Using Analogies to Reach the Lost and Refute the Cults

Herrera, Max-AnalogiesReachLostRefuteCults

Article: JAA175 | by Max Herrera

This article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 28, number 5 (2005). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to:  http://www.equip.org

Throughout history, preachers and teachers of God’s Word have used analogies to communicate truth. In the first century, Jesus used many analogies to teach His listeners. Following in Jesus’ footsteps, the apostle Paul used analogies to teach the saints and evangelize the lost. Today, on any given Sunday, pastors all over the world use analogies to preach and teach God’s Word. It is strange, however, that although analogies are prevalent in Christian preaching and teaching, one rarely hears a lesson on how to use analogies effectively. I would like to explain three ways that analogies can be used to reach the lost and refute the cults, and suggest some guidelines for using them.

What’s an Analogy? An analogy is a comparison between two things that are similar; they are the same in some respect and different in some other respect(s). For example, Jesus said that faith is like a mustard seed: they are the same in that both can be small and yet can grow into something large; but they are different in that a mustard seed is an actual kernel that grows in dirt, but faith is not.

Explain Concepts. One way analogies can be used is to explain difficult concepts. Analogies help explain what is unknown in terms of what is known. For example, most people are not familiar with the concept of substance dualism, which is a view of relation between the soul and the body. You could explain this concept by saying, “Substance dualism is the view that the soul and the body are ontologically separate entities, and that the soul acts upon the body.” This explanation is correct, but it does not communicate very well to those who are not already familiar with the concept. A better way to explain it would be in terms of something simple with which your audience is already familiar. You might say, for example, “Substance dualism says that the soul is to the body as a hand is to a glove. The hand is not the glove and the glove is not the hand; they are separate things. The glove, moreover, cannot perform any action without the hand. Similarly, the soul and the body are separate things, and the body cannot perform any action without the soul.” By using images and concepts that are familiar to your audience (i.e., the relation between a hand and a glove), you can explain concepts that are not familiar to them (i.e., a view of the relation between the soul and the body).

Make Arguments. A second use of analogies is to make arguments. One common form is called an a fortiori (“all the stronger”) argument, which asserts that if something is true in one case, it is probably true in a similar case in which the reason for it being true is even stronger. The parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1–8 is an example of this type of argument. In it, Jesus tells the story of an unjust judge who executed justice on behalf of a widow who continued to nag him. Jesus then asks a rhetorical question: “Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?” (v. 7 NASB). The implied answer is yes, God will speedily bring about justice for His elect who continually cry out to Him. Jesus used an analogy to argue that if an unjust judge grudgingly renders justice to an oppressed widow who is persistent, how much more (a fortiori) will God, who is a just judge, speedily render justice to His oppressed elect who are persistent.

Using an analogy to make an a fortiori argument can be an extremely effective tool when witnessing to unbelievers. I remember street witnessing years ago in New York, when a lady came up to the corner where I was standing. I said, “May, I ask you a question?” She replied, “Sure.” I responded, “If you were to die today, where would you go?” She responded, “I don’t know. I never thought about it, but I think I would go to heaven.” I asked, “Why do you think you would go to heaven?” She responded that she was a good person. I replied that all our “righteous” deeds are like filthy rags before an infinite holy God, so it is impossible for us to get to heaven based on our own merit. I then said to her, “Imagine that you committed some crime, and the judge sentenced you to 20 years in prison. Would you want to serve the prison time?” She responded, “No way!” I said, “What if there were a person who was willing to serve your time and the judge allowed it; would you go for that deal?” She responded, “What’s the catch?” I said, “The only stipulation is that you must trust the person who serves your time and believe that he is always looking out for your best interest.” She responded, “I’d go for that deal.” I then told her that God is a judge and we are all guilty before Him, and because of our sin we will be sentenced to an eternity apart from God; however, Christ died on the cross so that we do not have to spend an eternity separated from God. Christ was willing to serve our sentence, but we must trust Him. I then asked her, “If you are willing to have someone serve your 20‐year sentence on earth, are you not willing to have someone serve your eternal sentence?” She said, “Yes, I would be willing.” I then led her in the sinner’s prayer. The a fortiori argument by analogy did not save her, of course, for only God saves; but God can use analogies to touch people’s heads so that He can also touch their hearts.

Refute Arguments. The third way analogies can be used is to refute bad arguments. If you change the content of a bad argument, but keep the same logical form of the argument, you can show that the conclusion of the argument does not follow from its premises. This is not as difficult as it might sound. For example, Mormons and certain Word Faith teachers assert that God has a body. One of their favorite passages is Genesis 1:26–27, which states that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Those who assert that God has a body reason as follows: man is made in the image and likeness of God; man has a body; therefore, God must have a body. The logical form of their argument is as follows:

x (man) is made in the image and likeness of y (God); x (man) has z (a body); therefore, y (God) has z (a body).

