How do I share the gospel when people bring up controversial cultural issues?

AUTHOR: Reid Kapple

Campus Pastor - Olathe

Questions and Barriers About Evangelism


1 Peter 3:8-17. How does Peter instruct his audience to bear witness to Jesus even while they are experiencing opposition?

How do I share the gospel when people bring up controversial cultural issues?

“Churches are filled with people who don’t actually believe what they believe.”

A very close and dear friend of mine said this to me. A friend I love and respect, a friend who has shaped, formed, and influenced me in deep ways. A friend who knows the Bible and the ways of Jesus better than I do, and a friend who is struggling with the veracity and validity of the Christian faith.

Much of my friend’s recent wrestling has to do with the dissonance and inconsistencies he has seen among Christians. The infighting, individualism, identity politics, and indifference toward several social issues.

I share this because it plays a key role in our public witness and personal evangelism as followers of Jesus. In my experience, the majority of the barriers that stand in the way of people following Jesus are their experiences and/or perceptions of followers of Jesus.

I can’t think of a conversation I have had with a skeptic or unbeliever in recent years that was not centered around criticisms of current Christian culture. In many ways we are experiencing in mass the famous words attributed to Gandhi, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Christians who are engaged in the work of evangelism and apologetics know all too well these words of Scripture penned by the Apostle Peter:

1 Peter 3:15
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; .…

We should indeed be ready to give good reasons, arguments, answers, and defenses for what and why we believe in Christ Jesus. But the real thrust of Peter’s words here is actually found at the end of the verse.

…yet do it with gentleness and respect,

The entire context of this chapter, not to mention the entire letter, is about maintaining a faithful and loving witness amidst a hostile culture.

Earlier in chapter 3, Peter exhorts the church:

1 Peter 3:8–9
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

This posture of humility, tenderness, sympathy, gentleness and respect is crucial in our public witness of the gospel of Jesus in our world. Not only because of the adage “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” but because it is itself a way of displaying the beauty of Jesus.

This is why Peter tells us that we must witness to Christ by not only having right thinking (make a defense) but right posturing (gentleness and respect). When we have the correct answers without the correct attitude we have an incorrect witness.

As the brilliant words of Madeleine L’Engle so powerfully declare, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

So as we think about how to share the gospel when people bring up controversial issues, let me offer a few things to consider and prepare for off the spot to be ready on the spot.

Be a cooling thermostat …not a rising thermometer

What does a thermometer do? It simply matches the temperature of the environment it is placed in. What does a thermostat do? It has the ability to set the temperature of the environment. In the same way, when controversial conversations come up they have a tendency to do so with heat. Maintain a calm and non-anxious posture, tone, and volume even as people might crank the heat up. This is what Peter meant when he said…

1 Peter 3:16
…having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

If we lose our cool in those moments we will quickly lose our witness.

Be curious about their story…not critical of their arguments

There is a time to engage in a back and forth debate on subjects. But it is not always best to enter that ring right away. The reason is because behind nearly every controversial subject or critical word in evangelistic conversations is a back story of some kind. As Dr. Curt Thompson once said “Never ask someone ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ask instead ‘What happened to you?’”

Responding to arguments has its place. But the more humanizing step is to first listen to someone’s story. Consider responding with something like:

  1. You clearly are passionate about this subject. Where did this passion come from?
  2. You seem to see a disconnect between Christianity and this subject. May I ask if there is a story behind that?
  3. Would you share what you think I believe about this subject? We may not disagree as much as you think.

By practicing the posture of listening first, we are actually more able and equipped to respond with the gospel in specific and personal ways, knowing a little bit more about their story. In his book Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt charges us with these words:

If we don’t also listen, we tend to share the good news of Jesus in a way that applies primarily to our lives, the way it was good news to us, but fails to address the situations others are facing. We can become proclaimers of the good news while remaining ignorant of the ways in which others need to hear it….Listen for the longing, listen for the pain, listen for the need for Jesus.

Be a humble witness to Jesus…not a defense attorney

When a witness is brought into court to testify, they are expected to give a report of what they have encountered. They are not expected to defend themselves or the defendant. They are simply called to bear witness to what they have seen and heard. As witnesses of Jesus, that is our role. That is not to say we will never play the role of an expert witness to give very detailed and educated testimony. But it does mean that our role is to continue to bring people back to Jesus.

We are called to bear witness just as the Samaritan woman did in John 4. She left her encounter with Jesus and returned to town simply saying “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did….”


Here is a way to practice off the spot to be ready on the spot as it relates to sharing the gospel when controversial issues come up. Think of an unbelieving person in your life who you trust and yet disagrees with you on a particular issue. Ask them if they would be willing to meet with you for coffee to share their view with you. Tell them that you want to learn and understand more from them, but you have no intentions at this juncture to argue with them. Pay attention to what you feel in that preliminary conversation and during the conversation itself. Is it hard for you to refrain from arguing or criticizing? What questions do you want to ask? How can you pray for that conversation? What does it look like to practice “gentleness and respect” in that moment with that person?



Pray for your 9 for 90 seconds; pray for God to bless them.

Day 58 of 90


  1. Jo

    Reed: This is so helpful, huge and beautifully written, thank you for explaining in such a wonderful way. The resources that you provide to us all are treasured.

  2. Maryann

    These are the most helpful words Reid Thankyou!

  3. Jay Hunt

    Very helpful. Thank you!

  4. Justin@leawood

    How can we respond to evil with good? With humility, tenderness, kindness, and a heart that desires to bless those who revile us?

    V12- remembering that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous but His face is against those who do evil

    Might we be harmed as we do good? (V13). Yes! (V14). Christ also suffered, the righteous (Him) for the unrighteousness (us) in order to bring us to God.

    This is a good encouragement for me and my Christian counseling clients today who are in pain

    Reflection on blog- I appreciate the encouragement to be kind and listen and to consider “what has happened to this person?” All of us are both sinners and sinned against


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