they made. Every time you come across that salesperson’s card, you are reminded of what he or she said. Similarly, every time your friend thinks of the illustrations you used to explain your faith, he or she will remember the point you were making.

The Wall Street Journal reports that comedian Bob Hope so treasured his illustrations that he built a walk-in vault with a six-inch-thick steel door to protect file cabinets filled with illustrations, jokes and quotes. Should Bob Hope be the only one to collect and value stories and illustrations? No. Christians, too, need to gather illustrations that will make people think.

Peter tells us that each of us needs to be ready to give an explanation for the hope that is in us (1 Pet 3:15). Today a lot needs to be ex- plained:

  • In a world filled with suffering, why doesn’t God do more? Doesn’t he care about our pain?
  • Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Hindus all have just as much sincerity as Christians. How can Christians claim they alone have a corner on God?
  • All of us have the right to choose our own lifestyle, don’t we? If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then we have a right to live as we see fit. You can’t call others sinners just because they don’t see things your way.

The thoughts and questions our friends have about God and the Christian faith require careful answers. Our answers require study of the Scriptures, reading of Christian thinkers and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. They also require vivid illustrations to make our answers clear and memorable.

The God Conversation provides you with illustrations that will linger with your unbelieving friends, coworkers and family members long after the conversation ends. It gives you rich examples, quotes and stories that will help explain the Christian worldview in your conversations, blogs, e-mails, letters and speeches.

We’ve been training students, pastors, educators and laypeople in apologetics for a combined total of seventy years and have given apologetic presentations on more than three hundred college campuses. The God Conversation is our attempt to share with you some of our favorite illustrations, stories and quotes.

The illustrations you’ll read in The God Conversation come from current events (terrorist attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Mars probe, Bosnian war trials, Virginia Tech shootings), films (Crash, Catch Me If You Can, Erin Brockovich, The Truman Show), favorite TV programs (American Idol, My Name Is Earl, Law & Order, America’s Most Wanted), popular cultural figures (Bono, Oprah, Sharon Stone) and the parables of Jesus. The God Conversation also contains some of the most effective illustrations from past and current thinkers, including William Paley, C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Machiavelli, Os Guinness, John Stott, Norman Geisler, Alan Dershowitz and Martin Luther King Jr. All the illustrations are short and easy to remember.


The God Conversation is organized around assumptions your friends have that make accepting the truths of Christianity highly unlikely. For short, philosophers call such assumptions defeater beliefs. For example, some of your neighbors may believe that all religions are equally valid ways to God. Because they hold this belief, they believe it can’t be true that Christianity is the only way to God. Some of your family members may embrace the belief that it’s wrong to judge other people. Consequently, they think your belief that the Scriptures have the authority to morally judge people can’t be true. Some of your co- workers may believe that people in Jesus’ day were gullible and superstitious and that belief in miracles is a remnant of prescientific cultures. In our scientific age (they believe) you have to be pretty uninformed to still believe in such things.

In this book we lay out what we consider to be the five most likely defeater beliefs you’ll encounter as you share your Christian convictions:

  1. God can’t be good, as seen by all the pain and suffering in the world today (chapters two and three).
  2. Christianity can’t be the only way to God, because Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews are just as sincere in their faith as Christians (chapters four and five).
  3. The biblical accounts of Jesus rising from the dead can’t be trusted, because legend has replaced fact in the disciples’ telling of the resurrection (chapters six and seven).
  4. You can’t judge another person, because there’s no ultimate sense of what is right and wrong for everyone (chapters eight and nine).
  5. Arguing that God made each of us in his image can’t be true because of the fact of evolution (chapters ten and eleven).

As we respond to each of these beliefs, you’ll notice some unique features of our book that we hope will make sharing the Christian worldview easier.

First, we’ve laid out each chapter in a conversational format. The goal of The God Conversation is to have you engage in authentic conversations, not one-sided lectures. Conversations cannot be scripted. A conversation is like a road trip with many diversions and detours. All true conversations involve a give-and-take process. You present your perspective and the other person responds with a question or objection. In genuine dialogue, questions are not a nuisance but rather are opportunities to engage. In the chapters that follow we’ve tried to anticipate objections your skeptical friends may have toward the Christian worldview.

Second, we know that in many cases our answers, while substantive, are just touching the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, entire books have been written about each of the issues you’ll read about within this one volume. And so each chapter contains Digging Deeper sections that go into more depth concerning a particular question or issue. Also, as we complete our treatment of each major theme, the chapters conclude with our suggestions of other books you can read to supplement ours.

Last, we’ve broken each chapter into numerous sections. If you think of each chapter as one lengthy, complex conversation, then you’ll most likely feel overwhelmed and stop before you begin. The goal is to have multiple conversations spread out over days, weeks or even years when you sprinkle in illustrations that your coworkers or friends will remember and take with them. For easy reading (and quick review), we have set off the stories and illustrations we use with a rule down the side. The answers you’ll read in the following pages are packaged in brief, easy-to-read and easy-to-use ways, and we have focused our energies and expertise on helping you communicate these answers to real people in real conversations. It is this last distinctive that sets our book apart from most books on apologetics. If this book gives you fresh insight and new tools for being successful in sharing your faith, we will have succeeded.

Our prayer is that you’ll be able to have rich God conversations with those you most care about. In these conversations the illustrations you use, along with the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, will stay with individuals and cause them to wrestle with the truths of Christianity.