By replacing the content of x, y, and z with similar content, you can show that the conclusion does not follow from its premises. For example, suppose x = a statue, y = Abraham Lincoln, and z = a marble head. Just because a statue is made in the image and likeness of Abraham Lincoln, and the statue has a marble head, it does not follow that Abraham Lincoln has a marble head. Similarly, just because man is made in the image and likeness of God, and man has a body, it does not follow that God has a body.

Guidelines for Using Analogies. There are several things that should be kept in mind when using analogies. First, use simple things that are familiar to your audience. Jesus and Paul, for example, drew many of their analogies from things that were familiar to the first‐century Jewish culture in which they and their listeners lived (e.g., seeds, sheep, wineskins, the temple, etc.).

Second, the greater the similarity between the things that are being compared, the better the analogy; conversely, the less the similarity, the poorer the analogy.

Third, arguments that use analogies render only probable conclusions. The two things (or relationships) being compared are only similar (e.g., an unjust judge’s rendering justice to a nagging widow compared with God’s rendering justice to His elect); therefore, what is true of one is only probably true of the other. The more alike the two things are, the more likely it is that the conclusion is true of both things.

Finally, when comparing two things by analogy, you should compare those characteristics that are essential for making your point. For example, William Paley argued that just as a watch requires an intelligent designer, so does creation require an Intelligent Designer. In his writings, however, Paley emphasized the beauty of the watch, the material of the watch, and other characteristics that do not necessarily indicate intelligent design. Charles Darwin picked up on the fact that Paley’s analogy rested on nonessential features and responded: “The old argument of design in nature as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man.” Darwin was correct that neither beauty in itself nor being an artifact in itself indicates intelligent design; however, the essential characteristics in Paley’s analogy actually were specified complexity and irreducible complexity, which have always indicated intelligent design. Darwin, therefore, was wrong when he concluded that such artifacts cannot be used to argue for the existence of an intelligent designer.

Now, as lights of the world, go let your light shine by using analogies to present the gospel to the lost and refute the cults.

Max Herrera is a graduate of Southern Evangelical Seminary and is coauthor, with Norman L. Geisler and H. Wayne House, of the Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Kregel, 2001). He is completing a Ph.D in philosophy at Marquette University.


  1. Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2004), 335.
  2. Showing that the argument is invalid does not demonstrate that the conclusion is false; instead, it shows that the conclusion does not follow from its premises. The conclusion may still be true, but it has not been demonstrated from its premises.
  3. Charles Darwin, Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1958), 87.

Cultural Change Acceleration Bringing About the Great Evangelical Recession

Dickerson, John-Cultural Change Acceleration

On April 21, 2016, Hank Hanegraaff invited John S. Dickerson onto the Bible Answer Man broadcast to discuss The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013). The following is a snapshot of their conversation:

Hank Hanegraaff:  In this book, The Great Evangelical Recession, John Dickerson underscores 6 factors about to crash the American church. It is a crash that Dickerson predicts is a s certain as the great recession that pressed millions of homeowners into foreclosure and pummeled some of the world’s largest financial institutions into bankruptcy. Here on the broadcast to talk about The Great Evangelical Recession John Dickerson. Welcome.

John Dickerson: Thank you so much for having me Hank.

Hank: This is an incredible book. You start out talking about the dramatic shrinkage of American evangelicals, and I suppose that has a great deal to say about the weight of evangelicals in the present election?

John:  It really does. We’re often surprised to see—those of us who are sincere Bible believing Christians, which we often used the word “evangelical” to describe that, we believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and that the Bible’s God’s Word—very often lately, not only in this election cycle but in the last couple, many evangelicals have been surprised how little political influence we have. That is one of the, that is the result. The reason we’re having less political influence is the result of one of the trends in this book: that we’re actually a smaller movement than many of us have been led to believe. By the way, all these conclusions, what they are, they are an aggregation of the best research that’s out there from all sociologist, all universities, groups like the Pew Research Center, what I did as a journalist, my skill set is to take complex information and simplify it, get my arms around it. So there’re some good books out there about the status of the church, but I felt like there wasn’t anything that kind of got its arms around all the research. Sure enough that was the first thing that came out of the trend, multiple studies, is wow this movement—not Americans who just say “I’m a Christian,” that’s till about 70%, but Americans who actually believe the Bible, believe Jesus is God, He died on the cross for the sins of the world, salvation by grace through faith in Him alone—we’re actually much smaller, closer to about 10% of the population.

Hank: What I remember you saying in the book, if I’m correct, is you put it in international terms, when you say they’re slightly more evangelical in the U.S. then there are Muslims in the greater metro area of Cairo, Egypt.

John: Yeah. That is shocking. So when you—so there’s four separate researchers. Now there’s disagreement among sociologist about how many evangelicals are in in the U.S. and this is because we’re a difficult group to count. If you want to count the number of Catholics, or if you want to go with a cult like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have very centralized offices. Evangelical Christianity is a much more grassroots organic…spiritual movement led by the Spirit of God and the work of God, so as a result, we got under the evangelical umbrella, we’ve got fundamentalist Baptists churches, there are charismatic churches, there are a whole lot of non-denominational independent Bible believing churches, as a result it’s a tough group to count. So sociologist disagree to the extent that there are some as low as 7%, saying were 7% of the U.S. population, there are still some as high as the low 20%, it’s like maybe 23% of the population. What I did is I wanted to look at all those and say, “Is there among these multiple sociologist, is there a common answer?” What I found was four separate researchers who used four separate methodologies and they all concluded independently of each other that we between 7% and 8.9% of the population. Yeah, out of about three-hundred-twenty-million people that puts us at twenty-some-million., and yes the greater Cairo area there are about nineteen-million Muslims. Now who’s to know how many of those are devout Muslims and how many are conveniently Muslims because they kind of have to be, but that does put it into context. Another way of saying it is this: If all of us who are sincere Bible believing Christians, if we all moved to the state of New York, and if we displaced the New Yorkers, there would not be a serious Bible believing Christian in the other forty-nine states. We’re about the population of New York State.

Hank: I want to focus in on another point that you make in the book, another factor that will crash the American church. This is the growing cultural hatred for anything Christian. I’m the father of twelve children, I have four children in universities at this point in time, and those kids, my kids, are telling me about the growing cultural hatred for anything Christian in terms that I have never heard before. I mean tell me, when I say, “Yeah, I know what you’re talking about,” they say, “No, you really don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to be there to believe it.”

John: It’s true. One of the, you know if you want to call it a tectonic plate, an underlying cause of these six trends of decline in American Christianity, one of those tectonic plates is the rate of cultural change is accelerating. That idea is not unique to me. A whole number of secular sociologists are saying the actual speed at which culture changes is accelerating, perhaps due to some technology innovations, like us all having smartphones and other things, but whatever the cause is, the actual rate of cultural change is accelerating. Sadly, for those of us who love Jesus and the church, it is not accelerating in the direction of loving God and His people.

If anything…we know there’s a supernatural component to it, but humanly there’s a great reaction, that the Christians were so powerful politically, and were such a force, and now there’s a generation being taught down through textbooks, really at every level now, being taught that essentially that Christians were bad, and now to fight for justice and equality we have to put the Christians back in their place. And so, you know if you’re listening, this book we’re talking about, The Great Evangelical Recession, if for no other reason, get a copy to read this chapter called “Hated.” And again, I’m an award winning journalist, when I was a journalist, I wrote for secular publications. I was a journalist who was a Christian, but not writing for Christian publications. I’m writing about a lot of my peers, and essentially what I deduced from a lot of research as well as really some anecdotes that are just undisputable, is that every key leading edge of cultural society in the United States right now—so we’re talking about mainstream media, higher education, the large costal metropolis cities, the capital of the nation, and of course our universities and higher education—every leading edge of cultural society right now is a place where Christians are no longer kind of smirked at, we talk about…there used to be an apathy toward us, like “Oh yeah, those weirdo Christians,” that apathy has given way to an outright antagonism. There is a hostility that when you actually encounter it, it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck because it is a prejudging. It is a prejudice. It is a closed minded hatred towards those of us who name the Name of Jesus and take His word at all seriously, and so boy, you know what I really wrestle in this book.

The book is set up, the first half is all me writing as a journalist, and I’m not trying to weigh in with my opinion, it’s just here’s the facts of where we stand as the church, the bride of Christ, in the United States.

The second half of the book, I take off my journalist hat and I put on my pastor hat—I’ve been a pastor for about seven years now, started attending seminary working on my master’s degree, while I was still a journalist—and I look at the New Testament specifically through the lens of each of these trends. So in other words, this book in one chapter is going to understand the cultural change going on around us. Why is it that a Christian been in jail within the last year for not signing a marriage certificate? Why are these things? Well, when you understand the cultural trends there not as surprising. It doesn’t make it easier, but it helps to understand ok this is why it’s changing in the trajectory. Then in the other chapter, we look Scripture to say, how does God tell us to live when we are hated, persecuted, and misunderstood? How do we represent Christ in a culture that is pagan, and hypersexual, and anti-Jesus? Well, thankfully, a lot of the New Testament believers were in a culture like that and the Word of God kind of comes to life. My prayer in this book is to equip you in your mind, and give you skill and wisdom as you live, but then also at a heart level to say now do we really live for Jesus in these times, because we’re not here by accident, He ordained that we would be living at this moment in history.

Hank: John, you are not simply cursing the darkness in this book but you’re really teaching Christians how to build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm.

John: That’s exactly right. You know there’re two—it’s a natural response when we experience that hatred first hand. There’s a, I mean I remember a time—this happened a couple of years ago—there was a Muslim gentleman who wrote a biography about Jesus. The book, essentially he was going around on mainstream media and multiple journalists, or at least television hosts and radio hosts, were calling him a religion scholar whose and expert in Jesus. Well, the reality is that he’s a creative writing professor and his PhD is in the sociology of Jihad, and this book is saying Jesus never claimed to be God, and a whole bunch of other heresies. So I wrote a piece for a mainstream news outlet saying it’s not fair, this guy’s misrepresenting his credentials, and as a journalist I’m saying to fellow news media persons be fair in expressing this guy’s credentials, because if the scenario was reverse, in other words, if a Christian whose PhD was in the history of Christianity, wrote a book about Muhammad that was blasphemous to Muslims, well NPR wouldn’t have him on for three days in a row. No and so I was just saying it’s not just what we’re doing and as a Christian I would beg to my fellow journalists can we be fair about this? I wrote the argument really thoughtfully and carefully, knowing I would get push back. But, I have to tell you, having written the book about how fast the culture is changing and how hated that we are, I was totally unprepared for the amount of just vitriolic hate mail, and actual professional journalist likening me to a Nazi. Just really horrific stuff, including this so-called religion scholar going on Twitter and just, I mean, every curse word that you can imagine in a completely unprofessional way musing about me, and I remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up because I knew that there’s oppression for our view, but I had no idea just how frightening and outnumbered it can feel when we really stand up to the darkness. So all that to say as the culture around us is changing, we will all find ourselves in situations like that. It might be at a Thanksgiving table where you have a relative who comes out with a moral position that just shocks you, or it might be in your work place. It’s not a question of if we will face hostility, it’s a question of when. So that’s where I try as a pastor to really equip us.

You know it’s interesting. There’s this verse in 1 Peter. I think its chapter 2 verse 12. Where Peter says live such good lives among the pagans that even though they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven. I came across that verse as I was really praying: Ok God, I see these six trends these six problems in the church, what are your solutions. You know because I don’t want to give my solutions, I want to give God’s. So every one of these solutions is based on Scriptures like that one.


Listen to the full interview here: The Great Evangelical Recession with John Dickerson – Part 1

Get the Great Evangelical Recession. To order, click here.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Engaging Skeptics

When is the last time you had a meaningful discussion with a skeptic? How many non-believers are you in conversation with on a regular basis?

It’s amazing to me how we often get so excited about learning apologetics that we forget to practice it! Pastor Dan Kimball wrote an article for my book Apologetics for a New Generation called, “A Different Kind of Apologist.” Dan describes how when he first became a Christian he became motivated to learn as much apologetics as possible. He went to apologetics conferences, studied books on defending the faith, and even started an apologetics club at his church.

As many people would put it today, Dan was “fired up” about his faith. But ironically, the more he learned apologetics the less he actually practiced it with non-believers. In other words, the more head knowledge he gained the less he actually used it. How ironic! Sadly, this happens all the time in the church, especially to apologists (of which I count myself).

We simply cannot let this happen. We need to step out of our comfort zones and engage a non-believing world. Recently I did just this. I actually invited myself to sit on the “hot seat” for a local freethinking group in southern California. I was definitely nervous, but it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I made some new friends, broke down some misconceptions, and had a chance to share my faith with 20 skeptics.

I was quite surprised at how eagerly they welcomed me. They were amazed that a Christian was willing to come to their group and they treated me with appreciation and respect. I can’t promise that it will always be like this. But we only know if we try. So, I leave with the question again—When is the last time you had a meaningful discussion with a skeptic? How many non-believers are you in conversation with on a regular basis?

Sean McDowell graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Philosophy and Theology. He teaches Bible at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools, is a nationally recognized speaker, and has authored many articles and books, including Is God Just and Human Invention, Apologetics for a New Generation, and Ethics: Being Bold in a Whatever World. This blog post is based on his article “What Skeptics Want Christians to Know” in the Volume 34, No. 3 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). To read the full article, please subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

Sean McDowell joins host Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast on June 21, 2011 to discuss his article. Tune in at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org!